An alternative interpretation

For reasons associated with an internship I just began working on in LA, I was at E3 on Wednesday.

It was terrifying.

E3 is the Great Babylon of the games industry. E3 is a birthday designed by plutocrat after his kid couldn’t get a reservation at LaserQuest. E3 is a digital fleshmarket. E3 is what happens when the high gods of video games descend to earth and make terrifying ESRB-slaying love to the scaly-assed demons of corporate sin.

Okay, it was a ton of fun. But it was also insidiously evil and ultimately pretty horrifying.

I grew up in New England, where we have a reputation for stoicism, grim jaws, and frugality. I didn’t necessarily grow up in a frugal household, but my family are not the kind of people who wheel money around in a wheelbarrow in our back yard. We do not make daisy chains out of twenty-dollar bills and string them around our living room like holiday garlands. I’m naturally a bit wary of extreme expressions of wealth; I’ve always believed that people who make a lot of money would be better off using it to buy expensive PCs than platinum motorcycles. So to speak.

But the people who make E3 happen probably have suits made out of money. Stitched together with the hair of the poor. Yeah. They probably name their dogs “Benjamin” (or “Benjamins,” to emphasize the quantity they possess). E3 is an enormous lavish media-whoring dollars-spectacle of doom, and it is a bit chilling.

First of all: the media are the kings and queens of E3. It’s a publicity event, and they’re the real guests, not the industry people. I’m not saying that I saw Gabe Newell give five hundred dollars in cold hard cash to every media person he saw, or that Cliffy B gave the staff of Game Informer foot-baths with his hair, Mary Magdalene-style, or that Peter Molyneux personally kissed every baby of every reporter present at the entire conference—but the people (and they were mostly media people) at the Microsoft keynote DID all get free Xbox Slims. So. Make of that what you will.

Bethseda’s booth had a fifteen-foot-tall plastic T-Rex in it, and it was entirely walled off. You could only get in if you were from the media and had made an appointment. For the entirety of the show, Square Enix’s booth had an enormous screen playing footage from its upcoming games. The videos were synchronized with all of the lights on the booth, such that they would change color and flash in time with the footage. When you take into account how large their booth was, well—I’m guessing that this particular booth cost as much to run per hour as, say, a minor-to-middling Broadway production.

I bet if you tally up all the money spent at making E3 be E3 and divide it by the number of reporters present, you’re looking at many thousands of dollars per reporter spent. Like, maybe over ten thousand. Maybe a lot over ten thousand. And that’s the real focus, of course—spending money to make the media happy. E3 happens for the people at home, but so that the reporters to convey that experience to consumers in the best light, publishers and developers wine and dine the fuck out of them, so to speak. But here it’s more like “demo and dine the fuck out of them,” or “demo and free system the fuck out of them.”

So, yeah. I’m never really going to enjoy any E3 coverage ever again, guys. If I had been sent there by a media outlet, I would feel pretty fucking unclean now. Luckily, I wasn’t.

But still. It was like watching two strangers have sex in a tub filled with golden coins.