E3 is coming up fast, and with it comes the annual parade of pomp and circumstance, which has grown steadily since the dearth of the late 2000s. This year, there will not only be press conferences from Xbox, Nintendo, EA, and Sony, but also Bethesda, PC Gamer, and Ubisoft.
E3 is a time of game trailers, new game reveals, release dates, demos, giveaways, excitement, and hype, hype, hype. For many gamers, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
But along with all the energy and enthusiasm comes along the inevitable curmudgeon point of view. E3 just isn’t E3 unless there’s a vocal group condemning developers, insulting enthusiasts, and arrogantly and cynically decrying anyone who dares to show the slightest sign of optimism toward the coming year of gaming.
That point of view is not without its merits. Generally speaking, most games shown at E3 have a hard time living up to their own hype. Frame rates fall, graphics suffer, elements are cut, release dates get pushed back, and some games never see the light of day at all.
“E3 is nothing more than a marketing circus. There’s no substance. There’s no point in getting excited for a game.” they’ll say. “If you get excited, you set yourself up for disappointment. If you stay cynical, if a game is bad, then you were right, and if it’s good, then you’re pleasantly surprised.”
I’m surprised to see just how many people adopt this perspective when it comes to E3. I guess there’s an alluring appeal to being cynically and smugly about a game’s failures. And it’s true that there is no such thing as a perfect game. It doesn’t matter how good the story is, how advance the graphics are, how new and innovative the gameplay elements are, or the quality of any of the thousands of other facets present in every game. There are always going to be problems, bugs, glitches, imbalances, plot holes, length issues, any of which, to paraphrase Dilbert creator Scott Adams, can be pointed to and claimed to be exactly what you were afraid of.
However, the problem I see in that point of view is in how it affects how those games are eventually received. I’ve been reading the John Steinbeck’s classic American novel East of Eden lately, and a passage struck me. An Irish immigrant was talking with an American-born Chinese man, trying to understand why he talked to most people in a simplistic English dialect referred to as pidgin:
“’Lee,’ he said at last, ‘I mean no disrespect, but I’ve never been able to figure why you people still talk pidgin when an illiterate baboon from the black bogs of Ireland, with a head full of Gaelic and a tongue like a potato, learns to talk a poor grade of English in ten years.’
“Lee grinned. ‘Me talkee Chinese talk,’ he said.
“‘Well, I guess you have your reasons. And it’s not my affair. I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe it, Lee.’
“Lee looked at him and the brown eyes under their rounded upper lids seemed to open and deepen until they weren’t foreign any more, but man’s eyes, warm with understanding. Lee chuckled. ‘It’s more than a convenience,’ he said. ‘It’s even more than self-protection. Mostly we have to use it to be understood at all.’
“Samuel showed no sign of having observed any change. ‘I can understand the first two,’ he said thoughtfully, ‘but the third escapes me.’
“Lee said, ‘I know it’s hard to believe, but it has happened so often to me and to my friends that we take it for granted. If I should go up to a lady or a gentleman, for instance, and speak as I am doing now, I wouldn’t be understood.’
“‘Pidgin they expect, and pidgin they’ll listen to. But English from me they don’t listen to, and so they don’t understand it.’
“‘Can that be possible? How do I understand you?’
“‘That’s why I’m talking to you. You are one of the rare people who can separate your observation from your preconception. You see what is, where most people see what they expect.‘” (emphasis added)
I am surprised when I see people who seem to love video games on one hand yet constantly talk about how bad games are going to be after they’re shown at E3 on the other hand. And while I’ll never compel anyone to slap a smile on their face and only talk about how this game or that is going to be the best game ever made after a 90-second E3 trailer, I do feel bad for those who distort their enjoyment of a final product just to claim some form of superiority over others about being right about its flaws.
No matter whether you love getting sucked in to the marketing hype of E3 or if you’d rather stand on the sidelines shaking your head at the naïve sheep around buying into lies, an acute awareness to the way games truly are when they are a final released product is indispensable, or it is inevitable that your opinion of it will be tainted by your preconceptions.
As a games journalist, I do my best to keep myself as objective as possible, to give each game its due and judge it based on its own merits, not on the brief glimpse the marketing department decides to allow the public to see at E3. However, as you follow my twitter feed next week while I live tweet all things E3, don’t be surprised to see me going a little nuts about Mass Effect: Andromeda, or if Valve announces literally anything. I write about video games because I enjoy video games, and I will come back down to Earth the week after. Otherwise, remember that although no game is going to be perfect, or likely look as good as it does at E3, it’s ok to get excited about the future of your hobby.