It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for Ask Kotaku, the weekly feature in which Kotaku’s rank and file weigh in on the burning questions of our times. Sometimes they’re serious, sometimes they’re less so, but mostly it’s just another excuse for us to talk vidya games. You down?
This week on Ask Kotaku: Do you miss E3?
I went to one E3 and hated almost every sweaty, jetlagged second of it. I’ve covered every other one while I’ve worked here from home and that’s involved either getting up at ungodly hours, staying up until ungodly hours or sometimes both, just to write about a never-ending stream of announcements that would rarely be of any interest if it wasn’t for the fact they were part of E3. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t miss E3 one bit.
I miss being around strangers and not being unsettled the whole time, so I certainly miss attending E3. I miss it the same way I miss going to the movies, riding the New York City subway, and seeing my kids romp around in crowded New York City playgrounds.
I’ve attended every E3 since 2000 (or was it 2001?) and always had a pretty good time. It was, of course, obnoxious from the start, always a festival for hype and product more than a showcase of culture and community.
To the public, E3 was first and foremost those big press conferences that occurred early in a week of June more so than the subsequent three or four days (usually) in the Los Angeles Convention Center where attendees could walk from one noisy game-filled booth to the next. As Nintendo correctly foresaw, those press conferences were easily replaceable by digital events. They can stay that way, as far as I’m concerned.
For me, E3 was largely the LACC show-floor experience. It was flying out to LA in prep for those days of hustling through the convention center. It was going from West Hall to South Hall (taking that shortcut past the food trucks), looking for unheralded games (still remember finding Katamari Damacy in a corner, unattended), rushing to interviews with game developers, bumping into other reporters, and trying to satisfy, as best as possible, an insatiable hunger among our readership to find out stuff.
E3, similar to GDC, would briefly turn a beat where reporting is so heavily done by phone and email into one made for shoe-leather journalism, where, if news was breaking, you could just walk over to the relevant booth, talk to developers, PR people or executives to their faces and try to get their story. It also was the rare moment when many major Japanese developers—Nintendo’s especially—would be even remotely accessible, making it the more or less one moment of the year when I’d have a hope of talking to a Zelda designer or Fire Emblem creator in-person (through a translator), something I especially missed the chance for doing this year.
Then again, in recent years, E3 took me away from my kids for a week. I hated that and was glad to get an extra week with them this year.
I miss E3 the way you miss a relationship cut short by external circumstances: You don’t know what would’ve happened, but it sure would’ve been nice to see how things played out, right? This is my first job in games journalism, and, looking in from the outside, E3 has always seemed like a blast—a chaotic hurricane of a week where, sure, you get maybe three hours of sleep a day, but at least you have fun the other 21. I was looking forward to it. So any wistful longing, on my part, for E3 isn’t melancholic. It’s curious.
Yeah, yeah, world’s smallest violin...
The world has passed E3 by, and it’s largely a waste of everybody’s time and resources at this point. That said, this year has made me regrettably cognizant of just how many friends I kept up with largely through our brief chats at E3, GDC, PAX, Indiecade, BlizzCon, and other shows (some of which, I would argue, still serve a purpose), as well as my tendency to divide my year up into various convention seasons. Now I am floating in a hazy, undifferentiated time stew. My brain regularly shoots panic lightning down my spine about how I’m underprepared for both GDC and E3, both of which it seems to believe are about to begin, even though both should have already occurred by now.
I also dream about being at A Video Game Convention once every few weeks—never any specific convention. I’m always interviewing somebody on a crowded show floor. Sometimes it’s a recognizable industry figure. Other times it’s just a weird silhouette, an outline to be filled in later. I’m frantically rushing around to make it to all my appointments, but I’m in a rhythm with it. I’ve done it so many times and for so many years that it’s comforting, in its own way. Then I realize that I’m not wearing a mask, nor is anybody around me. I’m immediately gripped by terror, as though this pulsing memory of the old world just downloaded the new, and my brain updated with the fear I now regularly feel. I look around at everybody else, probing them with wild eyes. Have they forgotten what’s happening? Have they lost their minds? Have I? Then I wake up.
My biggest problem with trade shows like E3 used to be the walking and sweating. I used to have incredibly overactive sweat glands. If you had a late-day meeting with me at a GamesCom or E3, I apologize for how I must have smelled. That said, as someone working remotely from the main office, I loved the chance to get out and see people, coworkers and colleagues, in a work-related environment. I made a lot of friends at E3 and other trade shows. I miss some of those people dearly.
The irony of my situation is now I am in a massive power wheelchair, paralyzed from the chest down. I could navigate an E3 show floor super fast without breaking the tiniest sweat. It’s just next to impossible for me to get said wheelchair on a plane, so the chances of me going to a show even if there was one are slim to none. Maybe next year I can work up resources for a cross-country road trip.
Hrm. The last time I attended E3 was in the mid-2000s, so I’ve certainly gotten over not going. But this year will be the first time I won’t be attending the Tokyo Game Show since 2004. When August rolls around, I always think, oh, TGS is next month. Not this year, though, which is rather strange, but so is 2020.
E3 was always the most stressful work-week of my year. I’d wake up at 6:30, get marching orders, run around a massive space (vets who recommend comfy shoes aren’t kidding), subsist on food somehow both bad and expensive, then stay up till 2 or 3 writing. Parties? Maybe the print folks had time. Getting to fly home over the weekend was always a huge relief. (50/50 odds I’d then come down with something.)
So I don’t miss going to E3, except in that vague nostalgic sense where the passing of time helps the good parts—the interesting people, novel experiences, Kentia Hall weirdness, and noticing some small publisher is localizing a cool game—overshadow the unpleasant grind that so stressed me out. My sister says a similar thing happens with childbirth: You look back and you’re like, “Ehhh… that wasn’t so bad. Maybe I’ll have another.”
Not falling for that. Maybe as a casual showgoer I’d find E3 more chill, but then again, I’d probably get annoyed by the crazy lines for everything. If the event ever comes back, best to watch from afar.
TGS, on the other hand, had the key advantages of being in Japan and having amazing food...
I’ve never attended E3 in person, and can’t say I want to. I usually ran the home office during E3s past, which meant a panicked week of running stories from the field, covering press conferences most evenings, and watching hours of streams and panels in case news happened in them. It was stressful and exhausting, but at the end of it we got the satisfaction of a job well done.
This year, we have this non-E3 that just won’t end, which has managed to be simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming. I’m glad to see a shift away from cramming a ton of reveals into a week, which feels more humane on game developers, journalists, and viewers, but I miss a little bit of the teamwork and excitement. I’m really ready to stop watching events, though. Is it fall yet?
For longer than I can remember I’ve been reading about people going to E3. I flipped through GamePro issue 155, featuring “E³ Showstoppers!” like Final Fantasy X and Capcom vs. SNK 2 until its pages were worn and falling out. “While it didn’t leave show attendees agape with wonder, Halo certainly proved that it’s firmly on track to become an awesome sci-fi shooter,” the staff wrote, which I know not because of my photographic memory but because I still have the issue.
Then in 2010 I read a post on a random video game blog called Kotaku written by some oddball called Tim Rogers about how he didn’t get killed at E3. It convinced me that maybe blogging about games wouldn’t completely suck. Fast-forward to 2018 and now I was going to E3 on behalf of Kotaku trying not to get killed. I didn’t, although I think some small part of my soul got left behind at the Sony press conference.
It was the company’s last before it abandoned the show, in which it made everyone stand outside for a very long time in the Los Angeles heat, which is not nearly as dry as people say it is, until eventually we were corralled into a giant makeshift barn so that then-head of Sony Worldwide Studios, Shawn Layden, could introduce a trailer for The Last Of Us Part II in which a lot of people got brutally murdered.
At some point in all of this I started to cry because Anthony Bourdain had just died a few days earlier and it really fucked me up in a way no stranger’s death ever has, as if some weird part of me was beginning to feel like maybe there were slowly just fewer and fewer good things in the world and oh look Ellie just impaled that guy’s face with the claw of a hammer. This was not the boring insider baseball of user acquisition and PS Now strategy of Sony pressers past. I did get to demo Spider-Man later that night and see a life-size statue of Norman Reedus cradling a capsule baby, which I observed for a long stretch while eating ravioli out of one of those red-and-white checkered cardboard french-fry holders.
When I think about whether I miss E3 I think about whether I miss seeing a bunch of cinematic trailers and juiced-up demos that do their best to convince you that games are pure magic and not in fact flawed projects built by flesh and blood in sometimes-rough conditions whose fans will at some point decide in all of their wisdom that the work has been marred because some puddles went missing, and I’m afraid to admit that maybe I do, just a little bit.
Kotaku’s weighed in, but what’s your take? Do you miss the heady hype of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or is this good riddance to an archaic clusterf*ck? The conversation continues below, so have your say. We’ll see you in the comments, and will be back next Monday to take on another no-doubt nerdy head-scratcher.