E3 really isn’t what it used to be. Part of that is the growth of the internet and social media, and part of it is that I’m not 12 anymore. It’s definitely hard to be surprised when dozens of first-plays and previews go up the day something is announced, and it’s harder to feel like I can read and re-read the tidbits that come out while still maintaining some sort of enthusiasm.
Wait, I’m sorry. That’s usually the type of thing I’d type up about E3. This year, however, we’re looking at the lead-up to a new generation of consoles – consoles that build upon the online models we’ve grown comfortable with, that build themselves into massively interconnected marketplaces. That means all the usual bellyaching about the yearly Trade Show flies out the window as we ponder new hardware and services. (We reserve bellyaching to the price announcements).
This year’s E3 brings together a kind of fervor and fan-boyish optimism that only comes by every now and again. As the floor opens tomorrow, sites across the web will flood with pictures, words, snark and amazement. We’ll wonder what videos were CGI bait fests, discuss whether the Microsoft press event ran videos or if the players holding controllers were actually doing anything, and use the promise of the new to engage that restless questioning that followed the E3 events of our youth.
We’re on the verge of a new generation of experiences; new ways to connect to, engage in, and share our passion; new toys to adorn our spaces. To someone technologically inclined, that's an exciting space to inhabit. But as we walk towards this future, I wonder what exactly we count as progress. Our new consoles will do more related to games (video editing, online conference calling, streaming and couchcasting, to name a few), but will treat gaming itself as a service to lease rather than a product to own. The previews we’ve seen so far offer beautiful visuals and new control methods, but how many gamers will actually be able to afford the experience being sold and how many of those vistas will offer something novel? We are told that the power within these black boxes enables us to explore things previously impossible, but we keep looking back to the standards of shooters to show this growth. And while we proclaim that gaming will be brought to families and friends, we listened to sexist vocalizations and jokes when women took the stage this morning.
To be fair, Sony’s press event (ongoing as I type this up) is killing it by presenting games that sample a variety of genres, feature diverse main characters, and embrace smaller developers. And while more impressive than Microsoft's offerings, neither company is adequately addressing the growing concern that this will be a generation whose experiences won't survive. If we’re standing atop hills and singing the praises of a new generation, shouldn’t we be looking for things that actually signal changes in attitudes?
There’s a lot to be excited about over the next few days, but I’m not so sure they’ll be the things I’ll be looking at.