Losing and Regaining Faith at E3 2014

For those who aren’t aware, E3 is the biggest week in the video game industry. At the event, countless major reveals, premier trailers, and release dates for anticipated games are announced. I’ve been lucky enough to attend for the last 5 years. The first time, I was convinced that a long-time childhood dream came true. The feeling I felt rushing to the Nintendo booth seemed like the way kids described to me their trips to Disneyland (since I never had enough money to go with my family).

The following three E3s felt exciting, of course, but something in me was draining. Maybe it was because I was playing more niche games or because I worked in retail, but something about the event was increasingly unappealing. When I watched the Sony and Microsoft press conferences this year, I felt unsatisfied with the announcements. The conferences weren’t too different from the previous years, and some games like No Man’s Sky, MGSV, and Little Big Planet 3 really excited me, but everything else was an expected sequel to something that I was sick of seeing. Games like the new Call of Duty, Battlefield and Rainbow Six made headlines and stole the show for a lot of people on my newsfeed. When I saw Rainbow Six close the Ubisoft conference, the host Aisha Tyler joked that the trailer made her cry from anticipation. When I saw the game, I was confused. In the trailer, skilled players (that sounded like teenagers) chatted online and killed their way to save a woman that was being held hostage by characters that I’m assuming were terrorists. This doesn’t seem new, so why am I bothered? This is part of mainstream gaming culture after all. What made me uncomfortable was how these young players knew the terminology for the techniques and strategies to kill characters that weren’t introduced as “bad guys.” In their chat, they enjoyed their victory of numerous murders as if they won a harmless basketball game. Death was nothing to players in the trailer, and maybe even to the actors who played them, script writers, Aisha Tyler, and to the countless people who spread the trailer around the internet.

There was a lot of blood at Sony’s and Microsoft’s conference, but I think the new Mortal Kombat stole the show for most graphic game. When I was a kid, I remember violent games didn’t bother adults around me as much, and I think this is because those games were so pixilated. The technology of the past prevented games from looking like interactive snuff films. Now, the technology that exists allows developers to make their games look picture realistic. One of the new Mortal Kombat’s fatalities looked just like seeing a real person rip off the head of another. Again, on my newsfeed and on websites I follow, I noticed people were salivating at the chance to play it. I was in shock and had no desire to play it myself.

Not all graphic violent games ignored the significance of death. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s trailer was so well made that it gave me chills. I have followed the series’ creator’s, Hideo Kojima, career for over a decade and understand that he prefers mature and controversial themes for a purpose. He is one of the very few mainstream designers who attempts to send a message to players through his game. The MGSV trailer has a head shot towards the end that makes me feel sick every time I watch it. I see in the trailer a character that transforms and hardens. When I saw the head shot, the death meant something, a whole lot more than in the new demos for Call of Duty, Battlefield, Assassin’s Creed, etc. In this trailer, I was convinced that death has weight in games still. It gave me hope.

The next morning, I had an opposite experience when I saw the Nintendo E3 Digital Event. The announcements for a beautiful new Zelda, Mario Maker, and the big surprise, Splatoon were enough to make me feel that I wasn’t growing out of my life-long hobby. Splatoon was a Nintendo-stylized 3rd-person shooter, involving paint, squids, and a ton of imagination. This was a shooter for families that involves no deaths, no blood, and no war, just playful competition. The biggest selling genre is the 1st person shooter genre, and when I worked retail, most customers that bought these shooters were kids (their parents bought them of course), and now there is potential to remind parents that other options exist. This other option may even play better than the more adult-themed competition.

When I attended with my friends, I needed to play it. I rushed to the Nintendo booth, played Smash Bros for too long and closed my day with Splatoon. I fell in love with the game and my faith was restored. I can’t wait for it.

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