Stepping out under the stadium lights, it’s not hard to be taken aback. The stands are absolutely full of cheering fans. 13,000 people, all on their feet, screaming, clapping, and, worst of all, waiting. They’re waiting for you to do something, anything.
But you can’t. Your job at that exact moment is to do absolutely nothing. Your feet locked together, planted firmly on the ground, head wearing heavier and heavier as you sweat out the hot Texas night. And you can’t even affirm to yourself that the raucous mob in front of you exists; in your mind, you just hear a wild, snarling beast with tens of thousands of gaping maws, ready to eat you alive.
Hopefully this sousaphone will help me.
I’m talking, if you aren’t aware, about Texas high school marching band. I don’t know where you’re from or how familiar you are with the concept (please don’t bring up Drumline), but in Texas and a few other states, high school marching band is a big deal. We practice three hours a day in 105-degree heat, worried our preparation is somehow lacking when compared to any number of the other elite marching schools mere miles down the road. People don’t head for the concessions Friday night at halftime; they perk up. We are the reason they show up at the football game. We are their favorite athletes.
So believe me when I say that I don’t have performance anxiety. I don’t feel like throwing up, I don’t get the shakes, and my heart most definitely does not start racing. If you asked me to hold out my hand, I might as well hold out a rock because neither one of them is going to be trembling.
So then why the fuck can’t I play this stupid video game?
On the E3 show floor, you get the chance to play pretty much every video game you could want to play before it comes out. I burned through Hitman: Absolution, Assassin’s Creed III, and Borderlands 2 and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. The only problem is that you are literally assaulted in every possible way permitted at a video game expo. PR handlers will come by to make sure you’re aware they can’t answer any questions worth asking, developers remind you that they were just a cog in the golden goose machine, and the flashing lights and wub-wubbing sounds of nearby booths clash with whatever you’re trying to get from the game in front of you.
Basically, it’s the worst environment to play video games, but also the only one if you want to do your job.
I don’t mind that dozens of people are standing in front of me as I play Dance Central 3. Hell, I feed off of it. I don’t mind that actual basketball players are watching me dick around with NBA Baller Beats. It actually makes it more fun. The problem arises when every faculty that I contain within my mind is being occupied with blocking out every single stimuli around me except the tiniest bit in front of me.
Think about it like this: you’re wearing a pair of earbuds. They don’t necessarily cancel out all of the sound around you, but they do a good job of muffling it. Then, around those earbuds, you are wearing a pair of headphones, which instead of noise-cancelling are actually noise-amplifying. Both of these audio devices are endlessly pouring out complete nonsense: words, sounds, whatever. Every once in a while, though, someone with an extremely ineffective bullhorn about 50 yards away will yell out a string of numbers, and your job is to recall these numbers later. Think you can do that?
Like I said, it’s the worst environment to play video games. So then why do they do it?
Because the spectacle of flashing lights and thumping club music is important. I don’t mean important to the game, but rather to getting your attention, which is pretty much the entire battle. You can tell someone a game is complete and utter trash but if you say even one thing that sounds interesting, there will be someone out there who will begin to consider buying that game. This means that if publishers can get a game into the media’s hands, then they’ve already won. The media will most likely write something about it, someone will probably read it, and then the publisher will end up with a sale.
And the media puts up with it because, like I said, someone is going to read what we write, and any moment someone is reading what we’re writing is a moment they’re spending on our website, hopefully considering clicking and reading more things on our website.
More importantly, though, it gets the non-media’s attention. If you’ve read about the Secret E3, you’ll know that there are two halves to the expo—industry and non-industry—and you’ll realize that if a publisher can get the longest line of, um, Muggles in front of their booth or most word-of-mouth publicity, then it was a million dollars well spent.
And those non-industry E3 attendees by and large aren’t interested in applying a critical mind to the games they play. Instead, they are concerned with how many games they can play and how much swag they can haul off to their hotel rooms today. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing (though it kind of is) since they paid a solid chunk of money to be there, but it epitomizes the difference in what the press and the non-press are looking for from the E3 show floor and, unfortunately, causes the rift in what the publishers do on the show floor and what the press wants to happen on the show floor.
Anyways, I guess this is my long-winded way of saying don’t judge me the next time you see me at an expo and I botch a jump for the twentieth time. I’m trying to take mental notes, conduct an interview, and play a game all at the same time. And if you do judge me or anyone else for failing to perform on a sensory overload show floor, redirect that frustration with the fact that publishers still think it necessary to go whole hog on the light show to be successful.
Or the fact that the guy that just walked by is wearing a Utilikilt and Vibram FiveFingers. Ugh.