Conversations can be quite the surprise. True enough, everyone knows something you don’t know, and mining that is the core of storytelling, journalism, and, well, general life-living. But it’s also true that no matter who it is, you have something in common with them. It’s just a matter of how much that overlap matters to you that makes it meaningful.
It’s those surprises that somehow seem the least unexpected, though. Talking with the woman next to me, a person I’d then known for all of four minutes, I was asked if I had seen the “Spike video game awards thing” on TV. Indeed I had, and we delved into a pool of her tangential interests and my semi-adult life.
Surprising, and yet not surprising. Who doesn’t play games now? Perhaps unlikely that a random person’s interests would reach the desire to watch the VGX (more likely boredom, a sensation that took of me quite thoroughly over the course of the three-hour web stream last week), but the broadening reach of the industry is represented in Geoff Keighley’s cohost Joel McHale.
McHale is known for basically two things: 1) being a dick on Community and 2) being a dick on The Soup. Oh and I guess being tall, handsome, and ridiculously jacked. But the point is that he’s found his success in portraying a very particular kind of person. It’s the same kind of person you find people flocking towards in high schools, the sort of man or woman with a distinct sense of disaffected aloofness. Tenderly uncaring and too cool to be impressed but that’s all you want to do: impress them.
The unexpected qualities in a person are often the least surprising, right? Well, the opposite is true, too; sometimes, when people fulfill the expectations, it can be a bit startling, a tad disappointing. It’s a truth of human nature that we don’t know what we want, but we can often pinpoint exactly what we don’t want. All we need is to see the potential for completion.
So it’s not unexpected that right out of the gate, McHale would come out swinging jokes against homosexuals, transgenders, and incontinence. McHale is a persona comedian, not a material comedian, though is a genuinely charming and nice fellow offstage. But the fact remains that we should not be surprised when a man known for being a dick acts like a total dick.
At certain points of the VGX, you could tell he felt bad. The problem was apparent: you had Keighley, a man wholly ingrained in the trials and tribulations of the industry, next to a man who has no qualms with the medium but also no stakes. The implicit message sent to the casual observers of the event was that we—those most enmeshed in games—don’t give a crap about our little multibillion dollar niche, so you shouldn’t either.
And McHale attempted to hedge his bets; he turned from his ass stage persona to a guy who wanted to try while not shattering his carefully constructed hosting reputation for apathy and wit, the latter of which seemed to be in short supply. And then with the unshakable Tim Schafer of Double Fine Productions and some major trailer reveals, things turned almost somewhat barely slightly around.
The other thing about McHale, though, is that he doesn’t bullshit when he hosts. The words coming out of his mouth are more or less unfiltered, though they still do usually fall with purpose. So it should not be unexpected that he would want to say how ridiculous it is that we celebrate the industry with three hours of advertisements, but many were startled when he did it anyways.
But he’s not wrong, to put it in colloquial terms. We are, in fact, an industry made up almost entirely of ads and marketing, more so than movies or music or television. E3, our biggest event, is a week of our most sprawling content and it’s all marketing that journalists are complicit with. All of these game award shows now come replete with world premieres of trailers and exclusive announcements before, after, during, and in between commercials.
You don’t see that happen at the Grammys or the Academy Awards or the Tonys or anywhere else that claims to be the flagship honoring ceremony of a respective medium. They celebrate their industries with the ones that built them up and remember their past, paying homage to how they got there.
We have a trailer describing how bullet holes are immaculately rendered in Tom Clancy’s The Division. We have a trailer for a next-gen port of Tomb Raider. We have Reggie Fils-Aime doing Reggie things. McHale, whether he knows it or not, has us pegged. We are cogs.
McHale might not be the biggest problem of the VGX. It might be us. I’m not saying he or Jay Mohr or Mr. Caffeine aren’t the most painful things I’ve ever seen in conjunction with video games, but that doesn’t make the words out of McHale’s mouth any less true. You know what? Maybe that is a bit surprising.