Video Games Plateau At E3 2012
By Alex Cranz
I was sick during most of E3. Like weeping next to the toilet and using my thigh scorching laptop as a stomach heater kind of sick. I spent the first two days of E3 sweaty and gross in bed at a lovely hotel that had one whole channel devoted to playing the same 30 minute documentary about a minor Hollywood starlet over and over again. Also King of the Hill. And the Glee tour movie. Because this hotel had all of three stations that weren’t the news or sports. It was miserable until I transcended the awful feelings turning my guts to mash and achieved a higher level of being where food held no sway, water was for the weak and staying up until 5am and sleeping until 2pm seemed like I was doing something good for mankind.
Because my beautiful hotel had a balcony that allowed escape from the cave like 60s design of the interior I also spent some time out there reveling in temperatures that didn’t top out at 99 degrees Farenheit and watching better, healthier people walk beneath my balcony with joy in their hearts. They were off to Universal Studios! Or the Chinese Theatre! Or E3! The world was theirs!
I crop dusted every last one of them.
So by Thursday, the final day of E3 and the day in which I had only FOUR HOURS to see everything I needed to (usually I had more like twenty) I was ready to murder the entire city of Los Angeles, board a plane home, hug my dog and wallow in abject misery while catching up on three weeks of Game of Thrones and two weeks of Teen Wolf (reviews later this week!). I was cranky. The bright lights, cheerful PR reps and press of video game enthusiasts that I usually relished experiencing each year were an anathema. Something to be destroyed or bitterly bitterly judged.
I’ll have some coverage over the next few days of what I actually managed to see and enjoy but overwhelmingly my reaction to E3 this year wasn’t even annoyance. It was a frustratingly average internet “meh.”
So imagine my surprise when I managed to drag myself away from nearly a week of food poisoning induced sabbatical to find that I was not alone. That many other E3 attendees (without the benefit of food poisoning) found themselves woefully underwhelmed by this year’s E3.
But why? It’s not like the debacle of 2007 when they moved the party to Santa Monica and no one showed up and it felt like going to an X-Files convention circa 1998 only with flashier lights. For me it was sort of like…like I’d undergone a cleansing. Absent the slow building hype found in thousands of blog entries and effusive letters from PR companies representing game developers–absent the excitement of friends and peers–it was as though I were coming into the expo completely fresh. Like sending my mother or my best friend who hasn’t played a game since 1992.
The little things we all tend to ignore were suddenly very, very present. The trends we often fail to see as trends because we are too close to them were glaring. Everywhere I looked big muscled men with the same chiseled jaw line and optimum amount of stubble stared down at me from twenty-foot tall banners. They all looked the same. I’d never noticed it before. Not really. I knew it intellectually, but standing on that floor it was a revelation to me.
There is a plateau in in every art form. A period of time where an art form seems to reach its zenith and simply coasts. There is nothing new. Just elaborations of what is old. Reformed again and again until everything remarkable turns mundane.
That’s where we are in the video game world. This is the longest cycle for consoles we’ve had since the early 80s. The Xbox 360–the titan of this development cycle–has been out for seven years. There are kids in kindergarten and first grade who have never known another game system. They’ll no doubt be shocked when the Xbox 720 or what not finally makes an appearance one day. Whereas my generation grew up expecting a new console every few Christmases this generation’s gaming devices have taken on a monolithic appeal. They are the beginning and end of gaming.
But is the plateau found in the art form simply because of the devices these games are being played on? Sure everyone had had six to seven years of developing only for the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii. Naturally a certain style would develop. Now every character in games has that untethered physicality and blank look we’ve come to expect from the generation.
But what about the gameplay? What about the stories? There is no legitimate reason for them to have become mired in a rut of quicktime events, cover based shooting and angsty men forced to save the world after experiencing unspeakable loss.
Yet every. Single. Game features the same thing it seems. Our heroes are all chiseled men with an optimum amount of scruff as prescribed by focus groups. Their personalities are wastelands of gruffness, bad jokes, and wry Han Solo-lite rebellion. Our women are all dead before the final act. The fights all take place in locales festooned with chest high cover. Boss battles feature lots of “Press X to win” moments.
There are games who deviate from this new AAA game formula. But the deviations are minor. The feeling is still very much the same. That’s why Uncharted stands out with its bevy of badass women and Batman is remarkable for its inanely fun gameplay.
There was nothing especially and outstandingly remarkable at E3 this year. Nothing that promised a shift in style quite like Arkham Asylum did a couple of years ago. It was all more of the same. But at least the food at the actual expo didn’t give me food poisoning. That was a definite plus.