E3 SNAFU: How the memes can improve gaming’s largest show

There's a saying about the "me" generation that says we're "absolutely terrified of someone, somewhere, trying to sell them something." I disagree, but it's hard not to see how frustrated people can get when a company reduces their passionate involvement to a number on an accounting sheet. To the dismay of gamers everywhere, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo - also known as E3 - has done just this.

It was hard not to walk away from this year's expo (or in my case, from the television after hours and hours of coverage) without the bitter aftertaste of the word "consumer" in one's mouth, especially after Sony Computer and Entertainment America CEO Jack Tretton referred to fans as such throughout his company's keynote presentation.

It seems, nowadays, that E3 aims only to create sensational headlines for investors. But it didn't used to be that way. Although E3 has historically been a trade show intended for shop owners, investors, and developers, gamers have also tuned into to every scrap of E3 news they could get since the expo's inception.

Now, anybody with an Internet connection or cable television access can watch E3, so audiences have been growing steadily every year. Major cable networks such as Spike and G4 now broadcast hours of live, commercial-free coverage and practically every major press outlet, specific to gaming or not, covers E3. Ten million people, according to a SpikeTV press release, watched some aspect of that outlet's Expo coverage in 2011, be it through television or streaming on their computer, and similar numbers were expected this year.

The fan-based gaming press (Kotaku, Destroid, et al.) often do good work covering the Expo. The national outlets don't do as well; in fact, a CNN tech reporter didn't even know he was playing a new console when testing it out on the show floor. So the fans have begun to revolt, and have done so in an ingenious way - by creating memes out of faults, snafus, and fuck-ups in the keynote press conferences.

E3 memes aren't a new phenomenon. Say the words "Ridge Racer" and most gamers will know you're making fun of Kaz Hirai, the hapless Sony executive who presented that game at E3 2006. Sometimes the meme-making can be out of love, like the "my body is ready" quote of Nintendo exec Reggie Fils-Aime's 2007 press conference at E3.

As far as gaffes go, this year might be the worst yet - which makes it the best year for mockery and memes. For example, Microsoft's near constant barrage of "incorporate every piece of technology in your home with Kinect and Smartglass" inspired Trey Parker and Matt Stone to parody the publisher on their own stage. There was also the popular demo of Ubisoft's new IP, Watch_Dogs, being run on a high-end PC instead of a console, leading PC fans to claim the world as their own. Or, the impossible-to-cast spells of a new motion-based Harry Potter PS3 game that even had the announcer panicking. Or, one of Ubisoft's hosts being a 2005-era stereotype of what the company thinks a gamer looks and talks like. Or, developer/bunch of assholes Crystal Dynamics bragging about the "realism" of their new Tomb Raider title, with the attempted rapes that the protagonist will have to fight off in the game substituting for meaningful "character development". Or, Nintendo's parody-worthy videos of a family enjoying the WiiU together.

Each of these gaffes offers fodder for great jokes, but underneath the laughter, gamers feel a deep undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the companies' new technology features and their marketing strategies. The first two examples feel like gimmicks marketed to casual fans rather than hardcore gamers - gimmicks that might indeed serve a good purpose in a home, but which look awful on a big stage. The PC demo only served to deepen the divide between console gamers and PC gamers, dubbed "the PC master race" for their superior (expensive) hardware and the issues of class that go along with it. The demos from Ubisoft, Crystal Dynamics, and Nintendo show something even more repugnant to this audience of devoted fans, which is that we're disrespected by the publishers they buy products from, be it through DLC or DRM or just a plain technology-free insult. It's especially insulting to female gamers when Lara Croft, one of the strongest female heroines in all of gaming, becomes the subject of a (presumably male) player's rescue fantasy. And Nintendo's priorities annoy the hardcore gamers who feel abandoned in favor of *gasp* the average family unit of consumers. The Wii did well by appealing to families, but when Nintendo tries to court both the casual and the fanatical audiences at once, the press from key gaming outlets becomes less than favorable and their stock price drops a decent amount. No one is left satisfied.

For all of the problems that PAX has had in the past several years, it still remains a better example of how interactions between publisher, developer, and gamer should go. Rather than marketing to gamers with gimmicks or out-of-date stereotypes, the developers and publishers present themselves to the community and make themselves available. Questions? Ask them at a panel or after a keynote. Want to try out a new game or a new system? Get on the floor and wait in line.

E3's unprecedented scale and coverage should make it a worldwide gathering for everyone in the industry. That would mean including everyone - even indie games and PC games. Maybe then, E3 could become something truly great for the industry. But until that happens, fans will be more than happy to bite the bitter hands that feed us.

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