Smile and Nod

Smile and Nod: Why Isn't It Fun?

Russ Pitts | 4 Aug 2008 21:00
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It's hard not to love this job. In spite of the long hours, the irascible demands of our audience and the occasional aneurysm, working at The Escapist has to be the best job in the world.

A few weeks ago we were in Los Angeles for E3. That alone is worth writing home to mother about. In the past two years I've traveled to about a dozen separate gaming conventions, an average of one every other month. Granted, working a 16-hour day, hustling my way through a convention, snatching down quick notes at a press conference or interview session, and then scrambling to find a working internet connection to post a story and maybe remembering to eat isn't exactly a paid vacation. But most jobs don't allow you to travel as much as mine does, and when I think about the places I've been since I started here, it's easy to forget how hard I have to work to earn the plane ride.

At this year's DICE conference in Las Vegas, after sitting in on semi-exclusive panels starring the industry's most popular speakers, I went into town to see a vampire stripper show. Who does that? At last year's E3 in Santa Monica, I watched a full New Orleans-style funeral march along the beach, then walked the Santa Monica Pier and ate dinner sitting over the water, listening to the waves. At CES I saw a human-sized robot kick a soccer ball, and at GDC one year, I sat in a squatting-room-only lecture hall to listen to Warren Spector speak. The next year I sat in the same hall and listened to Ken Levine. Yet as awesome as all of that and a thousand other beautiful moments from the past two years may have been, none of it compares to this year's E3.

The show itself wasn't the best - or even one of the best - shows I've ever attended. In fact, taken on its own merits, this year's E3 was kind of a bust. The vast, empty spaces of the Los Angeles Convention Center mocked us with their lack of decoration. Where previously there had been gigantic displays, animated with light, sound and television monitors, this year there was nothing. The hallway where two years ago John Woo's Stranglehold had held court, announcing its presence at ear splitting volume to all who scurried past toward the West Hall, was this year once more just a hallway. A large, empty hallway. It was more than a little depressing.

That's not to say there weren't any games. On the contrary, there were plenty. And the hands-on demonstrations were among the best I've witnessed. Without the teeming throngs of adoring fan(boy)s, the game reps had all the time in the world to put on a good show, ensconced in their tiny, little meeting rooms, worried only about talking over each other, instead of a thousand other people and the amplifiers at the Guitar Hero booth.

For making appointments, getting a good look at the year's upcoming games and hearing yourself think, this year's E3 was in the top of its class, and anyone who really cares about all of that can write the ESA a letter and thank them. We'll wait. Game publishers don't count.

Here's the thing - games are fun. They don't have to be, as the Bohemian "games are art" crowd keeps insisting, but they usually are. The best of them anyway. So much fun that occasionally more people are playing them than are buying movie tickets, and the sales numbers keep climbing higher.

Convention centers are for more than housing giant displays announcing upcoming games. A lot more. Ours is not the only industry that holds an annual convention. The LACC calendar for the rest of the year boasts such vastly esoteric conventions as The California Construction Expo, the American International Real Estate Expo and Conference and the annual meeting of the Association for Financial Professionals. Not exactly dying industries any of them, but not fun. Not fun the way games are fun. And at their conventions, you'd generally be wandering blank hallways, eyes glued to schedules and bored out of your mind. Like I was at this year's E3.

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