eFocus is the anti-E3. It's small and comparatively quiet - dancing girls, rock bands and fire twirlers tend to be absent - so it's possible to have a conversation without shouting. Most of the attending companies are small and eager for attention, so there's no half-assed display with a big sign and a monitor cycling expansion pack screenshots. It's an event that showcases cool, upcoming products, like the NIC that (I think this is what they said) reads your thoughts to determine which packets are important and makes your gaming faster, and thus merits its $100 price tag.
In other words, eFocus is a singles bar around closing time. The girls can be pretty hot, sometimes there's desperation in the air and hustlin' skills earn you much more than a big name on a badge. More importantly, there's free drinks. As we rolled in, I maneuvered onto Contributing Editor JR Sutich's wing, and we began to prowl. In between checking out new games and thought-reading hardware, we fed outrageous lies to cute female PR reps ("JR used to be an East German swimmer. And a woman.") because they'd believe it, or they'd pretend to believe it, and that was good enough for us.
When we stumbled on a dance pad in the middle of the floor, the logical thing for me to do was give JR a hearty shove in its direction. I mumbled "C'monishllbefun" as he stumbled toward the table and the waiting representatives, concealing my intentions to make another man dance for my entertainment. They looked at us somewhat askance, giving the half-filled glasses we were carrying a rather suspicious look, for make no mistake, Captain Morgan was the Third Man in attendance that evening.
Something seemed amiss as the rep scrolled through the songs to begin the demonstration. I'd never heard of any of them, which forces me to admit to a quiet interest in rhythm games. Sometimes, I go home, shut the blinds and show off my dancing skills when I am absolutely, positively sure I am alone. This is my secret shame. I'm no connoisseur of the rhythm genre, but something about the song titles just seemed off. I didn't have time to share my thoughts before he was on the pad, bouncing up and down to a cheerful-sounding synthesizer and guitar opening that lacked the Pocky-covered intensity of a typical Dance Dance Revolution track.
Lyrics scrolled across the screen, and clarity came upon me with strange and terrible speed. The words were not the mangled Japanese-English or nonsensical techno lyrics so common in this genre. No, I'd thrown a friend and colleague head-first into the den of piety. A quick glance at the sign above the booth confirmed my suspicion: Digital Praise. And even I was socially aware enough to realize that stumbling up to a Christian game publisher with a drink in each hand was a bit of a faux pas.
Obviously, there was only one thing to do. Mumbling, "Do what you want to the girl, just leave me alone," I attempted to make good my escape. The crowds were tightly packed around us, though, and making matters worse, JR had finished his song. He turned to me with a Cheshire grin and gave me a "Come on! It'll be fun!" as he dragged me toward the waiting dance pad. The rep was eager, now, either hoping for unbiased journalistic coverage or because turning the tables on two drunken idiots was hilariously funny. I prefer to think it was the former.
I had fantasies of the liquor giving me some kind of crazy dancing skills, but these were the desperate hopes of a man facing a firing squad. I have no rhythm, and my normally terrible dancing skills had a layer of fine Caribbean rum over them. I was about to make a tremendous ass out of myself. Halfway through my complete and utter failure at a Christian dance game, I wondered if this was a penance of some kind and I slinked away to attempt to regain my dignity.
It was a classic clash of cultures. The gaming establishment and its audience treat Christian game publishers as bizarre outsiders, aliens from another world where people use the word "spirituality" in a serious sense. While the "Are games art?" debate rages endlessly in "our" circles, these same outsiders seek to make games that are spiritually enriching. Disagree with their conviction all you like, but few publishers seek enlightenment in addition to fabulous cash prizes.