So, writing this up quickly as I head back from the place, mainly before I forget.
I’ll admit, I’ve not made it down to one for the past few years but the first 3 or 4? They were pretty OK, really. Certainly not much I’d feel the need to mutter under my breath about, anyway.
(Well, except for the dudes who rudely pushed Mrs B to one side that one year, determined as they were to show their game to a bunch of lads *even if* that meant displacing the nearest woman. But hey)
I say pretty OK but they were fairly strong affairs. Not only did they allow you a glimpse of upcoming games but they were happy to put small games alongside them. Still the only convention I know of that has a segment where people don’t have to travel to show their work and can have Gay Sniper and Ergon Logos alongside Assassin’s Creed.
This year though? Well, my kid enjoyed himself but y’know, he’s a kid. They had squid hats and a Mario moustache on a pole. Come on. I’m old and I enjoy myself with a squid hat and a Mario muzzy on a pole. Just multiply that to kidageddon and we’re probably not close to the levels of excitement. Think the Steam Spy dude looking at a graph that says we’re all going to die. That sort of excitement.
But let’s be clear about two things here. Walking into EGX this year was like walking into someone’s shed, someone’s ruddy big shed admittedly, and the lightbulb had blown. I dunno. You know that bit where it’s quarter to five on a dark winter night and the flea market is packing up to go home? Like that but all day.
On the way in, we passed one of the other halls and I don’t know for deffo but it was something like A Place In The Sun Live, point is I don’t know what it was but it looked like a nice space to be in. EGX did not. It looked like a shithole where all the lights had broken.
Now, I know, I know. Videogames, right? We’ve got a weird on for darkness, energy drinks and what have you but what an unwelcoming dump we let our establishments turn into. It’s like someone made the biggest Gamestation store ever. It was not nice.
But OK, there’s a degree of going with the territory here and all that even though I like to think we’re slowly moving on (but to be fair, that’s probably the folks I lurk around with?)
The thing that really got to me was that EGX was a shit place to see new videogames and worse, a shit place to sit down and play videogames.
That’s not to say there weren’t good games there. There were a whole bunch of amazing videogames. That’s not to say there weren’t amazing people showing off amazing games either. There was, very much so. In abundance. An amazingly strong and diverse show of work.
But my mind turns to the Xbox corner. I went in to play the id@ stuff and it was cramped, dark, shitty. Good games went there to die. Good work went there to die. I had a brief attempt at a chat with a guy behind one of the games but it was difficult. I didn’t mind that I’d accidentally managed to reboot the entire game and because it’s a devbuild it took ages to come back to life. I did mind that this played out in a cramped corner with the Microsoft equivalent of the Radio One Roadshow blaring guff out. I tried to play a couple of other indie games there but it was just a crap place to play anything.
Folks can have the best game in the world but I’m not going to want to stand there and play those games in less space than I’d get to take a piss in a portaloo.
But oh, if it was just Microsoft. Over at Ninty corner they were holding a summer roadshow in a cramped auditorium. Come to play games or see games? Have a banging announcer at a shit kids party yelling down your lugholes the whole time. Look, the beanbags are a nice touch but no-one can chill next to Mr Tumble’s Squid Hat Party LIVE. Everyone suffers, especially nearby booth folk who just want to show people their videogame and jet in thousands of miles to do so.
And bluntly, I used to go to EGX with Mrs B and now I’m glad she stayed at home. She puts up with a lot of stuff with me being in videogames, from the hours I disappear to make them, the weird bleeping sounds as I’m ‘doing the noises now’ and the ‘you won’t believe what I just read on the internet’ which is now a staple of our relationship but I genuinely would not inflict this on her. I would be ashamed. Seriously.
“Hey hon, come to a dark cattle shed where a few people shout shit over microphones loudly like the worlds worst kids party. Come to a dark shed that plays up to all the worst parts of what videogames are, where you can buy a ‘genuine army dogtag’, get handed a leaflet saying ‘Jesus loves gamers’ with the head of Jesus superimposed over things but you can’t buy anything you’d actually want to put in your mouth to eat and just don’t even look at the energy drinks stand because what even is that? Oh, and there’s a queue that’ll take you over an hour to negotiate just to spend five minutes with a videogame that’ll turn out to be just like the last videogame. Oh, and it smells.”
And I dunno, I don’t know what I expected knowing the show had scaled up in recent years but all I do know is that there wasn’t a single, solitary place in that hall where you could comfortably play a videogame. Maybe if you got your 3DS out on the bog or something. The Burger King at the airport was OK.
Even when a game had only the smallest of queues (I managed to get a go on Manic Miner fairly easily) then it’d still be to the tune of some folks who I’m sure are perfectly nice in real life but like when a furniture store hires a DJ and plonks him outside playing the Ronko Disco Hits Of 1976, kinda loud and obnoxious. When you’re scared to step even a pace backwards whilst playing a game because you’ll step on someone facing the other way playing a game behind you but there’s plenty of space for a stage and PA, when there’s a queue that snakes around a mammoth screen and a classroom’s worth of cinema style seats for just one game, it’s got out of hand. When even the normally exemplary leftfield collection is dumped in the middle of all this and you’re expected to play small, thoughtful works to the pounding inanity of “WHO LIKES FREE STUFF? COME UP ON STAGE AND SPIN THE WHEEL”, none of these games, big or small are getting the justice they deserve.
And if you can’t comfortably play a videogame, despite the best efforts of those manning their stands and booths, if you can barely get a glimpse of the big new games… what the fuck is even the point?
It’s a rhetorical question, obviously. I know what the point becomes. And that is everything I want videogames to avoid.
I don’t buy that this is serving a different audience, I don’t but that this is a necessity of scaling up and I don’t buy that this is because the NEC is a dump (although it’s not exactly going to win awards for beautiful holiday destinations any time soon). This is what happens when you let big companies, when you let yourself as an event organiser, play up to every single one of the worst stereotypes about gaming. This is what happens when everyone stops (or when someone finds it’s too late to stop now) and forgets that people attend these events to see and play videogames and fails to put that front and centre of the experience.
It’s not like Eurogamer haven’t managed to get it right multiple times before but this time, I just kept thinking back to the hand over face uncomfortable laughs about The Legends Of Gaming and its hashtag for meat vending machine and thinking, well, at least there wasn’t a hashtag enabled meat vending machine here. But you know what? It wouldn’t have surprised me if there was. Or something worse.
We can start making things better by turning the lights on but let’s not stop there. Let’s make these places for humans to come and be able to play videogames, big budget and small. Yesterday was another of those days in videogames where I know we can be better than what I saw. I’ve seen that we can be better. I know the company behind this has done better, repeatedly, before.
I don’t know how or why things turned out the way they did but it’s my sincere hope they never turn out that way again. We all deserve better. Videogames deserve better. I don’t think a room I’m not ashamed to take the wife (who has stood by my side in videogames for fifteen years, through multiple events and showings) to is that big an ask, right? I’d hope a place you go to see and play videogames that can actually be that wouldn’t be that far behind either, y’know?