So, the big themes from this year's E3:
1. audience members whooping over gratuitous violence
2. Tomb Raider rape discussion and booth babes still keep gaming a boys club
3. everybody still thinks Netflix is an AWESOME FEATURE and not just an expected side app
4. everybody has a second screen strategy, suddenly
5. and not a lot of huge surprises, but plenty of smaller ones
1. I've already talked a bit about how weird it was to hear sports-level cheering as virtual people had their faces shot off. I think Warren Spector has it right in this interview when he suggests that it's not so much the violence itself that's the problem, it's the fetishizing of it. I wouldn't say that gaming is the sole horse in that race, because society is always going to move towards new standards that would have been unthinkable just a few generations before... but it was damn weird to hear people hooting to applaud some pretty stupidly gory moments at the E3 press conferences. PRESS conferences.
I mean, come on, God of War: Ascension. As I tweeted during Sony's show, are we really OK with that asinine brain-removal attack Kratos puts on that elephant guy? I suppose this is no different than the evolution of R-rated horror. Some horror movies are cheap scares, some are psychological, some are buckets of blood. If I, personally, needed any further proof that the God of War franchise is not for me, that was more than enough. That, and the eight minutes that preceded it of Sony making us watch Kratos rip the horns off goatmen over and over again.
2. Booth babes (and I only use the term because I have not heard anything less dopey) were in force at E3. Now, as a marketer, I know that having pretty people sell your product is The Way It's Done. But obviously men can be pretty too, and men only made up maybe 10% of the show floor demo teams. Although when you add in developer staff, then you add a ton of males to the mix. I had personal demos from both: developers and booth personnel. And PR execs, which were mostly female in my experience.
What I'm getting at is that I don't have a problem with pretty people standing around handing out freebies and trying to hustle your attention. But it should be a relatively even gender split, and whatever awful thing they're forced to wear should not be awful. Pretty people can be pretty without wearing short shorts and tight t-shirts.
And as for the Tomb Raider prequel... I think the fault lies squarely with Crystal Dynamix being boneheads. The "attempted rape" scene contains no rape. There is a threat of one, of an assault at the least, with the clear tone that Lara is being sexually targeted by one guy... but Lara gets away and shoots the guy in the head pretty damn quick. It's not like there's some kind of terrible rape minigame where you have to drag Lara away from the attacker. Which seems like that's the angle that is taking root in the mainstream press: in the new Tomb Raider, Lara gets raped.
But Crystal Dynamix put it out there that "they try to rape her," that Lara "turns into a cornered animal to survive" and that this becomes a defining moment in her turning into the heroic, empowered, take-no-shit Lara Croft we all know. And that kind of thematic emphasis just is not necessary based on what actually happens to Lara in the 20 minutes or so I saw at E3. She's already been through a world of pain... nearly freezing to death, starving, lost, and she literally walks off a bear trap wound... so why pretend that a sexual assault is the character-defining catalyst? Why make THAT your media talking point.
Crystal Dynamix has spat out some other sexist malarkey too, which makes me worry that these are leading indicators of a lousy game. (See also: Lara's jungle wilderness is mysteriously littered with arrow pick-ups.) These guys are talking as if Tomb Raider is 100% played by males, made for males, and interpreted by males. It's screwy how these guys are shitting on their entire female audience.
3. Netflix et al. What is it with everybody being so damn proud that they negotiated a Netflix app? Or Amazon or Hulu or whatever. I guess it's easy proof that Nintendo/Sony/Microsoft is serious about being more than a gaming device. But I have Netflix on every electronic device in my house that cost more than $50. So it's not exactly a killer feature anymore. Who had "Netflix" on their E3 press conference bingo cards?
4. Nintendo unveils a second screen controller last year, Apple has destroyed all tablet and phone competition, so now suddenly both Microsoft and Sony show up with second screen strategies with tablet interfaces. Microsoft's SmartGlass is an app that will run on iPads (and Android tablets, but no one has those), so at least they're not trying to invent new portable hardware. And they're not trying to limit it to Windows 7 phones, because nobody is buying those. So that's two smart bullet points to SmartGlass. Sony was more subtle about it, throwing out the Vita's cross-play feature with games like PlayStation All Stars... but I bet Sony is preparing for more PS3-Vita functionality, trying to combine Apple's portable gaming strategy with their own HD PS3 tech (just as Nintendo is with the Wii U). Of course, no one is buying Vitas either.
Me, I love the second screen stuff. I loved it back in the GBA-GameCube days, even as it died on the vine. It seems to me like Nintendo is going to have the easier go at this, since the GamePad is part of the Wii U. Microsoft has to rely on people owning iPads - which certainly plenty do - but they're going to have to see some fantastic early returns on SmartGlass app usage to convince developers to build for it. Sony, well, they'll have to price cut the Vita eventually to get it in more peoples' hands, but they're at least able to start sneaking in the back door with their first-party devs and the Vitas that are already in the wild.
5. Post-E3, there was a lot of jaded smacktalk about the lack of surprises. Whatever. I suppose it's easy for me to lack patience for that attitude, since I was there. It is certainly more exciting to watch new footage from Assassin's Creed III on a three-story-high HD screen than to see ASSASSIN'S CREED III TO FEATURE NAVAL BATTLES pop up on an RSS feed back home.
I get that a segment of the population is going to get sniffy about it, and, yeah, aside from the tweaked Wii U hardware, there's no new console to dominate the media waves. But the "E3 sucks" tact is not going to get any credence from me.