It’s Unfamiliar

What do video games look like in 2017? What games are coming out in 2017? Is PAX the place to find out? Penny Arcade Expo is the premier Video Game convention. This wasn’t my first PAX and it most likely won’t be my last. Though I can’t help but feel that everything about it is unfamiliar. I enter, the same route I’ve taken years before. The first attraction was the 20 minute line for parking. I paid 20 dollars for 8 hours. I keep telling myself that I need to purchase a hotel room, but I live so close to San Antonio, that I can’t justify it. Conventions are cumbersome to commute to though. To really have the perfect experience, I need to book a room. I tell myself this, the same as I told myself back at IkkiCon in my home city of Austin.

I brought a friend, somewhat against his will. I’m going as press this time. Or at least I would, but I missed the boat on Media badges. This is fine, I think to myself, it shouldn’t be hard to pull a few indy devs to interview. I’ve been doing conventions as an artist for the past decades. Indies at this cons are the artists’ alley. I’m always happy to talk to someone with a camera.

I planned poorly. The floor is packed. Take a ticket. Everything involves a line. Queue’s stretch around corners, infinite seas of black hoodies and glasses. One queue has a group making a swastika out of bodies. I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, so I keep walking. I see many people with cameras, roaming around. The Chive enters the men’s bathroom – camera ready. I see what I assume to be YouTubers setting up tripods and saying the classic line “What’s up YOUTUBE, It’s me at PAX SOUTH”. I can’t do this. I’m not mentally prepared. I need press badges for the future. I need to be able to talk to these devs without the crowd. I want to get in and find out what games are being made.

More Games

I’m unable to actually play anything. I have the weight of a camera and not enough sense to plan around that. Lines are long. Merchandise is available – but I am spoiled by the internet. I can’t justify waiting 2 hours to play a game I can pick up from redbox or buy myself. I can’t justify paying a premium for miniatures or retro games, when I can purchase them online and wait a day. This is hurting this industry, I’m sure. Maybe not though. There are Overwatch cosplays everywhere. Overwatch has become the Naruto of conventions. Well, Naruto cosplay isn’t so popular anymore, but long gone are the days of Team Fortress and Solid Snakes. It is Blizzard, everwhere. That’s fine.

I’m not the audience.

I realize this as I wander through. I love tabletop, I enjoy gaming – but I don’t recognize anyone. A group of girls hyperventilate when they see an asian boy with a blue haired boy. Twitch streamers maybe? They don’t stop hyperventilating. I don’t know who these people are. They look at us and tell us to be quiet (they are incognito). We haven’t said anything and wouldn’t know who to tell. I don’t know who they are.

They are the future of gaming. This is the face of gaming in 2017. The media here are people like me. Trying to take advantage of the popularity of the event to score a few views on YouTube. The journalist in me wanted to dig deeper to find the uniqueness in the indy games, but even then – I couldn’t remove my goggles of cynicism. All around I saw more games. More games. Not new games. Everything was available on Early Access. Everything had vast teams of Marketers.

I see Japanese the Game. It’s a card game. I saw 14,000 dollar gamer tables and hundreds of merch booths. Is this what being a gamer is in 2017? Proving you know your references, showing that you understand the clever combination of two franchises on a shirt? Overwatch – everywhere. I watch some professional Overwatch. It’s hard to follow. I know the game, w + m1. That’s fine. Gone are the MOBAs and the Counter-Strikes. It’s good to see gaming evolve, but it is a massive enterprise now. I haven’t followed it well enough these past few years. I can’t keep up. I am no longer on the pulse of gaming.

What’s the last game I enjoyed?

I ask myself this as I wander through the floor. I can’t remember. Maybe Bloodborne? I wanted to enjoy Dark Souls 3, but couldn’t. I was stoked for it too. I don’t even think it was a bad game. Have I grown out of this? I play Hearthstone and Overwatch sometimes. I don’t do it because it’s fun, I do it because if I don’t I’ll miss out on limited of time items. Is that why I used to play TF2? Did I think I was having fun? I’m too jaded. I’m happy people can enjoy their hobby and would that I could, as well.

This is not a review. I am not emotionally withdrawn enough to cover this from an objective angle. I’m sure these YouTubers and Twitch streamers are bringing a lot of joy to people. These indy devs are working their hearts out to create more games. The big studios know what gamers want. I don’t know what I want. If someone came to me and filled a checklist of things that I’d want: Innovative mechanics, world building, longevity, immersion.. I would most likely complain. I can’t be fair to the industry.

Am I jealous? Am I bitter? I never felt like I was. 

I know that the Penny Arcade guys put a lot into these conventions. They are great fun for many people and have a lot of positive energy. Why am I so broken?

I post a video mash-up of walking around. It lacks art and direction. I snidely say “It sucked” at the end. But really, the convention itself is run efficiently. Queues are minimal considering the turnout. Getting in is fast. The epitome of convention efficiency. There’s a lot of panels. Something for everyone. Nothing for me. No clicks, no celebrities, no product. I can get all of this from you.

It hurts. I’m afraid I’m done with gaming. I can’t see it any other way. It has been a core part of my identity and yet I can’t stop from muttering ‘It’s Shit’.

I am a marketer by trade and everywhere I look I see marketing. There’s nothing inherently wrong with marketing, but once you can see the code in the matrix – it makes it hard to see things the way they should be. You’ll never get noticed today without marketing and yet I can’t even figure out who I am outside of this shell that I exist within. We leave the convention and go to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. We share the volcano nachos. The first few bites are great but inside is just slimy cheese. Seems to mirror my day pretty well.

Go and build Gaming the way you see it for 2017, world. You deserve it. As for me, I have to rediscover who I am. I’ve been living inside of a shell of irony and disdain for too long.

I own a Playstation VR that I can’t use because it makes me nauseous and next time I’ll tell you where we’re heading.

 


Also published on Medium.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Pretty spot on review, I was there. I’ll post my own write-up later in the comments. This was the worst PAX South so far.

    BTW: You probably are growing out of it. I really only play space sims and games friends drag me into these days. I know I’m not a gamer anymore. I’m a martial artist. Seriously, go pick up a combat sport. Learn to fight. You’d be amazed at how being punched in the face positively impacts your world view.

    I am Jack’s mid-life crisis.

  2. Dear Robert,

    I recommend you read the short science fiction story MELANCHOLY ELEPHANTS by Spyder Robinson. It is available on the author website:

    http://www.spiderrobinson.com/melancholyelephants.html

    Creative work is best compared to mining. When you excavate deep and wide enough you are left with a ghost town inhabited with a few folks who did not save enough money to escape their fate. Creators cannot create truly new things anymore. There is a constant amount of creative nuggets to be mined. As Alex Jones would phrase it, we have already reached peak trope and are heading to a total fanbase collapse. The only saving grace are the newbies who have not yet been exposed to already mined ideas. Dharmachakra spins and spins. ☸

    – ?2001.

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