A Few Steps Forward, a Few Steps Back: E3 Stumbles at Reclaiming Connection with Non-Industry Audience

Rin: Maybe it’s something that comes with age, but going into E3 no longer has the hype it used to. In the years before, there was at least one game I was interested in hearing about. This year, though, I came in at a hard neutral: what I knew was going to be shown I wasn’t interested in, and I had no hope about the things I didn’t know about. Yet, maybe it was this neutral stance that led to me being pleasantly surprised in some cases, and saved me the disappointment in others.

As industry veterans struggled to remember what they should even do on the E3 stages, the year’s themes of inclusion and the importance of the gamer community were surprisingly not entirely off-base. I’d even hazard to say that companies may even be starting to care about diversity, likely in no small part due to the success of other diverse titles like Overwatch. And overall, the presence of non-male, non-white people on stage and in the games shown was much higher than I was anticipating. There’s a lot to cover, so thankfully this year I’m joined once again by BrothaDom. You ready to jump in?

Dom: Yep! I was feeling a little bored and jaded going into the conference, but it definitely had some pleasant surprises sprinkled in. Let’s do this.

Rin: Unfortunately, E3 started out on the lowest note it could have. EA indisputably had the worst conference of the bunch: it started a day earlier than the others and brought almost nothing new to the table. Everything new it did bring came with its own problems that I feel are probably beyond help. Strangely enough the games that interested me the most were the ones I didn’t care about going into the conference. Both Madden 18’s “Longshot” mode and the news that Battlefront 2 would contain an entirely new Star Wars story starring another woman spoke more about breathing new life into old series and actually listening to what the fans wanted. Most everything else, though, was either a disappointment or the same old, same old. Anthem, Bioware’s newest IP, so far appears to be a Destiny re-skin with the same persistent multi-player, world events, and loot system with an added side of potential cultural skewing as the city they showed us looks to be inspired by the Middle East or India, but we’ve only seen white people. And while A Way Out is probably the most innovative forced multi-player game I’ve seen, I worry that its gameplay mechanics won’t be enough to pull its jailbreak plot through to the end. The most mind-blowing thing to me was how EA’s CEO, Andrew Wilson, gave a speech making a big deal about donating to charities to “support the building [of] an inclusive world”, yet so few of the games EA showed this year were diverse or inclusive. Donating to charity is great, of course, but it’s not a blanket to cover up how far behind you are compared to the other companies.

Skyrim Glitch

Pro tip: showing off Skyrim for the millionth time isn’t an E3-worthy announcement. (via Giphy)

I was heartbroken to see that Bethesda followed closely behind EA’s footsteps in terms of an underwhelming presentation. Yet rather than having games that didn’t meet expectations, they just… didn’t have that much to show, making their presentation noticeably lacking in content. Completely ignoring their baffling attempt at bringing around paid mods for another rodeo, the few games they did show looked really good. The “Death of the Outsider” DLC for Dishonored 2 seems to be taking the same route as the core game in having both a male and female playable lead to choose from—the female lead is even Billie Lurk, a Black woman! The star of the show, however, was clearly Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. If Far Cry 5 is looking to tackle dismantling oppressive (militaristic) religious groups led by white men, then The New Colossus is driving down Main Street, speakers blaring about how Nazis are going to get punched in the face. The New Colossus can also boast a diverse cast and completely subverts the trope of the main male character’s pregnant wife getting killed for his manpain (she even gets to fight!). I’m really interested in seeing how the character with the prosthetic arm develops: the trailer showed him as a comic relief character, but I’m praying there’s more to him than that. Still, if there’s one thing audiences know about Bethesda after this presentation, it’s that they’re here to promote the downfall of the rise of Nazism in the States, and that’s a company I want to give my money to.

Dom: Ubisoft brought some heat in a major way! Their presentation kicked off with a collaboration with Nintendo, a strategy crossover entitled Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. While many people doubted the game before it was shown, reactions after seeing gameplay were generally positive. I’d love to give it a shot, as it looks like a gentle introduction into strategy games. Assassin’s Creed: Origins had a nice showing as well. This time in Egypt, the series continued to look solid. For me, it’s always nice to see more characters of color in the spotlight. In a nice break from big-budget media, Assassin’s Creed: Origins is set in Egypt and actually stars people of color instead of confusingly insisting on all the player characters being a tan shade of white. I’ve never really played too much of the series, but the preview looked solid. It would be nice to get some more representation for women though. Pirates arrived with Skull and Bones, a multiplayer pirate ship battling game. It seems like Ubisoft is trying to take an eSports bend with it, which should be interesting. My Twitter timeline (and I) got even more joy from all the female pirates on screen, so more points for fun representation. Just Dance 2018 was revealed, to no one’s surprise, but the dance troupes on stage had a nice routine before the next game. We got a reveal of The Crew 2, a speedy vehicle game, and Steep got a snowboarding and skiing expansion which looked quite impressive, but didn’t particular stir any new feelings for me. I got some interesting vibes from the South Park showing of their superhero RPG and their new mobile game; South Park Studios, despite their divisive (and often lazy) humor, makes mechanically solid games.

Ubisoft seems aware that these aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and they went through these demos at a blistering pace. They showed a VR game, Transference, that was really creepy, but it didn’t really inspire much interest other than making me ask “what is this?” Far Cry 5 got some good time, showing some of the protagonists, including a cool Black sniper lady and an attack and fetch dog. Everybody loves dogs in games. And yes, it was certainly satisfying to see a multicultural group fight middle-American white religious zealots. They closed their show off with the powerhouse reveal of Beyond Good & Evil 2, which fans have waited for for over a decade. It’s a prequel, but had some intriguing space travel, a likable cast, and cool technology. There was a bit of discussion on racial politics among fans, since this series features animal-people, and some of them were strongly racially coded. The monkey-like character had an accent that sounded like an imitation of a Black British voice, and the pig-like character and his entourage were cribbing various Asian styles. Hopefully, the human cast will be multiracial without relying on stereotypes to balance this out to some degree. Other than that, the hype is real.

Rin: Though Microsoft spent a good portion of their conference talking about the specs for their new system, the Xbox One X (come on, guys. Really?), the drive they came in with was all for the purpose of “delight[ing] gamers”. And, well, I can say they did because Cuphead finally has a release date!!!!

Cuphead

(via IAP TV)

Ahem. Sorry about that. While a good portion of the games they showed off didn’t interest me, there were people I knew that would love the games that I didn’t, such as the Life Is Strange prequel, Before the Storm, or Crackdown 3. As per usual, I think where Microsoft really shined was with its announcements of upcoming indie games—so many of them looked amazing, but I’m especially excited for the Harvest Moon-like Ooblets! Ashen further intrigued me: the trailer didn’t really explain anything, but it appeared to be a multi-player ruin-hunting adventure game which is right up my alley. Although getting excited for any game that I’m not familiar with is a worrying prospect these days. I mean, look at The Last Night. This pixel game looked gorgeous and was met with waves of hype from the audiences at E3 and at home. However, it didn’t take long for it to come to light that The Last Night’s creator, Tim Soret, was at one point a red pilled Gamergater, and that in earlier iterations (aka: before people found out about his past) The Last Night told a story of a world devoid of creativity because of a universal basic income. While Soret has released an apology for his past actions and says that he doesn’t “have anything against feminism or any form of equality”, many are unconvinced. Given that it wasn’t even three months ago that he was spouting off some questionable opinions, the apprehension is more than justified. Hopefully Soret has actually become a better person than he was all those years ago. Until that gets settled, I’ll get my artistic game fix from the delightful looking The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti which is giving me Rayman Legends vibes in the best, most musical of ways.

Dom: Of course, Nintendo did what Nintendo always does and was a little bit out there, but it worked. They gave us some more info on the Rabbids game, but that was basically old news at this point. We got to see a trailer on Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which looked fairly fun. Based on all the Shulk memes from the first one, I’m curious to see where this one goes. However, I wasn’t so jazzed about the female character that might also be a sword (?) rocking an early 2000’s battle thong. I thought we were past that. Breath of the Wild’s promised DLC was previewed as well as an accompanying set of Amiibo. Naturally, it all looks solid. We then saw some more hype video for Fire Emblem Warriors. Following the trend of Hyrule Warriors, we’re getting another Dynasty Warriors type game in a Nintendo world. It’s a borderline mindless beat-em-up and I’m very excited if I’m honest. My only experience with Fire Emblem is seeing their characters in the Smash Bros. games, and that’s good enough for me.

Game Freak gave us more preview video on Pokken Tournament, which they already did last week; still looks all right. But they also casually mentioned (with no video or further explanation) that they’ve started production on a mainline Pokemon title for the Switch. Considering people have been asking for this since Red/Blue/Yellow, you would think there would be more fanfare, but Nintendo gonna Nintendo. Another Yoshi Wooly game is coming out, which is all fine and good, as well as another Kirby game with up to four players. You can have helper characters and combine powers again, so that’s a nice treat to longtime fans of the series. The ever popular Rocket League is coming to Switch with cross console functionality, so you’ll be able to play with your buddies on PC and Xbox (One, One X?). The internet lost its collective mind with a short Metroid Prime 4 reveal. Although all we got was a teaser image of the title, it was enough to excite us for another adventure with Samus—a freak-out was well deserved. The big game shown was Super Mario Odyssey, with its multiple worlds and new body-hopping mechanics. It looks fun, funky, and bizarre, and it’s exactly what the series needs. However, there was some minor controversy surrounding Mario wearing a poncho and sombrero and conversing with sugar skull creatures. I’m not well equipped to comment on the controversy, but I did get an odd vibe seeing Mario throw on a costume to gain access to a club and play guitar to gain access to the game’s MacGuffin. It didn’t seem malicious, but I hope it’ll be more than just cultural sampling. Maybe the rest of that stage will have Mario interacting with the characters more. I saw Mexican acquaintances on Twitter both enjoying it and hating it, so it’s definitely a tricky subject. However, I’m curious to see if Mario will interact with some other real-world cultures.

Rin: And finally, we come to Sony. Like everyone else before them, there was basically no gameplay at this games conference for games, so who knows how they actually play. Additionally, they had the distinct pleasure of having the worst audience in the whole shebang: I barely heard anyone clapping for anything! Even out of courtesy! This, combined with a whole load of disappointment, makes Sony’s showing one of the worst of the year for me. What did I like? Monster Hunter World looks incredible, and given that the 3DS titles looked almost impossible to navigate for beginners, I’m hoping that this game may be a little more accessible while still maintaining the challenge that veterans of the series crave. While I’ve never played the Uncharted series, I hear nothing but good things about it. Seeing an expansion—“The Lost Legacy”—that stars both Chloe and Nadine, women of color, is really making me wish I had stepped foot into that world. I’m also kind of hoping that Chloe and Nadine fall in love and we get some kick-ass ruins raiding lesbians, but knowing nothing about who they are as characters, I’m not holding my breath.

What didn’t I like? Well, for one there’s the VR game The Inpatient, which seems to take all the shitty horror genre mental institution tropes and sticks them all in one game. People are theorizing that the game takes place in the Until Dawn universe, but since that game already has a not great reputation with people with mental illnesses, I sincerely hope it’s not. Most of all, I’m so over Detroit, David Cage’s newest brain child that I complained about last year, too. This year we’re introduced to our third playable character, Marcus. Marcus has the power to “awaken” other androids and free them from their programming. While I think this can be a powerful avenue to explore, I do not trust that David Cage can do it with the nuance necessary. Having an older white man write about the struggles of slavery and rising above it is just so uncomfortable to sit through in the trailer. Certainly the character speaking, Marcus, is a Black man (modeled from actor Jesse Williams’s countenance), but they’re still the words of a white man who probably has no idea about the finer intricacies of the sufferings and prejudices of slavery. Not to mention that Cage is one to let his artsy vision to come before anything, even sacrificing good writing or a coherent plot in the process. Yet, shockingly to myself, Cage is not entirely oblivious to his lack of knowledge on his subject matter. Maybe my hesitation will be proven to be unnecessary, but I’d rather wait and see how it turns out then hop on this train and abandon it later.

Dom: I’d say this was another interesting E3, if nothing else. As always, the showings were far from perfect, but it’s nice to see continued addition of marginalized voices to the presenters and games. Even Devolver Digital, whose contribution was an absurd adult swim-esque skit satirizing E3 presentations (honestly, it’s beyond words, you’ve got to check it out) didn’t ignore having women’s voices on the stage. So overall, I’m left the way I am every year: a little jaded, a little excited, but relatively optimistic about video games going forward. That said, I should probably go and figure out how to procure a Switch… just in case.

Rin: I hear that. Maybe I can bribe my brother to let me borrow his so that I can get on that Yoshi goodness.


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