I love video games.
Everything about the medium delights me. The music, characters, level design, stories, and every single morsel that goes into creating a game — I love it all. My mother often jokes that my first word was SEGA and that Nintendo soon followed. It’s not surprising; I’ve been around games since the day my mother brought me home from the hospital, thanks to my older brother’s Atari and Master System. Everyone in my immediate family is involved in some form of gaming. Although the gamers in my family vary from the hardcore to casual I can safely say that everyone has enjoyed games at one point or another. My mother holds the house Tetris record with 150 lines and is currently obsessed with Bust-A-Move on iOS. Games are a part of my daily life no matter the console. I love them all.
I love the video game industry, too, but we’ve had our falling outs. It began with the emergence of always-on DRM. Like many, I was hurt when companies punished loyal customers in an attempt to squash piracy. Yet, I understood the call for always-on DRM. I didn’t think it that big a deal…initially. Sadly, the abysmal Diablo III and Sim City launches showcased the potentially disastrous nature of always-on DRM. Diablo III’s launch was the beginning of the end of a long a fruitful relationship.
I distinctively remember the magazine stacks I kept as a child. They included Game Pro, Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM), Edge, Nintendo Power, and PlayStation Magazine, along with a few others. I would marvel at the July and August issues each year because they were fat with E3 information. I devoured every morsel of game information I could find within those pages. I dreamed of one day walking from booth to booth shaking hands with developers, laughing, and playing the games that I loved. Then something happened: The committee decided the convention was overcrowded, so they closed it to the public. Only media and exhibitors can attend the show these days. I jokingly tell people that I became a writer just to attend the Electronic Entertainment Expo — it’s partially true. E3 2012 was my dream come true, but I soon realized the show’s commercial aspects. Just look at the numerous non-gaming celebrities paraded across the stage during press conferences. And for a convention centered around gaming, there were a surprising number of high-profile games that were hands-off demos. My infatuated eyes didn’t realize I had some problems with this until I was less enamored with the gaming industry. Which happened relatively quickly.
The last straw was a combination of events that shattered my perception of the gaming industry that I loved. It began with Adam Sessler leaving G4. A man I revered as a gaming journalist legend was fired from what was supposed to be a gaming-focused channel (I know this happened before E3, but it contributed to my dark state). The second was Doritos-gate. It showcased a gaming journalist/personality who was seemingly in the pocket of a company. I’d like to believe that the Geoff Keighley I cheered on as he received condescending responses from Cooper Lawrence after he defended Mass Effect wouldn’t have taken that photo. I have no issue with major publications or gaming personalities making a profit, but Doritos-gate brought Keighley’s credibility into question. It also made me question the gaming industry as a whole. I like to believe that we do this because we love it.
My love was already waning, but what finally pushed me over the edge was 1UP‘s closing. Its staff held intelligent and sophisticated discussion on a level higher than your typical gaming website. How could a website gushing with so much amazing and thoughtful content not survive the rough electrons of the internet? Better yet, what did that closing mean for me? How would I make it if 1UP couldn’t?
I gave up on gaming.
I thought about leaving 2D-X, halting development of my game, and ultimately doing something stupid — something I feel to embarrassed to admit. That was it for me. Again you have to understand, I love video games more than the average gamer. Video games helped me get through some tough times. Gaming soundtracks quelled hungry bellies and drowned sounds of gunshots ringing outside my Bronx apartment. Final Fantasy did more for my reading ability than a failing public school system. Gaming magazines helped me hone my writing abilities. I vaguely remember imitating Dan “Shoe” Hsu’s writing style on a few essays — he’s actually why I write. Games eventually pushed me into programming and other nerdy endeavors, so much so that I’m currently an intern in charge of maintaining a computer network and hardware at a major university. Games are my life. Without them I can’t escape to my magical worlds where my problems take a temporary back seat to rich plots and immersive gameplay.
But something unexpected happened at a crucial time in my life. I attended my first PAX East. And I’m grateful for it. PAX East is a different beast than E3 — in fact, it’s a better convention. Gone was the PR bullshit. It was replaced by people who love the products they represent. Don’t get me wrong, these were often the same people I met at E3, but they were more relaxed and more human. We not only discussed the products they were promoting, but games as a whole. Games were the focal point of every conversation I had no matter the person. I was able to have in-depth conversations with developers and programmers.
At the League of Legend booth, I cheered and yelled while watching gamers compete. I had laughs with complete strangers and conversations about strategy and favorite characters. I gleefully took pictures of dozens of cosplayers. I high-fived a 7-year old cosplaying The Player from Minecraft and reminisced of the times where I pretended to be Skate from Streets of Rage II. I saw a father and daughter cosplaying Jake and Finn and told them how awesome they were. I sat down and spoke with indie developers and discussed the in and outs of making a game.
In the classic console room, Editor-In-Chief Jeffery Wilson and I revived dead Capcom classics Project Justice and Street Fighter Alpha 2. our gaming session drew in a crowd of gamers unfamiliar with two Capcom relics. It even became an arcade-style “losers out” session that produced much cheering and “good games” among the crowd. Heck, there was even an actual arcade room full of classic cabinets that would have brought any gamer over thirty to tears. The tabletop section was full of welcoming players who were excited to teach anyone the ins and outs of their favorite board and card games. I even flexed some of my Magic the Gathering prowess to my buddy who was quite surprised at my knowledge. In the parking lot of a hotel after party I shook hands with Marn (pro fighting game player) and bragged about my many nights at China Town Fair. At PAX East no one is special and everyone is a gamer. You could spot your favorite developer or writer walking through wings of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center at any moment. PAX East is a pure celebration of video games.
I still can’t believe that I sat down and discussed game development with Greg Phillips (Senior producer at Insomniac) and Sam Thompson (Senior producer at Sony Computer Entertainment America). We spoke about the magic of indie studios and for the better part of two hours, Greg, 2D-X Community Manager Isaac Rouse, my buddy Sage, and myself talked about comic books and games we enjoyed growing up. These things only happen at a convention like PAX East.
As the final moments of PAX East washed over me, something clicked: This is why I love gaming. I love the fanboys and fangirls, the debates over which game is better, fans gushing over new releases, people dressing up as their favorite character, and enjoying video games with other like-minded, intelligent gamers. To the corporations that have turned video games into a soulless profiting tool: Clean up your act. It’s a business, but it should be better than pay-to-win, and dollar-grabbing DLC. But to the men and woman who pour their hearts into the games they make, I applaud you. To the fans, hardcore and casual, I say thank you. The PR folks that love the products they represent and are knowledgeable — you’re amazing. To the people that make PAX happen, please continue the amazing work and never lose sight of this pureness.
That night I sat in a dark car and the only light that shone came from a PlayStation Vita. It was my Vita. As my friend drove toward western New York on our way back to work, I couldn’t help but think of all the great things that happened at PAX East. A sense of peace washed over me and just like that a teardrop hit my screen while I clenched my handheld. As cheesy as it sounds, I stole a line from Raiden in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and said to myself, “Eric is back!”
Games of all types, I love you. I love the beautiful culture you have cultivated over the last 35-40 years. My weekend in Boston is a weekend I will cherish till my dying breathe because it reunited me with my first love.