Smile and Nod

Smile and Nod: Why Isn't It Fun?

Russ Pitts | 4 Aug 2008 17:00
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What happened? This is not a boring industry. People do not fall into careers in gaming the way they fall into a career in construction. You don't take over your father's game-making business and think to yourself "my dreams are shattered, woe is me, woe is me." In fact, it's usually the opposite. Making games is the thing you give up a career in finance to do. Making games is the dream job. Making games, although often punishing (like writing about them) is fun, and the exuberance of the people who are lucky enough to have careers in the industry is hard to suppress. You see it in the products they make, the speeches they give and, until the past two years, at their convention.

E3 used to be the preeminent game industry conference. The world's eyes turned toward LA each year to see what fabulous new games were coming out, hear from the people who made them and, above all else, to bask in the exuberance of the industry, made tangible in the form of the sturm and drang of the multiple show floors. This year? I walked all over that damn convention center, but there wasn't any sturm or drang to be found. That is, except for at two places, both of which were well away from the convention center.

You probably know by now The Escapist has a video crew, and that I took that crew to LA to cover the show. If you didn't know that, well, now you do. Go watch the videos. They're fun, and you might learn something. But aside from the games we covered and the interviews we conducted, we had another assignment: We covered Mike Wilson's campaign for the ESA presidency.

Mike Wilson is the president of Gamecock, the bad-boy game publishers who threw a funeral parade at last year's E3, and who, in their previous incarnation, GOD Games, became famous for rock-star publicity stunts like dressing their booth babes as Catholic schoolgirls. This year, Gamecock wanted to spread awareness of their brand by drawing attention to the fact that E3 isn't fun anymore, and calling for a change in leadership.

Here's the thing: I can't disagree with the point. E3 isn't fun any more. The ESA has sucked the life out of the show, whether through action or inaction it isn't clear. But there's a problem with Gamecock's approach to solving the problem: The ESA doesn't elect its president. And even if they did, Mike Wilson wouldn't be eligible; he's never been a member. What's the point, then, of his candidacy? Ask him and you'll get little more than a blank, mojito-soaked stare. The answer: There is no point, he's just having fun.

When I heard about the campaign and its jubilant pointlessness, I knew we had to spend some serious time with Wilson getting to the bottom of it. And so it was that my crew and I found ourselves in a crowded hotel suite late one night at the Hotel Figueroa with over a dozen drunk developers and two mostly naked women, filming them give Mike Wilson a "bed dance" to boost his spirits over the flagging campaign and a near tragedy he'd suffered earlier in the day. There were lights, there was sound and there was a smoke machine in the corner coughing up a strip club haze that made the moment seem, if not natural, somehow inevitable.

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