Games

This E3 Was All About Men Crying Onstage, And That Is Wonderful

E3 is an emotional time for creators.
June 16, 2017, 7:51pm
Image captured courtesy of Ubisoft

Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings, apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.

E3 is all about generating hype for things, and because of that, it's an emotional time. Players are investing huge amounts of emotion into the games that they have been waiting for and the games that they want to wait for in the future. Game developers have spent weeks and months crunching on demonstrations, videos, and playable slices of their games to show off to journalists, critics, influencers, and the public with the hope that they can get some of that hype thrown their way. Even here, from the comfort of my home where I have spent the week covering E3 in various capacities, it feels like a live wire, hot and electric.

It isn't surprising to me that Davide Soliani was crying when the camera cut to him during Ubisoft's E3 press conference. After all, Shigeru Miyamoto, the godfather of a massive number of Nintendo properties and one of the most influential and important game developers of all time, was talking about him. It was a moment that would lay any of us low: A living legend was talking about what a great job that Soliani did, and in response, his eyes welled up with tears. He stood up, waved awkwardly, and tried not to completely break down in front of the theater of people.

It was a touching moment. The people I was chatting with during the press event were all touched by it, and that was because it spoke to something deeper about this entire thing. The publishers, the hardware manufacturers, and the presenters constantly preach that E3 is all about the games and that's it's all about the players. There are relatively few moments where you can see that it's all about humans, and human creativity, and the huge physical and emotional toll that this industry extracts from the humans who maintain it. And in the face of that, in the overwhelming structure, people cry.

When Martin Sahlin took the stage at E3 in 2015 to show off the then-mostly-unknown Unraveled, myself and many others were wowed by him on social media. This wasn't a Phil Spencer. This wasn't someone who was so chock full of confidence that he was able to assert his will and message across a sea of questioning industry members. This was a vulnerable, shaking man, who stood there on stage and vibrated with nervous energy. He even pulled the damn yarn puppet out of his pocket.

Unravel image courtesy of EA

The Yarn Man, as we called him, was infinitely endearing.

The industrial videos like the one that opened up the Bethesda showcase this year don't have Yarn People. No one is shaking while showing off the strange recreation of their video game character. No one is crying through the overwhelming weight of what is happening to them in the moment. They are controlled, and they are inspiring, and they are funny. They open the door to an industry that would like you to work for it, with it, and ultimately have faith in it. They open the door to development within a particular logic.

One more crying man: Michel Ancel onstage at the end of the Ubisoft press event. The Beyond Good and Evil 2 trailer had just been revealed. The rumors were finally true, and that franchise's wonderful imagination and aesthetic was back in the mix again. It was, I imagine, profoundly cathartic for him. All of that time, all of that investment, all of the critical praise alongside the lack of development support, and there he was standing there with roaring applause telling that his team's ideas were good. The world wanted him in it. And it was overwhelming, and he cried.

It's notable that they're crying, and it's notable that they're men. For one bare instant, I thought about searching for other articles about these events. I saw a thumbnail about these men crying while I was searching for one of the videos that I linked above. It's the kind of minefield of masculine posturing that I don't wade into, and I'm afraid of even attempting to deal with that blunt edge of the discourse. And that policing of the borderlands of emotion is why the crying is notable to begin with.

Men on the edge of emotional breakdown in the presence of videogames. If I ever write a book of poetry, that'll be the title. They all remind me of Deputy Andy in the first episode of David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks. He's standing there, and he's trying to do his job, but he just can't hold it together. The emotional weight of trying to do that job tears him down. He just cries, and he cries, and he cries.

Steven Spielberg once said that "the real indicator [of games being art] will be when somebody confesses that they cried at level 17." I think about that when I see these emotional men onstage at press events. The marker of art, and of the impact of that art, always seems to be at the reception level. When people can recognize the Citizen Kane of games, they will finally made it. When people recognize the Bob Dylan of games, then Bioware will reign supreme.

It seems to me that it's all the more common for people to cry at the realization of level 17 at their desk, at night, when everyone just wants to go home. People probably privately cry because their great idea for level 17 was never realized at all due to early cuts in the budget. Level 17 was entirely built by contractors who were let go as soon as possible. And I wonder if these men, these people in high places in this industry fueled by a maelstrom of emotion that people spend careers trying to figure out, stand in for the rest of these people.

They are, for a moment, a lightning rod of all possible emotions, hopes, and dreams about a game. They are the realization, and they're also the failure. They're Schrodinger's Investment, toxic and revered and hated and loved and pilloried by technical analysis videos all at once without any differentiation. And they shake, they quiver, and they cry. And the crowd applauds even harder.

You can follow Cameron on Twitter.