Almost every year, I like to digitally “attend” the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California, the biggest trade show in the video game industry. Since I started blogging regularly six years ago, I've tried to provide readers some written coverage of the show's numerous press conferences for the benefit of anyone interested in my raw thoughts on the week of product reveals and announcements. This year, I'm pleased to be able to bring my E3 coverage, such as it is, to Eruditorum Press. The following is a part of a series I'm writing on E3 2016, looking at the press conferences and events of three major players in the industry: Bethesda Softworks, Sony Computer Entertainment and Nintendo.
I won't be buying a PlayStaton 4.
Announced last week ahead of E3 by publisher Square-Enix (who don't have a press conference this year), Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is an expanded re-release of another of my favourite games-The one non-Pokémon JRPG to ever truly capture my heart. To date, it's only been confirmed for a PlayStation 4 release, but every Final Fantasy reissue has found its way to other platforms eventually, and I have confidence this one won't be any different. The whole reason I watched Sony's press conference, which I otherwise had zero interest in, was to see if they would have some more to say about the re-release, particularly if it was going to be a platform exclusive or not, but Zodiac Age was a no-show. That, along with the at that point unnamed and unannounced The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Special Edition, was really going to be the deciding factor in whether or not I would bite the bullet and buy a PlayStation 4. But with TESV coming to PC and no more word on Zodiac Age at the big Sony song-and-dance (...literally, as last night's show was no bullshit fully scored by a live orchestra) I've no reason to get a PS4, especially considering how incensed I still am by their subscriber-only online multiplayer service PSN Plus.
But I'm not just not buying the system. After last night, in fact, I feel like actively boycotting it. This was one of the most offensive and insulting press conferences I've seen in all my years doing this show.
After a preposterously long and ponderously self-indulgent orchestrated introduction, Sony literally lifted the curtain to show off its first big reveal: A reboot of the fan favourite sixth generation franchise God of War. In this series you play Kratos, a cartoonishly overmuscled he-man who, feeling betrayed by his gods after the death of his family, goes out on a mission to personally brutally murder and dismember each and every one of them. I would argue it is a series that is, to use the language of the hip SJWs these days, “problematic”. The gameplay demo, set this time in a world inspired by Norse mythology instead of the classical Greek and Roman mythology of the original series, shows the new Kratos being a stern hardass with his son, a prospective hunter. Kratos tells his son (who never calls him father, only “sir”) that the mark of a true hunter is the ability to stop seeing the prey as an animal; to instead see it only as a mere target. Which he demonstrates by forcing him to take the life of a deer in the most cold-blooded way imaginable before berating him for panicking when they get attacked by a five-story tall frost giant.
There are a great many things I could say about this series, and the tone this particular entry seems to be setting for itself. I could be petty and fannish and point out that there's this inescapable feeling the creatively-titled God of War is trying to ape the now five-year old The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for its setting and making a dog's breakfast of it. I could point out that God of War is a series built around the shock value of lurid ultraviolence, which I used to just find juvenile but now I'm starting to find actively repellent and deeply personally offensive. Especially now that the series is straying outside of its home turf of classical-mythology-as-aesthetic-genre and into European paganism, which is kind of my thing. The idea of someone gleefully dicing up pagan gods and goddesses is...unbelievably upsetting and hurtful to me. If God of War had used the Abrahamic religions as inspiration instead of supposedly “dead” and “irrelevant” heathen ones, Sony Computer Entertainment would have been hauled into an obscenity court and tried for blasphemy and hate crimes.
There's Kratos himself, an icon of the video game medium for all the depressingly predictable and wrong reasons. The one thing that sort of saved the original game was that Kratos was explicitly meant to be an unhinged psychopathic murderer, and therefore a villain protagonist. The original God of War dates to a period in the medium where games were starting to become more introspective and self-reflexive, raising questions like “perhaps it's not the best idea to sadistically gun down representations of people in graphics engines that are trending inevitably and uncomfortably towards photorealism”. See also the contemporary PlayStation 2 critical darling Shadow of the Colossus. You weren't supposed to sympathize with Kratos, you were supposed to be steadily more unnerved by his obvious psychopathy as you progressed through the game (he even commits suicide at the end of the story). But people did, and starting with the first sequel, Kratos' psychopathy began to be portrayed more and more in a positive light, as something “cool” and “badass”. And, of course, “manly”.
Which all culminates in what Sony showed last night. A God of War where Kratos, now a father from the outset, teaches his son that the mark of a hunter is dehumanizing and objectifying your prey. Which is so cataclysmically wrongheaded I think it's going to be actually evil if this is the tone the game keeps. Look. I live in the mountains. I don't hunt (if I lived in a hunter-gatherer society, I would be the shaman), but a lot of people around me do. I get hunters (that is, hunters who hunt for subsistence). I'm not Native American, but I'm an anthropologist and have studied how indigenous people feed their families all over the world. And that is absolutely not the mark of a hunter. A true hunter is also a spiritualist, because a true hunter respects, and cherishes, the sanctity of all life. A real hunter understands that all life is sacred and connected. A real hunter would have made peace with the spirit of the animal he killed, and would have done a ritual to thank it for giving its life so that his family and community could have food and shelter. A real hunter is, above all else, empathic.
Kratos is not a hunter. Kratos is a killer. Kratos did not teach his son how to be a hunter. He taught him how to be a murderer.
It is entirely possible that the finished game will actually deal with these issues and be every bit as much of a deconstruction as the original game was. This demo did, after all, only show off the first, well “level” is the only word I have, although that's not really the way games are designed anymore. But the fact of the matter is, this is the section of the game Sony chose to show off to headline their E3 press conference, and this is the section of the game that got wild ovation and cheers from the audience (let it never be said that Sony does not have the most passionately loyal and loudly enthusiastic fans in the industry: A brief look back at their last three press conferences should prove this beyond the shadow of a doubt). And I don't feel I can give the new God of War the benefit of the doubt, because of the franchise's history to date and its relationship with its fanbase. I don't have any reason to believe Kratos is going to get called out for this behaviour, not when he's as beloved as he is for precisely that same behaviour, and not when Sony, more so than any other publisher, is so much in the business of pandering to the hardest of the hardcore.
All this would have been troubling enough, but it possibly wouldn't have been *quite* as immeasurably offensive to absolutely everything if Sony hadn't immediately followed up the God of War reveal with a somber speech about the mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando that happened two days ago. We were asked to all please give out thoughts to the victims and keep them in our hearts when we enjoyed a week of video games in a “temple to creativity”. Right after indulging in a lengthy gameplay demo of a game where a male power fantasy took a frightened child and coerced him into being a murderer. And I'm sorry, but that's just about where I reach my breaking point with all of this.
Fuck you. Fuck you, Sony Computer Entertainment. Fuck you, PlayStation. Fuck you, whoever thought it was a good idea to make an E3 gameplay demo out of that segment, and fuck you, whoever thought a tacked on rumination on how violence doesn't solve anything and how we should all be friends was a tasteful or appropriate way to follow up one of the most spectacular examples of cultural violence in fiction I've seen in recent memory. And fuck you, whoever thought that was in any way going to make up for it.
Fuck you, video games. I'm out. Forever.
Sony showed some other things, but, for me, nothing they could have possibly done was ever going to bring the show back from that. I spent the next hour and half staring at the screen in slack-jawed, dumbfounded amazement still trying to process what I had just seen. A procession of trailers follows, it's all a blur. Days Gone is a massive cliché storm starring yet another angsty, brooding white male vigilante protagonist. A gameplay demo at the end of the press conferences accomplishes the remarkable achievement of making it seem even more boring and unremarkable, revealing it to be just another zombie survival game. I felt like there oughtta have been a counter onscreen for the number of times the guy in Days Gone says “shit”, which felt like an annoyingly unnatural amount. And I'm certainly not anti-swearing. There's the obligatory appearance of beloved vaporware The Last Guardian, finally getting a release date for the end of this year. Horizon, a game revealed last year starring a female protagonist in a northern fantasy world, seems pretty enough, but I'm hard pressed to care about much of anything at this point.
Incidentally, Horizon, along with Days Gone and God of War, makes the third consecutive game in Sony's stable set in a fantasy northland/Boreal forest world (although Days Gone seems to be going for more of a Pacific Northwest vibe). As much as I love that setting and as important as it is to me, I'm beginning to wonder of Sony has actually played any other video games apart from The Elder Scrolls V, Minecraft and their own. And even that last one's starting to look debatable.
Detroit: Become Human is this year's offering from Quantic Dream and auteur David Cage, (in)famous for Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain and Ellen Page In: 3yond: Two Souls, Starring Ellen Page: Ellen Page In A New David Cage Game Starring Ellen Page. It's exactly what you'd expect one of those games to be, namely, an extremely expensive and overbudgeted Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel that wishes it were a movie instead. Resident Evil VII is announced, with a confusing and unpronounceable title, along with some other generic-looking survival horror game. I don't care either way. At this point Sony segues into a discussion about their own VR headset, which is coming out this year and will retail for as much as the actual console does. Which, in a tragic bit of irony, still makes it the cheapest VR option on the market today.
In any other press conference, this would be the most offensive part of the presentation, because Sony actually *outright lies straight to our faces*. We are told that the PlayStation 4 is a “fixed platform”, which makes it an ideal showcase for VR because developers won't have to accommodate lots of different hardware configurations and permutations. This is a lie. The PlayStation 4 is *not* a fixed platform, because Sony is releasing a new one within the next twelve months. Not that you would know this from the press conference, because not only does Sony not even mention the previously confirmed PlayStation 4 Neo, it actually lies and tries to pretend it doesn't exist.
If this isn't the actual death of console gaming, it's an ominous portent. Microsoft as well is releasing not just one new version of the XBOX One, but two: A “slimline” model this year, and an entirely new architectural build next year codenamed “Project Scorpio”. This is a terrible sign, because the strength of consoles as a platform has always been their consistency: One hardware configuration released and supported for five to ten years with no changes, thus removing the single biggest problem with PC gaming: The constant need to buy, install and maintain new hardware upgrades, many of which cost as much as a new console. Games are made for the hardware, instead of the other way around. With Sony and Microsoft's announcements this week, all that has now likely come to an end, with analysts actually speculating the console manufacturers are overtly copying Apple's smartphone business model. Considering I think the smartphone/tablet industry is evil anticonsumer social control already and the PlayStation 4 and XBOX One are considerably more expensive than smartphones, it looks like this will be my final console generation.
Barring, perhaps, whatever Nintendo has in store.
Sony shows off a slew of new games being made for the PlayStation VR unit that costs as much as the console itself. The console you are now going to have to buy again, even though Sony lied and said you wouldn't have to. There's a game called Farpoint about some generic space marines and is called Farpoint, which I can't get over. There's a Star Wars Battlefront spinoff set in an X-Wing that's reminiscent of the old PC X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter games. There's a new Batman Arkham game designed exclusively for PlayStation VR. The trailer features a voiceover from The Joker that makes it sound like a fourth-rate retread of The Killing Joke or The Dark Knight, possibly both. Final Fantasy XV will have VR support, and I'm still so angry over everything else I can't appreciate how fundamentally embarrassing Final Fantasy XV is And indeed, how Final Fantasy has always been. Even the one I like has a six-foot tall bunny girl as one of the player characters who struts around in a metal negligee and combat stilettos. It's a series you must by definition feel bad and guilty about for enjoying.
A triumphant Hideo Kojima, fresh off of his year-long ordeal of being ousted from Actual Supervillains Konami, walked onstage to a standing ovation to introduce his new game, Death Stranding. The game features a disturbingly photorealistic and disturbingly naked Norman Reedus in it, and that's about all I know. At least it isn't Ellen Page. The trailer opens with a quote from William Blake: Between that, the Batman Arkham VR thing and Sony's new Spider-Man franchise, I feel like Phil should be writing this instead of me.
Oh yeah, the PlayStation 4 is getting an exclusive new Spider-Man title from Insomniac Games. In fact, it's an entire exclusive new Spider-Man universe of games, sort of like a cinematic universe or a comic book series I guess. It's a neat idea and it looks colourful and fun. I sort of like Spider-Man. I would be more interested if this wasn't the tenth billionth game shown at this press conference featuring an angsty white male brooding about manpain. And if I could stop thinking about God of War.
Because no matter what else Sony does, they are never going to redeem themselves to me for that catastrophic God of War reveal. The air of the press conference was tainted from the moment that demo came onscreen. What Sony proved to me last night was that not only do I never need to buy a PlayStation 4, or any other PlayStation, or possibly any other video game machine ever again, Sony Computer Entertainment stand for everything that's wrong with the video game industry today. For what they did last night, their new console should tank like Nintendo's Virtual Boy. Sony may be the industry leader, but last night they showed beyond a doubt that they do not deserve to be.