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They're All Like This: The Weird Land Of Preview Events

Through The Looking At Games Glass

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Last week we sent Cara to an EA event to look at a few of their games. This spawned her splendid Crysis 3 interview, but the price was another day spent in the bemusing otherworld of videogame preview events.

Earlier, gazing around the room at massive screens with Army of Two and Fuse on them, I was experiencing a sense of huge disconnect with my industry. Unusually quiet, I said to Eurogamer’s Chris Donlan, “I don’t know what I’ll say for RPS. It all seems so… macho.”

Now I’m sitting at an imitation baroque writing desk beside a fellow Macbook-toting douche in the lobby of an EA event. The wooden lamp stand on this ridiculous table has five tiny little drawers in it in case you’d want to store something the size of a pumpkin seed in each of them. I resist the temptation to investigate; my long keyboard-cracked nails might damage the tiny drawer knobs and cause thousands of pounds worth of damage.

I am worried because I have eaten two Pantone-emerald mini-macaroons from the buffet. Pantone emerald. They are now in my body.

Someone comes over and adjusts the fur rug on a gilt-trimmed chaise longue on which I just interviewed the producer of Crysis 3. The other journalists are slouched over there in an alcove with three or four waist-height wooden-carved chess pieces and a man who is the Senior Development Director of Command and Conquer. Off to the side are eight footstools shaped like giant human molars. They have been painted gold. To someone, this made sense.

The C&C Director peers out at me – I like this guy, despite this odd event – and I smile. Alice in Wonderland, but the word ‘wonder’ is too soft. Wonder is what a child does in Disneyland and is frequently applied to game journalists’ attitudes. But I always feel like it is a misnomer. It is bewilderment and anxiety I am feeling, and probably so did she. I am inside an episode of Fooly Cooly. Is it always like this? A disjointed meeting of people who ask the same questions and say the same answers over and over? In a setting that is like a less tasteful Gaudi building? God I just want to play the game in a dark room, alone, with only the quiet dull hum of a powerful computer. Give me a computer and your finished game and I will review it in the fullness of time, not before it is ready, and to do it justice probably submit way after embargo lifts. But this is not in the interest of a publisher – they want you to write early, and positively, and they like the mystique of preview events, though they often make journalists feel alienated and unsure of what the end product will be – some of the games aren’t out of alpha yet. And they like to you interview: a personal attachment to someone makes you less likely to savage the game if it’s not what you wanted to see.

You must be aware of how out of place game journalists are in this environment: jeans-wearing beard-crusted nerfherders, soaked by the smirr outside, children inside, slightly taken aback by the information that we have to interview the producers about games that are not finished yet (it was made to seem like an option in the email and so I have hastily prepared some questions pandering to my sense of humour). Even I feel like I am growing a beard at these events though my hormones aren’t wired that way. A lot of these journalists might be doing this for free, or for little money, I think, signing an embargo sheet that lists the outlets people write for. Some of them do this thing every week: drinking hotel coffee, eating weird biscuits, scrabbling some calories so that when they get home they can write without their stomachs grumbling, because at one time I did that so gladly. There was a time when my cynical faculties had been dulled by my own sheer enthusiasm at press events. When I wrote for free I never thought about how much effort it takes to get through these without fainting from the sheer bizarre strain of it.

I am overhearing a conversation about #Doritosgate. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love games,” I hear. “If someone else loved it more, they would have my job.” Love doesn’t pay the bills though, does it. You can’t always be paid in love, and no one can eat games.

A few hours ago I was being rained on in Brighton and arguing with a Small Batch Coffee hunk about whether Raiders of the Lost Ark is better than The Last Crusade. And now I am in London on too little sleep squinting at other journalists trying to squeeze out scoop-sized titbits from a man who is too soft spoken and possibly too cunning to wear the title ‘Director’.

I swear to you, I have never done a job so weird as this one. When I was sixteen I worked in a theatre in Oslo and it wasn’t this weird, even striding through the flies at the back of a grand production of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe and witnessing a set of two foot high poleaxes being made for the massive cast of young people was less weird than this. I had a job where I often got into lifts with members of Monty Python. I did a job where I taught Japanese children who were more Jeff Minter than Jeff Minter about Pixar shorts and then one of the kids got up and Shoryuken’d an Asian bee right in front of the class. (The bee flew out of the window, wonky, and the children applauded politely.) I once sang Queen songs on a summit climb on Mount Kilimanjaro and then commenced contracting hypothermia and had hypothermia-induced dreams where I was being surgically operated on by all the characters from the Lion King.

All that is still not quite as mad to me as the artificially-constructed act of sitting by a giant chess set, surrounded by giant gold teeth, and asking a producer of Crysis 3 if he likes bondage. The latter, admittedly, was my idea. But you have to make the content meet the context.

When I’d arrived, I’d said to Chris Donlan, “I don’t know what I’ll say for RPS. It all seems so… macho.”

“That’s the first paragraph of your article then,” he said, before looking sideways at me and saying, “They’re all like this, you know.”

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Who am I?

Cara Ellison

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Senior Scottish Correspondent, often known as the Notorious C A E, though mostly by her mum

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