For more than a year now, the events industry has been in something of a total war footing, as hundreds of thousands of minds have set themselves to the challenge of proving that a website can, indeed, be a live event. Many experimental web design gimmicks have been deployed in the course of this effort, in the same way that bizarre new forms of life tend to proliferate after mass extinctions. Some have felt inspired. Some have felt sad. And some, of course, have been E3's eerie, Picrew-esque avatar system.
The principle makes sense. After all, E3 is a sort of watering hole, as much as it is game announcement show. To give attendees a customisable avatar, in that context, feels like a smart move. A way to attach faces to names, and tease some vestige of humanity from an otherwise forbidding noodle-soup of schedules, ads, and embedded media players. Nevertheless, somehow, the E3 avatar system manages to give the sense of an alternate telling of The Matrix, in which humanity is being battery farmed by a massive Nintendo Wii.
The E3 avatar designer offers a neat, sensible way to produce facsimiles of most human faces from a relatively small collection of assets. In a way, it's a very impressive bit of design. And yet, perhaps in a bid to stop dickheads like me going full Monster Factory on it, it has been made weirdly conservative. This is a business event, see, and it doesn't want you to be too silly.
E3's avatar system is like an alternate telling of The Matrix, in which humanity is being battery farmed by a massive Nintendo Wii.
The result is a system wherein infinite variety is possible, and yet where it is fundamentally impossible to create a face that feels very far from some intangible norm. Or, to be more accurate, some intangible norms. Because after mashing the "randomise" button on my profile setup page for a full half hour, I began to identify a number of distinct aesthetic archetypes which all E3 avatars tended to gravitate towards.
There were five, specifically, which almost every face the system threw out could be filed under. After realising this, then, I decided to try an experiment: purely with the pool of faces created by hitting "randomise" 20 times, could I put together a representative mood board for each of the five archetypes?
Yes, it transpired, I could. And so, brave explorer of the digital events frontier, I present to you now: the Five People You'll Meet At Pretend E3:
1. Bitcoin Dracula
Freshly risen from their ghastly crypt of currency, Bitcoin Dracula smells perfect, dresses immaculately, and wants to tell you all about their exciting new NFT-based MMO project, which somehow involves about forty companies you've heard of, but always in some inexplicable, hastily-moved-on-from capacity. If you maintain eye contact with Bitcoin Dracula for more than eight seconds, you will suddenly find yourself on a podcast, discussing Elon Musk against your will.
2. Revenant Spirit
Oddly, given how insistent it is otherwise to stick within the broadly agreed parameters of humanity, E3's avatar generator is pretty liberal in its allowance of vast, glaring scarlet eyes. And there is simply no way for a face like this to possess massive red eyes and not look like a ghost that's shown up to strangle you at three in the morning. The archetype transcends mere red eyes, however - just check out Turbodad in the middle there, and try not to react like those apocryphal bumpkins from the early 1900s, jumping away in terror from footage of an onrushing train.
3. Apologetic Alien
Of course, the E3 avatar generator swings hard in the other direction too, with a surprising number of the faces produced expressing some kind of enigmatic, cosmic sorrow. Often, it's paired with a sort of desperate, bone-deep embarassment. Add to that the surprisingly wide range of light-coloured makeup choices on offer, and you end up with a whole cadre of folks who look like they've just been transmitted across the galaxy as a stream of tachyons, before materialising in the middle of a networking event, and shitting right in the canapes.
4. Journo Monkey
You know that one photo of a monkey, that somehow looks like 90% of journalist byline photos? Yeah, the same is true of E3 avatars. Much as is the case with photographs, it's not a case of any of the avatars actually resembling the monkey in any physical sense. Because it's a monkey, in a yellow shirt. But the psychic energy given off by that primate is unmistakable, and it turns out that the E3 avatar designer was virtually built to convey it.
5. Unknowable Goat Person
Given the narrow range of facial hair options provided by the avatar designer, all of which are pretty wispy, plus some of the otherworldly colour combinations possible for eyes, eyebrows and the like, there's a whole range of randomly generated avatars that resemble nothing more than satyrs who have given up playing the flute with their balls out, and taken on jobs as marginally successful marketing consultants. Within the "unknowable goat person" subgenre, there is also a strong throughline of "bloke who worked on a legendary PC game from the early nineties and now appears, smiling faintly, in the periphery of other peoples' group photos."
Also, Chief O'Brien Off Of Deep Space Nine
The man is, quite literally, in a class of his own.
E3 2021 will be running from 12th-15th June. Please see our E3 schedule post for more, genuinely useful information on the whole virtual shebang, and visit our E3 2021 hub to stay up to date on all the latest news.