E3 2015: E3 After Hours

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The Microsoft ID Party*

 

 

I signed the Microsoft E3 banner. It's hanging in Microsoft headquarters.

I signed the Microsoft E3 banner. It’s hanging in Microsoft headquarters.

It’s 7:30PM. I’m sitting at the Zodiac off-campus preview party, drinking a Yeti and play-testing Zodiac with my friend/co-worker Tanner Schelle (@IgnorantSloth). I don’t drink often, but I’m afraid of insulting the presenter, a generous Asian CEO. He weaves through the play-test couches, repeating “Yes! Eat! Drink! Enjoy!” at the reporters. He wants us to love his product, and it doesn’t take much. The game (a mix of Studio Ghibli art, Final Fantasy gameplay, and MMO-style multiplayer) is beautiful and fun–everything I could possibly want from a Japanese RPG. I make a note to buy it when it releases. And I appreciate the CEO’s generosity; I haven’t eaten in two days.

My phone buzzes, and I get a text from Amanda Erickson at Hi Rez (@HiRezAmanda). I interviewed her two months ago for SMITE Magazine, and I met up with her at the Microsoft exhibit to match names with faces. We swapped numbers to keep in touch.

“Hey!” she says. “Not sure what your night plans are but a few hirez people are at the Microsoft ID party right now.”

“Where at?” I ask.

“I’m not actually sure,” she replies. “I don’t know how long were sticking around.”

I show the text to Tanner, and we share a look. Without words, we finish our beers, pack up, and start running to the convention center. We don’t have Microsoft IDs, and we don’t work for Hi Rez; we have no shot of getting in. The sudden shock of urgency kills my buzz.

The convention center is closed when we get there. A couple of stragglers are getting an official goodbye escort from security. One of them opens a locked door. Tanner and I slip inside and flash our badges.

“We are here with Microsoft,” I say. I cover my press credentials with my finger. The security guard (a thin, young, underpaid 20-something) shrugs and points us to West Hall. We try not to run.

The entrance to Microsoft is a fold-out particle board table in front of a giant glass wall and a door. A squirrely blond woman sits behind the makeshift desk. Two black suits stand at the door. A glowing green wall beyond the glass radiates and silhouettes the guards and the woman. ‘Xbox,’ it says. For a moment, I feel like Dorothy at the Emerald City gate.

The woman looks up at me. She smiles.

“Hi,” I say. “We’re meeting a couple friends from Hi Rez: Amanda Erickson and Yvonne Chavez. We write for the Official SMITE Magazine.”

“Sure,” the woman replies. She has a trace of an accent. “Let me check and see if you’re on the list.” She flips through a stack of stapled papers. She pauses and flips through them again. “Hi Rez, you say?”

“Yes. Hi Rez. Amanda texted me about ten minutes ago. She asked us to stop by.”

She pauses and scans the front page again. She chews the butt of her pen. “I don’t see anyone from Hi Rez on this list.”

Tanner is nervous; I can hear him pacing behind me. I stand firm: “I understand. Story of my week,” I say. “I’m not on the list for half the events I’m invited to; all our bookings were incredibly short notice. Let me call Amanda real quick and see if she can come get us.”

“Sure!” The woman smiles again. “If she can come out and identify you, I can let you in.”

I call Amanda twice. No one answers. I start to send her a text when the woman interjects. “You know–you guys have been incredibly patient. I apologize for making you wait. If you go ahead and sign the nondisclosure paperwork, I’ll go inside and grab my boss. We will try to find a way to get you in.”

We read and sign the papers while the woman disappears behind the great green wall. She returns a couple minutes later with a tall, suited man in loafers. He smiles as he shakes our hands.

“I hear your spouses left you for the party,” he jokes.

I smile back. “Something like that,” I say.

He walks over to the desk and scans the nondisclosure papers. “You understand that by signing these papers, you are not allowed to photograph or write about anything beyond this point?”

“Of course!” Tanner says. “We just came to say ‘hi’ and see the party.”

The tall man and the blond woman talk briefly while Tanner and I exchange glances. Then the man shrugs. “You two are harmless,” he says. “Come in! Enjoy!”

The woman then gives us Microsoft ID badges and a couple of green Xbox lanyards. “Good luck!” she says. “I hope you find who you’re looking for!”

One of the black suits nods while we pass through the door. Then we disappear behind the great green wall, bound for Oz, miles from Kansas. We never found Amanda.

E3 After Hours

e32015_afterhours

An abandoned escalator after hours.

 

On its surface, E3 looks like an ocean of suits, briefcases, and business cards–businessmen and women showcasing multi-million dollar products with multi-million dollar displays and presentations. But after stepping beyond the glowing green wall and walking among them, I have begun to see the event through new eyes.

Yes, the cold industry through-line is there; it’s always there. But there’s something else present, too–something warmer and much more human. It’s easier to see after hours when the developers and publishers dress like people and share drinks. At its heart, E3 is a love letter to gaming: men and women who love technology, love telling stories, and love sharing their work with the world.

As I played the new Xbox games, I spent time with the people who made them, talking and joking about them. During the day, they would have pitched their products, listing statistics, explaining inner workings. But after hours, we simply talked. Our conversations turned to ‘I love that character! He reminds me of my dad!’ or ‘This is my favorite part! It’s like my favorite Saturday cartoon!’

When the cameras turn off, people start to act like people. And the great green wall becomes less a barricade and more a gateway. And, like the light at the end of The Great Gatsby, it becomes a symbol for the exciting future that lingers in front of us, perpetually. Every year, we race faster toward it, building bigger, better, and smarter. We keep pushing ever-onward, and the light ever-lingers just beyond our fingertips.

I can’t wait until next year.

 

*I signed a nondisclosure agreement with Microsoft before entering the Microsoft ID party. Due to this, I am legally prohibited from uploading pictures or discussing specific events. I am, however, allowed to describe the event in broad strokes and give general impressions.

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