Despite E3’s reputation as the biggest, loudest, guns-blazingest show around, the games I spent the most time with — and didn’t stop hearing about — were the ones with hardly a gun in sight. I started counting them off: Alien: Isolation, Mario Maker, Never Alone, No Man’s Sky, Costume Quest 2 and Splatoon. The list went on.
There's nothing wrong with violent games, or games that feature guns as their lead method of player interaction. This isn't meant to be an indictment of any of those titles, all of which consistently prove to be some of the best-selling games of the year. This is a celebration of the games that don't fit that mold, and how they help create an industry that's more interesting as a whole.
the most interesting games on the show floor weren't about shooting
Alien: Isolation scared the crap out of me with effective lighting, sound design, and the omnipresent threat of the creature that starred in a large percentage of my childhood nightmares.
It has has some weapons, but even the developers mentioned that they were basically powerless in the face of the alien. If most games are power fantasies, Isolation is an exploration of helplessness. If you're in a situation where you need to use a weapon, you've likely already made a number of mistakes.
Even Nintendo's new "shooter," Splatoon, is more about fun than your kill/death ratio. Players fight to control territory by blasting arenas with neon-colored paint. There are no bullets, no "kills," really. The closest Splatoon comes to gun violence is tagging an enemy with paint, and the focus is on gaining mobility, not kills.
The more paint of your own color is on the level, the easier you can move around the enemy. Your ink gets you territory, and that territory aids with your movement since you can swim in your own ink. This moves the focus of the game to tactics, not violence.
It stands in stark contrast to the marketing of E3 — the day one trailers were so thick with ultra violence (particularly gun violence) that a "trailer" focusing just on violence became hard to watch. And there was certainly plenty of buzz about Far Cry 4, Assassin's Creed Unity and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, all violent games that made an appearance on our editor's choice list.
It wouldn't be E3 without a bit of tone-deaf marketing. Battlefield: Hardline was pitched as a sort of hardcore cops and robbers game, but its trailer basically fetishized the militarization of police. The trailer — and a weird rooftop live session — played out while an actual, real-life shooter was on the loose in LA, just a few miles from the convention center. Our news media is saturated with gun violence, watching that sort of gunfight being played for thrills quickly became uncomfortable.
For me, this E3 was about variety
But the idea that E3 was all guns, all the time, is outdated and incorrect. I was able to play with a claymation Kirby and a yarn-spun Yoshi, snuggle a snow fox, hide from a xenomorph, make my own Mario levels, do battle as a little kid in a candy corn costume and gawk at procedurally-generated planets full of dinosaurs.
No Man's Sky received some of the best buzz of any game in the show, and the trailer that focused on exploration and a sense of wonder had much to do with that buzz. There are plenty of games that focus on space combat and laser guns. This game focused on dinosaurs, and a huge galaxy to explore. Games that traded in the violence for wonder and fun choked the floor.
It was, by far and away, the most fun I've had at E3 in my five years of going to the show.