I wouldn’t have this job if it wasn’t for E3.
The Entertainment Software Association had nothing to do with getting me this gig. I’d never been to the big event until last June, more than six months after I joined Polygon. But my lifelong love for gaming’s biggest week of the year is responsible for much of my love for this business.
The keynotes were appointment viewing for me growing up, and watching them live was crucial. If I had school — as I often did during Nintendo and Microsoft’s early pressers — I’d tape them and watch them as soon as I got back, avoiding “spoilers” at all costs. Yes, tape them. VCRs were real things before they were scary props in Resident Evil games.
The sense of connection was more important than the big news and the goofs that came afterwards. Only a small group of friends even knew what E3 was, and we would review the conferences at school the next day or over instant message that night. I’d scroll through message boards to gauge the reactions to what we saw or didn’t see, and I felt like I was among my people. It was a time when everyone who loved games were brought together to talk and react, and it was wonderful. It was easy to feel like you were part of something bigger than yourself.
That was a rare feeling, and it was one I chased on the regular. The forums I frequented were almost overwhelming during E3. I loved every moment of it, and I could only imagine how much more intense that feeling of pure joy must be to those who were walking the floor as the event actually took place.
That’s why I wanted to go to E3 — not just to be surrounded by all those new games. I wanted to be around people who cared just as much as I did, people who thought about games constantly and studied the industry as if they had a midterm on the history of Monster Hunter next week.
The dream of E3 is different from the reality
Some combination of luck and hard work brought me to Polygon. If this, or something like this, is your dream job, I have some insider information: It’s a job just like everything else is a job. But when you take out all of the taxes and HR meetings and office drama, I write about Pokémon every day. I work among folks who care about Fire Emblem Heroes, who want to know my thoughts on Firewatch, and who will invite me to play Resident Evil 7 with them for fun. I’m surrounded by the people I always admired and who speak my language.
There is red tape and bureaucracy, but there are also rooms filled with VR equipment and every console you could hope for. It’s a surreal mixture of adulthood and play land. I’m doing my job well if you’re reading this; the product is you caring about video games along with us. So, thank you.
I felt like I’d really fallen into some fantastic dream when I found out I was going to E3 as part of the Polygon ground team. Working in the industry was wild enough, but I was being sent to what I saw as its epicenter. My fellow gamer friends were psyched and jealous and pumped and excited for me. I couldn’t believe it.
My enthusiasm was seen as naive by some of my veteran coworkers. E3’s a mess, tons of people told me. It’s just lines, more lines, and even more lines after that. There are too many crowds, and you’ll hardly get the chance to play the games you were excited about.
You better learn the faces of PR people to skip the lines filled with tiny fan sites if you want to get everything done, I was told, and flip your badge if you pull this move so everyone doesn’t hate you. No matter what room you’re in, know that there is a more important room deeper in. The final level is just Geoff Keighley staring at two phones while Peter Moore and Bobby Kotick sacrifice goats to Michael Pachter.
They’re not wrong. All of that is true. Except the goat part. That’s mostly an urban legend. Mostly.
But the reality wasn’t a turn-off. I can still feel the high school version of me who would die to know that she’d go to E3 some day. There’s something about the buzz of the show’s floor, of a writer from a “rival” outlet telling you that you have to check out this game you’ve never heard of before, because it’s magical and worth a story. There’s power in being surrounded by thousands of people who, at the end of the day, are there because they really, really love games.
This is the version of the gaming illuminati that actually exists but is rarely talked about: the non-partisan writers who like nothing more than to turn each other onto the good stuff that’s hidden in the corners of the show. That kind of instant, viral buzz is often talked about at film festivals, but rarely E3. It happens, and it’s amazing. A good demo and a few editors championing a game can make a hit.
E3 wasn’t everything I expected, of course. I was exhausted all the time, and I’m still salty about not getting to play goddamn Breath of the Wild because of the length of the line. A Polygon badge doesn’t always work if you don’t have an appointment or someone else has an interview scheduled at the same time.
But E3 is still an experience I recommend to everyone I know outside of the industry. Those people still make up the majority of the people in my life, and I’m happy to have them. We talk about games with hearts in our eyes, not visions of clicks jumping into our wallets.
I want everyone to experience that, and I think those 15,000 non-industry folks who will be able to attend the show this year will get at least a taste of it. No, you won’t get to play every game you hope to play, unless you’re really willing to stake it out for hours. But many fans are used to spending a day in line at Comic Con just to be the first person to see the trailer of their favorite superhero movie. There’s power in that devotion and love.
The waits and inevitable disappointments aren’t the point, however. I’ve never felt less on the outside than when I was actually at E3. I was among my people, and we were seeing the future. It still makes me sad when some of my colleagues seem jaded or tired in advance due to the show. I have a golden ticket, and I can’t wait to make the most of it.