The game industry prides itself on creating fantastic spaces that don’t necessarily coincide with reality. Rapture. Liberty City. The Capital Wasteland. The E3 show floor.
Screens scream video and gameplay. Wall-size LED displays. Spotlights. Utter visual chaos. Like an electronics store display floor, every image competes with every other image. Turn up the brightness, the color, and the volume so juxtaposition only makes the other guy look duller. Chaos that conspires to distract you from whatever you are playing at the moment.
The constantly changing visual stimuli is energizing and exhausting.
As you move around the floor, there’s always something new to look at – a company logo suspended from the ceiling, a giant screen, a large statue. You have to actively block out much of what you see so you can get to where you need to be. Competitors’ booths sit next to one another, competing for your attention. It’s a microcosm of cacophonic architectural design.
It seems odd to call them “booths”, when many of them cover more square footage than my apartment, span two stories, and probably use more electricity than several apartment buildings. Some of the companies define their boundaries using colored lights – OnLive’s booth is bathed in orange that matches their branding. The borders of Microsoft’s territory are awash in electric green.
Sony and EA use walls off to bound their booths – so while you still see many screens of their different games wherever you look, you don’t see as much of their competitors’. While there may be less to distract, it budges up the flow of traffic. EA suspends panels from the ceiling so the product-image can be above you as well as all around you (the Nintendo booth also did this, with the logo for The Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword scrolling along LED panels).
Sony’s one wall is divided by windows, giving spectators a view into the futuristic living rooms which have about as much relation to an actual living space as do Ikea displays or museum dioramas (though to be fair, Ikea usually has functioning coffee tables).
That green glow from Microsoft illuminates several glass-walled rooms radiating from a central (appointment-only!) hub. Sony and Microsoft use their architecture to frame your attention on the people playing the game by placing them in the equivalent of giant fishbowls.
It’s more than just about watching someone else play (all the floor demos involve that to some degree). These turn a demo into a live version of the advertisements involving people jumping around their coffee-table-free living rooms. They’re selling the spectacle of watching someone else play just as much as they are the play itself. You are the controller? You are the advertisement.
Microsoft pushed this advertising-immersion further by plastering bathroom mirrors in the convention center with stickers that frame your face as you’re washing your hands with Kinect slogans. Word is, these decals appeared on the bathroom mirrors in some journalists’ hotel rooms.
Bethesda’s booth is divided into several sections with décor related to the games being demoed in that area. Generally speaking, when looking at a screen of a game, behind it and in your peripheral vision, everything is unified visually. Transitioning from one area to another, though, can involve looking at a giant mural for Brink as a model of a dinosaur statue gripping a motel sign looms in the background (that this is a scale model of something that doesn’t exist physically is something you may not want to think too much about).
And it’s through this chaos we move, trying to form impressions of games and imagine how they will play in less chaotic settings – in living rooms with one TV. And a coffee table.