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Gamescom: Day Three

August 17, 2012

The things I like about Cologne include: the large number of bicycles ridden throughout the city, which features a positively continental proportion of curved cruiser handlebars, the clattering of loaded freight trains as they pass over the Rhine and into the night, and the thick, urgent downpour of rain which seems to hit the city every evening, and is gone again so quickly that it might be just a very efficient way of cleaning up.

In contrast the list of things I don’t like includes: the refusal of both my colleagues in this nightly game of “sit by a window and upload video files very slowly” to adopt my suggested German slang term “Michael” when talking about memory s(ch)ticks (not strictly Cologne’s fault) and our taxi driver from today, who invited us to stare at a girl in tight denim shorts before sliding with cliché-lubed grace into a remark about how many black people there are in England. I suspect he doesn’t ride a cruiser. I suspect he rides a flaming cross with “I am a shitwheel dickeating racist” written on it.

Talking of racism, today we interviewed Warren Spector, who’s at the show with Disney showcase Epic Mickey, and for a very brief period of time I considered asking him if he’d thought about making the crows from Dumbo into a swooping, taunting, white supremacist boss battle. He’d be able to do this on the grounds that Epic Mickey is a device through which to trawl the Disney archive – it features a world called the Wasteland filled with forgotten works and characters, a canonical fictionalisation of Disney’s industrial and creative evolution that I find fascinating. Of course he wouldn’t do it, because he’s not a lunatic.

Listening to Spector speak is a pleasure. He’s both affable and shrewd, making him one of those rare people that it’s quite nice to be patronised by. My second favourite thing that anyone said today was his reply when asked which Disney movie he enjoys the most. ”That’s an easy question to ask and a hard one to answer,” he said, which we totally deserved because half of Europe has already asked him the same thing, twice. It doesn’t beat my favourite thing said today, though, which was Beyond director David Cage explaining his philosophy of game design, emphatic French accent wrapping around each syllable for barely sustainable conceptual torque: “I care about what people are doing with their minds,” he said, tapping his temples,”not what they’re doing with their thumbs.”

Having uttered the most singularly David Cage-ish thing of all time Cage went on to prove he had a sense of humour by admitting that at this point Quantic Dreams probably has the technical resources to create a virtual porn film starring Ellen Page. Even more than wondering who would dub such a performance (I’ve passed David my card) what I was thinking during his presentation was the actually fairly obvious thought that productions like Beyond and The Last Of Us are finally answering the question raised implicitly by Dragon’s Lair and early 1990s Siliwood – “How can we make interactive films that aren’t a crock of shit?” And the answer is “By spending millions of dollars to painstakingly subsume human performers into a virtual world and even then we sometimes get the mouths wrong,” which probably wouldn’t be of much comfort to those early pioneers, though thinking about Ellen Page all nude and digital and speaking with my voice just might be.

Really the most remarkable thing about Gamescom day three is that it was the first day open to the public, which means the show floor became a sea of bodies apparently programmed to stop at random and look at their fucking shoes. The ludicrousness of the whole enterprise was summed up this morning as the doors were about to open for the first time, with our cameras trained on hundreds of visitors behind a barrier who were looking back at us with their own cameras, an empty note of imagined significance bouncing infinitely back and forth.

My usual distraught cynicism has mostly been tempered during Gamescom by how much I’ve enjoyed Cologne and my boundless enthusiasm for cruiser handlebars. But the agitated eagerness physically bubbling just under the surface of so many of the public attending the show makes me feel wretched. Today the first man through the doors following an anticlimactic countdown (chanted uproariously by the crowd, but followed by an orderly trickle of ones and twos through the show’s rigid turnstile gates) walked briskly past the first of the Kolnmesse’s giant exhibition halls, unable to stop himself breaking into a nervous run as he turned a corner onto the main concourse, and gathered pace until he was sprinting through the PlayStation area and finally to the huge white walls of the Assassin’s Creed III booth. He hurried up and down the swerving queue track and finally settled into place under a sign which read “60 minutes from this point,” behind a pack of trade visitors who’d snuck in early.

The worst thing was he didn’t look sad, he just pulled out his camera and started filming again. It might be because it’s half three in the morning and there’s still half a gig to upload and I’ve slept for seven hours out of the last 48, but it hit me with a thud and it might be the worst thing I’ve ever seen.

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