The Last of Us, arguably, is intended as a gritty, downbeat, disturbingly real take on post-apocalyptic struggle. The thing that really hit home about the demo as I saw it was that it aims (and succeeds) to make guns – even simple pistols - genuinely scary despite years of video game desensitisation. With incredibly limited resources and seeming one-hit kills in abundance, walking in on armed enemies should be sickeningly scary. As in fact, should be whatever brief snatches of ballistic power you can secure for your self.
Note how – unlike 99% of video game bad guys – one of the mooks in the demo freaks out and runs as soon as he realises that Joel has a gun. Note how Ellie reacts with genuine unease – almost disgust - when Joel uses a Molotov cocktail on a couple of enemies. Given Naughty Dog’s character-driven pedigree with the Uncharted games, it seems clear that the aim in The Last of Us is to make violence carry real weight and significance. Long-term consequence perhaps, if Ellie’s reactions are to become a major factor. And I hope they are. To an assembled audience of exactly the type of people who should really be selling that idea however, it seemed to be interpreted as naught but fuel for air-punches and chest-bumps.
Above: Yay! Woo! Dehumanising execution! Fist-bump, brah!
And it doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident. A friend and previous colleague at the show this week told me of her unease at witnessing these kind of whooping, bro-ish “cheers for extreme violence”, and also detailed open laughter during a behind-closed-doors demo of Ubisoft’s gorgeous-looking Watch Dogs. It wasn’t violence that elicited the reaction that time. Stunningly, it was the revelation that an NPC was HIV positive. Obviously we weren't there to corroborate this directly, but I have no reason whatsoever not to trust my source on this one. And if the report is accurate then we're looking at some supremely disturbing behaviour from supposed journalists.
Throw in audible wolf-whistles at the sight of a pair of plastic-looking animated mammaries at the start of Ubisoft’s on-stage Far Cry 3 demo, and you have the really disappointing cherry on a rather maudlin E3 cake for me. Yes, the loutish reaction might have only been from a handful of people, but when that reaction comes from a handful of industry professionals, its significance is multiplied by a factor of ten. Especially when, given the presence of said thunderously unnecessary tits within the context of the rest of this year’s E3, said reaction seems to be nothing less than a mark of success in the cause of publishers giving the people exactly what they want.
Above: No-one else is going to take mature game content seriously if we don't ourselves
I don’t know. Maybe I’m over-reacting. Maybe I’ve chosen to be blissfully naïve. Of course a consistent percentage of the world’s population is always going to be made up of idiots. Organise a big enough event with a big enough attendance, and that percentage will take effect as the microcosm forms. And the idiots are of course always the noisy ones, the vocal minority who make the rest of us look bad by the distorted impression they give. But again, that’s a problem.
They have given that impression. Even to me, a man who knows his friends and colleagues (in fact pretty much everyone he knows in the industry) to be bright, insightful and totally at odds with this sort of behaviour. And they’ve given that impression at E3, on the world stage, when the global media's eyes are watching the games industry and the community around it.
It wasn’t too long ago that we were fighting to be seen as a legitimate, mainstream entertainment medium on a par with film and TV. If E3 2012 is how we celebrate having won that fight now that gaming is largely free of suspicion (or at least making so much money that no-one challenges us any more), then frankly I half-miss the days when the medium was still underground. At least then we all seemed to be trying harder to make a good impression.
Note: Just to make doubly-sure it's clear, the above is all the personal opinion of myself, and does not necessarily go for the rest of GamesRadar.
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