What Money Can't Buy - Why expos like Eurogamer are bad for games.
I remember when I was 11, being asked by my teacher to write down one big aspiration for the future: "To get invited to a games show like E3" I scribbled down, probably in crayon. Oh, what larks.
Nowadays, having spent last week at Eurogamer, I want to reach back through time, grab that optimistic, thin, teetotal sod by the scruff of his uniform, and order him to write something else. Go to the moon, marry a popstar; invent Facebook. Anything except go to a games expo.
Before I start whinging, let me explain that I know how lucky I am. For all the things that make me sad about computer games, I'm still a man who gets to spend most of his working week in front of a PlayStation. It's hardly fair to complain.
But when you're watching bikinied models waggle their bums for Company of Heroes fans, or listening to a developer boast about how many guns are in their sequel, it's hard to feel happy in your work. Videogames can be a miserable business.
And with their flashing lights, free gifts and aforementioned breasted sirens, gaming expos are hardly helping. Eurogamer reeks of desperation; it feels like everyone is trying to hide something.
In the genuinely creative art world, painters and sculptors - the closest equivalents to designers and coders - prefer to have their work displayed in galleries. Stoic and dignified works of art, it's hard to imagine a new Murakami painting being unveiled by six grinning women in hot pants. The artists and the punters wouldn't stand for it; they have too much respect for the work.
Clearly, at Eurogamer, nobody feels so secure. Free gobs of Mountain Dew and jiggling cleavage are firmly in place to keep people from noticing that a few new multiplayer perks and some futuristic texturing isn't really enough to show for a year's work on Black Ops II.
Sleight of hand
It's a gigantic sleight of hand trick. Take away the smoke and D-cups, and a gaming expo would be worryingly underwhelming. Without the distractions, we'd start to notice how bad games have gotten. With triple-A froth merchants like Treyarch churning out one safe bet after another, the show floor at Eurogamer is turning into an increasingly elaborate diversion strategy.
Thumping music and wanton sex appeal make shows like Eurogamer more advertisements than expos; their blinking lights make them look like arcade cabinets for the entire industry, pleading with customers to insert their coins.
Call me boring, but I dream of a world where shows like this don't exist, where we look at games like paintings, or books, or installations; a world where genuinely smart works like Tomb Raider and Dishonored can foster attention without big-budget pomp.
Without the noise, the boobs; the pageantry of it all - a world where we'd be able to look at games squarely. For some developers, that's a daunting prospect, For others, like Valve and Rockstar, whose games are so consistently brilliant that they don't feel the need to dress them up at shows like E3, it would be a much higher show of respect.
The sheer indignity of gaming expos gets me down. The crusader in me likes to think it's the money; with the market saturated as it is, and so much budget riding on a successful launch day, developers need to do as much prancing and shouting as they can to get fans interested.
But I don't think the problem is as small as that. In honesty, I think gamers and game makers just enjoy the spectacle - laser guns, superheroes and airstrikes are the stars of triple-A gaming, so it only matches that big titles are promoted with such gusto.
For the sake of sheer entertainment, shows like E3 and Eurogamer are just fine; as the only form of exhibition for an emerging art form, they're worrying.
Why not a library for games, or a gallery? The Smithsonian 'Art of Videogames' exhibit pulled in 686,000 people in just six months. That is enough to suggest that games can, and are being, appreciated in a non-commercial, booth-babe free environment.
We don't need Eurogamer or E3, or any show that flaunts games like they're garden furniture. They're examples of everything that money can't buy - dignity, creativity, acclaim and respect.
Is this the best public exhibition that games can ask for? No. Computer games deserve a better PR campaign; only an 11-year-old couldn't see that.
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