One of my favorite films is The Parallax View, a conspiracy thriller that forms the midpoint of Alan J. Pakula’s paranoia trilogy. Though it begins as a bog standard ’70s drama/action flick (complete with a cheesy car chase) midway through the tone completely changes and features some absolutely brilliant cinematography and pacing after a fairly regrettable riff on the Ludovico Technique (albeit for the opposite effect). I first watched it when I was 17, in a dual enrollment PoliSci course and was terribly taken with the immense starkness of the convention center that was the setting for the final 15 minutes of the film. Pakula’s cinematography in the convention center scenes is dehumanizing, Beatty’s journalist cum gumshoe Joe Frady reduced to an insect clambering up great grey geometric shapes on a suicide mission to uncover the truth behind a series of political assassinations.
I couldn’t help but think of those final scenes today when Kelly and I entered the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC) for the third and final day of PAX East 2013. We’d bought the Sunday passes last month; memories of always wanting to go to E3 back when I was a kid stirred, friends recommended the event and Indie Game: The Movie certainly dramatized the event nicely. But standing atop the escalator overlooking the expo floor most of that enthusiasm quickly flushed out of my system.
Here’s the thing about large groups of people, they can feel either intimate (there’s hypnotic quality to watching a good football chant on youtube) or alienating. I assume it all depends on the architecture around said crowds and how the crowd is interacting with that architecture. Thousands of Joe Fradys shuffling from booth to booth certainly alienated me and reminded me of a succinct tumblr post last year re: “nerd culture”. Pleasing as it is to see indie developers trying to make artful games the fact is for the heaviest hitters at PAX, the studios with the biggest booths, profit trumps art nearly every time. And that profit driven environment really put a negative pall on even the crowd sourced aspects of the Con. Cosplays, retro games and so on, all unfortunately stuck under that artless umbrella.
Why do we put so much time into dressing up as or reminiscing over characters and games so thin that we’d be insulted if an author or director tried to pass them off on us? It’s upsetting to think about how most of the positive memories I (and most people likely) have of gaming had little to do with the games themselves and more the people I shared with them. I wonder Is it enough to get by on pure nostalgia and the little burst of adrenaline when I flick the right switch if there’s no there there? Thinking in those terms, where we the players do all the heavy lifting for what are more manufacturers than creators can make you feel pretty small, almost like a cog in their machine. It certainly felt that way on the show floor, packed shoulder to shoulder, each movement you made forcing another cog to move in response.
Hot breath, body heat, the low hum of conversations behind my head and klaxons from every booth trying to grab my senses and wallet. I’ve never felt more alone in my life.
But I’m glad I went to realize it wasn’t for me.