Inhaling pure sweat: What it’s like to attend the year’s biggest video game expo

For this week’s edition of The A.V. Club Hosted By John Teti—the A.V. Club TV show that I host, as helpfully evinced by the title—we left our Chicago studio behind and traveled to Los Angeles for the Electronic Entertainment Expo. This trade show, better known as E3, is the biggest event on the video game calendar, at least in terms of hype. Console makers and game studios converge on L.A. to unleash a fireball of breathless announcements and trailers on the public. The goal is to whip you into such a pulse-pounding state of excitement that when Popular Game 5: The Sequel finally comes out 15 months later, you will still be eager to buy it.

E3 2017 marked the first time that tickets to the show—typically restricted to media types and people who work in the game industry—were officially made available to the public. (I say “officially” because for a couple years the show had been selling a few thousand show passes to non-industry folks. There was money to be made, after all.) I can understand why fans are eager to get into the show, because they get a glimpse of games that won’t hit the shelves for some time, which gives them bragging rights back home. They get to casually remark, “Yeah, I already played Assassin’s Creed Origins,” as friends rend their garments in a paroxysm of jealousy.

The new Mario game delights me_1The A.V. Club

Getting my game on at E3

But the after-show bragging rights may be the only upside to E3 attendance. So-called journalists like me already knew what this year’s newbies—judging by the dazed look I observed on their faces—have now learned: It might seem like a game player’s seventh heaven from the outside, but E3 is closer to Mordor than Shangri-La.

Game companies cram the L.A. Convention Center full of massive “booths,” the biggest of which are multi-story complexes the size of a house. Screens and speakers blast frenetic sizzle reels from every possible angle. Attendees pack the aisles and alleys of this dystopian micro-city, shuffling along as their senses are dulled by the omnipresent assault of light and noise. You suffer all this in the hope that you might finally end up at a demo station, where you can play a glitchy portion of an unreleased game for a few minutes while a dozen other people breathe down your neck and wait for you to finish up already.

Xbox Bartertown_1The A.V. Club

E3 attracts hordes of game-loving fans

The addition of 15,000 general-public attendees into the mix proved to be the straw that broke the back of the L.A.C.C.’s climate control system. Just hours after the doors opened, the atmosphere on the show floor was so dank and muggy that it felt like you were inhaling pure sweat.

The architecture (I employ the term loosely) of certain booths serves to heighten the discomfort. The publisher Ubisoft set up its demo stations in an enclosed area about the size of a studio apartment, and within this were even smaller rooms—closets, really—into which your fleshy being would be inserted so that you could play your game of choice. Forced by my producers to enter one of these miserable cubbies so they could shoot B-roll of me “enjoying” a game, I muddled through a mission in Far Cry 5 as I calculated the minutes of oxygen that remained in my Ubisoft-branded punishment chamber. Oh, and the footage was ultimately cut from the episode, so, fantastic.

Kristen Schaal in the midst of her frist VR experience_1The A.V. Club

Kristen Schaal in her own virtual world of gaming madness

Bathrooms offer their own special horror—for men, at least. Because the crowd at E3 is approximately 104 percent male, it takes only minutes for the men’s bathrooms to become a hellscape of clogged toilets, wadded-up wet paper towels, and terrifyingly empty soap dispensers. I waited in line for a bathroom stall after lunch and finally got my turn, only to discover that the previous patron had left me four squares of what appeared to be half-ply toilet paper. I conducted my business with military efficiency and then, as I exited, warned the next guy that the stall was fresh out. “Oh, I brought my own paper,” he replied. As this fellow darted into the stall, I regarded him with admiration. Brought My Own Toilet Paper Guy, you know how to do E3 right.

We did have fun at the show. Kristen Schaal joined me to check out a bunch of games, and I had a great time experiencing E3 with Kristen, a self-described game “noob.” (You can watch our adventures on the show tonight.) We had a lot of laughs as we flitted from booth to booth, but still, after 90 minutes or so, I saw that the characteristic sparkle in Kristen’s eyes had been replaced by that familiar E3 daze. I asked her if she wanted to wrap it up, and she sweetly but instantly responded in the affirmative. E3 had claimed another victim.

I understand the excitement around E3 every year, but trust me when I tell you that it’s better to experience it from home than in person. Luckily, you can do just that by watching The A.V. Club Hosted By John Teti tonight at 9 PM EDT. That’s right, this blog post was one long lead-up to a self-serving plug! I can’t imagine a better tribute to the spirit of E3.