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Clockwork Orange: A Decade of Attending E3

Next week marks my 11th consecutive E3, which means I’ve been lucky enough to get early hands-on with some of the greatest games ever made. It also means I’m part of a privileged few. Let’s call us “the original E3ers”.

If you’ve been into tech for more than, say, a few years, you no doubt have heard about the debauchery that was called the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Sure, it’s still called E3, but we game journalists recall a time before the powers that be cleaned E3 up in 2007. We remember the beer flowing on the show floor like wine, electronic noise rattling your ears like a 50,000-square-foot pinball machine, and enough strippers on the premises to think it was the Adult Entertainment Expo. We’re talking packs of confused, drunk, and smelly nerds wandering the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center, eyes wide and empty like Clockwork Orange, afraid to hit their hotel room – assuming they had a hotel room – to shower, sleep, or shave because they didn’t want to miss exclusive hands-on time with The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.

My friend Scott Alexander, now Editor-In-Chief of American Photo, was my longtime editor at Playboy. He summed up E3 like so:

The old E3 was like a four-day bender with your friend who just discovered how awesome crystal meth is. It’s entertaining at first, then it gets tiring, then annoying, then scary, then you wake up in jail without your pants.

That’s actually the nicest part of the summary. It’s also hilariously true (though I, thankfully, always kept my pants intact).

Again, you have to realize that E3 wasn’t all about the games, and Alexander’s article was a sort of epitaph for the E3 that was. By 2007 the Electronic Software Association had had enough of the frat-boy, drunken atmosphere. They slashed the amount of attendees from 60,000-plus to about 5,000, took alcohol off the show floor and – gasp! – officially banned booth babes, the often half-naked women “selling” the “products” to geeks. E3 would now be about “the business”, with lots of suits, organized meetings, and serious, grown man stuff. It loosened up more the following year, but it was never the same again.

One distinct memory was literally running into picketing porn protesters outside of the LA Convention Center – not protesting porn games, but promoting porn games – wearing cheap stilettos and too much makeup. Another flashback was seeing Take Two games turn the huge adjacent parking lot into a hops-filled outdoor strip club (I heard “little people” were involved, but I didn’t see any). In fact, on some level, the debauchery likely inspired my first major book, Porn & Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider, and Other Sexy Games Changed Our Culture. I talk about the Bacchanalistic E3 a bit in there, too.

So am I even a little excited about seeing the Wii 2 next week? Heck yes! I also look forward to playing as many mobile, arcade, and console games I can get my Nintendo-thumbed hands on, too. But I will definitely pour out a little decaf coffee for the annoying, misogynistic, and blurry E3 that was. You were a sensory mind-fuck, but you were our sensory mind-fuck.

Photo courtesy of jasoncartwright // CC 2.0


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Damon Brown

Damon writes CBS's Gadget Watch and is the U.S. Editor of Pocket Gamer. He also writes books about music, sex, and tech. Damon's latest is The...Damon writes CBS's Gadget Watch and is the U.S. Editor of Pocket Gamer. He also writes books about music, sex, and tech. Damon's latest is The...


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