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A View from Henry Jenkins

E3 -- A Second Perspective

Since I also spent last week at E3, I figured I’d rise to the bait and offer my own perspective on developments there. I spent the first two days of the conference involved in running the Education Arcade @ E3,…

  • May 18, 2004

Since I also spent last week at E3, I figured I’d rise to the bait and offer my own perspective on developments there. I spent the first two days of the conference involved in running the Education Arcade @ E3, a two day summit of educators, game designers, government officials, and textbook publishers, focused on promoting the pedagogical and educational uses of computer games. There’s a good summary of the event over at Water Cooler Games.

A key controversy at the event surrounded the proposed introduction of an L for Learning Seal which would be granted to educational games. At the moment, this was a trial balloon we threw up to get industry response, though Leapfrog at least has agreed to participate and other companies at E3 expressed interest. The goal was to give parents more information to use in choosing games and to create an incentive to develop more educational content in and around the game. Some argue that all games are educational and that it is therefore impossible to seperate out educational games from the rest of what gets produced. Others in the industry fear that the “L word” may hurt rather than enhance sales. So far, the concept has proven effective at stimulating discussion on games and education.

As for what I saw on the floor, it was pretty depressing. I always come off the display floor at E3 feeling assaulted by the barrage of flashy graphics and loud sounds – not to mention the seductions of “booth babes.” The games industry is ill-served by making this huge, noisy, overwhelming hall the central place where buyers first encounter the coming year’s product. Can you imagine what would happen if you showed all of the movies to be released in the coming year in a single auditorium all at once and let local exhibitors decide which ones looked most interesting? What films would get drowned out? Which would get promoted?

There was stuff this year I liked – a game where you get to play a dog and have a range of interactions, the Eyetoy stuff already mentioned, The Movies (which allows you to run a studio and shoot your own movies), a tango game – but most of them look like more of what we have seen before and many of them are simply game adaptations of big Hollywood releases which add little that isn’t redundant to the original.

The good news for parents is that there seemed to be more children-oriented titles than usual – though in almost every case, they came attached to a big movie franchise and in most cases, they were simply sanitized versions of the fighting games being targeted at older consumers.

Sorry to sound grumpy but somehow, E3 brings out the worst of the games industry and in an era where Electronic Arts threatens to become the new Microsoft and seems rapidly to be breaking all of its promises to support the creativity of the smaller games companies it acquired, there is very little going on that doesn’t look like bad news.

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