“Next-gen” means a lot of different things to gamers — and nothing at all, probably, to the uninitiated. It literally refers to the new “generation” of gaming consoles, but it also means growth and expansion in an industry marred by “sequelitis” and negative stereotypes. Next-gen was the unofficial theme of this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, and the Los Angeles Convention Center buzzed with speculation as attendees queued up to enter the show floor.
The stereotype that gamers are all young, horny and male is fading, and even the cosplayers — people hired to dress in character costumes — at E3 represented a wider variety of gaming characters rather than only busty females. The infamous “booth babes” — scantily clad women paid to entice convention-goers to exhibits — of previous years were largely absent from E3 2013, replaced by knowledgeable men and women with a passion for the games they were presenting. Presenters didn’t resort to cheap tricks to entice people to see their games; the games spoke for themselves.
“Watch Dogs,” which was announced at last year’s E3, is about a hacker with access to a city’s computer-powered infrastructure, and it garnered so much attention that the line for the extended gameplay demonstration exceeded three hours. Contrary to the belief that gamers love violence, killing is optional in the game, and the gameplay revolves around cleverly manipulating your environment rather than on combat alone.
One line at the Nintendo Co. booth was estimated to be a four-hour wait. Nintendo’s games have never been seen as impressive graphically — mostly because Nintendo has a particularly cute aesthetic — but they were the most fun demos on the show floor by far, and they attracted a sizeable crowd to Nintendo’s booth. “The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds,” a sequel to the beloved “A Link to the Past,” even utilized the often-ignored 3D feature of Nintendo’s 3DS handheld, an exciting step for an already strong system.
The hardware improvements are integral to new gameplay features. In the case of Nintendo’s Wii U, which was released late last year, the new controller — the touch-screen GamePad — promises to expand gaming possibilities, though its launch was rough and its library skeletal. The newly announced PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, on the other hand, sport eight gigabytes of RAM, a huge step up from the half-gig of their predecessors. This allows for vastly expansive worlds far beyond anything gamers have experienced before because the new hardware can handle more complicated software. “The Witcher 3,” for example, features a world several times larger than its already extensive predecessor, allowing for boundless exploration.
Microsoft Corp. seemed to make a lot of gamers angry with its hardware, though. Its Kinect motion sensor is touted to be “always on,” raising privacy concerns, and the used game restrictions seemed invasive to many convention-goers. Still, Microsoft’s Xbox One booth was extremely crowded, and its controller tech demo would have been promising had the features been used in any of the games on display.
On top of the hardware and gaming improvements, E3 2013 was exciting enough to reinvigorate even the most disillusioned gamer’s passion for the medium. The industry has shown signs of maturing, and the promise and potential of next-gen gaming — in whatever form it takes — makes this year an especially thrilling time to be a gamer. Games deserve to be taken seriously as culturally relevant entertainment medium, and next-gen means growing up to fill that role.