A few months ago, I found out that EGX, a major games con, was to take place in my nearest city. The person who told me about it was enthusiastic, not for themselves, as they weren’t interested, but for me, because it’s exactly what I should like. But my initial thought was “God, no, I’m not going.”
Here’s the deal: I have an anxiety disorder. A quick primer: somebody (okay, it was a Tumblr post) once described having anxiety as that feeling when your chair suddenly tips too far or you miss a step, only for hours or days at a time, and that’s always remained my favourite way of explaining it. Sometimes, this feeling, and others associated with it, are so intense that I not only don’t enjoy doing things, I physically cannot do them. And EGX has a cocktail of factors that make it worse: I have to catch a train to get there; there’s a large crowd of people (mostly grown men); I don’t particularly know what’s going on at any given moment.
But at some point I was feeling brave, so I booked my ticket, and then spent a couple of months alternating between giddy excitement and crippling nervousness. At some point I recognised this feeling: it’s a different flavour of how I feel whenever I’m anticipating a new game that could and should be awesome but what if it isn’t.
When the event finally rolled around, I found a lot more parallels between it and my gaming experience as a whole.
As I was walking the very long connecting route between the station and the event hall, I was consistently reminding myself that it was okay, that I belonged here just as much as anyone else. It wasn’t until I saw a huge poster featuring Lara Croft that I started to believe it. And that’s how I feel when I get to play a game with a protagonist like me (or at least, more like me than your average grizzled white dude).
I somewhat faltered again when I reached the actual hall. It was hot, it was dark, and it was loud. The AAA publishers, along with Sony and Microsoft, seemed to think that the best way of advertising their games was to yell about them the loudest. I’m hardly an expert in advertising, but it didn’t win them many favours with me. Instead, overwhelmed, I went to drink some coffee in a well-lit side area, thinking about the similarities between this feeling, and that feeling of having so many games to play that you avoid playing any of them through indecision.
After a few minutes, I manage to chill out a bit, and I decide to avoid the shouty AAA area and head over to the indie booth, which is light and brightly coloured and much more welcoming. I’m not saying this is a direct parallel to how I feel about game devs in general, but it sure feels familiar.
I hung around in the indie booth for a while, speaking to some really lovely people and trying out some really lovely games, and reminding myself that, in general, games and gamers are pretty great. Afterwards, I wandered around the floor for a bit, basically confirming that the AAA areas weren’t of much interest to me at all. After I’d lapped the hall, I went to sit and get some lunch, near the 18+ area. I watched a few kids trying to sneak around the edge of the partition, between it and the wall that I was sitting next to. No one stopped them, but when they saw me watching they looked guilty and started cracking jokes about it. I just laughed and shrugged. I didn’t tell them that I felt like I’d done the same thing to get in here in the first place. Even though I hadn’t, at all, and everyone had been nothing but welcoming to me in person, the general atmosphere of the show still made me feel like I had slipped in through a crack and was now hanging around hoping no one would ask to see my Gaming Credentials™.
Once I entered the 18+ area, I had the strangest feeling that this wasn’t about games at all. This was about marketing. Ubisoft had constructed this huge stage with carts and newspaper stands and what I think was supposed to be the interior of Big Ben? There were men walking around dressed all in black with extremely real looking weapons which I suppose was supposed to encourage me to buy Tom Clancy’s The Division but actually made me want to run as far away from them as possible. I think there were only two other games in there; Homefront: The Revolution and Just Cause 3, and they were nothing but a queue to test the games out. It’s not that I’m opposed to that, it’s just that I think there are more interesting ways of engaging potential buyers. Also I’m going to be pretty fixated thinking about the money spent on that Big Ben interior when Syndicate doesn’t work properly on release.
Needless to say, I didn’t get much out of the 18+ area, and left pretty quickly. Outside, I stumbled upon a booth that I hadn’t seen in my wandering from before. It was for Special Effects, a UK based charity that modifies games and controllers to make them accessible for disabled players. I left there having bounced back again, thanks to the reminder that the gaming community can do really great things. Energised, I headed over to the Xbox panel for the Rise of the Tomb Raider display.
It was pretty gimmicky, but altogether enjoyable. In particular, being surrounded by people excited for a game that I’m also excited for was familiar and fun. I spoke to a lovely Lara cosplayer for a while, and the devs on stage seemed genuine, which is always a big plus in my book.
I returned to the Xbox stage later for the Fallout 4 talk, and it ricocheted quite badly in the other direction. Whilst the stage presenters were even more enthusiastic, so was the much larger crowd. So enthusiastic, in fact, that basic decency went a little bit out of the window. After seventeen minutes of being knocked around by a pair of boisterous 30-something men behind me (and seeing that the crowd in front was much worse), I decided to leave, which was easier said than done - I’ve never seen a crowd so unwilling to part to let someone through before. I left not long after, exhausted.
Overall, I had a really good time at EGX, just like overall I really love video games. But a small percentage of the people, some of the ways publishers and devs present themselves, and my own anxiety prevented me from enjoying it fully, just like they do with video games in general.
But, in both cases, what stood out to me were the people who love games and are working to make them better. And that makes me less anxious.