There were more severed heads in trailers at E3 this year than there were women on stage.
That's a frightening statistic, but let's be honest here, it didn't surprise you, did it? It's E3 after all. Sure, no one made a rape joke on stage this year, but across the four major shows (Microsoft, Sony, Ubisoft and EA) there were five women presenters. Counting Nintendo, which had none, that averages out to one women per show. Meanwhile, the number of severed arms, heads and other appendages probably tallied somewhere in the 50s by the time all was said an done. Hell, outside of Nintendo, individual presentations had more gore than women every single time. Nintendo went zero for zero by the way, but they're something of a special case. Not so special though that they didn't have more women playable characters on screen than every other presentation combined.
Their new multiplayer third-person shooter game not only manages to involve no murder whatsoever, but also features a girl in every single piece of promo material they showed. Hyrule Warriors, for all of Tecmo Koei's grossness when it comes to female character design, has three announced playable women, and one man. The new Super Smash Bros. game has ten (potentially) female playable characters. And while that may only be 30% or so of the game's total cast, it's a hell of a lot more than say, EA's Rainbow Six: Siege, which featured a woman passed between teams as the flag in a capture the flag-type game.
Often times we call an E3 out as taking place during a stopgap year. Outside of Nintendo's WiiU lead up two years ago, that show pretty much qualified. Everyone knew next-gen was coming, and played it extremely safe and unbelievably close to the chest. Ubisoft showed off Watch Dogs for the first time, which was supposed to be our window into next gen, and turned out to be far less ambitious than it originally let on. This year wasn't a stopgap though. It was stagnation.
Almost very game we saw on stage this year was something we've seen before. Assassin's Creed Unity, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Battleifeld Hardline, they're all multi-million dollars exercises in retreading old ground. There's nothing new here. In fact, in order to keep people interested, most of those games' trailers and demos featured Mortal Kombat levels of gore. Actually, the Mortal Kombat X trailer itself was pretty subdued compared to that part of the Assassin's Creed trailer where a man's severed head was raised on a pike for no other reason than to gross us out. At least Mortal Kombat treats it all like a big joke. Speaking of Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft recently said that playable female characters would be "too expensive" for development. Of course that's a bunch of bullshit, but we'll swallow it anyway, because of course they'll never put a woman in their games. That's not the exciting new direction of video games.
So what is?
Less representation for women and visible minorities? The same three game types trotted out in various skins? Open-but-not-too-open worlds? Yearly sequels to franchises we've already grown unbearably tired of?
E3 is supposed to show us the new and exciting things on the horizon for video games. Last year publishers got to hide behind flashy new tech and promises that everything would stay the same. No DRM, and all your favourite tired and true franchises coming back. This year, there's no smokescreen, nothing to stop us from seeing what's really happening here. Games aren't just staying the same, they're getting worse. Stagnating. The industry is taking steps back where they once made giant strides. Everyone is playing it safer than ever before. More gore, less diversity. More shooters, less, well, everything that isn't a shooter. How much of that has to do with ballooning budgets, I'm not particularly sure, but I do know that it's bad for the creativity of games as a whole.
Last year, Sony showcased a bunch of indie games, coming first to PS4. This year, they gave a sizzle reel of some of indie publisher Devolver's upcoming games, and trotted out the wonderful No Man's Sky for a brief trailer. Microsoft had Inside, the new game from Playdead, and then a sizzle reel of upcoming ID@Xbox games. Last year they made a huge deal of showcasing Capybara Games' Below on stage. This year? It was on screen for about 5 seconds.
Last year, EA dazzled fans by formally announcing Mirror's Edge 2, Star Wars Battlefront and Titanfall. This year, we found out that there was barely enough of Mirror's Edge and Star Wars to show, while Titanfall released earlier this year to about a week and a half of hype.
Last year, Ubisoft showed Assassin's Creed and The Division. This year they showed off Assassin's Creed and The Division.
There's no other word for it. We're seeing stagnation. We've known about it for years at this point, but there's finally a show where nothing else gets to hide it from us. A year where no one has to be too impressed by fancy new consoles or brand new ip. E3 cast the industry under its harshest light, and, well, what I see isn't really surprising. Sure, there are handful of impressive, interesting games, Bloordborne, the WiiU Zelda, No Man's Sky, Cuphead, but as a whole, the industry isn't trying to step forward- it wants to stand still. And when public opinion marches on and time keeps flowing forward standing your ground just looks like stepping further back into the past.