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How do you sell violent games after a tragedy? Pretend like it didn't happen

How do you sell violent games after a tragedy? Pretend like it didn't happen


EA's press conference was a bubble in a boiling teapot

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Mere hours after the worst shooting in the history of the United States, video game publisher Electronic Arts hosted a press conference in downtown Los Angeles. For the leadership taking the stage, it may have been any other day.

EA CEO Andrew Wilson performed a generic monologue about the growing number of gamers across the world, before introducing a series of developers, presenting their wares.

Perhaps EA executives thought it would be hypocritical to comment on a real-life shooting before promoting a first-person shooter. The early portion of the event focused on Titanfall 2, a sci-fi action game in which giant machines and realistic humans kill each other with hyper-detailed guns. Co-founder of developer of Respawn Vince Zampella cued a montage of multiplayer gameplay, and the crowd at the Novo theater erupted into cheers. More than 400,000 people were watching online.

The reaction was not to react

First-person shooters have been one of gaming’s most popular genres since their inception in the 1990s, and EA has promoted many shooters at previous E3 conferences. But witnessing a sales pitch for the fun in gun violence felt strange, to say the least. It's not just the uncomfortable collision of fantasy and reality — the dream world of violence in the auditorium, and the real world of violence outside it — it's the uncanny monotony they share.

This is the first major press event at E3, a conference that has a reputation for celebrating graphic violence with an adolescent zeal. Throughout the week, we may see publishers of first-person shooters, and other violent games, respond to recent events. But what we really expect every year, like we saw at E3's conference today, is a familiar, over-rehearsed routine that regurgitates the same ideas in slightly different configurations. In this sense, the fantasy world of E3 feels like the world outside it — a world where the President has just given the same speech after a mass murder for the 18th time.

E3 regularly celebrates graphic violence

A precedent exists for delaying video games and their promotion in response to tragedies. In March 2011, Sony pulled Motorstorm: Apocalypse following Japan’s earthquake. "We are shocked and saddened to see the impact of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan," read a statement to Eurogamer, "and our thoughts are with all those affected, including our colleagues within the Sony family, living and working throughout Japan." Of course, deadly earthquakes are much rarer than mass shootings in the United States.

To close the event, EA showed a trailer for Battlefield 1, a visually realistic recreation of World War 1, which resulted in 17 million deaths. Tanks, planes, and dozens of soldiers with guns obliterated one another, and the audience, once again, erupted with pleasure. For that tragedy, horror is no longer horrible.