This weekend, me and six other assorted Australian games critics were trapped in an elevator.
We were attending a gaming event hosted by LG. The purpose was to check out their upcoming range of 4k and OLED screens via a handful of Xbox Ones and Bandai Namco/Square Enix games. For this event LG rented out an exclusive apartment right on Lavender Bay – almost directly under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There, they provided alcohol and food to a ragtag group of critics, writers, and YouTubers. We played a variety of games like Tomb Raider, Sleeping Dogs, FIFA, and various car racing games on their curved OLED TVs. They even had the (recently delayed) Project CARS with a racing chair playing through two GTX 980s on a 4k OLED TV – one of only two in the whole world.
Needless to say, we were encouraged to tweet and share the experience on social media using a predefined set of hashtags to enhance brand awareness or whatever buzzwords marketing types are referring to it as these days.
Like the disobedient little upstart I am, I didn’t tweet a single thing about the event. I haven’t even written an article about the event yet. I wasn’t there to synergise reach, I was there to play The Witcher 3 – which wasn’t even there.
So I made a decision to basically not cover anything there. I hung out with friends. Socialised. Ate pizza and drank beer. And watched people play video games.
This is the nature of preview events. We go somewhere. We get offered free things. Mostly beer and junk food and t-shirts. And some people accept things. And some people don’t accept things. And almost everyone doesn’t let the petty inducements colour their coverage of whatever they’re there to cover.
I made a decision to not use the sanctioned hashtag to share my experiences. I made a decision to not write a full article on the products I saw. And I made a decision to eat pizza and drink beer and hang out with fellow games critics. I don’t see this as a conflict of interest, since free stuff did not equate to brand reach.
When things started to wind down at 10pm (the event started at 6pm), a group of us games folks decided to leave together for somewhere more fun, somewhere we could meet up with other fellow games folk who were just out on the town. So we left together.
The apartment was on the fifth floor of an ageing (but still amazing) building. To get to and from the apartment, you had to use an elevator. Seven of us piled in to the rather generously sized elevator and started our descent.
Between the second and first floors, disaster struck in the form of the guy next to the door accidentally hitting the emergency stop button with his elbow. I won’t point fingers or name names, because
that jerk loser was totally at fault I mean it was an accident.
The elevator shuddered and stopped. We pressed buttons. We pounded on doors. And we pressed the emergency contact button. The man on the other end of the line told us to press buttons. He told us to press more buttons. And then he told us that he couldn’t do anything. He told us he would be contacting a technician.
He told us it would take at least half an hour for the technician to get to us.
Naturally, us trapped craven seven were none too happy with this turn of events. Exacerbating things was the fact that I was pretty much the only one with a net connection, meaning nobody could even tweet loud complaints. Well, I could, and I did. That was fun.
To stave off boredom and pass time until the inevitable resort to cannibalism, we decided to get to know each other better by playing Celebrity Heads.
Because we are a resourceful and prepared lot, we scrounged up a handful of business cards and a pen and went at it.
And it was fun. Just the seven of us, passing the time, constrained in what we could do and where we could go, but enjoying each other’s company because we were stuck and we knew what each other was experiencing and if we didn’t we’d be alone and nobody wants to be alone.
At around the 25 minute mark the elevator technician came and managed to open the door a crack. We were stuck between floors, so we couldn’t leave yet, but it let us get some air and for the helpful LG and Bandai Namco PR reps to offer us some water. Naturally we persuaded them to upgrade that offer of water to wine because hell if we were going to be trapped in a box we may as well be drunk and trapped in a box, right? Party. Hard.
It only took maybe another ten minutes before the elevator technician had that damned box moving and us freed. But in those thirty to forty minutes, we were allies, we were comrades, we were warriors, we were friends. We were brothers and sisters in arms, confined and restrained by forces out of our control, with a common interest and passion.
The thing is, all games critics are trapped in an elevator.
Not literally. Well, sometimes literally.
But I mean this metaphorically.
We games critics of various mediums and stripes have a very specific place in the industry – one that we have little control over. We are trapped in what we can and cannot say, and when, and to whom. So we retreat into our echo chamber and discuss things cryptically on social media, or complain to each other over email, or on Skype, or in Google groups, or in person over drinks at events. Because we are all in basically the same position. Marketers and publishers lead us to places, feed us our proverbial pizza, and hope we’re obedient enough to follow their marketing line – or at the very least not deliberately sabotage it.
And we are trapped in the elevator, trying so hard to grasp at tenuous friendships that may or may not last but are currently sticking because we’re all in the same predicament and we don’t want to be in the same predicament alone. Occasionally PR representatives will crack the door and offer us water, but we can’t rely on that.
We’re trapped in an elevator of the status quo between fickle access providers whose job it is to spin their product in the most positive light or cut access, and a fear of retribution from a (rightfully) demanding readership.
It’s not an easy place to be sometimes, trapped in an unmoving box. So we grin and bear it and be friends with those we stand beside the best we can.
There is no conspiracy. There is no cabal. There is only a heap of stressed, trapped, pressured individuals hanging on to each other while trapped in a box on a wire.