At 4 PM Eastern Time on Sunday, June 12th, after a brief, unbroadcast moment of silence, Electronic Arts (EA) began their yearly official Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) press briefing, showcasing new video games in jovial fashion.
Gamers, but most notably, LGBTQIA and Latinx members of the gaming press, were given 14 hours to find a way to cope with the violence their communities and those communities' intersections had suffered earlier that morning. But those had been a busy 14 hours. As is common for any mass shooting, social media and the press were alight with input. With each new detail — body counts, details about Mateen himself, the weapon of choice — opinions flowed in like water, and, to keep the simile going, washed over us as we tried to make sense of it all.
I woke up at 8 AM to prepare for a flight to LA, where E3 is held, in the afternoon. Scrolling through social media before really getting up, I learned of the shooting. I had to get ready. I tweeted out a continually updating Buzzfeed article at 8:30 AM, expressed foreboding displeasure at having the validity of the lives of my community being debated at 8:38 AM, and got up to take a shower right afterwards. I didn't say anything to my husband at the time, mostly because I did not want to distract myself from what I needed to do — because I didn't want to cope yet.
In the car on the way to the airport, I was absolutely glued to Twitter, retweeting other people's commentary, occasionally making my own. The politics had begun well before my plane took off at 12:30 PM. Folks were debating increased gun control versus "good guys with guns" theory; was it likely at all that queer and trans' lives would be the ones to inspire Congress to increase regulations? I saw debates, even, about what is and isn't an AK-47, y'know, besides the rifle model used to slay and maim so many people that morning.
I witnessed erasure as politicians, including the Florida Governor, Rick Scott, appropriated this tragedy into the greater American population. I called him out in what is likely to be my most popular tweet for this month (as opposed to the shitposting I'd rather be known for) because the lives of the LGBTQIA community, people of color, and immigrants are barely considered American 364 days out of the year by conservative politicians that I couldn't see what made them American on this one all of a sudden.
And 13 minutes later, I was in the air. And I felt alone and maybe a little scared to be cut off from the constant feed of information. Maybe as long as I kept learning more, I'd understand more. Maybe I'd stop being so angry and tired and upset while feeling physically unable to show it in an airplane full of strangers. Why did this happen?
Each E3 press conference featured some show of support, though some were not shown on camera. Except for EA, the telecasts featured prominent figures at each company wearing LGBTQIA pride ribbons. Ubisoft, Sony, and Nintendo included broadcast moments of silence or respect for the victims of the Orlando massacre, whereas the others did so before turning on the live feed.
I was in the audience for the Microsoft conference on Monday morning. As people finished taking their seats, all the music in the theater stopped without any explanation. Was one needed? Many of us didn't think so. This was a moment of silence. But before Phil Spencer, head of the Xbox division of Microsoft, emerged amidst the sea of fluorescent green and reflective black to tell us what was going on, numerous members of the press took the music stopping to mark the beginning of the upcoming show. The discomfort was palpable as those who did not get it cheered and whooped in excited anticipation of what was to come. Less than one second after Spencer terminated the silence, Microsoft's flavor video started playing on the screen. I felt an offense I barely understood.
Between Sunday and Monday, thus excluding Nintendo's long internet-only broadcast, for at least five uninterrupted hours total, members of the gaming press were asked to give a shit about games — games that were not even out yet. No doubt, many of those in attendance wanted to do so, myself included. Though I was not emotionally prepared for E3 by the time I touched down in LA, I actively sought the distraction.
Yet for how much I would manage to keep my mind off the tragedy, basking in a sea of lights and sounds, my favorite medium in this world, I would receive sobering reminders that life is not so simple. How many times across those telecasts did we see an assault rifle? In fact, at least seven of the featured games across each of the conferences, by my count, featured militarized violence during a time when people were feverishly arguing why anyone but the military needs an AK-47.
To anyone not dealing with the ramifications of the tragedy in Orlando, especially those who are not members of either the LGBTQIA or Latinx communities, I'm sure this doesn't seem remarkable. I mean, every year, we see violent games with guns glorified at these presentations. And without arguing the merits of violent video games — I do enjoy plenty of them — I still feel the need to express this circumstantial dissonance that comes with seeing these games featured minutes after paying respects to victims. We're sorry about gun violence, they said, but let's worship the gun violence.
Ubisoft, about three minutes after Aisha Tyler's touching expression of sympathy and solidarity with the victims of the Orlando shooting and only several seconds after suggesting Ubisoft's teams have been "flexing their creative muscles," introduced yet another Ghost Recon game. Dubbed Wildlands, this entry, according to lead game designer, Dominic Butler, asks "What if a Mexican drug cartel moved in" to Bolivia, a country whose economy runs on coca leaves? Butler's answer, unsurprisingly, is that armed Americans covertly invade and kill a ton of Latin Americans.
The day before, an armed American did the same.
For a time spent running through the gamut of emotions — from enjoying myself to questioning my enjoyment of gun-focused games to feeling deeply saddened by the loss of my siblings in Orlando — I had a nice time. I focused as much as I could on my work, writing articles with much better timing and skill than I had the previous two years. (And, for the sake of acknowledging this blog, I cannot believe that less than four years of writing my first article here that I'd be attending my third E3.)
And I felt comforted by sharing a hotel room with my queer friends from Game Revolution: Nick Tan, Jessica Vazquez, and Kevin Schaller. These were friends with whom I could express joy in seeing folks wearing pride ribbons for us, even those working at Nintendo, who expressly suggested that same-sex couples weren't fun or families a few years ago. I cherish them for keeping me company and making me feel like there's some sense in a world that felt like madness.
Also, I valued the good, messy cry I had on Wednesday in the hotel room. It was the first time since I found out about the slaughter in Orlando that I had been completely alone in a room. I received a voicemail from a client checking in on me and my husband in light of the violence, and I just lost it. Almost halfway through the week, I finally let myself find emotional release that wasn't by taking violent action on someone else in a video game. What an odd instance of gratitude I felt.
That's it. This is your rambling thinkpiece that's supposed to find a way to relate real-world tragedy back to games somehow. For how much some gamers like to pretend that video games are these apolitical safe havens for meaningless fun, the worlds in games and the world of games are inextricably related to our lived realities. And sometimes, when it hits close to home, when you authentically worry that you will die because you're attracted to people of the same gender, your mind takes a highlighter to the events of a week that you would otherwise like to be apolitical, a safe haven, meaningless, and fun.
But VR does look like cool tech.