s m u g
by Lauren Fielder

How to Like It

"Our games are growing up." What's wrong with you people? Video games have always been about the zaps and pows and bang bang bangs of the games themselves, but what the new followers of the old school are failing to see is that for those who were glued to arcade machines in grocery stores some 20 years ago, the fireworks of corporate pandemonium aren't half as much fun as the games themselves, and some of us are tired of the bourgeois bragging.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and all those nifty press junkets are nothing that the movie industry, record industry, or plumbing industry for that matter hasn't seen. Every white-collar yip yap has at least one convention, or some such gathering, that draws the shackled drones in hordes - giving them perhaps three days out of the house, away from the kids, to freely, and publicly make an ass out of themselves. And every reporter with a modicum of a relationship to the video or PC game industry has thrown his or her two cents in about the red carpet treatment, perhaps the most humorous example being a certain New York "writer" who crapped out one lousy book supposedly about the video game industry but more about her understanding or perhaps take on a generalized, if overstated pop culture lexicon. Ironically, the industry's real journalists have yet to see her at a press junket (aside of E3, where she was reportedly booted from the Sega booth after demanding to see the Dreamcast).

So what's this business really about? Celebrity making and Lara Croft ogling aside, it's about the games. And the games are about fun. And yes, there are zillions of press events in this industry with open bars and dancing girls or bears or whatever a specific company can afford to furnish, but for those of us with games at the heart, we want to play, not stand around drinking with a bunch of shiny executives selling us a bridge. So to illustrate a point, I'll pander. I'll do the very thing I've just criticized: write about a press trip, with a promise of never doing it again. Hasbro Interactive took a few of us out to play in Scotland. But for four days, the emphasis was on having fun, playing games, and actually, remembering why we're in this business in the first place.

everyone loves a good guy in a funny suit.

Makes sense. Hasbro has been showing us a good time for years. Who hasn't played Boggle or Monopoly? But that's not what we did. Hasbro's bed was very carefully made. They chummed the water beforehand, preparing for the media sharks to engage and become predictable. Which is exactly what we did. Hasbro knew to get the journalists' competitive juices flowing. They offered us physical games, and high-spirited dog-eat-dog activities like succulent, raw slabs of prime. By the time we actually saw their game, a multiplayer, competitive action PC title called HEDZ, our ribs were heaving and we were bearing our teeth like savages.

From my recollection, here's how they did it. At first, five US game reporters and editors, and a handful of French, English, and German game journalists were thrown together for a World War III simulation, paintball-style, outside the Oxenfoord Castle. What did I learn about game playing here? A lot. The German, Scottish, and French participants took the battle very seriously, planning a strategy, then changing it. Then changing it again and again and so often that you were never quite sure which strategy your team was going with and ended up defending your own hide in the long run. The English were somewhat passive, yet seemed to have their own ideas as to how they should advance. And the Americans? Well, we were told not to shoot our own teammates.

brave warriors

Then we broke into approximately five, nine-person, international teams, and competed in clay pigeon shooting. The German journalist on our team was quite a sharp-shooter. Then Joe Fielder, my husband and fellow game journalist followed up with a sweet display of near-perfect shooting. I did almost as well, as a girl's gotta shoot like a bandit to survive in this industry. I learned that long ago, and notably without a rifle. What did this teach us? How to aim and blow away our opponents in Hasbro's game later on. Nice work. That of a master planner, no doubt.

shootingkeeping us happy in scotland

Professional "heavies," traditional strong-guy Scottish games such as flinging a 20-pound weight over your head was next. Once again, the German journalist and Joe were evenly matched. I was delegated to the "girl" competition, with the bar above our heads lowered about 10 notches and a considerably lighter weight to toss over backwards. Too bad no power-ups were available. I swung the weight, hesitated, lost balance, stopped. Swung the weight, hesitated, swung again, and threw my arms and the attached weight over my head and ran like hell. I didn't clear the bar, but didn't die either. There's no real video game lesson here, as one's life is rarely threatened by playing Banjo-Kazooie, or Duke Nukem, for that matter, but it was fun., and certainly made us hungry for more.

Then our communication skills were honed by driving Range Rovers, blindfolded, over an obstacle course that occasionally placed the 4 X 4 at a 45 degree angle. Three or four journalists per team were placed in one of three vehicles, with one in the driver's seat and the others in the back seat giving directions. Of course, the language barriers were minimal, but they existed, nonetheless. "Gauche, gauche... droit! droit! droit!" was perhaps never as easy to understand as when delivered by my French backseat driver on whom my life depended. Less competitively we drove quad bikes over the hills and more competitively we played the company's new game, competition style - which turned out to be a lot of fun as well.

guy in a dress men in dresses

That night, after the slaughter, so to speak, they fed us like kings, and of course, the brew was flowing. Most importantly, to game fans who love competition anyway, the challenges kept coming. They gave us kilts to wear to the traditional Scottish dinner that night at the Dalhousie Castle. And where there's tradition, there's usually the spooky unknown. They made us eat haggis (pretty bold, as compared to the usual salmon-on-brioche treats found at such events).

Hasbro knew to keep us busy. By the pure nature of game journalists (one step more far gone than even hard-core game fans in the sense that we are not only obsessed with games, but we've made a living out of writing about them), we need action. Events. We need things dropping on our heads and things to keep things from dropping on our heads. We need lights that make our heads spin and sounds that pinch our ears. Not a moment lapsed. Even at dinner: When one plate was removed, another arrived. When a glass was emptied, the next was filled. We left the castle that night amid a lingering, sexy cloud of firework fallout and smoke (literally), not unlike a post-coital cigarette. Our palettes were primed with the nectar of human spirit and competition. And playing their game, which was what the trip was all about, couldn't possibly have been more satisfying at that point in time. Mission accomplished? You bet.

So yes, Hasbro Interactive, the "board game company" (which notably owns right to the Atari library), outdid the open bars and limousines by a long stretch. Why? Because they made us play games. They nursed our desire to translate what we do behind monitors and TV screens into the real, physical world. And we all responded like cats hitting water. Our senses woke to their game exactly how they wanted, and their hopes, certainly, exist in the prospect of the thrill of such psychological bloodsport sticking with us at least until we were off the plane.

 the author and her game journalist husband.  couples that junket together...

We competed with our own grain, on an international level, doing what any true gamer truly loves to do: compete, win, write about it, and compete again. The game isn't out yet, but when it arrives in a few months, I know many of us hope to (as well as Hasbro hopes we do) recapture an iota of the ambiance that was created for us months ago in Scotland, while playing HEDZ in our dull, sterile offices, devoid of Haggis and Whiskey. Usually.

in the junk drawer

and such
and such

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