There is an almost communal, catharsis you tend to experience and witness when you attend events of this nature. In contrast to Comic Con which made use of a great proportion of the venue this one felt remarkably constrained in comparison, certainly arriving by the Docklands Light Railway you didn’t have a sense of the occasion about you with no one really in the same spirit of energy and engagement. I’ll concede perhaps the predominant majority of the activities and presentations will take place at the weekend which will command a larger audience, for myself at least it was nice not to have to circumnavigate too large a mass and body of people to enjoy the day. There was a plethora of studios and titles to try and play ranging from the latest releases to classics of my era that enticed a certain level of nostalgia I’ll admit in addition to the expected merchandise you find at these events and a few interesting distractions and oddities.
The divisions within the community are fairly evident to see, not implied or stated in a negative context, everyone has their own personal preferences and tastes and as such it was interesting to note those willing to queue to play the latest Call of Duty release, those for Death Stranding, the Final Fantasy 7 remake for instance and others such as my friend and I who were more content to explore and experience the event from a wider perspective, certainly enjoying some games but from a more detached perspective. I had few expectations of the day, certainly some preconceived notions such as the cosplay aspect which permeates other fandom events although to a large extent this was relatively restricted or not evident on the opening day of the residence. Instead it was a mixture of the old and the new, a concept and approach I can abide and appreciate which allows older fans of gaming itself as a genre to attend and participate freely whilst others should they so wish could play upcoming releases.
The Retro Scene
Having a friend or just someone else with you is certainly the way to do these things, I hadn’t expected such a large retro and classic gaming environment to be present however I was reliably informed at prior events this had been the case and sure enough there was a great deal to try and play with minimal or no queues or waiting times. With titles ranging from the earliest gaming releases to the those on the last generation, it was an opportunity to enjoy perhaps the more innocent era of gaming and game culture away from micro transactions and controversies that has plagued this past time ever since the push into the online era allowing those with differing views to interact in an uncontrolled environment. We probably spent the most time here just idling away at some of the titles we grew up on as children and into our teenage years from the early Sonic games on working Master Systems and Mega Drives to arcade titles including Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Playable through old TV sets, it serves to remind you and perhaps diminishes the fog of nostalgia from playing these titles.
There was a wide variety on show from a wide range of vintage and classic games consoles which I will admit I do remember fondly from playing them on their original release. The area was clearly set up and designed to allow more free flowing interaction with the units, there were no formal queues, it felt very much like being in an arcade in our youth waiting patiently for your turn before stepping up and taking the controller. I personally preferred this approach, and whilst I entirely understand it wouldn’t work or be applicable to upcoming titles which would generate a great deal of angst and chaos, this style of play was far more relaxing and less stress conducive. Towards the end of the exhibition hall the various creators stages and spaces. Its not really an aspect of the gaming community I’m to invested in pursuing, I enjoy the writing side as it allows you to express yourself more freely and eloquently, there is of course an appeal of the visual media expanding your profile, for me, for now I am content to do what I do. As we passed one of the stages, a trio of these creators were on a stage recording themselves playing one of the early Tomb Raiders. I see the attraction but there is a strange sense of being in an audience watching three people entirely divorced from their immediate surroundings recording content for their shows and streams.
EGX are working alongside Special Effect this year, a charity Kim at Later Levels wrote about and volunteered with this year at Comic Con. It’s a great organization that works to support those with disabilities to be able to play video games often through the use of modified hardware and voice input controllers, it opens up a world that traditionally through design was closed off from those less able to interact with a standard physical interface. As a fandom we do on occasion take for granted how fortunate we are to be able to interact and share these gaming experiences through the virtue of being able to physically interact with the hardware from the studios, conversely when the worst happens and your form of entertainment and escapism is taken away from you through no fault of your own I’d imagine it would be a devastating feeling and induce a sense of isolation from something that brought you so much joy. Seeing the collaboration and championing of this charity was a welcome sight and brings attention to a charity that works tirelessly to provide escapism and joy to those with disabilities, something I feel every gamer or gaming fan should shout about as opposed to the negative aspects that sometimes gets pushed to the forefront of wider perceptions about this community.
Sony and Nintendo put on a show
It’s hard, not to observe the missing green giant in the room that was Microsoft who were seemingly entirely absent from this years event. As someone who in this generation opted to purchase the PS4 over the XB1 there was a great deal to play from the latest and upcoming releases such as Death Stranding and Call of Duty to smaller independent fare such as Control along with a wide variety of smaller niche titles. I’ll readily admit, I’m not the hugest fan of competitive combat games so the prospect of queuing for that wasn’t to strong a pull. Equally, Death Stranding looks interesting but given the shrouded nature of its development and release I didn’t feel the necessity to reveal any aspects today. That said, for those who do wish to try these games, it’s an opportunity and clearly a popular one. I played a short burst of Control which seemed interesting in a, destroy the world around you kind of way. Equally Concrete Genie had a presence amongst the smaller release booths so I had a blast on this, visually from what I saw the world looks intriguing to explore in a steam punk sort of way so maybe one I could come back to in the future. Staff were on hand to assist and observe, it felt like a very polished and accomplished environment from this studio, certainly a far greater presence in contrast to earlier this year at MCM.
Nintendo equally had an admirable and pronounced area with a wide assortment of titles and games to enjoy and try. Luigi’s Mansion 3 had the longest queues to wait for, it was nice to see the taller brother having a little bit of the spotlight once more. Also a number of areas to try existing titles which was a nice touch including Witcher 3 on the hand held unit. It’s still incredible to believe how they have managed to get this title working on such a small cartridge but they have worked their magic and there it was to play. My only real disappointment but sadly not a surprise was the lack of Nintendo merchandise for sale. Whilst they had a booth and discount codes for use on the UK store portal, the companies approach to merchandise and promotion is a complex and often baffling state of omission or control. For instance, I was wearing one of my favourite Link in New York shirts, this is only available in Nintendo World New York and wont ship or sell through an online store. I was curious to see if they would have any items on sale today, not a single item from their official booths, indeed the third parties sellers had a greater range of merchandise. More baffling tomorrow I attend the Pokemon centre at Westfield London, one of the first pop up shops outside of Japan for a very limited window. You just wish as a company that can generate and create such iconic characters and joy they would do more to promote themselves. They don’t need to, but it would be nice.
CD Projekt Red were present showcasing a presentation on Cyberpunk for those willing to queue and watch the reveal of this game. Again, not a title I have a special interest in at present so not something I really wanted to put a lot of energy into waiting for. I enjoyed walking amongst the smaller studios and government funded games which were on display showcasing the ability and creativity of gamers with the support from regional funds allowing them to flourish. Indeed one of the more curious aspects of the show were school groups in attendance with a large presence from universities and colleges actively promoting to school children. Certainly this will show my age but during my formative educational years a school outing was to a museum not a gaming event but as my friend rightly said, today children and students can actively pursue game development and design as a meaningful channel to pursue a career. It’s a generational mindset that something I pursue and enjoy for fun as an aside from my career and profession is a viable and lucrative avenue for more creative minds than my own. It was great to see my local university present with Brunel promoting to the wondering teenage groups, certainly I’ll admit I was a little envious of the paths before these kids and the digital jobs of the future whatever they may be.
Much to the chagrin of my better half, I do have a weakness for gaming merchandise, indeed I wrote a whole piece last year of my temptations in Nintendo World and more recently of some of the more personal objects I picked up at MCM and the London Film and Comic Con in July. Having allowed myself to enjoy this aspect of my personality to a greater extent over the last year, one of the aspects I do enjoy seeing and exploring are the more personal items and creations in addition to the official merchandise from the companies themselves. I’ll gladly fly to New York to pick up a Zelda T-Shirt amongst other things, but I do also find myself enjoying picking up items that require a bit more in-depth knowledge of the subject matter. When I visited Malta recently purposefully opting for shirts that didn’t have the shows titles or logo present, but fans of Game of Thrones would know should they have encountered me. When I have visited the conventions this year, I have been looking out for these types of items, they are nice to have and create discussion and connection with other fans of the particular show or series that breaks down a few of those barriers between us.
My latest addition was this really fun cushion from Patrick’s Art Room, creating these original anime and gaming art inspired prints and merchandise. As well as larger canvas printers and images that were available, they had on sale a range of the pictures printed onto these lovely thick cushions. I’ll admit,when I saw Mario, Sonic and Pikachu contending for the Iron Throne of Gaming’s Seven Kingdoms I was instantly sold, it was just a question of how I would transport a thick cushion from the east of London back to Uxbridge. I will admit I was sorely tempted by the Pokemon themed snow globes they had on sale. A little more than I could afford to spend but they did looking tempting. Basically, as my friend best described, when you envision your pokemon inside their pokeballs a part of you does hope they are comfortable and content. I loved these designs as they showed a garden and lake area of solitude for them to rest and recuperate between battles. Its everything you hope and imagine their place of refuge to be. If you are attending one of these conventions would highly recommend checking them out otherwise they also have an etsy store with the various designs and prints. I wish I could produce content and designs to even a fraction of the ability these guys have, so credit where its due and some great products.
The latest addition to my Hyrulian clothing range, this rather awesome design from Nerds Retreat. I’ve mentioned before, I do often find it perplexing the use of ‘nerds’, it’s a rather derogatory name with somewhat negative historical connotations and use however as in the best tradition of these things its been used and championed by a great many fandoms and as such, this company selling to the ‘modern nerd’ are producing some great designs. I saw and loved these designs as clearly they take influence and draw inspiration from a variety of video games however beyond certain details, specifically the Triforce, it would be difficult to identify this as a gaming t-shirt and item of clothing, it fits its brief and remit of being a modern design that allows you to wear this comfortably and proudly without drawing overt attention to your particular predication. In addition to this Zelda shirt they also rock a great Assassins Creed design using the familiar triangular logo in the centre as well as some cool Bethesda themed designs from the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series. A nice finish, packaged in recyclable card, with a clean crisp black and white design that isn’t obtrusive and garish, if you enjoy your shirts with a gaming twist I would definitely recommend this company.
This was my first dedicated, gaming convention, as such, I had certain expectations going into the event and largely I left satisfied. Without question it was a balanced mix of the old and the new, with a fandom and audience divided amicably between the new releases and those on the horizon. And equally a well sourced and friendly retro area with a wide range of older titles covering a number of generations and companies. Playing Turtles again for the first time in at least twenty years was a welcome nostalgic treat even if it served to remind me the passage of time is not always a fair companion. There was a decent range of third party sellers with a range of items, certainly I now have two new sources for my gaming memorabilia needs. I was perhaps slightly disappointed in the lack of official merchandise from Sony and Nintendo. Whilst the display units and games were certainly the main attraction, these two companies have developed as brands that people buy into and associate with, especially Nintendo. It seems a genuinely wasted opportunity to provide those attending who can’t afford for instance to travel to Japan or New York a chance to purchase unique clothing and collectables. As ever, Nintendo continues to baffle with the choices it makes.
I enjoyed myself, even more so than on prior occasion as I was with a friend and these sorts of experiences can feel very solitary when you are on your own. Certainly had I been alone I may have queued to experience one of the upcoming releases but honestly, I’m not terribly excited for Call of Duty or Final Fantasy 7, I won’t rush out to buy either so previewing them today, I can live without that particular drive. Instead it was fun to just surround myself in this particular fandom I have been writing about for the last twelve months, the aforementioned cathartic experience of being around those sharing a similar interest and passion and just being able to talk freely without fear of judgement. What would bring me back again? honestly the prospect of playing a game or title I was passionate about, I was a little disappointed Ubisoft didn’t make an appearance and had no playable copies of Watchdogs 3, the one release next year I am excited to play given its London location. Certainly what merchandise was there was interesting to look at however MCM certainly has a far wider range of goods on sale that covers a wider range of fandoms. For the price of entry I was content to spend the morning surrounded by those of a similar disposition, whether I will go again in the next year remains to be seen.
I hope you enjoyed your day at EGX, I would love to hear about your experiences on the day.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog please ‘like’ the Around The Bonfire Facebook page and contribute your own stories and comments, and share my blog and Facebook posts (this is really important – it’s how we reach more readers!). Alternatively join us in the Twitter Universe for a take on the latest gaming news or Instagram for a wealth of gaming pictures and stories.