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E3 2011: Exhausting, Exhilarating, and It Finally Ended: Brittany Takes on LA
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E3 2011: Exhausting, Exhilarating, and It Finally Ended: Brittany Takes on LA

An honest appraisal of one woman’s journey as she takes on the good, bad, and the ugly of the world’s biggest gaming show in LA.

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Even though I flew cross-country from Kentucky to Los Angeles, it never really sunk in that I had crossed two time zones and into another state…that is, until I found myself face to face with rude bus drivers, sidewalk bums, and a cavalcade of video game journalists. Wait, video game journalists? You bet. I’m talking about my journey to E3, the annual video game trade show attracting plenty of others like myself (writers), as well as developers, students, and the unfortunate attendees who had to purchase a pricey ticket to get in.

After my own pricey plane ticket and the purchase of essentials (and a suitable wardrobe) I met up with my partner for the show (and fellow editor at Popzara) Chris Mitchell, and together we soaked in the not-so-majestic sights of downtown Los Angeles. From the moment we checked into the Cecil Hotel, our humble abode for the next few days, I instantly regretted my decision to come so far from home to an almost foreign, unwelcoming environment. When I retired for the night in the stuffy hotel room, I reminded myself that this was E3, the show I’d been waiting to see in person for so many years, and as tears threatened to stain the pillow along with the 12 shades of hair dye on the white pillowcase, I did my best to stay strong and remember that I could potentially leave the show with new acquaintances, insider info on some of the newest video game releases, or even a job. I know, first world problems, blah blah blah, but sitting on that hotel bed, using my arms as extra cushioning for the cruddy pillow, I wanted to break down already. I wanted to call my parents, my boyfriend, my work friends, just for a taste of the familiar.

I certainly didn’t want to wake up at 6:30 (waiting on a hair dryer that actually worked after showering to make myself presentable) to make the journey to a bus driver who, on top of being unsociable, sped off as I was struggling to insert my fare, almost leaving me to topple into the aisle, nearly hitting my head on the way down. This might be typical for city-dwellers, as unacceptable as it is, but I couldn’t comprehend how one could have such blatant disregard for the safety of his passengers. I rested my head on the bus window and braced myself for what was to come.

After the tumultuous journey through dingy downtown LA, dodging shifty characters, and waiting for the right bus stop, we made it to the Los Angeles Convention Center, which seemed, oddly, like a beacon of upscale comfort amidst a sea of shadiness, and I was instantly awash with relief. This was a fleeting bit of respite; however, as the hardest part was yet to come – the four hour wait until the convention opened its doors officially to attendees. After picking up my badge (my third badge overall, coincidentally, as I had been approved before but had not made the pilgrimage) I settled into the media room, netbook in hand, braving the excruciatingly long wait to see everything by prepping for the day’s meetings and connecting with new friends previously confined only to Twitter. It warmed my heart to finally meet some of the humans behind the handles, and by the time the show had begun, I knew I’d have to make it my mission to meet and greet with as many of these individuals as possible.

This became my modus operandi as Chris and I shuffled along behind a massive crowd at a snail’s pace into the show floor, in a sea of bodies packed tightly like sardines. Imagine having to move through a stationary mosh pit all day to reach your destination, while attempting to snap photos for posterity and journalistic purposes, longing to populate demo stations, and holding onto your belongings for dear life. That’s a pretty accurate picture for anyone who’s never been.

Ten minutes into this madness, I was beginning to realize what a massive, tiresome headache the entire ordeal was going to be, and when Chris and I realized our scheduled appointments were ping-ponging between the West and South halls, I could hear my plantar fasciitis-afflicted right foot pleading with me to find a seat, so the searing pain in my heel could subside. But I didn’t. Instead I moved (and pushed) forward, to the first appointment of the day, with Square Enix.

Chris and I arrived at the Square Enix booth, camera, notebooks, iPod Touches, and iPad in hand, ready to experience the media treatment, and as we powered through the booth we quickly realized the next appointment was located much further away from Square Enix than we had anticipated. With each game demo taking 20 to 30 minutes, it was difficult to slot our time appropriately, which frustrated me. It was so difficult to experience enough of each game, to me, to form an educated opinion that later on during the show when I had the rare chunk of free time, I needed to swing back to soak in more of the available demos, though waiting in line again ate into most of that time, and other appointments.

I quickly realized halfway into the day, stopping to rest at a stairwell, that two bodies on the show floor is fairly ludicrous, even with the support of at-home live-blogging, editing, and check-ins. With the two of us alternating between demoing, jotting down notes, taking pictures, and recording what we could, I knew it was fruitless to attempt anything other than the best coverage from what little hands-on experience we were actually getting. So as we trudged on through the perpetually packed show floor, I couldn’t stop thinking about what those more privileged than I were seeing: the Wii U, PlayStation Vita, and the manifest of the exciting announcements at the press conferences I had been relegated to watching via abysmal online stream. Though all of us were attending the same show, I felt like myself and the rest of the journalists were worlds apart.

I fought simply to keep my stamina up, sipping on apple juice and stopping as often as possible for rest. I resented the fact that others were being hand-fed coverage with a fiery passion. And I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t want to pack up right then, head home, and never look back, despite the cost. I expressed my frustrations to Chris, suffering through the show with an injury of his own, and we soldiered on, to finish up the other half of what had already been a nerve-wracking day. I attempted to make a note of everything I saw and everything I did, furiously tweeting to make sure I could meet as many people as possible, wanting to cry at the same time at how simultaneously momentous and disappointing and exciting the show was, But I never did cry. I just posed with Jim Sterling of Destructoid for a picture, and kept moving.

As we took a breather on the bus ride back to our hotel, I looked at the X-Play bag I’d nabbed as my first piece of “real” swag from the show. I’d always wanted to see what it was like to rack up real-life E3 swag, but had already been massively let down. As I stared at the useless bauble I thought about how I’d grown up watching Adam and Morgan, how I’d always fantasized about working with X-Play, or doing the same kind of jobs. And I knew despite all the ridiculosity, the “exclusive” footage I was shown when others were given hands-on game time, and the repeated injury to my heel, that I had to at least try. I hated everything about my first day in California, but at least I was there, and at least I had my friends, including the ones I had made online who made my journey so much less painful and scary that I can never thank them enough.

The day came to a close and I made an attempt to recollect my experiences. I knew I needed company for Chris and I in order to keep myself from running down a plane and paying an extra $500 to go home. A much-needed dinner was in order, at the tiny Mexican greasy spoon right around the corner from the Cecil. As Chris and I dined and chatted with new friends, we geared up for the upcoming Frag Dolls party later that night. As we feasted on $1.75 tacos and burritos, I couldn’t help but envy writers and friends of mine who weren’t sitting next to a homeless man who smelled of urine at a miniscule Mexican restaurant, stepping out in style, checking out some nicer restaurants, and enjoying air-conditioning. I wondered briefly why I always seem to have to settle for second-best accommodations and situations, but shrugged it off and munched on my taco. At least they were delicious. I’m still grateful to the kind security guard at the Cecil for pointing out the tiny little eatery.

With my friend Matt in tow after a recess at the hotel, Chris and I set out for the Frag Dolls soiree, at a local club swarming with, you guessed it, more people. With Matt as my “+ 1,” we entered and immediately scoped out the leather couch perched right behind the open bar, which could have been called the “wait an hour to be acknowledged unless you’re a half-dressed girl” bar, where Chris waited in line for a good 45 minutes for a simple Coke, minus the rum. I dabbled with Child of Eden in the next (packed) room, forced to play via Kinect in less than optimal conditions, and explored the club, meeting several more Internet acquaintances.

When we decided it was more than a little ridiculous to even attempt braving a free drink, we headed out to a local convenience store for sodas and snacks. Upon reaching the hotel I realized the best part of the party was being able to sit, uninterrupted, taking in the music and meeting up with friends. I hoped the rest of the trip would only improve from there.

Before heading to bed and almost immediately falling asleep, I sneaked a peek in the mirror. My rainbow hair and tired eyes greeted me; a striking appearance. I only hoped the right people had seen it. As I drifted off to dreamland, visions of employment danced through my head, and when I woke up to face day two of the massive event, I was feeling a little more refreshed. However, despite being surrounded by my favorite games, publishers, and fellow gamers, I still couldn’t get as excited as I had been before making the trip. I attributed this to the fact that between appointments you didn’t, realistically, see what you wanted to see, but you saw what you could.

That fact alone was more than a little tiresome. Luckily, on the second day our schedule was less hectic and getting more work done lifted my spirits. Checking in with Activision to see Modern Warfare 3 and viewing Aliens: Colonial Marines footage were definite highlights, as well as meeting familiar faces within the industry. The Sega booth, exceptionally welcoming and helpful, contributed largely in improving my mood, answering our questions, and working with us in a professional manner. I enjoyed my time with Konami and Tecmo as well, as they played less to the “press X to jump, okay?” mindset other reps had employed, leaving Chris and I to explore with their guidance. At times like those I felt like less of a newcomer to the show and more like a seasoned vet.

By the time I sat down with a drink and a snack midday, I was feeling much more positive about the whole thing. I looked forward to meeting with the next team, and despite my continuing physical pain, I was enthusiastic about what else I could accomplish for the day. After continuing to the rest of the booths on the schedule, Chris and I ventured out toward what we originally planned to be the first party of the night, but it ended up being our only party, as the meme goes, our bodies couldn’t take it. We made a pit stop at the Sonic Boom party, hosted by Sega. You can find details of that shindig here, but a great time was had by all. By the time I returned to the hotel I was ready to collapse on the bed and sleep for several weeks straight. But I had a cavalcade of stories I needed and wanted to write up, made virtually impossible to communicate with the team at home by the horrendous hotel internet connection. Chris’s iPhone tethering proved relatively useless for anything other than the most rudimentary internet functions, so I resorted to pen and paper to complete as much as I could, attempting to write down the most important pieces, not to forget.

The amount of snapshots and video Chris and I had feverishly attempted to capture seemed too meager to me, in the rush of catching appointments our personal mementos suffered, as well as shots for use with our writing. Along with the fact that we only had a small portion of coverage to show for what seemed like a month’s worth of work, I wasn’t happy anticipating seeing it all posted up for the world to see. I went to bed that night to the tune of King of the Hill on the hotel TV, a familiar show to help me rest, feeling apprehensive and as though I had sorely needed eight other Cupcakes to make a dent in the amount of things I just wanted to experience.

In the morning Chris and I caught a quick breakfast while scrambling to find the UPS store needed to ship home my modest store of swag, as it would not fit in my carry-on. And during all of this madness I realized we could have saved time and money simply by using the media center at the show. With my items shipped, however, it was time to say goodbye (or good riddance?) to Los Angeles, and head to LAX.

On the way there, I sat back and reflected on this long, strange journey. As I write this I have been doing the same, looking back on the lot of it with both smiles and grimaces, but I have come to the conclusion that Chris and I did a fantastic job working with limited access, limited manpower, and without being in prime physical condition. Not everything went according to plan. We had to miss a couple appointments, and I sincerely wish I could have shaken each and every PR rep’s hand who reached out to me. But what we did see, and what we took home with us, I know we covered to the best of our ability. I’ve accepted the fact that next year will be bigger and better for me. It has to be, because I will make it that way. I will have that access I need. I will play the biggest games at the show rather than settling for a video clip or a guided demo. I will enjoy every moment I am there because I will bring a sense of familiarity with me to the city that I didn’t have this time.

But I won’t see everything, because I’m only one woman. I’m just one journalist trying to make it in this crazy industry. And whether you like it or not, I’m not going to get everything done, or do it perfectly. But I am going to try.

Until next year, Los Angeles. I’ll be ready for you. But will you be ready for me?

About the Author: Brittany Vincent