There's a PlayStation mural outside of E3. It features PS mainstays in boats, a parody of this George Washington painting. I was picking out who was who with a friend. "It's Infamous guy! It's Claire from Resident Evil! It's... a basketball player!" Then a security guard walked up. "I only recognize one of those characters," she said.
Waaaaaaaaaaaaay in the back, there was a generic Minecraft avatar. "That one," she said, squinting ever so slightly. "He's from Minecraft."
She didn't play a lot of games, she confessed, but she knew a blurry Minecraft man from a mile (or, er, several feet) away.
After a day of shooting, stabbing, and witching, it kinda put everything in perspective for me. Don't get me wrong: I like a lot of the hardcore triple-A games at this E3. I think The Witcher 3, Batman: Arkham Knight, and Metal Gear Solid V look incredible, but I can't even count the number of people I've met this year—all over the place, not just at E3—who've said, "I don't really play video games much, except for Minecraft." Kids, adults, grandparents.
Sometimes I think they're missing out. But only sometimes.
It's crazy, especially given that Minecraft was once a totally-unknown indie game with awful graphics and bugs galore. It made its name on an insidiously powerful idea alone. Now it's a household name in a sense that few games truly are. It occupies a rarefied space alongside Mario and (unfortunately) Angry Birds. I can't remember the last time I met someone who didn't know what it is.
Even then, it kind of amazes me that a mere, entirely silent symbol of that is more instantly recognizable than a literal armada of characters Sony and other developers have meticulously written and rewritten, designed and redesigned. Sorry Nathan Drake. Sorry Infamous bro. Sorry Watch_Dogs' Aiden Pearce, your gun and phone cocked and at the ready, even at sea. You might be made of more polygons than Minecraft man's entire world, but you just don't have the reach.
People like to create. People like to explore. Minecraft lets you slice and dice cube creatures (and cube trees and cube mountains and cube cattle) to your heart's content, but violence isn't really the core of it. It's a game of elbow grease and ingenuity, teamwork and creativity in numbers. Whether you're sticking it out as the Denizens of the Night threaten to reduce your wavering mud hut to beautiful nothingness or teaming up with somebody else to build a castle in the sky, it's a game of thoughtful imagination first and foremost.
Meeting that security guard was a wake-up call for me. E3 has a way of absorbing you, whether you're playing along at home or (and especially) if you're trudging your way through the belly of the beast. She reminded me that E3 represents an increasingly small niche—not a bad one, necessarily, but one that's changing and growing verrrrrrry sloooooooowly. E3 is one of the gaming industry's biggest stages, but the gaming industry's about a lot more than most of the things I'm playing here. Heck, even Sony is, what with its increasing focus on colorful indies.
Also, let's be real: a whole lot of video game characters are pretty boring. But that's another discussion for another time.
Minecraft might be the loneliest game at E3 if you're hanging out at Microsoft and Sony's booths, but it's in good company, well, pretty much everywhere else ever. Why? Because it's a little bit magical in its own way. I imagine I'll shoot, stab, and witch plenty more bad guys in my time, but you can only be so memorable if all you really are is a glorified weapon. A lot of people would rather a paintbrush than a gun.
The sun dimmed around us as the security guard asked about each character, what sorts of games they represented. My friend and I gave our Expert Opinions on everything from Watch_Dogs to The Last of Us to old-school Resident Evil. "Yeah, those sound alright," she said as she slowly sauntered away. I guess she had better things to do.
TMI is a branch of Kotaku dedicated to telling you everything about my adventures in the gaming industry (and sometimes other offbeat and/or uncomfortable subjects). It's an experiment in disclosure, storytelling, interviewing, and more. The gaming industry is weird. People are weird. I am weird. You are weird. Why hide that? Let's explore it.