E3 2012 is Upon us, but What Choices lie Ahead?

The mood is unmistakable.

The current generation isn’t quite over, and the next one hasn’t gotten started yet. Unlike recent years, everyone has both eyes looking into the future even as both feet remain firmly planted in the present.

It is a period of transition for the modern gaming scene. Even as Epic Games unveils the new Unreal Engine 4, thousands of indie videogame developers are working in the software junkyards trying to cobble together simple but innovative new gaming experiences. So which way will things go?

Recent inventions like Facebook and the App Store have already disrupted the gaming industry and threaten to upend it entirely unless the publishing behemoths shape up and adapt to a rapidly changing media landscape.

Indeed, the threat of online piracy, used game sales, and the recent success of freemium payment models have been pressuring the conventional gaming scene more and more with each passing quarter. Budgets balloon and risk is minimized, and pretty soon the field of annual videogame releases looks as homogenous as the characters they showcase.

And as a thriving indie scene and the rise of the new Zinesters leads to games on an ever more diverse range of topics, many of us are ready to leave the trash behind, grow up, and dissociate ourselves from traditional gaming stereotypes.

But while some of us want videogames that are more thoughtful and not mired in brutish sexism and senseless violence, others look fondly at the irreverent adolescence that has for so long by synonymous with gaming.

So we stand at the cross-roads, waiting, watching, playing.

Nintendo’s press conference is today, with E3 2012 officially kicking off shortly after. But after both Sony and Microsoft’s events yesterday we already know a little of what to expect in the coming months.

While Microsoft tried to sell the press and those watching at home on its new SmartGlass technology, Nintendo has already given us some information about its plans for social connectivity with the Wii U via Miiverse. Both of these developments, along with Sony’s rebranded Playstation Mobile, will only complicate an already crowded coliseum of social networks and digital platforms.

What this means is a media marketplace that is as complex as it is competitive. There will be winners and losers, survivors and stragglers. The global economy, several years after the original financial crisis, has yet to fully recover, squeezing company budgets from one end while a new line of console hardware squeezes it from the other.

As a result, it’s more important than ever to ask ourselves what kind of a videogame environment we want, and which companies to support in order to bring that about. If you look at the list of games Microsoft and Sony our touting the starting lineup shines like a shallow pool of stagnant water. With the exception of Quantic Dream’s next game, Beyond: Two Souls, nearly every major game is a sequel and/or port and/or a shooter and/or premised on killing something.

This batch of upcoming AAA titles, or the undead gaming horde as it should more accurately be called, demonstrates a pernicious mix of backwards thinking and risk averse apathy that should be a stark reminder to anyone who doubts just how crucial the next few years will be to whether the industry grows and how.

Will we promote open platforms on PC and mobile or continue to feed the tyrants at the big three console manufacturers? Will we encourage and support games that diverge from the norm, take risks, and try to offer new gameplay experiences? Will we settle for the same gross bullshit, the same reductive depictions, the same fetishizing of slaughter?

There are no clear dividing lines here; only continuums. You could be for the carnage and against closed platforms, protest freemium but champion progressive values. The choice is of course, ours. But don’t forget that. Because now is when these questions will be decided. Not in a few months, or a couple years, or another generation. Now.

So keep that in mind as you take your time pouring over all of the gaming developments of the next few days. Remember what’s at stake with each new rumor that’s peddled, each new game that’s announced, and each new demo that’s revealed.

There are many ways forward, but where we go and how we get there is up to us. The only bad choice would be not to make one, not to actively think over, talk about, and help to guide the medium as it moves into its next phase. Gaming as a form is only as imaginative and powerful as the people who take part in it. Let’s make the most of it.