Why The Biggest Gaming Show Of The Year Matters To Non Gamers

E3 2020 is over, and we have over 150 games to sift through! If you're new to gaming you might wonder how so many games even exist but this article will show you how varied gaming has become, and where you might want to jump in to it if you want a game announced this year!

The lights on the stage dim, the camera pans and zooms onto the main screen, and two words appear: World Premiere

The World Premiere Splash Screen from E3
If you don't know the voice that's okay, just try and imagine it as epic as possible.

The excitement is silent, the tension could be scooped up with a spoon and dolloped into a football match at halftime, a tennis match on deuce, the sewing bee during the finals, a group of undergraduates at graduation. E3 is an international catalyst of hopes and anticipations for a huge array of people, and with COVID stopping so many live events it is vital that the spirit of the show continue digitally.

I make these comparisons to other events because from the outside, gaming culture and events can be hard to comprehend. I am excited to share with you, after a brief contextualization, exactly 8 things you need to know about E3 2021 if you like any sort of artistic medium.

Video Games aren't all the same anymore!

With companies like Rebellion proudly announcing that in Sniper Elite not only are your enemies’ skin, bones, and organs all rendered but also 2 more layers of muscle and tissue in a full circulatory system you’d be forgiven for thinking of games as an embodiment for all things violent and bombastic and gory. It’s not a hard point to argue and is true for a large proportion of games.

However, the games industry has only grown larger and larger over the last decade with more and more “Indie” companies popping up with fresh ideas. The games in which you can murder a small population might be the loudest and easiest to see when outside the gaming world looking in, but that’s exactly where I come in.

Videogaming has plenty of Non-violent or otherwise more artistic examples. Gaming has become more varied through Indie companies that create small experimental experiences, as well as through big-name actors joining the ranks of voice-acting and providing brilliant, emotional, artistic portrayals of deep characters.

Non-violent examples include The Witness (A Puzzle game where the entire world is one large lateral/visual puzzle), Kerbal Space Program (A Spaceship building simulator that accounts for precise engineering and physics), and things like Two Point Hospital (A management game where you budget and build a hospital for a range of whacky "illnesses").

Image from Two Point Hospital Steam Page
Okay admittedly Ghosts and Mummies might imply violence, but you're actually treating the Mummies' condition! And the ghosts are...well, motivation to keep a good hospital

I’m here to cut through the fog and show everyone, gamers or not, the variety of art shown at this year's E3 2021. The event only just wrapped up, taking place between the 12th and the 15th of June and there are 500 articles about the “biggest” games of the show.

That’s all well and good, but if you’ve been sitting through lockdown wondering what all the fuss with gaming is about, wondering if it’s for you, even wondering aloud as my father did “When did games stop being about killing things?” (Peter Howe, 2021) then you’ve come to the right place.

As for you veterans out there let’s share this passion and variety! When you learn something new about the medium or find a game that clicks with you in this article feel free to let us know how you enjoyed it! Especially if you’re taking your first steps into gaming. I think you’ll be quietly surprised at the depth of the gaming rabbit hole. E3 2021, take it away…

Video Games That Are Not Traditional

Let’s start with a few games that fit the bill of diverting from the violent and action-packed. There’s nothing wrong with those games but for many people, these other genres are completely overlooked and people miss out on finding what could become their new favorite game!

1. Unpacking

A Screencap of the first mission of Unpacking
If I imagine that trophy is for archery, that could be my room

Let’s start small, with an indie title announced at the “Wholesome Direct” of E3 2021. Yes, it was as cute and intriguing as it sounds. Unpacking is an organization game about moving items out of cardboard boxes and into the rooms, apartments, and houses of an unknown character.

You use the mouse to select objects and rotate them, and to interact with drawers and closets Which I really should have worked out sooner than I did, but perhaps my organizational skills didn’t see anything wrong with half the clothing being stored haphazardly on the floor.

Chill music plays, satisfying clunks and thuds ping around the room as you place objects, and slowly but surely, you start to make an empty space come alive. 

2. Death Stranding: Directors Cut

A cover image of Death Strandings Main Character
Norman Reedus is on a journey with a Baby, emotion ensues. Image curtesy of Twinfinite 

Death Stranding is the biggest oddball in the bunch, and gamer veterans stick with me on this until I’ve explained. If someone sits in that large camp of not diving into games because they think they know what games are and that games are all First Person Shooters, or Puzzle Games, or The Sims, then Death Stranding’s recently revealed Directors Cut could be exactly the niche itch they need scratching.

Death Stranding pits you as a courier, of sorts, in a post-apocalyptic world. You communicate with what society you can find, you piece together remnants of the past, you have the odd encounter with an aggressive blob monster or 2. But, through it all, Death Stranding is a game that defies traditional genres.

As pretentious as it was at the time, Hideo Kojima (Director of the game and industry legend) was right to describe it as the first of a new genre.

Kojima at a Death Stranding Interview
The Man, The Myth, The Legend. Hideo Kojima talking about the legacy of Death Stranding

There is a simple beauty in managing to chart a course through challenging environments. Where some games have you test your progress by how big an enemy you can feel, Death Stranding lets you find your own rewards in establishing routes, solving problems, and existing in the game world. It even has a sense of community to other players as their own attempts at making the world livable and traversable seep into your own game.

Not to mention the fact that, if you really grapple with it, Death Stranding tells a unique and heartfelt story which is an element of gaming I am glad big titles like the recent God of War and Last of Us Part 2 are addressing (Albeit to different levels of effectiveness).

Death Stranding, the director's cut can be found on PS5 only, while the original can be found on Steam too. I recommend any first-time gamer with the ability to get a console to get a PS5 regardless as it comes with a whole host of PS4 titles, including God of War and TLoU Part 2 I mentioned above.

Games That Capture a Mood

These are games that focus on story, music, innovative gameplay, and engaging characters or worlds to really engage us with the art form. Games, for a long time, were things to win at, things to beat. Now though we are lucky enough to have some truly great games that pace themselves almost as a book or tv series, but with the extra agency and involvement that having a player control the story causes.

3. Planet of Lana

Cover image from the website of Planet of Lana
The weird Shadow Dog is my life now.

First up is the Planet of Lana. E3 2021 showcased a few of these games that take inspiration from the focus on style and mood that titles like Ori and the Blind Forest, Inside, and Limbo did.

Planet of Lana looks decidedly more colorful and lively than Limbo while still maintaining a sense of loss, of dread almost. It’s clear from the trailer the world is not in a safe place, and yet this character and their companion move with a certain confidence and eagerness, setting off into the forests to explore. This is the sort of game that while not co-op, could easily be played as a substitute for a movie night in with a partner or friend.

4. A Plague Tale: Requiem

Screencap of the Plague Tale Website
Characters who were mere children in the first game steel themselves for the responsibility of their power and age.

A Plague Tale is a respectable take on combining varied gameplay with a gritty story. Not all immersion and storytelling make a viewer feel happy or relaxed and A Plague Tale is a game that takes itself seriously enough to address that. I wrote an article recently about how bad endings, as in negative or traumatic ones, don’t need to be bad in terms of the quality of their writing.

As I alluded to earlier, a TV Series or book will make you feel many things, and it’s the triggering of those feelings that makes them good not whether those feelings are inherently positive. A Plague Tale takes tension, sibling familial bonds, and ideas of responsibility and power, and mixes them all together in a dark fantasy setting that can make your skin crawl just moments before touching your heart.

The sequel, A Plague Tale: Requiem is scheduled for all next-gen consoles, switch, and PC and is arriving next year.

Games To Play At Your First Party After COVID

Getting into gaming can be daunting with all the expectations on what a game should be, what skills it might expect from you, what prequels it might expect you to have played. Well, in line with my mission here to share the versatility of games as art I proudly present Party Games! These announcements are full of fun and energy and are just as valid an encapsulation of what makes games accessible as any other game.

5. Mario Party Superstars

A screencap of the Mario Party Map in the Trailer
I like my board games with a side of meteorite. Screencap from the Nintendo Direct Trailer

Board games are an entertainment medium I’m also a huge advocate for in terms of how there is one for every occasion and every group of people. Well, Mario Party takes that idea and combines it with the fast, visual, engaging advantages of being digital.

While unfortunately not “pass-the-controller” as minigames must be played simultaneously, the games nonetheless manage to be easy to jump into and get people laughing along too. Also, from a more practical view, if you are looking to get into other games and feel you can’t use a controller properly yet or will mismatch buttons then Mario Party is a great place to get to grips with movement, motion controls, timing, and the like.

It’s a sort of “throw yourself in the deep end” approach but it will definitely get you engaged with what the controller can do and how to quickly adapt to games.

Mario Superstars is a culmination of years of Mario Party games, so is a great one to jump in at! Mario Party Superstars will be available on the Nintendo Switch.

6. Just Dance 2022

Screencap of the Official Website for Just Dance
The characters in just Dance just dancin’ on the official website

Even the most out-of-touch of us remember the hay day of the Wii. Thousands upon thousands of broken windows, TV Screens, and Ceiling Fans when the enthusiastic Uncle didn’t use a wrist strap and sent the poor Wii Remote (At the time posing as a golf club) flying into the stratosphere.

Games are unique in this way. Games are art not only in their materials but in their execution and purpose too. Just Dance 2022 is less of a game you credit for its design or writing but one that selflessly acts as a stomping ground for you and anyone you know.

It’s the catalyst for your own creativity and fun, and an excuse to get everyone together. In the same way that some games are mindless action-packed fun, things like Just Dance also make a sacrifice compared to other more structured games, but the payoff can be huge for the right players.

My personal Dance Game story is from the High School Musical game. Again, nothing to do with the game design but that game was hilarious and fun because it was myself and a friend from university having to sing duets together in front of my housemate and, at the time, my first date with a girl I'd met.

We went to the flat and "danced" and it was a great time, and even though it was embarrassing and ridiculous we didn't care. And hey, I'm now engaged to the poor girl who was watching me and my friend dance to High School Musical so never say Dancing Games don't count for anything.

Once again if you have never played many games and see the loudest gamers being toxic and, what we call “salty”, you haven’t experienced the embarrassing joy of performing on a Dancing/Singing game with some friends.

Just Dance 2022 is out this year on both the latest generations of PlayStation and Xbox consoles and the Nintendo Switch.

The Big Surprise: A console just for casual party games?

The New Intellivision Console
A console designed just for brand new households

As I type this section I find myself surprised, intrigued, and puzzled all over again. I cannot shift my utter amazement at this announcement.

Intellivision, a company that is somewhat of a relic in the gaming industry, has resurfaced this year at E3 2021 with a huge surprise. They are making a brand new home console. Now, this isn’t a replacement for the PlayStation or Xbox that battles it out for most households. The Intellivision Amico is instead described as a “complementary” system. In fact, Tommy Tallarico (CEO of Intellivision) outright says “We really don’t view others as competition”.

He knows he is appealing to a different market, and if you are maybe a household with younger children, elderly relatives, or maybe your younger children already play games but have no way to share that experience with you as parents or their grandparents then this system is pretty much exactly what you are looking for. The Intellivision Amico introduction is below and worth a watch for any larger household or fresh-faced gamers.

The games will be *very* simple and somewhat dated, but the innovation of the console itself and the fact it could very easily bring so many people together in such an easy way leads me to believe this little bit of kit will do well. Not to mention, phones can be used as extra controllers adding yet another reason this console is a great supplement for when you have too many people for standard gaming.

There we have it, a brief skim over E3 2021 from the perspective of someone eager to get your hands on a game you really connect with. The Wholesome Direct alone had 75+ announcements and it’s revelations like this that make me realize there really will be at least 1 game in existence for everyone. My challenge (At least, during E3 each year), is to help you all find yours.

Passionate Hobbyist (Gaming of any kind, D&D, all that nerdy stuff). First and foremost always an enjoyer of art and media.

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