If China Joy 2013, the gaming expo billed as ‘China’s E3’, had just been a lackluster series of formulaic booths with SARFT-approved games I would have dutifully posted a series of pictures of booth babes and cosplayers and been on my merry way [Like I did – Ed.]. And yet somehow it managed to underwhelm even my lowest expectations and be completely and intolerably horrible across the board.
Let me first preface my tirade with a note. I love video games, and I genuinely — perhaps somewhat naively — thought that this event was going to be a lot of fun.
This initial hope began to be slowly choked out of me from the very beginning. While I understand that Chinese event planners are allergic to helpful signs that guide visitors to where they are supposed to go, the Cro-Magnons organizing this particular expo went a step further, adding to the complete lack of signage (in either English or Chinese) with a series of semi-trained baboons infuriatingly wearing shirts that read “How can I help you?”. Complicated questions like, “where do I buy a ticket” (in any language) were met with confusion and hesitant shrugs. All in all it took a group of three of us armed with press passes 30 minutes during one of the hottest days in Shanghai to even find the line to get into the event.
But from here, it must have been smooth sailing, right? Wrong. We waited in a line of around 1,000 people for another 30 minutes as we were marched through a series of six empty un-air-conditioned exhibition halls for further 30 minutes. When we finally got to the ticket check, one of the baboons in the rage shirts looked up from his iPhone games and explained to me that since I had a press pass I couldn’t go in the main entrance. I had to walk to the other side of the complex and wait in a different line. That’s when the fury that had been building in my humors erupted forth in a sanguine tirade in which I carefully unpacked each and every Chinese curse word that I have learned in my years here. The sheer force of this tirade eventually flattened one of the meeker peons into helpfulness. He correctly guessed that being unnecessarily dickish to people who review your event is not a good idea.
Despite the ridiculous and exhausting series of hoops we were forced to jump through, I retained the slightest glimmer of hope. There would be games I could play, and I’d get to objectify a whole plethora of different women!
As I entered each successive hall, this dogged glimmer was slowly choked into nothingness. Almost without exception, the booths were dismal. The first hall had EXCITING NEW GAMES like Final Fantasy X (2001), showcased prominently. Other new gems like Starcraft Wings of Liberty (2010) and Warcraft 3 (2002) were prominently featured as well. Electronic Arts, perhaps feeling cheeky after firing most of their employees in China, seemed to phone the whole thing with a prominent Madden football game display for XBox and PS3. Perhaps somebody should have reminded them that consoles are still illegal in China, that they don’t make money off of grey market sales, and that nobody at all understands or cares about American football outside of the US.
There were a few bright spots that interrupted my nerd fury. Blizzard Entertainment’s display, which seemed to take up nearly half of one of the buildings, had some very good Sarah Kerrigan cosplay and was showing off Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm, a game which was actually released within the last year. My favorite piece though was the huge display for the PLA funded game ‘Glorious Mission’, in which players fight off the Japanese to reclaim the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. The game looked like a pretty direct rip from the American Call of Duty franchise, and if it wasn’t directly feeding into violent racist nationalism (of a different sort to its American counterpart) I might have tried to get a copy.
Despite these brief moments of amusement, China Joy was still a horribly run gaming convention with horrible games full of horrible sweaty people. And it will probably always be horrible even if the organization improves (it won’t). Trotting out a line of old, SARFT approved games and sticking them in cavernous convention halls will never be the celebration of creativity in gaming that E3 embodies. If you really like games, do what I had originally planned to do with that Friday lost. Stay at home, cover yourself in Cheetos, and play ‘The Last of Us’ until your body hurts.
[Image credit: Siukei Cheung for Shanghaiist]