The assignment seemed reasonable. Infiltrate the shiny over-belly of the already bloated industry known as “interactive entertainment.” Myself and my associate, a long-ish bespectacled fellow, had convened mere blocks away from the heaving convention center in Downtown Los Angeles. We were to retrieve our press credentials at one of the many kiosks flanking the large bulbous structure which, even from a distance, was seen to be decked out in advertisements larger than any sporting event or hate-group banner. I could feel the drugs from last night wearing thin. We needed caffeine.
We fell in line with the other journalists, moving steadily towards the convention center, each clutching some sort of fancy cold drink as if we weren’t on the edge of poverty. “Jesus,” I thought to myself, “Who are these people?” Their facial hair seemed to mock me, chuckling at these two fish out of water whose t-shirts didn’t celebrate some ghoulish character on the verge of a violent rampage.
My associate took the reigns on obtaining our credentials. Surely our less-than-a-year-old publication would be instantly recognized and we’d be ushered in under a hail of Pokémon ticker-tape; bags of drugs and Razer laptops would be shoved aggressively into our backpacks and I would be excused from making eye contact with anything deemed “alive.”
“I knew he was right. But it didn’t stop me from wanting to punch the glasses off his stupid face.”
After scanning the outdoor entrance for other humans smoking cigarettes, upon spotting them I guiltlessly lit up a Parliament Light while my associate seemed to trade polite verbal blows with the lady at the kiosk. We were to check in at the press center deep inside the convention halls. The press center. Of course. That was us. We were two prize-winning journalists on the eve of a new trip, loaded to the teeth with all drugs the circumstances would permit: caffeine, nicotine, and perhaps some THC from the previous night oozing out of my pores. We were also running late.
As we set foot inside the convention, a rush of emotions hijacked my moderately-sized monkey brain. Amongst the sea of colorful plaid and plastic decals, a nightmarish figure gripping a serrated machete was shaking hands with four soldiers, decked out in full WWII regalia. “Can you believe it?” my associate hummed, breaking into a controlled gallop towards the press center. But I was too overwhelmed to manifest anything resembling an answer. I was too busy eyeing the fifteen flat television screens broadcasting some sort of ultra-violent POV. ‘Payday 2‘, the signage indicated. I craned my neck over the hundreds of shoulders crowding the monitors, trying to catch a glimpse of the meaning behind this madness. A slight tug at my shirt-sleeve. My associate reminded me that we were now approaching the thirty-minute mark of tardiness.
“We were two prize-winning journalists on the eve of a new trip, loaded to the teeth with all drugs the circumstances would permit.”
Obtaining press credentials at such a place was the first real joy I had experienced all day. I couldn’t help but feel like we had fooled the powers that be, strong-arming our way into the clutches of what appeared to be the most expensive commercial ever made. I eyed my own namesake on my badge like a father whose boy had just finished first in some goddamned science fair. We were bonafide. And just like that, we were in.
No sooner had we burst through the proverbial airlock guarding the exhibition floor, than the fear began to creep in. An amoeba of journalists and civilians inched by one another, guided only by the light of the handheld devices mere inches from their sweltering faces. Behind a clear glass wall, the competition was already conducting interviews from the comfort of some easy chairs with plenty of room to breathe. I recognized a couple of them from some ‘Let’s Play’ videos that had lulled me to sleep after some fearful nights in the preceding years.
How the hell was I supposed to conduct any amount of passable journalism while being herded like cattle aimlessly under these blinding lights? Those confident in their destination broke off from the herd like lambs, frolicking towards the bright neon and thumping techno music. The rest of us were headed to the slaughterhouse: a decrepit old house with the words ‘Resident Evil‘ hanging forebodingly above the entryway. The fear had fully engulfed me.
See, the thing about anxiety is, it’s always just on the verge of rearing its ugly melon, ready to ruin your day and possibly your pants. It knows when your body is gnawing on that last little pocket of serotonin. “Stay back!” I cried, to no one in particular. We were to meet with the folks at Alienware and I’ll be damned if I don’t make it for the last fifteen minutes of their presentation. Out of the corner of my eye glinted a thirty foot flat screen. “The Legend of Zelda,” I mouthed aloud, shifting my focus from the attractive demonstration personnel to the action on the screen. Who was this cartoonish boy running all but naked through the tan brush? Something resembling a smile crept across my tired face as I watched the boy light a branch off a fire pit and carry it headlong into the dark woods.
On the other side of us, crowds piled atop one another around a brazen arcade, a tropical green glow bathing their silhouettes. Images of violence flashed across the screens to the grins of the throngs stuffed into giant headsets, their peers creeping over their shoulders. I’ve never understood the desire to play these games for fifteen minutes, only to have them ripped from your sweaty clutches and placed back in the vault for two to three years. It’s anti-climactic. I expressed these thoughts to my associate who just shrugged and said, “Get it together man, you’re a journalist. We’re here to report from the inside.” Dammit. I knew he was right. But it didn’t stop me from wanting to punch the glasses off his stupid face.
“The fear had fully engulfed me.”
Having spent an eternity and a day swimming through the ocean filled with deranged jellyfish clutching cartoonishly large bags, filled to the brim with the spoils of corporate entertainment, we had reached our destination: Alienware. The big dogs. The keepers of the consumer-ready, ultra-powerful personal computer. I fearlessly sauntered over to the spread of breakfast pastries, eager to whet my whistle with any kind of sustenance. The sugar would do me well. There was more coffee. My associate dug into his laptop. For what? I wasn’t sure.
As the representative began to stuff our brains with the kind of knowledge no man should be held responsible for, my own thoughts defaulted to their comfortably selfish nature. “My god that thing is beautiful. I want it.” Had I whispered this aloud? The reproaching look on my associate’s face assured me that I had. What’s this man yammering on about now? Tool-less upgrades? No screws? You can’t give these baboons that kind of power! Building a PC used to require a specific skill set! One, albeit, that I did not have (and so I would benefit greatly from this technology). There was a man next to us with a small voice recorder sitting in his lap. Should I have brought one of those? Or was I confident that I would remember a reasonable amount of information? Just enough. Yes, I was sure I would. I glance over again at the man with the recorder. Can he see me eyeing him, and more importantly, can that device record my thoughts? I was certain it could, and kept my trap shut for the remainder of the presentation.
We wandered out of the darkened room to a smorgasbord of computers and wearable accessories that reminded me how quickly we’ll be left behind once this new era of virtual reality claws its way into our society. My associate had vanished, off to do some real journalism which no doubt will find its way to these digital pages. As for me, I was looking for something much more sinister… the exit.