E3 always has a mirage quality about it. For a few short days each year, it suddenly appears in in the shimmering heat of downtown Los Angeles, rising in the place where there previously was nothing (convention centers are always vacant, anonymous spaces waiting to be filled), sucking vast amounts of electricity from the power grid, and becoming a physical manifestation of a medium that becomes more ephemeral with each passing year. As games lose their status as physical objects, as game stores become less necessary--love them or hate them, it's only a matter of time before the GameStops of the world are forever shuttered--gamers have fewer real-world destinations to travel to and gather in. And, despite the old saw that gamers are antisocial nerds, I believe that we actually like to gather. We need to gather. We need to physically see one another, and have actual conversations--not comment-thread conversations; not message board posts, or curt twitter exchanges. We need to hug, to tell each other how happy we are to see one another, and to sometimes, on occasion, even discuss things other than videogames.
That's why, more than ever, we need PAX. We need Fan Expo in Toronto and Comic Con and the Game Developers Conference. We need regular excuses to sit across from one another, if only for a little while. One of the favorite topics of conversation at E3 this year, and every year, is the poor hygiene of our fellow gamers. Fact: body odor runs rampant through E3. We pretend to all complain about it--approximately 20-percent of all E3 conversations are centered around gripes about body odor and/or bad breath. Yet, in some strange way, I think that we secretly like the odors. Not simply because they give us common conversation ground, uniting people in an us-versus-them dynamic (we smell good, they smell bad), but because the odors somehow work to make the silly, ephemeral experience of E3 that much more tangible and real.
Because there is nothing more human than B.O. and bad breath.
On my way home on Thursday night, I boarded the plane and discovered that I was to be seated next to a man who honestly could not have smelled any worse. I was initially furious with the situation, and with this man. He was quiet. He didn't take up much space. He read the in-flight magazine and dozed. But his B.O. was not of this earth. I privately begged the stewardess to find another seat for me. "I'm sorry, sir, but the flight is sold out," she explained.
As the plane leveled off at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, as the man napped next to me, I suddenly made the executive decision to stop breathing through my mouth. I decided to embrace the man's B.O. I took it in. Jesus, it was strong. But, really, after a few whiffs, it wasn't that bad. The poor guy was probably a developer who'd just finished a 14-hour shift on the show floor. Who knew what he was leaving behind in L.A.? Who knew what he was headed home to? He was probably a sweet man. He probably had simply forgotten to pack his deodorant. He probably owned a dog, or maybe even a couple of cats. He probably loved videogames as much as, if not more, than I do.
When our plane finally landed later that night, I hustled through the sleepy airport, past the dark Hudson Newsstands, past the beverage refrigerators humming away in the shadows, leaving behind E3 2011, this man, and his wild, piquant B.O. once and for all.