Watching Judge Dredd Play Crazy Taxi – An Account From Play Expo

When I threw my name in to cover Play Expo, the self-proclaimed “biggest video gaming expo in The North”, I was offered an additional press pass. My editor suggested I may take a date (or, rather, a prostitute), to which I jokingly retorted that it certainly would be awkward to be the only one at a gaming expo without a date. Hahaha! People who play videogames are lonely nerds! They don’t even know what a girl is really! Oh, how we laughed. As I wandered around the vast expanse of EventCity – essentially a hangar bay on the outskirts of Manchester, now used to host large-scale conventions and events – I started to regret my joke.

Clearly karma had decided to kick me in the arse and put every cosplaying couple on the X50 bus, just to teach me a lesson. Everywhere I turned, they were there. The Joker and Harley Quinn shooting up a bunker in GoldenEye. Ash Ketchum and Misty loitering near a Silent Scope machine, probably too young to have ever played it in a real arcade. I’m pretty sure two of the guys dressed up as Payday 2 characters wanted to bang. It was horrible. Not in a homophobic way, just… you know what I mean.

The cosplayers, however, were not the first thing that struck me as I walked through the hangar doors. Within seconds of stepping into the Expo, visitors are greeted by a pop-up GameSeek shop, offering a wide range of the latest games for hungry consumers to buy. To the right, a DeLorean kitted out in Back To The Future style that you can have your photo taken in it for only £5. A flimsy wall behind the car hides a longer queue for people waiting to have their photo taken on a replica Iron Throne, garish posters for Game of Thrones littered around every side of it amongst adverts for other Sky Atlantic shows. I just wanted to play some games.

I ventured deeper and found myself surrounded by stalls selling costumes, retro videogames, Japanese curios, anything your nerd consumer mind could possibly need to spend extravagant amounts of money on. I found one stall that seemed to be selling about fifteen NTSC copies of Wrestlemania X8 on the GameCube. A borderline tentacle-porn image featuring a young girl hung proudly above the two dudes running the “Oh, Japan!” Everything felt strange, almost like it was a caricature of the nerd lifestyle, rather than an accurate representation of interests. Yet the crowd lapped it up. I stalked the stalls, idly looking at stuff while others pored over every item, eagerly taking in all the fascinating knick-knacks that money can buy.

Perhaps I was just bitter and mopey from the sight of friends and lovers sharing the experience together, but I just couldn’t handle it. I ventured into the retro games section – a mish-mash of old consoles and crappy TVs for anyone to enjoy. The atmosphere there was far more pleasant and fun – nostalgia is truly a powerful thing. Friends duked it out on Smash Bros. and Timesplitters, while solo players could sample forgotten shmups and that Wario game on the GameCube that no one remembers. The rhythm-game section was always crammed, with Samba Di Amigo confusing old and new alike, and DJ Hero finally having people other than me playing it. It felt less like a convention here and more like a LAN party; just a bunch of friends grabbing what gear they could, setting up and having a good time together.

Which, weirdly, was the same kind of feeling I got from the current-gen area as well. Huge numbers of PS4s were grouped together on the other side of Merchant Alley, allowing attendees to try out the latest games and a handful of new ones before anyone else got a chance. As someone who keeps relatively up-to-date with new releases, this aspect didn’t really interest me, aside from the inclusion of the next-gen remake of Sleeping Dogs and a pre-alpha demo of OlliOlli 2, something I spent far more time on that anyone really should have done, given how evidently early in development it was.

But I didn’t actually notice the OlliOlli 2 section until around an hour after I’d arrived and had made three or four circuits of the expo. There were no signs advertising it, no one around to show it off and tell you all about it. The OlliOlli 2 consoles were located so close to a huge bank of PS4s running Minecraft that I initially mistook it to be part of that section. Even the Sleeping Dogs stand had the wrong controller instructions printed on it, instead, offering the controller map for the isometric Lara Croft title. These are absolute gems of games, but people were passing them by because of a lack of fanfare.

That’s probably my main complaint of the whole expo, to be honest. Perhaps I’ve been so spoiled by the pizzazz of Gamescom, an event with tons of money thrown in and which is attended by hundreds of thousands of people, that a warehouse with a bunch of Dreamcasts in, located about an hour away from where I grew up, just doesn’t do it for me anymore. But even the areas with indie developers showing off their wares, even the Team17 publishing stand featuring Flockers, The Escapists and others, even these places lacked the excitement and wide-eyed wonder needed to draw more people in. It was impossible to become wrapped up in it all and forget that you were just pissing around next door to the Trafford Centre.

As I made another circuit around the pinball machines and old arcade cabinets, I began to wonder if I could find one perfect visual metaphor to encapsulate the feeling I got from Play Expo. And as I worked my way through the banks of retro consoles, watching Doctor Who and his TARDIS girlfriend hammer away at Donkey Konga, I felt like it would never happen. For these people, the games were merely a distraction. The opportunity to dress as their favourite characters and be around like-minded people, spending their parents’ money on replica weapons and Japanese trading cards covered in panty shots, was enough for them to ignore the “rough and ready” styling. They weren’t here for OlliOlli 2. They just wanted to play Pac-Man on an upright arcade machine and feel like they were in the ’80s.

But as I was about to lose all hope, I rounded a corner and finally found him. A middle-aged man, balding, with his two kids clambering over him, sat in a chair. His son had claimed his left arm, leaving his right arm awkwardly holding the G-Cn Lightgun hooked up to a PS1, blasting his way through House of the Dead like he’d done it a million times before. He looked tired and slightly irritable. But he was here, and his trigger finger was still itchy. I wanted to take a picture, but it would’ve been too creepy, and I didn’t want to disturb a man who looked like he’d already been through too much.

I felt a strong connection to that man. I’d seen everything here before, grown up with half of it, could still remember the patterns and interactions required to win. These little ones, not interested in playing anything but still super excited to be there, were bringing me down. I couldn’t get excited over the small new releases because the already established brands didn’t need the advertising, so no one got any serious advertising. If I had taken someone with me who wasn’t so jaded by videogames and the culture around it, maybe I could’ve been the guy cosplaying Judge Dredd, replaying Crazy Taxi and laughing about the good old days. Instead, I was the dude sat playing a lightgun game from memory, waiting for the kids to tire themselves out so they’d sleep in the car.

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One Comment

  1. Don Rigsby says:

    And that’s slightly what’s it’s like covering the London MCM Expo. But there’s more new games, sometimes more than EGX. But several times I’ve seen new games or early betas totally shoved out of the way with little to no signage or fanfair. Rising Star Games are the worst at this. I played No More Heores 2 at MCM, loved it then asked a PR guy (after 10 minutes waiting for one of the several RS crew finding someone who would talk to me) when it was coming out. “It’s already out” he said.

    Was there much B.O. or did the scant crowds allow some fresh air to sneak in?

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