This year’s Electronic Gaming Expo (EGX) at the Birmingham NEC gave us a revealing glimpse into what defines gaming culture. And it’s far from toxic, as one developer suggested recently. It’s fun, opinionated, competitive, nostalgic and ever so slightly weird.
Blockbuster games were still the biggest draw at EGX 2017. Gamers queued for up to an hour to play AAA titles like Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Star Wars: Battlefront 2. While Sea of Thieves, Call of Duty: WWII and Middle Earth: Shadow of War also reeled in the crowds, all keen to get hands-on before release.
Gaming in 4K
These blockbuster games were set up to wow, showcased on high-end PCs and consoles, displayed on glossy HDR televisions in glorious 4K. Performance is another defining characteristic of today’s gamer culture. Players crave the best experience, whether that’s running Destiny 2 on a new Xbox One X or on a liquid-cooled desktop PC rocking an Intel® Core™ i9 X-Series processor.
Yet EGX 2017 wasn’t all about the big games. Away from the huge, neon-lit stands ruled by Ubisoft and EA, the dim fringes of the show reflected the breadth of our gaming culture.
Innovative indie games
At one end, a tight cluster of plucky indies showed off a diverse array of imaginative titles. These included the likes of Phantom Halls (a stylish, sideways-scrolling haunted mansion shooter), Bomber Crew (a strategic WW2 bomber sim with slick cartoon graphics) and Attack of the Earthlings (a turn-based invasion game where you play the aliens battling evil humans).
While at the other end, the Intel-sponsored ESL Arena hosted a succession of live esports, including the ESL Premiership Autumn 2017 Finals. The action spanned four days, featuring games such as League Of Legends, Rainbow 6, CS: GO and Splatoon 2. Nearby, the Overwatch Road to EGX competition reached its climax. And when you tired of watching Genji’s shuriken attacks, the Capcom Pro Tour Street Fighter V tournament welcomed you with Ryu’s open biceps.
Going retro (and loving it)
Gaming is proud of its heritage and EGX 2017 embraced it with retro games like Micro Machines and Tomb Raider, the huge NEC hall alive with the ding-ding of old pinball tables and the roar of Doom’s pump-action shotgun.
At the same time, gaming culture also extends beyond the screen, overlapping into fashion, and cosplay. Gaming is now as mainstream as music and movies, the iconic logos and images from Bioshock, Mass Effect and Gears of War emblazoned across t-shirts and hoodies. Cosplay devotees go a step further, dressing up as jedi knights, Jared Leto Jokers and jumpsuit-clad survivalists from Fallout 4.
Of course, an event like EGX 2017 is as much about the hardware as the software. While PS4 Pro and Xbox One X push console gaming into 4K, high-end PCs with Intel® Core™ processors arguably deliver the greatest immersion. Pair a fast PC with VR goggles, a force-feedback chair and Project Cars 2 and you can experience the ultimate in digital racing.
On the surface, EGX 2017 was a public gaming showcase. But it also revealed the depth of today’s gaming culture and those core traits that define it. The joy and the bravery; the competition and the camaraderie; the dedication and the loyalty; not to mention the cosy familiarity of a good sequel and the delight in discovering something new.
See you at EGX 2018?