Since E3's recent downsizing, many fans have been looking to the Tokyo Game Show for their fan fix. With developers like Square-Enix and Ubisoft attending, and games like Metal Gear Solid 4 and No More Heroes being showcased for fan demo pleasure, it looked like this would be the ultimate fan extravaganza. And with record breaking attendance this year, it looks like the fans definitely showed up!
What pulls the fans to Japan, besides the obvious opportunity to play the latest games? I, for one, believe it has a lot to do with the way the convention is set up. It may sound childish to others, but the whole place is reminiscent of a theme park. There are differently themed areas, complete with characters that are so wonderfully constructed that it feels as though you've walked into a fantasy world. Costumed cosplayers run rampant, and the whole experience feels extraordinary and almost other-worldly. It's a real break from the norms that people go through every day and provides a veritable escape from that "real life" so many of us are drudged into.
What is also quite extraordinary is the amount of swag that one might procure from the Tokyo Game Show. If one wanted to forgo the entire quest of playing games and just hit up booths, they could find themselves buried under a huge amount of t-shirts, fans, posters…the amount of free stuff is literally amazing. Most people don't go to the extreme of trying to get all the swag that they can, but the prospect of getting something that's free (and relatively cool) is great. And especially if you have the good fortunes to get something from a developer you really care about, it's even better. I'm sure many a fan had their convention hopes fulfilled by a Halo T-Shirt or a Metal Gear Solid 4 fan. Of course, this could all just be an over appreciation on my part of the value of free stuff, but in a society where you have to pony up $10 just for an oversized picture of your favorite character from a general store like Wal-Mart, I can totally dig all the free stuff.
One thing that is also quite an exhilarating component of being at the Tokyo Game Show is the amount of Japanese culture that surrounds you. Whenever you go to a different country, you expect a certain amount of culture shock. But the unique thing about travelling to the Tokyo Game show is that this awkward and uncomfortable stage is bypassed almost instantly. Sure, you see a different language written everywhere and every once in a while you'll see a kimono, but the real amazement comes when you realize that all of this just makes you feel immersed in a more global community of gamers. And the fact that you are in a different country with different traditions is something to be embraced rather than feared.
Another really great thing about the Tokyo Game Show is that it brings developers and gamers together. E3 really had the market cornered here before, but since the E3 we knew no longer exists, fans need a new place to flock to in order to connect with the developers and executives whom they so admire. Many people speculated that Leipzig would take the crown as the new conference to be at. But since Japan is the birthplace of so many facets of gaming culture, from the Final Fantasy series to Nintendo, it seems to be a veritable mecca for the gaming devout.
I can't go too much farther without at least mentioning the booth babes. While they aren't as, how shall I put this, aggressive as the ones you used to see at E3, they're still a part of the overall convention experience. And the good thing about these ladies is they seem genuinely interested in the games, and they try to help you out as much as possible. Plus they're so cheerful!
But I think the real joy from going to the Tokyo Game Show from a fan's perspective has to come from interacting with your fellow gamers. Almost everyone at the convention is completely immersed in their own community, and it's great to speak with people who you really relate to. I'm not saying that gamers don't have a community outside the convention space, but it's not as easy to walk into school or work and shoot the breeze about the newest Metal Gear Solid as it is at a convention. And when you're in a place where everyone is genuinely excited, it's a wonderful feeling.
Overall, the Tokyo Game Show is a great convention whether you're a fan or someone who works in the industry. The experience, however, from a fan's perspective is one that cannot be matched. The unique combination of everything that people love about Japanese culture, as well as gaming blends into a unique fan experience that is something that every gamer should experience at least once.
Amanda L. Kondolojy
CCC Freelance Writer