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Vultures at E3

The booth babe up on stage at E3, the big video-game expo in Los Angeles, finally lost it. The throng of gamers with their cameras snapping pictures of her in a revealing fantasy costume, grabbing from the floor below at the T-shirts she was giving away, was just too much. "Vultures, VULTURES!" she yelled at them. "You're all a bunch of vultures!"

It was an awkward moment—the kind of moment where time slows down and everyone has the same thought: Did she really just say that? Except for her, since she was thinking, Well, there goes that gig at the Detroit Auto Show. She recovered with a clenched-teeth titter, a curious noise humans make that means I'm very uncomfortable with what I just said.

Months ago, the organizers of E3 announced that booth babes would not be tolerated. This was just as transparently false as George W. Bush announcing our imminent trip to Mars. E3 is all about impressing the media with enormous expenditures of money, and nothing says you have money like the ability to hire large-breasted women to stand around being admired. So the booth babes were back, even if they did occasionally tell us exactly what form of life we most resembled.

At this year's expo, Sony and Nintendo continued their newfound hobby of rampant self-destruction, announcing the PlayStation 3 would cost $600 and the next Nintendo console would be named "Wii," which, like shoplifting, is really just a cry for help. Microsoft did what they do best: slowly, inexorably iterating their products until they eventually dominate.

But for me, E3 is all about Kentia Hall. Located in the basement of the convention center, this is where anyone with a dream and a little cash can get a table. It's where the weirdest stuff turns up, often in the form of strange controllers. My favorite was the Ping-Pong paddle set you can use to play Ping-Pong video games, a Loch Ness Monster of genres that arguably doesn't exist. I also put on one of those VR helmets with an LCD screen in front of your eyes and motion sensors that turn your game viewpoint with your head, and I'm happy to report this long-fabled technology no longer sucks—now it blows.

Then there was SMART BrainGames, a headset "licensed from NASA!" that in some way detects your brain waves and makes games react accordingly. Not to steer or shoot or anything useful—they demonstrated a racing game where you did everything with a joystick but if you didn't concentrate hard enough, your car would slow down. Whee.

The video-game industry is in a financial trough right now before the next big wave, as game makers shift production to the new consoles and game players drift impatiently. But E3 showed no sign of this, it being a sort of artificial-wave pool where everyone surfs happily in front of a big mural of sunshine and palm trees. No worries, the booth babes cry. We're going to Mars real soon now.

 

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