Video Games Are Making Technological Breakthroughs, but E3 Ignored Them

Video games are more than just games.

Getty Images / Christian Petersen

As Sony finished Monday’s E3 with an elaborate presentation conducted by Bear McCreary, the Japanese gaming giant said so much with so few words: Games are all that matter. Sony had no marketing people on stage to spell out stats or sales, to introduce new features, or confirm the rumored PlayStation 4.5. Instead, Sony pressed play on its YouTube playlist and let bullet points like The Last Guardian or the new God of War do all the talking. The overview of PlayStation VR, while impressive, dwelled on games.

And that’s fine. E3 is about video games. It always has been, ever since Sega and other companies were spurned by the Consumer Electronics Show in the ‘90s and were compelled to do a games-only trade show. But as the industry proves itself to be a regular at trailblazing consumer tech, is Sony (and Microsoft, and Nintendo by extension) making the hobby insular by having its public shows only on games?

Sony wasn’t the only one who narrowed the E3 topics. Nintendo’s Treehouse Live talked in-depth about the new Pokemon and The Legend of Zelda, while Microsoft talked up its triple-A titles, impressive indie games, and its leaner Xbox One S console and peripherals. But it was ten years ago when Nintendo introduced the phenomenon that was the Nintendo Wii, and for several years Microsoft led the console wars with the durable (not in the physical sense) Xbox 360.

Since the 2010s, the last few years of E3 have stirred criticism, mostly directed at game companies – particularly Microsoft in 2014, for trying to woo general consumers by touting living room features,movie streaming, voice commands, motion controls, and stuff the core audience of gamers don’t really care for. At E3 2008, Microsoft introduced Netflix streaming to the Xbox 360, the first console to do so, and it was greeted with a muted response. Today… Well, how often do you use Netflix?

Motion gaming came and went as a fad, but the Nintendo Wii, which debuted at E3 2006, wound up being a phenomenon that winter. But while gamers today dismiss motion and have sat back to reclining positions, motion gaming is now a fixture in medical therapy. Even Microsoft’s foray into the technology, Kinect, which “failed” in gaming has found life in medicine. Just this year, researchers at the University of Iowa used the Kinect to pioneer new approaches to better curb HAIs (health-care associated infections), where diseases spread in hospitals and clinics due to communicability.

Motion gaming has also found continued existence within gaming (and tech’s) newest obsession: Virtual reality. Currently the nexus for breakthrough consumer tech and games, filmmaking, medical therapy, and sex have all seen VR colonization, and Sony gave VR ample time during its presentation. But instead of showing how far along the tech has evolved since its announcement last year, Sony relied on Batman and Star Wars to get Twitter fired up. I’d be lying if I didn’t think using VR to become Batman isn’t a kick ass dream come true, but could this tech be used for something productive besides turning Gotham’s thugs into my punching bag? Say, letting quadriplegics unable to engage even in conventional gaming play some of this fun stuff?

Games do and should take priority at E3. But the industry’s regular lead on breakthrough tech, be it its benefits in therapy to Netflix’s ubiquity, gaming has heavily influenced daily 21st century life. It would be worth a few “shocking” announce trailers to know if our efforts to save virtual worlds will in any way save our real one.

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