The thing that Ruby didn’t expect was the smell of plastic. It was almost like the new car smell that some dealerships apparently spray into cars that have been sitting in a shipping container for weeks, but it had a bit more of a toy shop ambience to it. Of course, the hint of new car smell was presumably there to remind people that videogames were not just for kids these days. Ruby tried not to laugh.
Around her, a hundred screens flashed and a thousand sound effects clamoured for attention. Unlike the news desk photos from Tokyo and Los Angeles, at least the crowds didn’t seem to be too dense here in London. And, with the press lanyard around her neck, she wondered if she’d get the first go on some of the new games. Although, of course, with bag upon bag of promotional loot in her arms, she probably just looked like any other tourist.
If she hadn’t been so heavily-laden with gaudily-labelled bags, she’d have probably checked her watch. Instead, she scanned the magnolia walls of the giant hall for a clock. There was something on the telly a couple of weeks ago about how casinos in Las Vegas never include clocks. How gamblers gamble more if they lose track of time. Still, she thought, this is a conference centre, it’ll have a clock. And it did.
To her delight, it was only five past ten. Still, it was worth starting with something in case the queues got too long later in the day. She scanned the hall for the least crowded stall. Her eyes settled on one with bright blue banners. Of course! The Playstation 2. Every gamer that was anyone had already bought an import or at least read a million magazine features about it already. Including, no doubt, a couple that she’d written.
Swinging the loot bags slightly, Ruby strode over to the stall. And, there it was! To say that seeing something that had been lying around the magazine office for the past three weeks being displayed in a glass case on a pedestal, like it was a bronze age Celtic torc, felt surreal would be an understatement. But, as a cheerful twentysomething woman in a blue T-shirt approached her, Ruby made herself smile.
‘Oh, you must be here for the feature.‘ She flashed Ruby a perfect grin. ‘I thought that there would be a photographer with you or something.‘
‘The team’s stuck in traffic. They said they’d be here by twelve.‘ Ruby said. ‘I don’t suppose there’s any new details about the console?‘
The woman in the blue T-shirt shrugged and said ‘I can’t tell you anything you probably don’t know already. You did get our press kits, right?‘
Although she nodded and kept smiling, Ruby seethed with jealousy as she remembered that Stevens, Grigg and Booth had won the draw for the tickets to LA. If there were going to be any major announcements, they’d happen there.
After a couple of polite goodbyes, Ruby found herself in the middle of the floor again. She thought about climbing the metal stairs and looking out over the balcony. But, without a camera, the spectacular view would just be a waste of time. Even so, she thought, it must look like a little city – with lots of little streets and avenues. Placing the bag in her left hand on the clean blue carpet, she fumbled for her lanyard.
If this was a game, she’d have just pressed a button and a map would have popped up in front of her eyes. But, she actually had to turn the shiny lanyard over and squint against the glare from the strip lights above. On the tiny map, all of the major developers seemed to be there. But her eyes were drawn to a small square in the corner marked “Over 18s Only”
She couldn’t resist a grin. This would make for an interesting featurette. As she picked up the bag and began to make her way through a narrow alleyway of Sega Dreamcast game stalls, she wondered whether to go for a salaciously lurid angle or one of pious moral condemnation. Whatever she chose, the editor would probably insist on adding some immature humour to the article. Although videogames were emphatically not just for kids these days, most of the readership hadn’t got the message.
When she saw the dark canvas walls, the bright red age limit sign and the bald bouncer, another grin crossed her face. However she wrote about it, it was certainly going to be an article that people would notice. Without a flicker of emotion, the bouncer stepped aside and gestured towards the entrance. Taking a deep breath, she stepped inside.
As a loud roar filled the air, a cloud of red pixels sprayed across a video screen and a gravelly voice shouted : “The Chainsawing! The game they tried to ban! Out in June!“, Ruby felt the first twinge of disappointment.
Her eyes flitted to a nearby demo console, which showed a controversial musician standing behind the main menu and raising his middle finger at the player. On another screen, a grim-looking man in an army jacket bludgeoned a ferocious mutant creature to death with a lead pipe.
Ruby let out a groan. So much for games being not just for kids these days!