Brainy Gamer Podcast - Episode 29
Deep Fantasy

Keynote rhetoric


Things that are true and things that are better are, by their nature, always easier to prove and easier to believe in. --Aristotle, Philosopher

What you just saw is another leap forward to the future of entertainment. --Jack Tretton, President of Sony Computer Entertainment of America

If you care about words and how people use them, an E3 keynote will fill your plate. Part sales-pitch, part corporate flag-waving, a typical Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo keynote is a thrill-ride of cheery self-assessment, brash claims, quixotic speculation, and big promises. Stir in a strong dose of visual pageantry, and you've got an event crafted for maximum persuasive impact.

If you listen carefully to the Microsoft and Sony press conferences (I'm ignoring Nintendo's for the moment because I haven't finished watching it), you'll see our old friend Aristotle's modes of persuasion - Ethos, Pathos, and Logos - all present and accounted for. They are not, however, equal partners.

Ethos, a speaker's authority or qualifications to speak on a subject, is generally dispatched easily in E3 keynotes, with designers like Cliff Bleszinski, Hideo Kojima, and the Media Molecule gang presenting their latest creations. On the other hand, designers with a reputation for, shall we say, gilding the lilly may struggle to convey Ethos. I found Peter Molyneux's appearance this year especially notable in this regard, as he was uncharacteristically pithy and restrained in his presentation of Fable 3, perhaps in an effort to repair a damaged Ethos.

Keynote hosts Jack Tretton (Sony) and Don Mattrick (Microsoft) attempted to generate Ethos with a mix of geniality and corporate buzz-speak: "With the PS3, the living room is no longer a physical place, it's a concept." Neither executive fully succeeded because their remarks were so tightly scripted (and their eyes so firmly fixed on teleprompters), that both seemed imprisoned by the event. They possess Ethos because they're powerful industry players, but it's a thin coat at best.

Pathos, an appeal to the audience's emotions or loyalties, is a go-to device at E3. Whenever you hear stirring music accompany a trailer, see a virtual camera fetishistically gliding down the blade of a sword, or spot Kevin Butler shouting "We all serve one master! One King! And his name is Gaming! FOREVER MAY HE REIGN!!!" (met by thunderous cheers) - you're in the emotional domain of Pathos...or maybe in this case faux Pathos. Surprises, like Gabe Newell's sudden appearance announcing Portal 2 for PS3, or Miyamoto springing from behind a screen, are always good for a Pathos boost as well. 

Suits like Kaz Hirai (Sony) and Phil Spencer (Microsoft) fare less well at E3, and that's because they struggle to convey Ethos or Pathos. Vice President of X means nothing to this crowd, and these guys' marketing-mantra personas don't generate much traction in the Pathos department either. But if these two struggle to deliver Ethos and Pathos, they fall down even harder when it comes to bringing the Logos.

Logos is the logical argument. It's the claim supported by facts and data. At E3, Logos is the rabbit in the magician's hat. You see the rabbit appear, but when you take a closer look at the hat, the rabbit's gone. The magician wants you to believe his story, but you know he can't be trusted.

At E3, preposterous statements are presented as self-evident observations. They arrive in a steady pre-scripted stream and, after awhile, begin to sound almost plausible. The skillful huckster knows he can dodge the Logos bullet if he can persuade you to accept his version of reality - and E3 is nothing if not an exhilarating reality distortion field that sucks in all who draw near. 

An E3 keynote is rhetorical cheesecloth, but if you approach it in the right spirit, it's also a lot fun. We know the score. These companies want to sell us stuff, and that's what E3 is all about. Loading up the Ethos/Pathos (and distracting us from applying Logos) has always been an effective marketing strategy. Stir in a little brand loyalty, group-think, and techno-lust, and we're ripe for the picking.

So, in the spirit of fun, but also to shine a little Logos light, here's a categorized compendium of quotes from the Sony and Microsoft E3 2010 press conferences. Enjoy your journey into the future of gaming.

Blue = Microsoft
Red = Sony

Changing the Industry, Changing the World

  • This is a year of transformation. We're transforming the way you play games; transforming the way you enjoy entertainment; and transforming the way you connect to friends and family.
  • ...Dazzling and transformative.
  • As the new decade begins, we are transforming our industry.
  • In the next year, Sony will take its innovation and its content to a whole new level.
  • Nearly a decade ago, one game changed everything. It transcended video games to define a generation of entertainment, and it became a cultural phenomenon. A new chapter of this amazing story is about to be told.
  • PS3 is defining the leading edge of technology. The platform that does everything now does even more.
  • Kinect will completely redefine the kart racing genre.
  • What Avatar did for 3D movies, Killzone 3 will do for 3D games.
  • Xbox Live has changed the way the world plays video games. 

Changing Your Life

  • If you love entertainment, Xbox Live will change the way you watch movies, listen to music, and connect with friends.
  • Another breakthrough. A new product that won't just allow consumers to enjoy the game or be surrounded by the game, but literally to move into the game.
  • Your Shape is a game that will transform forever the way we think about fitness in the living room.
  • Last year we made a promise that Kinect on Xbox would revolutionize the way you have fun. Today we deliver on that promise.
  • It is the closest thing you will ever experience to being physically inside a game itself.
  • When you combine the power of the Xbox 360, the services of Xbox Live, and the magic of Kinect, the result is a revolution, not just for your games, but for all of your entertainment.
  • Playstation Move will revolutionize your sports gaming experience.
  • Transform your living room.

Launching the Future

  • This is your new Xbox 360. Completely redesigned for the future of entertainment. 
  • We are launching a whole new era of entertainment. A new vision for home entertainment. We'd like to share our vision of the future.
  • Ladies and gentlemen, the new era of entertainment has begun.
  • Future-proof and constantly evolving. We're living that vision. 
  • We're delivering the future of entertainment today for every member of the household.
  • A future unlike any in the previous 15 years. 
  • Welcome to the future of racing.
  • It's not just the future of entertainment; it's a future that Sony will lead. 

The New New

  • The most capable and connected platform on the planet.
  • Kinect for Xbox 360. It is unlike anything you've ever experienced before.
  • Playstation Move is unlike anything you've ever seen before.
  • With technology like this, there are no barriers and no learning curves.
  • We've built an ecosystem.

Random philosophy

  • We believe interactive entertainment is the greatest form of all entertainment, and it should be open and approachable to everyone.
  • Playstation Move is not only crazy precise, it's also got what we in the future call "buttons." - which turn out to be pretty important to those handful of millions of people who enjoy playing shooters, platformers, or...well, anything that doesn't involve catching a big red ball. (Kevin Butler)
  • We believe fun is the universal magnet that binds us together.