CNE Gaming Garage: Opening The Doors To Gaming For A New Audience
The Canadian National Exhibition began on August 16th. As the warm, summer months slowly come to an end, folks from all over Ontario gather to the CNE to get their fix of exhilaration on the numerous rides and indulge in the many delicious treats found in the Food Hall.
While the amusement rides and fair games are had by all, the opening weekend was also home to the CNE Gaming Garage powered by AMD. This three-day event, held in the Coca-Cola Coliseum was a bit of an anomaly. Opposed to the classic games of ring-toss found on the CNE grounds, the CNE Gaming Garage showcased the latest in PC and console gaming for attendees.
This is the third year the CNE held the Gaming Garage event and the second of which AMD played a major sponsorship role. From August 16th-19th, attendees could make their way into the Gaming Garage to get their hands on the latest PC innovations, attend panels, and more. I was able to attend the Gaming Garage event, and what I found was how essential having accessible gaming events are for the uninitiated.
AMD had a major presence throughout the show floor. Demonstrating the abilities and innovations by way of their Radeon graphics cards. As soon as you walked in, AMD has a large booth which showcased the lineage of PC and history AMD has had in the space. Within the booth, playable games were available for all attendees.
For the first time in Canada, The Coalition’s Gears 5 was playable on PC for an open audience. Weeks ahead of launch, the CNE Gaming Garage gave attendees the opportunity to get their hands on the new Escape Mode, which is featured prominently on the new Xbox title. I was scoping out the booth when another attendee walked by the Gears 5 demo and sat down to play. Seeing as how Escape Mode is an extensive cooperative experience, I quickly sat down to join him.
The demo itself couldn’t have lasted more than 15 minutes. We exchanged pleasantries during the opening moments while running around the Escape Mode map. Seeing how he beelined his way to the PC, I was convinced he was a big fan of Gears of War and couldn't wait to try it out. In fact, it was quite the opposite. He had never played a Gears of War game. During this time, he told me that he was not an avid gamer, having only a Macbook at home. He even laughed as he glanced over at the Skyrim demo, saying how he’s never even played The Elder Scrolls V.
This experience was in complete contrast to what I expected when I sat down. He told me that he had walked into the Gaming Garage on a whim, not having any invested interest in games, but was having a blast as we tried to outrun the approaching in-game gas. He lit up as we charged into a room, full of the Swarm. Having a deep familiarity with the series, aside from Gears 5, I helped him track down ammo, explained Active Reloads, etc. Although it seemed very unlikely that he would go off an invest in a PC and console to pick up Gears 5, he seemed genuinely invested in hearing about the mechanics.
Before we knew it, the Escape Mode demo had ended, we shook hands and parted ways. For me, this was just another mark in the roadmap, generating excitement in the lead up to Gears 5. For him, this may have been an introduction to a game he otherwise never would have experienced had the CNE not organized a gaming-centric event.
This point was made across the board as wandering families found their way into the Gaming Garage throughout the weekend. I had witnessed many occasions where parents were coaxed into trying on a VR headset and getting in a round of Beat Games’ Beat Sabre. The CNE Gaming Garage had turned into an educational event. Additionally, the Gaming Garage offered a wide array of arcade cabinets and pinball machines. I was astounded by the selection. The Simpsons, The Real Ghostbusters, Ms. Pac-Man, they were all there. In contrast to the VR activations, the arcade cabinets provided a way for the older generation to give the newer generation a taste of what it was like to run to the arcade, quarters in hand.
Something like this doesn’t happen every day. The gaming industry in Ontario, and specifically Toronto, does not regularly receive opportunities to engage with those outside of the enthusiast audience. Toronto is home to gaming conventions such as Fan Expo Canada, EGLX. The difference between those and the CNE Gaming Garage is that those attending Fan Expo or EGLX usually have some sort of familiarity with games and nerd culture. The CNE is a welcoming space for young and old. For a parent, it’s a chance to share those memories and impart them to their child. The CNE Gaming Garage provided an opportunity for the younger generation to expose their interests and new technology to their parents.
Kinda Funny held a number of panels throughout the three-day event. During Greg Miller’s panel with Drinkbox Studios, you could hear murmurs from the audience getting those around them up to speed. Miller’s panel, titled: "Drinkbox: Toronto's Indie Success" had obviously brought Kinda Funny fans out in droves but there were also a few wandering families and couples that dropped in out of curiosity. They might not have ever heard about Severed before, or about how great Guacamelee! 2 is. However, the open panel provided some insight into how a talented development studio lives in their backyard in downtown Toronto.
Sure, the CNE Gaming Garage isn’t going to blow the doors open on Cyberpunk 2077, inviting CD Projekt Red in to explore the game’s deep RPG system, nor should it. This type of event is best suited for casually bringing in a new audience and providing a space for established enthusiasts to check out some cool technology.
The CNE Gaming Garage is still in its infancy. I hope AMD and the folks behind the CNE understand how important this event is to Toronto and the gaming industry. Personally, I would love to see it thrive and continue to grow. Provided the event receives positive reception, I could see it continue for years to come. Besides, there aren’t too many events that offer games to experience and Pickle Pizza to eat!