I am getting my nails done. I am a big man with shaggy hair and a beard and I am getting my nails done and drinking glass after glass of red wine because Nintendo wants to sell more games and they figure this is the best way to do it. This is my job. Technically. Part of my job. Probably my favourite part.
I am at a free party on the fifth floor of a bar on Regent Street. For all intents and purposes I am a freelance games journalist, and I am meant to be here because it is a Nintendo party and I'm pretty sure there's a Wii U set up in the corner, though I've not seen it yet. I am trying to consume my bodyweight in booze and canapes before a.) the bar stops serving; b.) the last tube home, or c.) I come to my senses and realise what the hell I'm doing on a Wednesday night.
This is a girl's night out – explicitly stated to be so in the press invitation – where Nintendo wants to show girls “that they can be gamers, too.” “Geek C'est Chic” is written on posters all over the place in pink and silver cursive script. There are cocktails and photobooths and Wii Fit boards and nail and make-up stations, and a balcony for smoking which looks down over the glittering lights of Regent Street.
I am palpably not a girl, not even in very bad light, and I've managed to sneak in by occasionally writing a handful of words about games. I am not their target market. But events like this are a big treat for people in my line of work: a chance to break up the solitary life of a writer; meet some other freelancers, and score some free booze.
The people here don't look the sort of people you normally find at games PR events: there are no young journos writing down everything that's happening, for starters. There are no seasoned pros glaring numbly at walls in their standard-fit plaid shirts. There is no token woman with brightly-dyed hair and a wary look on her face. No tired-looking PRs in jackets doing their best to juggle clipboards and walk in two opposing directions at once.
Instead of that, there are women. Multiple women. Perfectly normal-looking women everywhere, talking to each other and doing perfectly normal things. The men, where there are men, are wearing suits which must mean that they have real jobs or they at least think they have real jobs.
There are reps, paid by Nintendo to be impossibly happy and perky throughout. The reps make me feel strangest of all because they are being paid to be enthusiastic; paid to act like they're my friend. It makes me feel grubby just talking to them.
There is a couple on the balcony kissing. At a games event.
I can't quite work out why making out with someone at a games event is so massively strange. Maybe it's a perceived violation of the heavily implied and painstakingly cultivated male homosocial space. Maybe it's because, as a breed, most games journos tend to look like they're at least two cups of coffee behind everyone else in the room. Maybe it's both.
I finish my drink. Someone leaves a full glass of wine next to me. I watch it out of the corner of one eye and after five minutes no-one seems to have interacted with it in any way, so I stare directly forwards and pick it up as though I'm just drinking out of my own glass except my glass is empty and oh gosh this one is full of wine, what are the chances.
“Someone just left this wine here,” I say to the lady painting my nails, and take a mouthful, and immediately wonder why I'd say that but then, hey, wine. She doesn't seem to care much. I don't think I'm the drunkest person she's had to deal with this evening. There are plenty of women hepped up on courtesy cocktails, wine and even beer, dancing in front of the DJ booth. It's only half past nine. On a Wednesday.
There is a Lady Gaga impersonator on the stage in the centre of the room, blasting out songs through the karaoke game Wii SiNG Party. While she looks like Lady Gaga – and come on, it's not hard to look like Lady Gaga once you put on a pair of shades and a dodgy blonde wig – she doesn't sound like Lady Gaga, because Lady Gaga can sing and whatever this woman's doing isn't that.
She's keen. She's mad keen, I'll give her that. Whatever she's doing to the microphone is twisting and breaking the sound, making a fairly expensive PA system sound like a car stereo turned up too loud at the lights. She is punching the microphone into submission with her voice, and she is winning.
Other impersonators include Katy Perry, who is a short girl in an appropriately-daft dress and the sort of long blue wig you rarely see outside of anime conventions, and Freddie Mercury. Freddie Mercury is my favourite because he looks like he's from an alternate universe where Freddie never died, and carried on ageing at a normal rate.
That bloke from T4 is master of ceremonies for the evening. You know the one. Rick something. Big chin. Good hair. Nintendo has cleverly picked the one member of T4 that you wouldn't want to immediately push down a flight of stairs on sight, so good work there.
Nails finished, I walk up to the stage and see that Michael is singing.
Michael was a model who I (and around 15 whooping women) drew on 3DS Plus units running some sort of artist app earlier in the night. Michael stood on stage wearing tiny pink boxer shorts and nothing else and had women (and me) draw crudely-labelled representations of his package because Nintendo wants to sell more games.
(I came third in the drawing contest, which is more a sign of how drunk everyone else must have been rather than any measure of my talent, and how maybe the contest organisers didn't want to directly endorse drawings of his balls. Michael put his shirtless arm around me and the second-place finalist for a picture, and he smelled incredible. I say “Michael, you smell incredible” to him and he laughs like he hears that all the time.)
Unlike Lady Gaga, and in addition to being a male model who's shilling for a games company, Michael can sing very well. I'm in the process of showing off my nails to some women I've never spoken to before, acting as a sort of curiosity in this feminine space, when I say how great Michael sounds.
“Oh God, yeah. He's a ballet dancer too.”
Excellent. I feel the overwhelming urge to hang up my penis and move on with my life without it, and all because MICHAEL exists in the world and there seems to be very little reason for me to do the same.
Then I realise that Michael is a booth babe.*
And this feeling is strange because I have never been in this situation before, where someone gorgeous of my own gender is expressly being paid to market something I care deeply about, and then directly marketing it at me and winking coquettishly while they do it. I don't hate him. I don't hate Nintendo for hiring him.
I hate myself a little for existing near to him, for the fact that any slim chance of me being perceived as good-looking has been drowned out by how much of a fucking dreamboat Michael was. I don't know what to think. I need a cigarette.
“I need your help,” I say to someone smoking out on the balcony, “I can't get my cigarettes out of my pocket because I just got my nails done.” I've never asked for a cigarette off a stranger before, but it works, and we chat. For all the ridiculousness of tonight's events so far, I came to a strange party for women, on my own, and have yet to be bored; Nintendo can definitely put on a show. Or maybe that's the wine talking. It's probably the wine talking. At this stage I am more wine than man.
The party moves in front of the karaoke stage, and I play a game where I go up to the people dancing in front of the stage and ask them if they work for Nintendo. The reps don't pose much of a challenge, dancing their little socks off as though they were being paid to do it, but there are plenty of people not in branded t-shirts, throwing some shapes around.
It turns out most of them work for Nintendo, generally in Marketing or PR. A scattered few don't. Two blokes from Toxic, the kids' mag, are grooving away with a hyper-perky rep. “Come dance with us!” she shouts over the music. “I know all the moves!”
It's at this point I meet a man, and I'm sorry, man that I met, because although we bonded I can't for the life of me remember your name. It was one of those nights. When you're drunk enough to go onstage and sing This Is How You Remind Me by Nickleback through Wii SiNG Party with someone you've never met at a party, full of people you've never met – and will hopefully, now, never see again – names become a formality that you cast aside. Needless baggage.
This is... this is us I think...photographed by someone equally wine-laden, as you can see. I can't really deal with remembering all of what happened right now, without cringing so hard I can't breathe
We sing. “Sing” is a charitable word for what we did. I handle the verses. He does the high bits and the choruses. All the people who were dancing in front of the stage before, even the two drunk guys from Toxic, have left to get drinks. There is me and this man – James, I think? He looked like a James – singing, as eight reps dance for us, in blue t-shirts.
That's who they're dancing for. For us. To sell more games. Michael is dancing to Nickleback sung badly by me, so maybe I'll write something good somewhere important. We sing “Are you HAVING FUN YET?” to the crowd, and he throws the fucking horns.
Oh God, Michael. Michael. I'm so sorry.
Wait, no. No I'm not.
Michael is dancing for me. Not with me; for me. For a second I manage to overwrite the fact that he, that all the other clean-limbed and well-adjusted reps are all being paid; that all this is a marketing exercise; that this is all hollow and meaningless.
Forget that. Forget all of that. I am SINGING and MICHAEL is DANCING. Yes. James puts his arm around me and we hammer out the final chorus with eyes closed and then he looks up at me and I can't be sure if he knows, but he knows. Thank you, Nintendo. Maybe there's hope for this penis yet.
*I can't imagine the sort of noise that Nintendo would have received for having a bloke-themed event where you draw women stood in their underwear on 3DS units, and I don't want to pass judgement on them for what they did. Well, not that one thing, anyway. Everything else is pretty much fair game.
It's not my place to do so, and as far as I'm concerned, the objectification of men is in such trace amounts across society that we shouldn't really have to give a shit about it. I can say that fifteen men drawing an undressed woman at a party would be a very, very different vibe and not one I'd rush to participate in.
Grant Howitt writes the Look, Robot gaming blog, and pens pieces for The Guardian, FHM, Videogamer and PSM3, in addition to having published a book, and running live-action Zombie LARP, and Serious Business games. Follow him on Twitter here.
Grant previously wrote about attending the Panasonic Toughpad conference, hungover and scared.
Image credits: Lead photo, Nintendo's photographer. Remaining photos: Kat Hannaford; Grant Howitt; Nintendo's photographer; Kat Hannaford; Grant Howitt; Grant Howitt; unnamed drunken party-goer.