The Greatest Show On Earth: A Day With Geoff Keighley
I arrive at the cafe at exactly 9AM, following the instructions on the run-sheet Keighley has printed out and sent to me several weeks in advance. The cafe he has chosen adjoins a local Gamestop, which is just now opening its doors for the day’s trade.
Inside the cafe I find Keighley seated at a table, wearing his trademark suit jacket over a t-shirt. He turns his whole body to face me and smiles. “Hello and welcome,” he says. “I’m Geoff Keighley.”
The former GameTrailers and G4TV host has agreed to allow me to shadow him for a day, observing what makes him tick and reporting on the process behind his new baby, The Game Awards. Before we begin, he insists on making me wear a portable teleprompter screen strapped to my chest, which he fixes into place with deft and practiced hands.
“You must remain facing me at all times,” he warns. “At all times.”
He has already ordered me a coffee, although he won’t tell me what it is. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” he tells me. “I can’t wait to show it to you.”
As we wait for the coffee, Keighley draws my attention to the window of the Gamestop. He points to several unreleased games, whose posters are hanging in the window. “Do you like those ones?” he asks. I nod.
“Could you like them more?” he asks. I nod again. “Good,” he says.
The coffee arrives. Keighley snatches it from the waiter’s hands and inspects it closely, poring over it for flaws. After several minutes he seems satisfied, and holds the coffee for me to smell. I inhale deeply and, pleased by the scent, reach out to grab the cup. As my fingers close around it, Keighley dashes the cup against the ground, spilling coffee everywhere.
“Wow! How about that! Look for more information on that one later,” he says, rising, his face set in a practiced grin. “Let’s see what else we have in store today!”
We leave the cafe and stroll down the street together. I walk backwards, so that Keighley can continue to see the teleprompter as he moves.
“Millions of games are released every single day,” says Keighley intensely. “Millions of them. Maybe more than that. Maybe billions.”
This seems implausible to me, but he continues. “Look at this person right here,” he says, pointing at a random passer-by on the street, who starts walking faster as they catch Keighley’s eye. “I bet they are going to release at least two games today. Now multiply that by the hundreds, thousands of people in this part of town alone.”
“With this kind of output from such a magnificent industry, it is simply impossible for the average consumer to understand which games are the best. That’s why I had to invent the Game Awards – to sort through these trillions of games and bring them to people’s attention.”
Keighley stops for a moment, clearly baffled. I realise that I’ve crossed a pedestrian crossing and a car has come between us, breaking his line of sight to the teleprompter. He spins in circles, as if uncertain of where he is, or how he got there. By the time I make it back through the crowd, he has disappeared.
I catch up with Keighley again at the doors to the Microsoft Theatre. He is opening the doors to the theatre, allowing himself to look inside for thirty seconds, and then closing them again and loudly shouting “Holiday 2019”.
“Ah, there you are,” says Keighley. “I’ve got a real treat for you today.” He opens the theatre door and allows me to look inside. I smile encouragingly and try to enter, but he puts a gentle hand on my wrist and says “Holiday 2019.” We enter by a side entrance instead.
I walk backwards onto the stage to find myself surrounded by a live orchestra, their rehearsal for tomorrow’s awards in full swing. A backup dancer springs athletically past me, full of grace and life, stepping through a routine designed to accompany a performer that the run sheet lists only as “baffled rapper (TBA)”.
Keighley snatches a clipboard from a subordinate and backhands her across the face with it. She sprawls to the floor. “WOODENLY! I said woodenly!” he screams. “If I can see that light in your eyes, then everyone else can!” The dancer whimpers and promises to do better, and Keighley moves on, dropping the clipboard to the floor.
Keighley continues on his tour through the room , like a master watchmaker observing the precise gears of his creation interlocking and turning. Underlings approach him, each of them holding two games and asking him to pick one for the Awards.
He fishes a jeweller’s loupe out of a pocket and squints at the covers. “This one,” he says after a moment’s thought. “That one,” he says to another. They bow and murmur, leaving to continue the preparations.
“Enough!” he shouts suddenly. “Everyone take a break and enjoy your refreshing Glacier Trademark Gamer Iced hydrobeverage and crunchy, low-GI Nutri-Blast Trademark Gamer Granola!” The crowd disperses. The theatre fills with the sound of plastic wrapping.
Keighley signals for me to follow. I make my way in front of him, and then walk backwards out of the theatre, where we get into a car. I ask him what’s wrong. After a few long moments, he reluctantly admits what is eating at him: he accidentally read the back cover of the game case that one of his underlings held out.
“I’ve practically played the whole game now,” he says, clearly disgusted with himself. “I can’t afford these kind of slip-ups.”
Later in the evening, Keighley invites me into his home, an impressive multi-storey piece in a wealthy, leafy suburb. He sinks into a chair, and reaches for a Thirst-Bud™ Gamer Beer from a mini-fridge nearby.
This is a rare, unguarded moment for the games industry’s most popular showman and solitary arbiter of taste. I ask him if he is happy.
“Not at all,” he says, his mouth falling into another practiced smile. “With so many games to analyse, I have no time to feel joy. The last time I felt joy was in the summer of 2015, when I accidentally got locked out of my car at the beach and was forced to witness a beautiful sunset.”
That sounds awful. “It was. I was hospitalised for three weeks. When I woke up I forced the doctors to remove that portion of my brain so it could never happen again. Otherwise I would simply be overcome with joy all the time, due to the magic of games.”
There is a brief silence, during which a shirtless Schick Hydrobot walks past in the hallway, wearing a towel. Keighley exchanges a friendly nod with the creature, before putting on a greatest hits selection of his favourite infomercials for research. “Call now,” he whispers to himself, his lips moving quietly. “Call now.”
I decide that I should take my leave and quietly excuse myself, leaving the portable teleprompter on the couch.
As I open the door to leave, I suddenly feel Keighley’s soft hand gripping the back of my neck tightly. He holds me there for thirty, maybe forty seconds. I stare at the outside world, trying to remember as much as I can, knowing what is about to happen.
“Holiday 2019,” he says in my ear.
The door closes.