The Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3, because I’m not typing that every time) is the busiest week of the year for game industry people. I spent a lot of it not playing games or networking with my peers, but acting as a mole for an online cabal of conspiracy theorists convinced there are secrets hidden in Resident Evil 7’s brief but intriguing demo.

From an outsider’s perspective, E3 is a neon carnival of candy-coated excitement, where free promotional materials are doled out and worn like badges of honor. For games writers and exhibitors, it’s perhaps the most exhausting week of the year. It’s fun in the way that Disneyland is fun: a constant barrage on all senses that’s difficult to enjoy when your feet are screaming from overuse. And there aren’t many people who want to go to Disneyland for three days straight.

I’ve yet to become jaded by the event like many of my colleagues. So many of us in this industry are spread out across the world, feeling insignificant and unattached. When we’re suddenly clumped together in a single city and Twitter Acquaintances can become Real Friends, we understandably go a little nuts. We take advantage of open bars and stay awake until 4 in the morning, acutely aware that we need to be ready for the next day of the show in a few short hours. We rise feeling our heartbeats in our eyeballs and hurry to the convention center with sore feet, but a satisfaction comes with knowing we’ve extended our web and built foundations to selfishly secure a more promising future.

Keep the above sappy shit in mind while I tell you about Resident Evil 7. After Capcom announced the next iteration of its horror/action series during Sony’s Press Conference, I was hyperventilating with anticipation for my chance to see it on the show floor. I’ve been a fan of the series since its nascency, and over the years I’ve watched it go from terrifying (the first Resident Evil) to great action (the beloved Resident Evil 4) to too much action (the not-much-liked-at-all Resident Evil 6).

I had anticipated a reveal of a sequel, but never expected it to be played through the eyes of the main character—a first for the series. And for it to support PlayStation VR—Sony’s virtual reality headset for the PlayStation 4? I was beyond stoked to go to the faux-derelict house Capcom had built in the Los Angeles Convention Center and try it out.

The theatrical set dressing helped me disassociate from the crowded hall I was in. Fake gossamer strands swayed lazily from dusty ceiling fans over each demo unit. Beneath the television that I’d be playing Resident Evil 7 on, there were video tapes, which I’d soon find to be relevant to the content of the new game. There were also Jolly Ranchers, which struck me as an odd choice, but Blue Raspberry is my shit so I popped one in my mouth as a Capcom rep affixed the VR unit onto my face.

I felt like a secret agent with ridiculous intentions

For twenty blessed minutes, I was in a decrepit house in the rural American South, convinced that I could almost smell the decay of both rotting wood and flesh. There were no grandiose action set pieces, no ammo inexplicably falling out of fresh corpses; it was just me, a house, and something lurking in the shadows. I’m usually immune to jump scares on account of having built real-life Halloween haunted houses and mazes in the past, but the immersive quality of VR bypassed my defenses. The ending was abrupt, and I was disappointed that I didn’t see any kind of monster, but I was still excited about the future of Resident Evil.

And then I found out I’d missed almost everything in the demo.

I’d hardly spent any time on the abandoned house’s upper floor, and missed a secret staircase that led even higher. I somehow walked right past multiple locked drawers. I didn’t realize that you could find an axe to destroy various objects in the house. There was an item that I had found but quickly dismissed: a mannequin’s amputated finger with no obvious use. Most vexing is that I somehow never saw a ghost that appears seven different times.

I instantly became obsessed with learning as much as I possibly could about Capcom’s cryptic puzzle box. Players at home were able to download the same demo that I had played (sans PlayStation VR, which isn’t out yet) and had been investigating every corner, every item, every texture, hoping for clues that would give them something—anything.

I went back to my Airbnb that night around 7 p.m., already considering staying in for the night since I wanted to catch up on work for the week while various previews were still fresh in my mind. As my friends and colleagues showered up, changed into nicer clothes, and prepared themselves to go network and have a great night, I changed into gym shorts and a tanktop, grabbed a beer, and propped myself up on a half-inflated air mattress.

I powered through those previews, my curiosity a chariot dragging me through work faster than I thought possible. Within a few minutes of sleuthing (Googling), I found a Discord chat forum that was dedicated to unraveling Resident Evil 7’s riddles. I joined, mouth agape at what the internet-at-large had already discovered: the ghost, small mysterious bits of sound, and multiple endings. I felt powerless not having a PlayStation 4 with me, since I couldn’t contribute to something that fascinated me so much.

Then I realized that I had something that most people in the discussion did not: access to E3. More specifically, I could grill Capcom reps for information. I offered this to the chat, and we quickly came up with questions we thought would further our aims. I was the inside man. The forum welcomed me to “the family” (the demo ends with your character being knocked out as a man says “Welcome to the family, son” and this quickly became our group’s name).

Forget the dummy finger. Give them YOUR finger!

I felt pangs of guilt when I checked social media and saw that people I cared about or respected from afar were all less than a mile from me, learning more about one another, fostering new relationships or solidifying pre-existing ones. There were a few times when I got up to start changing into nicer clothes so I could head to the nearby meetup spots, but each time, a notification with a newfound Resident Evil clue would pop up and I’d get sucked back in.

I eventually accepted it and realized this was also providing much needed rest. That acceptance didn’t make it any less weird when my colleagues returned at 3 in the morning, convivial and drunk, and I was still in that same spot on the air mattress.

Part of me wishes that I could wrap this up by saying that I was instrumental in unearthing some sort of secret. Over the following two days of E3, I tracked down Capcom reps and asked bizarre questions like “Is there an actual use for the dummy finger?!” and “Is there a way to escape the house without getting punched?” I was met with laughter, deflections and comments like “It’s better if you find out on your own.”

Our cadre of Internet detectives wanted to make sure that I wasn’t talking out of my ass, pretending to be a games writer at E3 for some sort of imaginary internet points. I backed away from the Capcom rep and discreetly took a picture of their uniform in such a way as not to show their name (didn’t want to get anyone in trouble over something so harmless). In that moment, I felt like a secret agent with ridiculous intentions and probably looked insanely smug with my ear-to-ear grin.

The non-answers I received weren’t satisfying to those at home hoping I’d be able to unearth even the smallest clue. When they realized that I was going to get typical PR responses, they told me to step up my game.

“Forget the dummy finger. Give them YOUR finger!” “If they won’t budge, maybe offer them sexual favors? We need to know! Do it for the family, Zack!” I kept all my various appendages to myself, and walked away defeated, but thrilled nonetheless. The forumgoers were desperate, just wanting to know if there was anything else they hadn’t found. Some online personalities had already been playing and searching for dozens of hours to no avail. I wanted to give them something, but all I got from the rep was “There are things you haven’t seen yet,” which was either a lie to keep people going, PR speak for “I have no idea,” or the honest truth.

I didn’t really expect to get much from them since the decision to reveal (or not reveal) secrets is obviously made much higher up, but it still provided me a role in the Resident Evil 7’s mysteries. While I’d missed out on a night of meeting potential associates and friends, I still had the chance to be part of something bigger than myself. That’s a weird way for RE 7 to become my personal game of the show, but hey, now I’m super into whatever Capcom is going to do with this game.

We still don’t know what the fuck the dummy finger is for, though.

Zack Furniss can usually be found at Destructoid, where he writes primarily about horror games and geeks out about Dungeons & Dragons. When he’s not writing, he’s remodeling homes. You can call him a Zack-of-all-trades, but he’ll probably roll his eyes. Follow him on Twitter @zackfurniss.

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