It’s that time of year again; the triple A games have all come out, hyper-consumerism sets in and Geoff Keighley hosts The Game Awards. The Game Awards are supposed to be a celebration of the industry, the artists that put their time and energy into their creations, and of course the gamers that pour their passion into the hobby. Whether its the panel chosen awards like best action adventure or the community driven awards like e-sports team of the year, it’s meant to honor these things. However what I saw this year were awards given out in the pre-show or off camera, musical acts that had nothing to do with gaming and bad promotional spots for non-gaming products. This leaves me with one clear question: Can The Game Awards be fixed?
The first thing to look at is the celebration of the industry, should we even celebrate the industry? Because it has become an industry, a multi-billion dollar a year behemoth. Like other things that become industries they become risk averse, 2016 was a good year for gaming, however it was a year that was marred by sequels, remakes or remasters. Whether Watch Dogs 2, Doom, Skyrim Special Edition or this year’s sports games, 2016 was another check box for the industry. Look at the big names EA, Activision and Ubisoft; all companies run by boards. Run by people that aren’t artists and programmers, they don’t make anything. Risks are expensive, sometimes yes they don’t pay off. However for art to survive there have to be risks. While expensive risks are also innovative, they shake things up and get people to look at things from another perspective.
The next issue are the awards themselves, a majority of them were given out during the pre-show or off camera, merely being announced by Geoff Keighley. Maybe if there isn’t enough time to give out every award during the show’s runtime either reduce the number of categories to something that is within reason or devote less time to trailers, vertical slices of gameplay and ads. Hell the best RPG category featured two expansions in a year where Tyranny, Banner Saga 2, I Am Setsuna, Darkest Dungeon and Hyper Light Drifter released we saw Witcher 3 Blood and Win win best RPG. I love the Witcher 3, its a great game, however expansions have no place in a best RPG category. They could have done better. The Game Awards also conflated Best Game Direction with Best Creative Direction, with a category about innovative direction we had nominated four shooters, one of which being a reboot of Doom and Uncharted 4. The winner was Blizzard for Overwatch, now I really like Overwatch, its colorful, its fun but its not innovative. Its Team Fortress: The Next Generation. Like most of Blizzard’s games from the last two decades they took a proven concept and iterated, not innovated.
There were few categories where I felt they earned their awards, by far I felt the most deserving was That Dragon, Cancer which won Games for Impact. You could see the pain in that man’s eyes as he gave thanks to the people that supported him and the community that allowed his vision to be shared. That was not an easy game to make, that was not an easy moment for him. Yet to see the award given out, to see how it was handled was misguided. You have two presenters putting on big smiles and happily shouting “the winner is That Dragon, Cancer”, then after a heartfelt speech play him off with some shitty EDM and cut to an ad.
The musical performances were entirely unnecessary, some of them as pointed out numerously from other sources weren’t even live. In the case of Rae Sremmurd the drummer was wailing away during a song that featured limited drumming. They faked the playing and cut the mics/amps for the instruments. It was a show and it was embarassing. If they must have musical performances, why not show the games some respect. Bring in an orchestra and play pieces from games that released this year, the score for Gears of War 4 was good, why not play that live? Let people experience the music as it was created by the composer. If you cannot do that then at least bring in acts tangentially associated with gaming, have Little V Mills or FamilyJules7x come out and play some of their medleys or covers. A couple of years ago it was Odd Future, last year it was Chvrches, and this year it was Rae Sremmurd and Run the Jewels. Way to prove how cool you are, we know these kids like the synth pop and hip hop. What about the gamers that like metal, rock, jazz or any other genre? Our tastes in music are as diverse as our tastes in games.
Though my biggest issue with The Game Awards had to be the promotional spots. Commercials for razors were the big thing this year. The impression was that the sole purpose of the show was to elevate games and gaming. To celebrate how important games are as an art form. They want it to be the equivalent to the Oscars or the Emmys. Yet in the middle of those awards you would see commercial breaks, but you wouldn’t see a random product placement in the middle of the show the way we saw the Schick Razor commercial. Yet again product placement could have been Razer, Corsair, Logitech, Microsoft, Sony or any company that makes things gamers use whether its parts for their pc or consoles to put under their TV.
Ultimately gamers deserve better and the artists deserve better. Games are art and as art they deserve respect. Games are in museums now, they have become one of the most profitable forms of entertainment in existence. We deserve better, what remains to be seen is can The Game Awards do that? They promised to be different than the Spike Game Awards, better than the travesty that was the VGX. So far there have been glimpses of that, but nothing solid to go on.