Listen, I’m not here to bash on anyone’s favorite pastime or anything like that, but I have to confess: awards shows have absolutely zero appeal to me.
I can see why they would be interesting. If you’re a film or fashion aficionado, there’s a lot for you to see at say, the Oscars or the Golden Globes. The Tony Awards and the Grammys often feature performances from nominees or the big artists of the year. Beyond that, I think anyone who follows these awards shows would argue that they are meant to celebrate the accomplishments made in a particular industry, whether that be film, television, music, or theatre.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that our culture can come together to celebrate creative projects. In a society that increasingly emphasizes STEM fields at the expense of the arts and humanities, it’s nice to know that there are still people who appreciate things like this.
The struggle I often have – and this is not an original criticism in the slightest – is that these award shows tend to focus on a specific subset of people within a very broad industry. Awards often go to the productions with the biggest budgets, or the actors with the most recognized names, the shows that were hyped up by audiences and critics alike. To be blunt, I couldn’t care less about seeing an actor/actress who makes more money in a year than I will ever make in my life win an award.
That’s the kind of mentality I had when I first started following The Game Awards about a year ago. As the name implies, it is an award show for video games. Aside from being an industry that I care more about and follow more closely, I think there’s something that really sets The Game Awards apart from its more well-known counterparts. Having just watched the 2019 show a few days ago, I thought I’d take a look at what makes The Game Awards work well.
For starters, the atmosphere is totally different. In fact, the way I can best describe it is “bizarre.” I don’t think there’s any other show where you’ll see Muppets giving out awards or a Green Day concert promoting their new Beat Saber DLC. The weirdness definitely leads to some cringeworthy moments, but I think it also captures gaming culture in the only way possible.
On a more serious note though, The Game Awards is meant to be a celebration and recognition of video games as entertainment and as art. This could be argued for any awards show, but TGA accomplishes it well by not solely focusing on the blockbuster games of the year. Indie games are given their own category, of course, but they are not excluded from broader awards either, like Game Of The Year.
In 2018, indie game Celeste was nominated for GOTY alongside highly acclaimed AAA games like God of War, Red Dead Redemption II, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. While the award went to God of War, the message was clear: a game made by a handful of people is just as valuable as a game made by hundreds. Developers new to the scene are given huge opportunities too, like ZA/UM’s game Disco Elysium that took home four awards in 2019, including Best Narrative and Best RPG.
Reggie Fils-Aimé, former president of Nintendo of America, summed it up well this year in his presentation of the Fresh Indie Game Award. He argued that this was the most important award of the night, because everyone who has made a video game, even industry titans like Shigeru Miyamoto and the late Satoru Iwata, began as “dreamers.” Reggie said, “In this category, you can look forward. If you want to see the incubator where future game greatness is evolving, it resides right here…”
One of my favorite moments every year is the presentation of the Games for Impact Award, which is for “a thought-provoking game with a pro-social meaning or message” according to The Game Awards website. These games often explore social issues, like mental health or the environment. I always love this category because it shows how video games can go beyond being entertainment, but also be used as a force for good in the world. They make us think about things that we might not encounter in our own daily lives, and they help us to become more empathetic and conscious people. If you have a box of tissues nearby, here’s my favorite Games for Impact moment from a few years ago.
Although it’s only been a few days since the 2019 awards aired, I’ve already seen some criticism of the show. It seemed like this year, a lot of people felt like The Game Awards were becoming a lot more like a stereotypical awards show, filled with ads and cheap gimmicks. I don’t want to throw the whole show under the bus, but I can see why people are concerned. It’s starting to feel like we’re drifting away from celebrating games and gamemakers.
Unlike the film or music industries, we often don’t know the faces or even the names behind our favorite games. Even developers who take on a more extroverted role in the industry don’t typically get the same recognition as movie stars, directors, and musicians. A lot of their work is behind the scenes, the TGA is an opportunity to bring their efforts into the spotlight. I still think about the acceptance speeches for Celeste and God of War in 2018, where entire teams of people were recognized for their work in creating an amazing game.
There are some categories that get rushed through quickly in order to get to the next big announcement or award. In doing so, I think we sometimes push games to the wayside. I get that not everyone can be present for The Game Awards, since these people come from all over the world, but for those who can attend, I wish we would get to see their faces more. I wish we would rely less on publicity stunts like having Fast & Furious cast members announce Game of the Year (and pronounce the name of the game wrong).
The Game Awards started as a way of celebrating games and gamer culture. I think everyone who puts this show together is still striving to do just that. Yes, there have been some missteps along the way and plenty of cringey moments, but there are also really exciting and heartfelt ones. The Game Awards are still in their infancy compared to other awards shows – they’re still figuring themselves out. I hope that in the years to come, they continue to shine a light on gaming and treat it as the art form it is. The Game Awards brings people from all walks of life together to celebrate something we have in common, and it always reminds me of why I love video games.