The best thing about the SpikeTV Video Game Awards show was that it was "only" two hours long. And that's really sad. Now that the business side of gaming has gained some attention, the next hurdle the gaming industry should be attempting to clear is an artistic one: games will never be seen as equals to movies or television if they and the culture that surrounds them are represented the way they were last night. The industry can do better. Read on for my reaction to last night's train wreck of an awards show.The concept of an awards show for video games probably strikes some people as counterintuitive. While movies and television are investments of a handful of hours on the viewer's part, even the shortest story-based games take ten hours or more to complete. The personal nature of the video gaming experience means that gaming is a highly subjective genre of entertainment. Even more so than for movies and television, people have very specific gaming preferences. Attempting to quantify that experience across the board may seem like a bad idea at the outset.
That said, I think that an awards show is a good idea for the industry. At the very least, having an awards show with some gravitas would be a great way to put a public stamp of approval on the hard work that development houses put into their games. Games and movies can both take years to make, with certain games having development cycles longer than the lifespan of the average household pet. That kind of commitment by the artists, developers, designers, and producers should be rewarded in some way. If a game is good, I'm sure the big fat checks they get are plenty of reward. There's still something at work in an awards show, though. I bet if you asked a big name actor who's has been in a financially successful film and also won an award which he remembered more you're going to get "the awards ceremony" as an answer every time.
If an awards show in general is a good idea, I believe the debacle that SpikeTV broadcast last night was actually counter-productive for the gaming industry. As far as I could tell, the show had little to do with games, and everything to do with advertising. "Most Addictive Game Fueled by Mountain Dew"? Come on! If the Oscars had categories like "Best Comedy driven by Ford" or "Best Female in a Leading Role with makeup by Revlon" would you take them seriously? The night was a never-ending cascade of scantily clad women, rap, "extreme" stuff, rap, people who had nothing to do with games, and rap.
It's very interesting to me that, at least in my time zone, just after the awards show ended an episode of X-Play that I really wanted to see came on. Aside from the fact that the X-Play folks are (refreshingly) actual gamers, this particular episode had a piece with Morgan Webb covering the Child's Play charity auction from last week. Seeing Gabe and Tycho in tuxedos was excellent in and of itself. Above and beyond that, the disparity between the crass tenor of the awards show and the tone of the charity auction was striking. From what little I saw of the auction, it didn't seem somber at all. Jokes were cracked and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The difference is that the audience and organizers were there to celebrate games and children in a respectful manner.
And that, for me, is the biggest complaint I have about the awards last night. The show showed absolutely no respect to the games themselves. From the Video Game Ombudsman's commentary: "A selection of graphics adjectives used on the show - "slammin'," "great," "amazing," "hot visually," "so sick." That kind of shallow analysis is why games aren't art in the minds of a lot of people. Katamari Damacy is a very worthwhile game, but graphics and the "slammin-ness" of the game have nothing to do with that. Katamari is a good game because of a great (and simple) design, a development team that purposely looked for a unique style of gameplay, and a quirky and original soundtrack. I want an awards show that actually says things like that.
It could be great, too! The Oscars have a board that votes on the movies, and the Academy members are made of folks from the movie industry. I say the same style would be a useful format for games with some slight changes. The Oscars send around DVDs of all the nominee films to the Academy. Forcing a large group of people to play the number of games that would be required would be just cruel. That would mean hundreds of hours of gameplay just to be qualified to vote. It would be a much better idea to split up the field into bodies of relevant people. Have thirty or so folks involved in the RTS genre, say, from developers to producers to fan site owners review a set of five or six games and then vote accordingly. Have a Media Choice Award where game review organs like Gamespot, Game Informer, and X-Play, who have presumably played most of the field, can have their say. Have voting for the Game of the Year award be an industry-wide event, with everyone from an EA developer to a Sony Online Customer Service Rep to an IGDA member having a chance to say their piece. Voting via website is fine if you're taking a Slashdot poll -- making a representative, evaluative statement about a field of entertainment for an entire year should be slightly more involved.
I have enough problems in my day without having to explain to my family why a show honoring the entertainment I love is populated mostly by underdressed women in angel costumes. Once a year, wouldn't it be nice to put the scruffy, anti-social gamer stereotype behind us? To sit down and watch some very intelligent people in tuxedos and gowns get their due for providing us so much entertainment? Seriously, wouldn't it be great to see John Carmack present an award? Or get to listen to a Wil Wright acceptance speech? A gaming awards show taken seriously would be a sight to see. Even if that never happens, please -- enough with the Spike-style awards shows.