The Game Awards are still trying to make video games something they are not

The Game Awards seem to grow every year. The December 10 ceremony hosted by Geoff Keighley was broadcast on 45 different platforms globally. The official YouTube stream alone had over 415,000 concurrent viewers when Keighley announced the winner of the coveted Game of the Year award. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ceremony looked and felt different from previous years, but nonetheless struggled for its usual grandeur, with an elaborate ensemble, music by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and an enviable group of appearances by celebrities like Keanu Reeves, Tom Holland, Brie Larson, and Christopher Nolan.

Keighley is open about his big ambitions for the event. In an interview with Protocol last week, he said, “My main goal is to make The Game Awards the biggest awards show in the world.” He’s not happy with becoming the Oscar of video games. He wants it to be bigger than the Oscars.

But the Game Awards aren’t just trying to mimic the drama and grandeur of the Oscars. The event also presents a homogenizing view of video games that is largely cinematic.

When you look at the nominees and the winners, it leans towards big budget photorealistic games. The winner of this year’s Game of the Year award, the highest award in the video game industry, went to The Last of Us Part II. This same game swept the night with six awards, despite stiff competition from the indie favorite crawling through the dungeons. hell.

The exclusive ads for the night shared a similar curve. We saw the resemblance of Vin Diesel appear in Ark: Survival Evolved and some horror and zombie games. Although we did get to see trailers for a variety of more stylized and pictorial video games, such as Season or Open roads, the cinematic elements of those games were emphasized over the actual game.

To present Open roadsKeighley said: “One part road trip, one part mystery, with two familiar voices.” One of those voices was that of actor Keri Russell, from The Americans and The rise of Skywalker. While Russell’s involvement is certainly noteworthy, why not focus more on the merits of the game or storytelling rather than star power?

Throughout the night, celebrity appearances overshadowed the game developers and their hard work. For some categories, like “Best Action Game” and “Best Audio Design,” Keighley simply read the winners quickly as a class attendance sheet. Various awards were included in the pre-show presentation, for the reason that it was deemed less relevant to the main three-hour broadcast.

I sympathize with the fact that there were limitations due to the pandemic, and not all developers were able to take the stage to receive their award. However, it showed us where Keighley’s priorities lie.

It’s all reminiscent of the games industry’s long-standing inferiority complex compared to film. The addition of top-notch movie actors seems to stem from a desire to make games more credible as an art form. But that argument has already been proven. At this point, you feel tired and strained. And for me, I felt like the 2020 Game Awards were trying too hard.

This long-standing desire to justify video games is not new to the video game industry or The Game Awards. AAA studios have long moved toward photorealistic styles with intricately directed cut scenes. What did feel different about the 2020 Game Awards was the extent to which this vision of video games, a video game industry that can be similar to the Oscars, visibly excluded large swaths of the industry.

Take the free game Genshin Impact for example. Visually impressive and with one of the best soundtracks of the year, Genshin raised nearly $ 250 million in its first month, topping both Pokemon go and PlayerUnknown’sBattlegrounds Mobile and cultivated a dedicated fanbase within a month of release. Genshin he left with two nominations and no awards. It did not receive a nomination for its fully orchestrated soundtrack.

‘Among Us’ developers accept Best Multiplayer Game awardScreenshot via Twitch

Among us left the show in slightly better shape. It won both of its nominations for “Best Mobile Game” and “Best Multiplayer Game,” but somehow eluded the nominations for Game of the Year and Best Ongoing Game, despite being one of the most talked about and broadcast games of the year. Granted, Among us originally released with little fanfare in 2018, but Final Fantasy XIV was nominated for best role-playing game in 2019, even though the game had been available for almost a decade at the time.

The show also deliberately departed from an entire genre. For the first time this year, the event combined the award for strategy games and simulators in a category of “Best Sim / Strategy”. Microsoft Flight Simulator won the category. It also turned out to be the only simulator. Leaving all other strategy games, including the critically acclaimed Crusader Kings III – on the list to go unnoticed.

Video game awards shouldn’t be a popularity contest. But it’s a real problem when the industry’s largest awards show sends a message that only certain types of games are worthy of recognition. The 2020 Game Awards tell developers that their game cannot be 2D. It can’t be cute. It can’t be on mobile devices, if you want it to win the highest honor.

Perhaps in the 90s and early 2000s, this vision of video games cowering in the shadow of the movie industry made more sense, but Mario and Final Fantasy are already in their thirties. It’s time to let games be games and leave behind this old-fashioned compulsion to make games like anything else.