The gaming industry has always felt the need to live up to expectations set by the world of entertainment. We refer to games based on their ‘cinematic moments’, despite never being aired in cinemas. Game franchises boast about having the ‘biggest entertainment launches of the year’ when they exceed sales expectations – an easy task when each copy nets sixty bucks. It’s that same illogical desire that fuels the need for video game award shows, where the best titles of the year can be honored with a hefty metal statue as millions watch in awe. The Game Awards attempted to bring this dream to life but instead highlighted industry drama and marketing over the awards themselves.
The Game Awards operates as a half-step between a typical awards ceremony and a press conference. Between trophies and speeches were trailers for upcoming big games – including a new Batman series from Telltale, a sequel to the cult-hit Psychonauts, and a new virtual-reality experience for Rock Band. While the promise of these premieres are often what drives people to watch, it forces the Game Awards to act as a platform for video game companies to push products. It’s hard to take a show’s judgment of gaming greatness seriously when they reserve stage time for Shaq-Fu: The Legend Reborn.
Ultimately, the best moments of the Game Awards came when they honored the best of the craft. Ample time was given to eulogize Satoru Iwata, the beloved Nintendo CEO who passed away earlier this year. The show’s annual Industry Icon award was presented to Westwood Studios with a sharply produced documentary segment that summed up the immeasurable impact of the Command & Conquer series. When this show can step away from the contemporary and remember the past, it can be a powerful platform for nostalgia.
Despite walking away with only a single award for Best Action/Adventure Game, the game on everyone’s lips during the night was Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Series creator Hideo Kojima was noticeably absent during the night, leaving host Geoff Keighly to explain that lawyers from Konami (publishers of MGS V, who cut ties with Kojima earlier this year) barred him from attending. This prompted a vocal reaction from the crowd and transitioned into a musical performance of one of the game’s somber closing songs. It was an uncharacteristically genuine moment in an otherwise structured and artificial show.
All this drama largely pushed the actual awards to the background. Trophies were handed out with little to no pomp-and-circumstance, announced backstage or in passing as a winner approached the stage. Even at the show’s climax, as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was awarded the trophy for Game of the Year, barely a moment passed before the show transitioned to Deadmau5 doing a boring mash-up of his past hits with Super Mario samples.
A good awards show should elicit a variety of emotions – righteous laughter at a good opening monologue, profound sadness when remembering those who we’ve lost, triumphant pride when your favorite contender beats the odds to take home a trophy. But the Game Awards provoked plenty of uncomfortable emotions alongside the positive ones. It’s a show hasn’t yet found its voice but shows potential as an annual celebration for the medium.