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Weekend Reading: And the award goes to...

10:39 PM on 01.06.2008
Weekend Reading: And the award goes to... photo

While mucking up Podtoid 37, I really liked the question about the industry maturing. While videogames are definitely more mainstream, with regular articles covering the industry in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, there is still a stigma revolving around videogame culture. For every article that talked about Halo being a billion-dollar franchise, there was someone on TV claiming that games are just for kids.

If you look on TV and in movies, gamers are still furiously tapping the buttons on whatever system they're playing, as though their heart rate depends on smashing that A button in until it breaks. I'm sure once they get up to putting Wiimotes in actors' hands, they'll be swinging about wildly and throwing them into TVs. I can see it now, actually. Jake, the pudgy little boy on Two and a Half Men, gets a Wii for his birthday, because he can use it to "exercise." Charlie Sheen decides to join in, and throws the remote right into the TV. Now, it's a race against time to find the money to replace the TV.

So, when will the general culture of videogames evolve beyond "that thing for kids" into a legitimate art form where we won't need to hear from those like Roger Ebert, telling us that videogames can't be art? Well, I think that can be pretty soon. 

One aspect of the industry that could do with a bit of change is way in which we award the industry. Right now, the Internet is a relative shootout when it comes to the credibility of awards, and so there are two main entities that are outside of that realm: Spike TV's Spike Video Game Awards, and ZiffDavis' current line-up of magazines, and their end-of-year-awards. I want to focus on the Spike awards, though, mainly because it has the largest amount of exposure when it comes to the general American public. Magazines and Internet carry a lot of weight and can swing things within the gaming community, but they are an exclusive source. Television, on the other hand, is easily accessible by everyone who has basic cable.

Right now, the Spike Video Game Awards is the only spectacle on TV that represents videogames. Looking at the list of 2007's winners, along with the discussion that followed, the awards attempted to cover a broad spectrum of games, ultimately giving out awards to triple-A titles, leaving low-key ones like Persona 3 in the dust. While it's a noble goal, bringing videogames to the forefront of peoples' minds, the Spike awards are first and foremost a means of entertainment.

Let's take a look at a clip from the show:

Jesus. I mean, just from the first two minutes of the video, you have the award being presented off of a woman's body, strobe lights that would have given me a seizure if it weren't for YouTube's low quality, and scripted dialogue that is throwing itself at the 18-34 male audience. The show focuses on glorifying everything that's cool and hip, treating things more like the MTV Movie Awards than the Oscars. SpikeTV isn't claiming that they're the Oscars, either. They certainly do reflect an aspect of gaming culture. The problem is that they are the only show representing gaming culture on basic cable, giving a skewed image of what gamers are like.

What we need is an awards ceremony that treats things with respect. First off, while it may be "hip" to have some rocker come out and rip the clothes off of some model in order to reveal the winner of an award, an envelope and explanation of why the game was nominated, along with some game footage, would do just fine. And perhaps, instead of a rocker, why not have it be someone who is actually involved in the industry? Why not have Will Wright or David Jaffe go up and present awards?

If everyone took things seriously in terms of presentation, then that would go a long way towards improving the image of the videogame industry. The next hurdle is creating programming that has a low barrier of entry for people who are not very familiar with videogames. Like I mentioned before, there needs to be an explanation for what these games are, and why they were nominated. The practicality of this is kind of hard, so perhaps the pre-show coverage could do highlights on all the nominated games. Once the awards are presented, then they can give a short description as to why the game has been nominated for that particular award. It's not an ideal solution, but it's a step forward.

Finally, there's the third problem area: the games being awarded. Instead of having this as a simple popularity contest, or making award categories opportunities to sell adspace (i.e. the Gamer Fuel award), have the awards focus on games that are genuinely good, whether they are triple-A titles or downloadable content.

One other thing that is missing from the industry are the auteurs. There are some individuals within the videogame industry that are instantly recognizable: Molyneux, Wright, Jaffe. Yet, can you name the people who wrote BioShock or Call of Duty 4? Auteurs are those people who really made a difference in the project, and helped shape it to their unique vision. I'll get into the auteur theory and videogames in another article, but suffice to say, awarding excellence of specific individuals and groups is an important step towards legitimizing videogames as art.

So, industry, it's about time to trade in those ripped jeans for a tuxedo (and not one that you rent!), and let's start trying to give ourselves a positive image by putting out something that not only rewards videogames for being good, but also sends out a positive message to all those who are watching and don't play videogames.

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