We've been discussing the VGA's into the ground, but I think I've got something to add to the discussion here. I can agree that there's a whole heap of awkward elements still stuck right up against this show. The obligatory "Booth Babes", heaping tons of Spike Personalities, and an easily questionable award distribution. Yes, the VGAs, as they are, are not the best award show ever for the video game industry.
But, its not that bad.
Because really guys, what do we, gamer culture, need from an awards show? Movie fans and enthusiasts get to see their favorite stars and movies that they enjoyed praised and recognized for their hard work. Music fans want to be entertained by their award show, looking to shows for a touch of drama and a few standout performances by hot and new artists. And for long time enthusiast, you want a sense that there a preservation and respect for previous generations. Wouldn't we want something similar from our video game awards shows?
One of if not the best thing at the VGAs was seeing a very important shift from "games" receiving awards, to actual development teams and game makers receiving awards on behalf of their studios. Some of them seemed genuiinely touched! Say what you will about Hugh Jackman firing off a cheesy acceptance speech, and Megan Fox getting some ridiculous award. Around all that, we got to see a handful of people that actually make these games receive some acknowledgement beyond having their name not scroll across the screen because you skipped the credits when you beat the game.
These awards shows should be about those people for most of its duration. Unfortunately, gaming is a disadvantage here: game makers are generally far less charismatic as actresses and actors, or even directors and producers. While certainly there's a number of eloquent, trainable people in the industry, its got to be an inherent challenge to put them on stage and ask them to present. Its just not what they do.
For gamers, the most immediate stars for us are the games themselves. We play them, we follow them, and some of us become freakishly obsessed with them. So, naturally, should we want to see some buzz about games soon to come? That's kind of our red carpet: new game trailers, new game announcements and, if you want, DLC reveals! Its a great time to make a fuss about what gamers will be playing soon! The VGAs handled that well enough, and delivered at least some of the goods in that regard.
And then there's a matter of reverence and knowing your roots. Its tricky, because gaming is relatively young and truth to tell, going back to old masters that haven't been active in the industry would be almost like having special effects guys from 30 years back getting awards for 'lifetime achievement". The VGA shyed away from some hokey "lets give John Carmac or some old developer an award tonight" sort of situation. There's less history to the show, but for right now, maybe its best to just embrace the current industry. You could have Geoff Keighley come out and talk about the good old days of games, but its not his place. The guy is games journalism, and the night need not even be about him.
And that's where I come to the major gripe I have with the idea of an awards show for games and the current state of things. Both of the major publicized and televised industry awards events are put on by the press through a very overt entertainment outlet. And frankly, nearly all of our complaints about these shows stems from that entertainment outlet affiliation.
Don't get me wrong: the video game industry needs its press more than any medium in history. The pro and enthusiast press drives the industry and the craft in a way that Rolling Stone or Roger Ebert only wish they could for their critical mediums. When the industry comes under fire, or needs a cheerleader, its journalists stepping up to the plate. But that said, that's a sad state of affairs.
Now, in its formative and emerging years of popularity, video gaming needs its artists, craftsmen and business arms to play a stronger role in the presence and perception of the medium. N'Gai Croal or Jim Sterling can critique something until they're radish in the face, but it takes an actual developer or producer to come out and say what their work is about for people to start to take their message (or non-message) seriously, or at least as something legitimate.
We have developer associations, but they're hardly an "Academy", are they? The ESA is most interested in E3 and positioning the industry from a business angle. Meanwhile, IGDA makes GDC happen, but, from only my guess, it seems there maybe isn't an interest at all in putting on an International recognition of the work they are collectively accomplishing.
What is going on here?
Right there, smack in the middle of all these arms of the industry, there's a gaping maw where the legitimate and inclusive "Academy" for games should be. A meeting of not only the games reporters, but also the games makers. Maybe one of the goals of the games as art campaign, unspoken or unrealized, is the establishment of some revered or revering entity that can speak with some reasonable and agreed upon authority with regards to the artisanship of crating games. A body that isn't just about sales numbers, or just about fanboy zealotry, but an organization that cares about games, games history, and the hard work that goes into the crafting of games.
We don't have that now. All we have are well meaning guys like Mr. Keighley, putting together one of the most legit awards shows for games we've yet to see. He won't ever make that awards show that will warm your heart and not offend your most grand of hobbyist sensibilities. But, he got awards into the hands of studios, and let Stevie Wonder call the industry out for innovation. If that isn't progress, then what is?
Note: I looked for images of studios receiving their awards this year, and all I found was Jack Black. Does that seem right to you?
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