I was a seat filler at The Game Awards — here’s how it went

The Game Awards in person are a doozy

Last month, I got a mysterious email in my inbox. What’s that? I was being invited to be a seat filler at The Game Awards? There’s no way this is legit. Oh wait, it is legit? Okay, I guess I can’t pass up on an opportunity to go to TGAs for free, right? Right. At least I’ll get some good content out of it.

For those who don’t know (because I certainly didn’t when I got that email), seat fillers are people that go to large, televised events like the Oscars or, in this case, The Game Awards, and sit in seats that are visible onscreen that would otherwise be empty. You’re basically a placeholder, and can be moved around if you’re in someone’s seat who comes late, or if they need people to fill out the front rows while presenters or award recipients go backstage. There are other scenarios too, but the gist is that you’re there to make the auditorium look as full as possible.

Luckily, I’m local

Living in Los Angeles, I’m lucky enough to be local to a lot of events in games, and The Game Awards is one of them. With traffic, it was only a fairly short drive to get there, and I felt especially thankful for that after being reminded that some people flew across the country, or even around the world, to be there for the event. Of course, I had to get a new dress for the occasion — for those who care, it was a blazer dress with rhinestone lightning bolts on the lapels, which felt like the most Game Awards-y thing I could possibly find. I’ll take any excuse to dress up all fancy that I can get.

After my friend and I arrived and found our way to the line for seat fillers. We were standing in a line outside the theater, turns out there was some logistical issue inside. No worries, we can wait. Oh hey, another friend! We walked back to join her in line behind us, along with some of her coworkers.

We got to talking, and I found myself thinking: I may be a games journalist, but I understand that they didn’t reach out to me with an industry ticket. There are a lot of us, and you can’t get everyone. What I did find odd, however, was that my friend and her colleagues were being honored as part of the 2022 Game Awards Future Class (a group of “50 inspiring individuals who represent the bright, bold and inclusive future of video games), and yet they weren’t given “real” tickets, but instead attended the show as seat fillers. But I digress.

There was also a Master Chief cosplayer out front, which was fun to see. He did take off his mask after a while, and it felt weird to look at him. I get that a man needs to breathe, but the already fragile illusion was almost instantly shattered. I guess he was trying to save it for when the “real” guests started arriving.

Taking our seats

Once we finally got inside and made it through the security checkpoint, they counted us off into a group and gave us a quick briefing before taking us into the auditorium proper. Basically, our job was to leave two seats empty for every group of four people, and we could be moved at a moment’s notice if they needed us to. I grew up attending a megachurch for the majority of my formative years, so playing musical chairs in a giant auditorium and listening to the every command of an usher is a strong suit of mine. It was almost like I was back home.

As we settled into our seats, I could finally take a breath and take in the atmosphere. I will say, they spare no expense at the production value. The stage had those tunnels on their side with screens behind them, and you could see from the audience that the large, seemingly free-floating metal bars that made up the tunnels were actually suspended by metal wire… things? I have no idea what to call it, but I do know that it looked pretty cool.

We were also seated three rows from the little stage platform that’s off to the side, which was neat, because we could turn around and see whoever was standing there quite closely. As a casual fan of fashion, I was delighted to see Sydnee Goodman’s bright pink, feathery dress from that close, and we could also see that she was wearing Louboutins with the highest heel they make them in — a shoe that is notorious for being one of the most uncomfortable you can possibly wear, while also being one of the most coveted designer heels. Good on you, Sydnee; there’s no way I could walk in those all night.

The trailers started soon enough, and thinking we would simply be watching a good portion of the show on the smaller screens on their side of the stage, I was shocked to see a giant LED screen lower into the center of the stage itself. It was massive, and I can’t understate enough just how much it added to the hype, along with the trailers being blasted into an auditorium with enough bass to make my ears ring the rest of the night.

Of course, it also helped to be in said auditorium with hundreds, if not thousands of other video game fans (the place wasn’t entirely full so it’s hard to say). There’s absolutely something to be said about having the energy of all those other people in the room with you. The Game Awards are kind of like a concert in that regard — the stage and lights certainly look cooler in person, but what really makes seeing it in person worthwhile is the electricity that you can only get from a live event. I thought for sure the event organizers would tell us in our briefing to make sure we were clapping and looking excited, but as someone who easily gets swept up in the hype, that was not a problem for me in the slightest.

Showtime!

Geoff Keighley came out in a fancy blue velvet suit, although considering he’s the host, it certainly could have been more well-tailored. I hate to say it, but the rivalry between Geoff and Josef Fares lives on, because Josef’s suit was so immaculately cut that he kind of showed Geoff up in the fashion department. Just saying.

Seeing Al Pacino live was certainly a real treat. It was very cool to see Christopher Judge receive his award, but I have to admit that it was kind of funny to turn around and see the sign flashing for him to wrap it up… only for it to keep flashing, and flashing, and flashing.

Highlights from the World Premiere trailers for me were absolutely Hades II and Judas. Both of those trailers started out with the logos from their respective studios, and seeing those names immediately sent my friend and me into raucous cheers. If you’ve never gotten to yell for your favorite game studio like they’re a sports team in your life, I highly recommend you do so at any given opportunity, because it’s a very freeing and cathartic experience. I was also screaming my head off for Immortality to grab Best Narrative, but alas, we can’t win ’em all.

The musical performances were a highlight for sure, because not only am I a fan of both Hozier and Halsey, but they both looked and sounded great. The stage looked amazing as well — fake snow started falling from the ceiling during Hozier’s performance of his song from God of War, and Halsey performed a new song for Diablo IV, and was accompanied by a legion of dark monks, or something? I don’t know, I don’t really play Diablo. I also have to shout out the guy during the Hozier performance down front and center with the hurdy-gurdy. The performers all did an excellent job, and their songs actually related to the games this year, so bonus points for that.

It was nice every once in a while to see someone get to come up to accept their awards — I particularly enjoyed hearing from Bear McCreary, winner of the Best Score/Music for God of War Ragnarok, and Caroline Marchal, accepting on behalf of As Dusk Falls for the Games for Impact award. However, as we’ve all come to expect, those moments were few are far between. Most of the awards were given offscreen and rushed through without so much as a pause. I say it every year, but it’s such a shame that a Game Awards show doesn’t focus more on actually giving out awards, which is supposed to be the whole point of the event. But whatever.

During the commercials, they simply play the commercials on the screens to the sides of the stage while they set up for whatever is coming next. Most of my behind-the-scenes knowledge comes from the game development side of things, so I know very little about how live events like awards shows are run. I found my own fun a lot of the time by getting a peek of a cameraman roaming around the house and the stage to get his shots, and it was pretty hilarious to watch Geoff jog to get to his mark before he was back on. Sometimes it ruins the magic to see how the sausage is made, but from my view, getting even the smallest glimpse into how these shows are run was a pretty good time for me.

How much longer?

After we crossed hour two, though, things were starting to get a bit tedious. We were seeing fewer and fewer awards given out, and soon only Game of the Year was on the horizon. As we got bombarded with trailer after trailer, I felt myself slowing. A man in the row behind us had fully fallen asleep in his seat by this point. I also really had to use the restroom after slamming a cocktail in the lobby before the show (which they sell, but don’t allow in the theater), so I was reaching a point of desperation as the minutes ticked down. Geoff said explicitly that the show was only going to be 2.5 hours, but it clocked in at 3.5.

Of course, the big moment finally arrived: the Game of the Year award. Josef was right when he introduced the Game Awards Orchestra, because I did indeed get goosebumps as they played their overture. I thought Elden Ring was absolutely deserving of GOTY, and it was really nice to see how touched Hidetaka Miyazaki was to have received the award.

Then, of course, there’s the instance everyone was talking about: that random kid who walked up to the mic. There was a moment of awkward silence as he spoke into the mic to no avail, and I think it’s safe to say that not a single person in that room had any idea what was going on. Then they turned the mic on and, well, that didn’t seem to clear things up either. Considering the staff was on top of things all night from my perspective, I’m shocked he was even able to get up there, but hey, these things happen.

…And that’s our show

And just like that, a frazzled Geoff signed us off, and the show was over. I filed out of the nearest door like everyone else out into the chilly December night air, and it was all over in a flash. I enjoyed my experience, for the most part, but I’m not sure if I would do it again. Going to an awards show is admittedly exhausting for a homebody like me, and it’s tempting to return to my home viewing of the show in my pajamas.

I also didn’t realize the staff never moved us around at all during the show, which is what I had come to expect as a seat filler. Part of me was a little bit bummed to miss out on that extra little bit of excitement from the experience, and it also would have maybe been a good opportunity to get to the restroom mid-show. I guess we did what they needed though, so it all worked out in the end.

The Game Awards was a better show than usual this time around in terms of both acts, trailers, and an overall decrease in cringe, but a lot of that simply comes down to what trailers developers are ready to show, and what games came out over the preceding year. The production value is impressive, if nothing else, which is likely how The Game Awards gained some of its legitimacy in the first place. At the end of the day, though, it’s another vehicle for companies to try to sell us stuff, and parts of the experience certainly feel heartless in that sense. The key word here is “parts,” because I’m still not ready to give up on the idea that The Game Awards could become more focused on actually supporting and celebrating developers in time.

Even though the rest of my night turned into a whirlwind adventure of its own, seeing the Awards themselves in person is an experience I’ll never forget. Until next year, Keighley.

Noelle Warner
Features Editor