Video games have long struggled with the notion of being respected as a legitimate artistic medium by the mainstream. The extent of mainstream attention video games receive is basically limited to brief moments in the spotlight, often in a negative way. The only time you’ll hear talk of video games outside of the enthusiast press is when a mega franchise game is being released, new consoles are coming out, or when some nitwit with no understanding of the medium decides to blame video games for some terrible real world tragedy.
Gamers seem to be split on the idea of video games being more respected as an artistic medium. There are some gamers that are content with games being only about fun, challenge, and competition and don’t care whether games are a respected art form. Others yearn for the day when video games are taken seriously by everyone and are offered the same respect that other forms of entertainment such as films, literature, and television receive. One idea I’ve seen thrown around is that video games need their own version of the Oscars or Grammy Awards. Despite being firmly in the camp of wanting games to be taken more seriously, I’m not sure a formal award show like that is right for games, at least not right now.
For quite a while many gamers have wanted the Spike Video Game Awards to be that show, but after years of embarrassing offerings culminating in the VGX disaster last week, it’s clear this show will never be taken seriously by anyone, be they gamer or non-gamer. Even if the show’s reboot into VGX wasn’t an utter train wreck, the change of format shows a clear move away from the traditional award show direction. So, it’s clear that if we’re ever going to get a respectable award show for video games, we’re going to have to look elsewhere.
The fact of the matter is, there is already an award show that pretty much fits the bill, the BAFTAs. The only problem there is that they are a British based organization and the awards receive little coverage outside of the UK, even by enthusiasts. Now, that’s not to say being a British awards show makes them any less valid, that would be ridiculous, it’s just that the Academy Awards are a show with global coverage and hundreds of millions of viewers each year, and many people want something similar for games. Another award show that is similar to the Oscars are the Game Developers Choice Awards held every year at the Game Developers Conference. Aside from once again being a show with very little attention, it is also peer recognition show, with all the awards being chosen by game developers rather than critics.
If video games are every going to have a serious award show with mainstream recognition that treats the medium, its fans, and creators with respect, it will have to be one which has yet to be established. The problem thus far is that the show that has received the most attention is one that is organized by an American television network whose target audience shares little in common with those that are truly passionate about games. Given that, it’s unsurprising to hear all the derogatory jokes about gamer stereotypes that the VGAs are typically littered with, that is how the main audience for Spike TV views hardcore gamers. So, it’s clear a serious award show would have to come from some organization that isn’t affiliated with a TV network. Ideally, a group like the ESA would take up this task, or perhaps a new organization, an equivalent to the Academy, could be formed.
That covers why games don’t have a respectable award show and how they may one day, but the question still remains, do video games really need an equivalent to the Oscars? From my point of view, I say no. Have you ever watched the Oscars? It’s a boring, navel gazing show where actors and directors pat each other on the back. The winners are typically overly pretentious art house films no one has ever seen and the whole presentation has this air of self importance that seems ridiculous when you consider it’s a show celebrating entertainment. The Academy and the show have become so woefully out of touch with the mainstream movie-going audience that the whole presentation feels pointless. In my mind, the Academy Awards are the last thing video games need to emulating.
Video games are a modern medium, and the Oscars are the exact opposite of modern. Video Games need their own way to celebrate the medium and the achievements of the creative people within it. VGX was actually an interesting idea, sitting down with developers and letting the creators speak about their creations. The problem was in the execution, the choice of host, and the need the writers seem to have to belittle gamers. It also didn’t help that it was more like E3 in that all the developers present were talking about upcoming games, where I would much rather see the winners of awards talking for a few minutes about the game they made. Don’t get me wrong, I like seeing demos and trailers of upcoming games, but an awards show should be about celebrating creators rather than advertising upcoming games.
We’ve established that the VGAs, or VGX, or whatever Spike calls them next year are not the show that will ever be respected by the mainstream, but there are some good ideas buried in there. A show that celebrates creators and respects gamers is what this industry needs to begin its long journey towards being respected by the mainstream. In terms of whether video games need their own version of the Academy Awards, the answer is yes and no. Video games need some type of presentation, be that an awards show or something else entirely, that brings some mainstream attention and, more importantly, respect to the medium. Emulating the Oscars, however, is not the way to go about it; video games need to start charting their own path instead of continuing to emulate the film industry.