Share This

Why the Video Game Awards are NOT the Oscars [Gamer by Design]

So what we’re gonna talk about today is, the eternal question of “Why don’t game awards carry the weight of the Oscars?”

I’m gonna delve mostly into the content of the games, rather than the peripheral questions like the history of the Oscars, the budget of each show, etc.

First of all, let’s get all the nit-picking out of the way. This is a column and not a 30 page dissertation. So in fairness to you, let’s assume these things:

What are the Oscars:

The Oscars aren’t perfect, and what we define as a “good” movie award show also differs from person to person. Some people think they’re too commercialized, some think the opposite. So let’s assume the most neutral point of view: The Oscars reward their industry as a whole in various categories, and their top awards are for commercialized movies that have what the industry considers great artistic achievement.

Which game Awards

Most game awards honor the same group of games, and I personally like the Developers Choice Awards the best, but we are gonna examine the Video Game Awards because they are by far the most widely-known.

This year’s Game of the Year

Game of the year this year, as listed by Spike:

What do we see here?  All blockbusters, in the biggest most blockbusting sense of the word.

I’ve worked on blockbusters from time to time, and most of my friends do (if you read my column, you saw my earlier interview of Red Dead designer Danny Bulla). So before we get into the details, how about this next part…

I love the Fast and the Furious

Yes I just titled the section that. So I hope you believe me when I say, “I love the Fast and Furious series.”  Why?  Because, like a lot of game developers, I love cars. I love cars that make obnoxious sounds and look like they’re from the 90s. I even love neon under cars, though it’s 10 years out of fashion. But neither myself, nor the makers of FnF, would ever suspect that FnF would win an Oscar. It’s a BLOCKBUSTER. Its aim is to make money and please its fans, like me. I can’t remember who said this, if you remember let me know…but someone wrote a blog to the effect of: Fast and Furious is a great series because, even though it’s popcorny, it delivers a consistent product that is exactly what people want to see. So in my case, my favorite movies are character-based indies, or fantasy of some sort.  My top 5 favorite movies include:

  • Winters Bone
  • No Country For Old Men
  • Labrynth

So you can see, that doesn’t include TRANSFORMERS, or STAR WARS, or other really huge blockbusters. BUT…when I go see FnF, I’m not expecting those other genres, and it’s ok. It’s just like mental guilty deserts. People who hate cars and action don’t go to the movie, but lots of people see it,  and everyone is happy. If Winter’s Bone and FnF came out the same weekend, I would see them both. One would never affect the interest in the other. And that’s a really important point in this article. I’m not at all arguing about the validity of blockbuster games. In defining what should win a game “Oscar”: It’s not about quality, it’s about the type of game.

It's not gonna win an Oscar, but it's quite the pulse-pounding time.

For example: I love Forza (could you guess from my car love letter above?) and I love FPS games. But they should be understood to be blockbusters.  To the Moon, on the other hand?  Maybe something like that should be our The Artist. Or at least a precursor!

I was recommended this game by a designer friend, and it’s hard to even put it in a competition against Call of Duty. It has none of the bells and whistles, it has retro graphics in most of the gameplay. But it’s one of the best games out there right now and it’s a true, deep character study. If you don’t play games but love indie films, play the free one hour trial and see if your opinion of video games changes.

What’s the answer?

Maybe the Video Game Awards are destined to be the blockbuster awards. And maybe some new show, or something like the Developers Choice Awards, will solidify itself as the “commercially viable art” awards, just like the Oscars are for movies. None have yet. If you look at the lists of nominees, you see a lot of the same games up for most of the mainstream awards.

So let’s predict. Any predictions are of course, opinion. And my opinion is that the wildly changing industry and the current climate of empowered indie developers, easier-to-use game engines (to create more with less), and better distribution methods, will lead to an expansion of the segment of intelligent, artistic games. There is a strong contingent of mid-size indie games, but most of the best ones, like the aforementioned To The Moon, are not huge national releases.

Right now, the educated, non-gamer crowd is playing Angry Birds. And it’s clearly not challenging them intellectually. It’s just a toy, a diversion. That’s a valid thing to be, but that crowd is often playing Angry Birds, while waiting in line to see A Separation. So clearly Angry Birds hasn’t tapped their emotional thresholds.

Someday games will make you cry. And not just because you're frustrated that there are 25 FPS games every fall...

Imagine with me for a moment, a near-future in which people like you and I, who grew up with games, are 45-50 years old. We want emotional games that challenge our minds and our views just like the best movies do. Imagine that some publisher or indie takes a risk, and a really amazing game absolutely breaks the banks with the educated, 35-50 demographic range. And all of a sudden you have the Oprah crowd hooked on some particular brand of games. All of a sudden, we are into the Miramax-of-games era. Forza 11 still comes out and people love it. But there’s also a huge demand for [Unnamed Awesome Game that Makes You Cry]. Sounds exciting right?  It is for me. I’d play both.

If you liked this post, please do us the further boon of Liking the Fierce and Nerdy page on FaceBook. Also, we’re giving great stream on Twitter, so do give us follow.

Image Credits: lincolnblues, Loren Javier maren.rockt