2013 is over and now we have time to reflect upon the year that was. This means that a big topic of discussion is what should be the game of the year for 2013. All across the internet gaming sites and individual gamers alike are making lists and declaring winners of titles like “Best RPG” and “Best Shooter”. The biggest public showcase for these titles/awards in videogames is Spike’s Video Game Awards, now renamed VGX. It is rather common to bash Spike’s gaming award show, in fact I’d argue that it is another one of the “cool” things for gamers to do online thanks in large part to the groupthink mentality of the internet. I am not a fan of the VGAs/VGX, but my intention here isn’t to produce a vile rant about them nor is it to defend them. I want to use them as an example to discuss the problems facing just about every major set of gaming awards out there.
You see the way we organize our yearly awards for videogames is wrong and ineffective. If you don’t believe me just look at the inconsistency of the award winners. To highlight this we are going to briefly examine 5 of the awards and their winners from this year’s VGX: Best PlayStation Game (The Last of Us), Best Xbox Game (Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons), Best Action Adventure Game (Assassin’s Creed 4), Studio of the Year (Naughty Dog) and of course Game of the Year (Grand Theft Auto 5). Now try to follow what comes next. GTA5 was Game of the Year meaning that it is the best game that came out this year, sounds simple right? GTA5 was nominated for Best PlayStation Game, Best Xbox Game, Best Action Adventure Game and Rockstar North (developers of GTA5) were nominated for Studio of the Year. GTA5, which they claim is the best, lost in all of these other categories that is was qualified for. How? Assassin’s Creed 4 beat GTA5 and The Last of Us to win Best Action Adventure, yet couldn’t make the short list for Game of the Year when both of its competitors did. In fact it wasn’t even considered one of the top four PlayStation, Xbox or PC games. There is no continuity to the awards, the better game in one category is worse in another for no reason. They just want to declare more than three or four games winners so they intentionally give awards to games they don’t feel actually earned the title. It is dishonest and asinine, even if it is well intended.
The thing is, even if you were to try and give out the awards honestly problems will still arise from the confining structure we have in place. Let’s look at a typical award like “Best RPG”. Now let’s say that there are only two contenders for the award and they are Skyrim and Borderlands. Now keep in mind that like my problem illustrated above by the VGX awards, this has nothing to do with which game I actually like more. So Skyrim is an RPG through and through and Borderlands is a combination of an RPG and an FPS. If Skyrim is the better RPG and Borderlands is the better game (with the elements of the second genre making it a better overall experience), who should win the award? Do you give it to the best RPG? Or do you give it to the best game that can be classified as an RPG? Nowadays so many games take elements from multiple genres that these ridged awards are outdated and ineffective. Think of Dues Ex: Human Revolution. Is it an RPG, a Stealth-action game, an FPS? I think we need new awards that do a better job of defining our gaming experiences.
The reason we have these really basic awards is because gaming tries too hard to be like movies. We compliment games now by saying that they felt so cinematic, or that it was like playing a movie. To me that can be good, but it shouldn’t be what gaming aims for. Gaming is its own rich and amazing medium and it needs to come up with its own way of awarding excellence rather than trying to take the “Best Drama”, “Best Comedy” approach that movies do. Rather than handing out pity awards to the runners up that you want to highlight, just highlight them. Give them their own unique award or just do a celebration of all the great games without directly stating any one as superior to the other. A Best GAMES of the Year Award rather than Best GAME.
I want to see all the amazing games highlighted. I then want to be told exactly what was so exceptional about each of them, not just if it was a really good action adventure game. For instance I would highlight DMC and award it “Most Replayable Game of the Year” for all the additional difficulty modes and its awesome combat. Last year I’d have given “Best Game with a Laundry List of Flaws” to Assassin’s Creed 3 because despite all the things wrong with it, when I was in the zone of that game I loved it. The awards could be incredibly tailored made for the game you want to highlight like: “The Doing Uncharted better than Uncharted Award”, which I would give to this year’s Tomb Raider. There could also be ones that are given out every year like “Best Surprise” or “Best Moment”. By having these tailor made and diverse awards every award list would be unique and exciting to see year after year. Not just for what games stood out, but for what it was about them that resonated so deeply with those that played them.
I believe that the way we celebrate games now doesn’t work (or at least not as well as it could and should), regardless of who is doing the celebrating or which games are being celebrated. What we need is to find our own unique way to celebrate the games that we love that isn’t restricting and allows us options as diverse as the games that we play and love.