The Game Awards Show That None Of Us Play Nearly Enough Games
I’m normally indifferent about The Game Awards, knowing that all the biggest and most predictable games of each year will be nominated while smaller titles go under-appreciated due to how the selection process works. But there are often a few rare exceptions seeping through the cracks, deserved gems getting their time in the sun alongside the big boys. We aren’t seeing that this year, and it has become abundantly clear that beyond the expected picks, this is a marketing showcase first and foremost that doesn’t care about the medium.
God of War Ragnarok, Horizon Forbidden West, Elden Ring, and a small selection of indies swept the majority of categories, so much so that on the night we’ll likely see only a few select games pick up awards at all. Best Indie and Debut Indie are filled with the most of the same games, so much so that bangers like I Was A Teenage Exocolonist and Somerville are missing out on spots altogether, not that it matters because the selection process is busted.
Many games dominating nominations aren’t necessarily the best ones, but those from major studios or the usual blockbusters mixed with modest efforts that dominated social media discussion for a brief period of time. God of War Ragnarok hasn’t even been out for a week, so critics who didn’t review it wouldn’t have had a chance to judge its merits, especially when it comes to narrative and performances. Horizon Forbidden West is painfully mid and as predictable as sequels can get, while Elden Ring is incredible – but it’s also the obvious choice that outlets are going to pick out of conversational inertia alone. There was no way it wasn’t going to sweep this event, but it was still bested by Ragnarok somehow.
I just didn’t expect the playing field to be this underwhelming, but the only ones we have to blame are ourselves and our lack of consideration for wider content in the industry. For what it’s worth, we weren’t on the TGA jury this year around, but the break-up between us and Geoff Keighley wasn’t exactly messy. He didn’t return our calls and is far too busy going on cute dates with Hideo Kojima to care about us, but we’ve moved on in the wake of his absence. The same can’t be said for everyone else though, and how we have indirectly surrendered ourselves to the marketing machine and cynical hype to nominate the big games everyone expects to do well. Part of me is just a little tired of all the nonsense.
Prestige wins over quality, and that’s a tragic damnation of where our industry is right now. God of War Ragnarok, Horizon Forbidden West, and A Plague Tale Requiem are all up for game of the year, and all of them are third-person narrative blockbusters that take heavy influence from both The Last of Us and open world templates that have grown derivative over the past few years. I’m not saying they’re bad, nor undeserving of praise, but the fact we have decided these three – and a few actually worthwhile nominees – are the best we’re capable of as an industry instead of applying real, tangible critique to their boons and shortcomings suggests we have only ourselves to blame for what The Game Awards have become. It’s an occasion in service of this medium instead of celebrating it, advocating far more for the next big release than those responsible for creating them. Awards are given off-screen to make way for big trailers and world premieres, like the trophies are handed off with disdain, so Keighley can keep lining his pockets with gold.
We are the media, self-proclaimed professionals responsible for representing this artform whether we’d like to admit it or not, and acting as jurors for The Game Awards means we need to pool our efforts and cast our net as wide as humanly possible. We aren’t able to play every game that comes out every year, and thus our attention is often drawn to the massive blockbusters and indie hits that happen to draw in discussions and traffic, but that means we are actively ignoring a selection of fantastic games that deserve awards more than others.
Take Stray for example. It’s a perfectly solid experience, but we were far more interested in talking about how cute its central character was and the ways in which our real-world felines reacted to it instead of talking about its gameplay and narrative. Tunic is also brilliant, but the conversation largely revolved around it being a Zelda clone. It’s like so many of us didn’t play enough games and were presented with a slew of categories to fill, so settled for clutching at straws with little regard for who ends up being on the ballot. I could be here for ages listing out games that were snubbed, or why the oversaturation of so many categories speaks to our inability to consume media properly as critics because we are still so stuck within the mindset of a consumer ready to stand up for marketing hype.
Games are bigger than ever, and there are more of them out there than ever too, with ample services like Xbox Game Pass allowing independent gems and lower-budget gems to shine on a similar level to their blockbuster contemporaries. Even with all this progress they remain ignored, and The Game Awards won’t change until we’re willing to analyse and uproot the system ourselves. Starting to think The Keighleys aren’t really worth my time.
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