Spike TV is set to put on its annual video game awards show tonight, now dubbed VGX for purely marketing purposes, and is doing so in hopes of reigning in the core gaming audience ready for another night of mockery. Past VGAs have been many things. They've been loud, "hip," promotional and, most importantly, totally out of touch with it's audience.
What the VGAs have never been is respectful of video games as art, and more importantly, of game developers as artists, which would be ironic if it wasn't sad and intentional. Masquerading as an awards show, the VGAs don't celebrate games, they exploit them to put on a show designed for no person but the hypothetical, stereotypical dude-bro gamer. But the VGX show, that's apparently going to be different. Executive Producer Geoff Keighley said as much to Polygon.
"We're giving the show exactly what gamers have told us they want, which is more content, more news, more developers on stage, more awards," he said.
I'm skeptical. Keighley is saying exactly what we want to hear, and yet we do have one piece of information before the show as a proper testament to these potential changes: the nominees, listed here.
Unfortunately, the only conclusion you can come to if the nominations are indeed a proper indication is this: the VGX awards show cannot possibly be an improvement. The first award on the list is "Most Anticipated Game." Try for one moment to imagine the Oscars or the Grammys giving out the same award. Now try not to laugh, even on the inside. I'm expecting too much, I know, but this show is what video games look like to the masses. It's an embarrassment, and that's just award number one.
Next on the list is "Character of the Year," which recognizes a minority aspect of narrative development, a part of a writer's job. Those people should absolutely be awarded for their work. What they do is absolutely important. You know what's missing from the VGX awards? A best story category. But you don't sell stories, you sell characters.
And there are plenty of other awards missing as well, all which might have recognized specific achievement in game design. There's no award for best audio design and nothing for best visual or artistic direction. Game engines, the very backbone of of a game's infrastructure and the purest representations of progress in technical achievement, are totally overlooked. These are the programmers and the artists that go completely ignored as the games they labored on for years, and the high-level producers whose names managed to top the game's credits, get to go up on stage yet another time. These awards are not about people nor are they about game design, they never have been. They are about selling products.
There is an award for "Best DLC." "Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon" is nominated, despite not actually being downloadable content. "Blood Dragon" is a standalone game.
Fourth on the website's list of awards, after the "Viewer Voted" section, is "Game of the Year." Fourth. This is a petty complaint, but there it is. Fourth. Remember, first listed on the website is "Most Anticipated Game."
And now to the antiquated stuff. Spike TV still has individual categories for Xbox, Playstation and Nintendo games in addition to the genre awards. As usual, the result is the same collection of five or so games competing over and over again for the same accolades. "Grand Theft Auto V" is nominated for "Game of the Year," "Best Xbox Game," and "Best Playstation Game." If Grand Theft Auto V" does take home Game of the Year, it should, logically speaking, take home the rest of the awards as they don't differentiate themselves in any meaningful way. It's not as though GTA is being nominated in those categories for different aspects of the game. It's being nominated three times on the same exact merits. Hilariously, if past years are any indication, winning one doesn't guarantee winning the other three, despite logic and for no explainable reason, aside form the fact that Spike TV couldn't care less. This is the kind of attention it gives to games of the past.
The category issues go on. In "Best Song in a Game," only one nomination of four was created explicitly for the game. Eminem's marketing material for "Call of Duty: Ghosts" and two songs out of "Grand Theft Auto V" are up against "Bioshock Infinite's" original "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."
And then there's "Best Independent Game." Indie is not a genre, nor it is a platform, it's a method of finance. That's it. Obviously the characterization has fostered a recognizable quality in the games produced through this method, but to differentiate games in this way when you're giving out awards, that's pity. Spike TV pities indie games because the majority of the night goes to the corporations and megastudios and because it makes Spike TV look good.
Everything still points to marketing. None of these awards target creative or technical achievement in actual game design. They target you, the gamers, as potential marks for next year's games, because why would "Studio of the Year" exist when "Best Creative Direction" does not? Why would "Best Song" exist when "Best Audio Design" doesn't? Why would "Best Mobile Game" and "Most Anticipated Game" exist when awards for mechanical and technical design do not? Voice actors will go up on stage tonight. Actual, in the trenches game developers will not. Their games will, deservedly, as they take home genre awards. Respective development teams should be proud when, say, "Need for Speed: Rivals" or "Forza 5" gets away with the "Best Driving Game" award. Those are wonderful achievements, worth recognition, but it's the games that take the awards, not the people. It's the games that receive recognition.
Because Spike TV sees games as products, and the only thing worth mentioning, aside from awards that hold up the facade that this is an actual, legitimate show, is something the gaming industry can still sell. The best studio is a brand. The best DLC is a product. The best songs are still on iTunes. The most anticipated game is your next favorite game, is your next purchase. You're all for sale and Spike TV already sold you and itself out. It's doing it again, tonight.