The Game Awards were ostensibly created to honor and celebrate the year’s best video games, but its nominations are not always reflective of what gamers like.
Though advertised as a consumer-driven event, the event largely serves as an advertisement for big budget games, offering very little recognition to lesser-known games regardless of merit. Furthermore, all the nominations are drawn from a pool selected by a panel of game journalists and influencers including staff from VICE, Kotaku and Polygon—the same group of “cultural intelligentsia” who express open disdain of their audience.
Consequently, the games in the running for the “best of” whatever category are reflective of their tastes alone. Last year, the award for “Most Anticipated Game” went to No Man’s Sky, which says a lot about the awards’ penchant for unbridled and unsubstantiated hype. Although The Witcher 3 received “Best Game,” its narrative was overlooked in favor of Her Story, which also took home the award for best voice acting. It was like how the Oscars overlooked Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas for Dances With Wolves in 1990.
In this year’s awards, two overhyped and disappointingly short indie games Firewatch and Inside received five nominations each—just behind the blockbuster title Uncharted 4.
Length scarcely defines the quality of a game, but when low-budget titles that can be completed within an hour are selected over much larger, more extensive experiences, something is amiss. Some of the biggest releases this year, including Obsidian Entertainment’s Tyranny—one of the year’s best role-playing games, Ubisoft’s stellar Watch Dogs 2 and the magnificent theme park simulator Planet Coaster received no nominations whatsoever despite being released before the entry deadline.
Likewise, Inside and Firewatch were both nominated for having the best narrative—omitting Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, The Witcher 3’s Blood & Wine expansion, and Zero Time Dilemma—titles that would’ve required dozens of hours to complete. In the case of Blood & Wine, reviewers would have had to go through the base game beforehand.
Nominations are of course subjective, but it’s undeniable that more popular games are being denied a space at the table to make room for whatever titles the game journalists had time to play.
It’s a little-known fact that game reviewers tend to score shorter games better because they get through them a lot faster than the time-consuming juggernauts that most gamers prefer. Given that games cost several orders of magnitude higher than movie tickets, it’s no surprise that consumers want to get a good value for their dollar. Conversely, video game journalists—usually freelancers—are paid based solely on their output.
Larger games were not the only ones to be disregarded by the awards. Many stellar Japanese games, including Zero Time Dilemma, World of Final Fantasy, I Am Setsuna and Dragon Quest Builders were all but ignored. Despite their popularity with the gaming public and positive (if limited) critical reception, these titles were overlooked in favor of the few games known to reviewers.
Finally, games that don’t look flashy enough for television—including simulators and strategy games—have no chance of being nominated for the coveted “Best Game” award. If the TGAs were the Oscars, movies by Michael Bay and Zack Snyder would take home the prize. You won’t see something “visually boring” as Offworld Trading Company or Hearts of Iron IV receiving proper recognition any time soon.
I have other complaints, of course—why isn’t the visually stunning Dishonored 2 nominated for Best Art Direction? What’s The Witness even doing on the list for Best Independent Game when so many better games—Darkest Dungeon, I Am The Police and Shadow Warrior 2—exist?
The Game Awards aren’t a lost cause. It can be improved with the addition of more diverse viewpoints drawn from a larger pool of judges—especially ones from outside the echo chamber, whose opinions would be more reflective of the gaming public at large and not just the few game journalists paid to complain about how problematic games are.
On the plus side, at least Call of Duty wasn’t nominated for anything this time around.