We Deserve Better

By Mark Delaney, 1 year ago
Last Saturday, after I got home from the theater, I tucked in for the night, prepped a Netflix binge-watch of Shameless with my partner, and, in waiting for her to settle in beside me, decided to scroll Twitter for a moment. What had I missed? Among the usual chatter was a tweet from Geoff Keighley, executive producer of the annual year-end gaming ceremony, simply titled The Game Awards.

The tweet had just went out two minutes prior. 'What the heck,' I thought to myself, 'there's no harm in trying.' Later that night when I checked my email, I had received a reply from the address I contacted.

"Hi - Can you be in Los Angeles on Thursday for the show, doors open at 4:30 PM at Microsoft Theater."

To my amazement, I seemed to have won. I was thrilled. I could be in LA on Thursday. It would take some last minute schedule rearrangement and an expensive plane ticket but it was worth it, I thought. I responded, "Yes, I can be." The next 24 hours came and went without another word from whomever it was that reached me. I wrote again. "Is there anything else I need to know? I'll have to book my flight soon. Thanks!"

Still, I got no reply. At this point, plane ticket prices were skyrocketing. Try booking a flight within just a few weeks -- never mind a few days -- and see how much the prices climb. Still, I was determined to make it work if I could just get a hold of them. I tweeted Keighley on Twitter asking if he knew what the hold up was. Geoff didn't reply, but a few other contestants did, and they reported the same issue: initial outreach indicating they had won, followed by total radio silence from those that were organizing the giveaway. It was quite a bummer, to be honest. I was really looking forward to it. To date, I've only gone to one gaming show of any kind, PAX East 2013, and it was a great experience. I tried reaching the organizers once more on Monday. "Checking in with this before I have to cancel due to lack of a plane ticket. Thanks!" I never heard from them.

I spent the rest of the week leading up to the show disappointed. I'm now left unsure if I or anyone who participated actually won. In turn, I went about my normal schedule. Thursday night came and I had to go to work my overnight shift. I was on a wifi-less train en route to work and -- data plan be damned -- I tuned in via social media to watch the show. In the hour I was on the train and the subsequent hour that followed, what I saw simultaneously lifted my spirits and left me immensely frustrated, because the show that was aired, the "ceremony", was one of the most unceremonious award shows I've ever seen.

The Game Awards de-emphasize the actual awards to an alarming extent.The Game Awards de-emphasize the actual awards to an alarming extent.

As a lifelong gamer, I identify greatly with the global community of gamers. Even the fact that we call ourselves "gamers" denotes a seriousness with the hobby. Are movie fans "movie-ers"? Avid readers aren't called "readers", they're just called people. The gaming community is in its infancy compared to most other popular art forms, so maybe the moniker will eventually disappear, but its usage is meant to identify those of us who love this medium and consider it a lifestyle. The Game Awards on Thursday felt like another reminder that many entities within this sphere only seek to prey upon that community, not champion it.

For what is supposed to be an award show, the production devoted little time to the actual awards. Five categories had winners announced during the pre-show, when a substantial part of the audience wasn't even tuning in. When the show did begin, Keighley bestowed an Industry Icon award to his good friend Hideo Kojima. It was a nice moment, albeit with some expected awkwardness, like when Kojima seemed to end his acceptance speech too soon and his surprise trailer for Death Stranding wasn't yet queued up. Such a gaff is familiar to anyone who follows any on-stage gaming productions. Sadly, this early slip-up paled in comparison to the mess that would be seen soon thereafter.

Often when a certain game or studio won multiple awards, the additional victories would be announced over the loudspeakers as the recipients walked to accept the originally announced award. This is common practice in award shows, but typically an award show does this when it's pressed for time. The Game Awards wouldn't have been pressed for time if they didn't stop the ceremony to promote Run The Jewel's new album, or torture viewers with a gag-reflexive Schick Hydro ad spot. I know musical acts are commonplace at such shows, too, but again it just seems like the entire event's priorities are all out of order when you save time for these segments but relegate more than a fifth of the awards to the pre-show. The show has built itself up on being worth watching for all the world premieres and reveals it delivers, but it feels like those reveals are why the show really exists, and that shouldn't be the case. Why not get the award part of the "award show" nailed down correctly before you fill time with the musical numbers, new game premieres, and ad spots?

Credibility level: 0Credibility level: 0

Speaking of ad spots, was this show produced by GameStop? Watching it from start to finish, I lost track of how many times I was told I could "pre-order now" or how I could find all the nominees on sale via digital stores. This is not a celebration of games. It's a sales pitch. After nickel-and-diming gamers all year long with microtransactions, pre-order incentives, and multiple editions of every AAA game, can we have just one night where we can truly celebrate the medium?

I don't know where the problem lies. Is it with Keighley himself? I tend to think not, as I've always seen him as a genuine guy who truly loves games. But if that's the case, as executive producer he must know; somewhere in his head he has to know how the show is perceived. Can The Game Awards not go on without all this ad space worked in? Who is pulling the strings?

These aren't wholly new issues either. The production has had its priorities wrong as long as it's been going on. To see games move forward in so many ways over the years, it remains increasingly frustrating to see this show stagnate for over a decade as a joke on the level of the MTV Movie Awards. Critics of ceremonies like the Academy Awards and the Emmy Awards point to an air of pretentiousness surrounding them, but I'd take that over what was displayed on Thursday ten times out of ten. At least with the Oscars, everyone in the building treats their medium as an art form. Countless bodies inside the Microsoft Theater on Thursday were there only to move inventory.

Games continue to propel themselves forward as an art form, yet The Game Awards are stuck in a bygone era.Games continue to propel themselves forward as an art form, yet The Game Awards are stuck in a bygone era.

There was one shining moment, however, one moment that gave me hope that the show can become what the world of gaming hobbyists, creators, and celebrators deserve it becomes. That moment came when the award for Impact Game was given to Ryan Green, who is not just the designer of the autobiographical game That Dragon, Cancer but also the tragic father mourning the life and loss of his son to the titular disease. Through tears, Green spoke softly of his fallen son, lovingly of his other children and his partner, and hopeful for the entirety of all people.
That Dragon, Cancer exists because my wife, Amy, my children: Caleb, Isaac, Elijah, and Zoe. My business partner Josh. Our team: John, Brock, Ryan, Mike, and Chris. Our friends who are at Ouya: Kelly, Julie, Bob and Jared. Our over 3000 Kickstarter backers. Indie Fund and this entire industry [that] believed this should exist.

Often in video games we get to choose how we're seen. Our avatars, and our tweets, and the work that we do are all meant to portray the story that that we want to tell the world about why our lives matter. But sometimes a story is written onto us, or it's told because of us, or in spite of us, and it reveals our weaknesses, our failures, our hopes, and our fears.

You let us tell the story of my son Joel. And in the end, it was not the story that we wanted to tell. But you chose to love us through our grief, by being willing to stop, and to listen, and to not turn away. To let my son Joel's life change you because you chose to see him, and to experience how we loved him.

And I have hope that when we are all willing to see each other, not for just who we want to be, but who we are, and who we're meant to be - this act of love, and this act of grace, can change the world.

Thank You.
Green's words fell not to deaf ears. Viewers weren't barking for him to be hurried off the stage in favor of another Run The Jewels number or more info on where we can "buy games like Titanfall 2 for up to fifty percent off!" No, Green's acceptance speech was one of the few genuine moments of the show, and maybe the only one with any heart at all. These are the moments we should be celebrating, year-long, and especially during the year-end ceremony that bills itself as something respectable and respecting of the medium. The Game Awards is far from the only gaming awards ceremony, but it has been propped up as the most mainstream of these shows. What that means is The Game Awards exists as a symbol of the industry. Cynically speaking, maybe that's exactly what it is, but we can do better and we deserve better.

Games have proven they can be more than what anyone ever might've believed they could be decades ago, and they are constantly moving the bar. We have all had moments in games that, for us, mean a great deal, and some stories have stayed with us for our entire lives after we've felt them, after we've played them. Video games are the best art form in the world. Keighley opened the show saying it himself. For that reason, we deserve an award ceremony that respects us and the art more than the current iteration of The Game Awards.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.