How game developers and viewers reacted to this year’s Game Awards

The Game Awards

Held by card-cruncher Geoff Keighley and executive producer Phil Fish, the Video Game Awards show has become as much an industry reaction to the annual E3 gaming convention as it is a self-congratulatory affair.

Yet there was a unity at the latest show which yearns to carry a more universal brand of community. In an attempt to insulate itself from the furious debate raging over the “walled garden” model of games, the Game Awards shuns streams and seems less intent on telling its audience how to consume its content.

Instead, this year’s show aimed to stand as an anniversary celebration. In the past, it’s been a portmanteau-crafting highlight of the year in games, a party that skews towards adults. But this year, a wiser Games Awards was about how we view games today, instead of just present them.

The show was grandly self-aware, recalling YouTube clips of years gone by: The Game Awards crowd screamed at its live host, Tyler Perry, as if they wanted their video games like they wanted their breakfast. It’s easy to see why game makers made a quick decision to ditch E3 for the Game Awards: the show was regularly cosier, personable and more accessible to players.

In an era of literal-minded outrage campaigns over complaints about multiplayer deaths, the Game Awards celebrated such microtransactions as joy packs in Overwatch. The live show showed people picking up loot boxes which, when filled with experience points, unlock new items in their game. The ecosystem was lovingly explained to the audience, with Graham Netto from Ubisoft discussing how players could earn experience points for characters they played hours, rather than the usual weeks of owning a physical game which in some cases always lost them experience in a game.

The show didn’t make this point without laughs. Players shook their head at what looked like million-dollar loot boxes on TV, and it wouldn’t have been surprising to see players receive chewed up gold coins in Monster Hunter: World’s demo. Even the presentation itself tended to dumb down its tropes by using its live audience to help explain the fast-paced action going on on stage.

A huge part of this show has been about rubbing shoulders with developers: The Game Awards regularly welcomed new creators and developers, pounced on failed projects, and let their game or project designers speak directly with fans and players. The virtual real-time broadcasting software HiveMind has transformed the entire fan experience, giving the audience the chance to communicate with its own crowd. The atmosphere felt light and fun, but in a similar way to listening to smart improvisation or the penultimate song to live television, the show understood how to entertain itself and reflect on its impact.

Of course, no occasion is without controversy, and the show had it. The number of men getting key awards – the subject of grumbles this year – was a notable one: no women won, no minority group won, no queer or gender-queer creators won. That’s not a thing which happens by accident, and not a criticism of the show itself. This year’s show celebrated traditional community. But it also pointed out that this community didn’t necessarily endorse its viewpoints, and that one of the reasons why was that, instead of a celebrity having to beat their chest, somebody was going to be the first woman to ever win the top award in the History of Video Games.

Despite their ridiculous selfies in front of a lamp which resembled a Starbucks cup, this year’s Game Awards was a cheerful celebration of the infinite diversity of the medium. This game is no longer a lone child taking the stage with goosebumps and a theatrical shout out, this year’s Game Awards showed the genius of gaming’s large, open, inclusive message.

Jesse Steinfeld is a programme manager at the Broadcasting Press Guild. He has written about video games since 2014, and sits on the BPG’s Digital Editorial Committee and BPG Business Advisory Board.

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