Movies have the Oscars, TV the Emmys, theatre the Tonys, and music the Grammys. What do video games have? Thinking about game awards reveals how different from older entertainment media today’s game industry really is. The first movie theaters appeared in the U.S. in 1896. The Academy Awards (Oscars) began 33 years later in 1929. Pong, the first commercially successful arcade game, was released in 1972. 48 years later, no Academy Awards of Video Games yet dominate the gaming awards scene.
The issue is not a lack of awards, but rather an overabundance. Video games have a wide and messy field of awards, none of which have achieved the stature of the Oscars (etc.). There are quite a few awards handed out by panels of expert judges: DICE (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) Awards (previously the Interactive Achievement Awards or IAAs), Game Developers Choice Awards, and Inside Gaming Awards in the States, as well as the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Games Awards (previously the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Awards) in the UK. Competing with these in popular awareness are awards determined by popular vote, such as the Spike Video Game Awards (VGAs) and the Golden Joystick Awards (the only awards listed here to predate 1998, having been around since 1983). Many individual gaming websites and publications like IGN, GameSpot, and Game Informer also present their own awards.
Alongside the kinds of awards other media also have, games have another category of awards that has no counterpart in any other medium (to the best of my knowledge): preview or demo awards, best represented by the Game Critics “Best of E3” Awards. Can you imagine awards for Best Film Previews or Best Single Released Well Before the Album being as present in the public consciousness as “Best of E3” Awards are in the gamer world? For that matter, can you imagine a successful film festival focused on films that weren’t finished yet? Gamers relate to games in some fundamentally different ways than filmgoers to films or listeners to music, as these examples suggest.
On the one hand, I’m a bit sad games don’t have a once-a-year event like the Oscars to raise their profile as a respectable medium with the larger public. There are still a lot of people who write off the entire medium as mindless entertainment for kids or nerdy adults living in their parents’ basements. Seeing games become an institution in a way they recognize – by having a fancy award ceremony – would help speed up the process of those people figuring out their stereotype is wrong. This would be good in that I think people who write off games are missing out.
On the other hand, people who write off games are wrong, and society is increasingly realizing that anyway, Gaming Oscars or no, so in the end I think it’s a good thing that games don’t have a dominant awards organization. We don’t need one. I enjoy hearing others’ opinions on movies and games and such, but I tend to ignore the Oscars because there’s something ridiculous about a small group of people deciding what the Best Film (or Director, or Actor) of the year is in an artistic medium, and when something gets as big as the Oscars, it’s sometimes easy to forget that it’s still just one group’s opinion.
Such opinions are subjective, and the more institutionalized and established the nomination and judging process gets, the more safe and mainstream it tends to become, to the detriment of recognition of independent and artistically risky productions. So I think it’s a good thing that there’s not one go-to source for Best Game of the Year. Instead, we have a bunch of different organizations presenting awards chosen by both critics and audiences, in delightful disagreement with each other (at least some of the time).
This dissensus helps us remember that there is, and will never be, an objectively Best Game – that’s not how creative media work. Ours is a medium that makes use of contemporary technology and connectivity like the internet, and so I think it’s fitting that our awards mirror the chaos of the web – there’s a million different awards, they’re mostly visible online, and there’s no single frontrunner. Excellent work gets recognized, but no one group has the power to convince the public that their selections are truly the best.