The VGAs Show There Might Be Hope for Gamers Yet

Once a year, the Spike TV Video Game Awards roll around, and a lot of us who write about games for a living start to cringe.

What horrors will the VGAs visit on us this year? I thought, sitting in Ross Lincoln’s apartment as we started our liveblog of the event on Friday. Would we see a repeat of the infamous teabagging incident? Or maybe just the sort of slop that makes up most video game advertising — trailers with sexy nuns fighting bad-ass dudes who have stronger jawlines than they do character development.

The VGAs don’t have a great history, and what’s worse, they tend to pander to the lowest-common denominator when it comes to gaming. I fully expected to see a crush of shooters taking top honors at the awards this year. “Welp,” I would have said. “Of course. The VGAs don’t represent gaming; it’s an advertising moneygrab and nothing more. Move on.”

Except the VGAs weren’t totally awful this year. In fact, I feel pretty positive about the event as a whole.

Now, of course, it still had its problems. Many of them. It was still often really dumb, and littered with celebrity appearances of people who had no reason to be there and were phoning in their teleprompter reading like they couldn’t wait to get home to catch “Murder, She Wrote.” But then something kind of amazing happened: Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead got the win for Game of the Year.

I find this incredibly fascinating. Yes, The Walking Dead is my personal GotY as well, and yes, I’m fully aware that the game is actually fairly lacking when it comes to actual “gameplay.” It’s hard to ever “lose” at TWD: while you make plenty of choices throughout the game, the overall outcome of events is more or less the same regardless; shooting zombies and solving puzzles are all incredibly easy; and the game itself is more a vehicle to tell you a story than anything.

But still. An adventure game, focused almost entirely on story, beat out: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2; Assassin’s Creed 3; Halo 4; Mass Effect 3; Borderlands 2; and every other big-time sequel from a big-time studio you can name.

What’s more, Telltale got the big prize and more awards than any other game, but if you look through the awards, ThatGameCompany’s Journey also took a plurality of awards at three — matched only by Borderlands 2 (well, if you count Best Character, Borderlands 2 and The Walking Dead each have four, Journey nabs three, and the next nearest winner is Halo 4 with 2). I didn’t see many actual awards given out during the broadcast — in fact, I think the broadcast only included five. They were: Best Shooter, Borderlands 2; Best Character, Claptrap; Best Action-Adventure Game, Dishonored; Best Independent Games, Journey; Game of the Year, The Walking Dead. Of the four awards that are actually even a thing on that list, three of them are new IP titles. Not sequels, and not titles that had the biggest budgets on the market, either.

In fact, the show itself was relatively free of awfulness. Sure, there were comedic moments that fell entirely flat, but Samuel L. Jackson’s over-the-top-ness wasn’t so bad, for the most part. Sure, Tenacious D managed to get a giant winged johnson on basic cable in the background of their set — which is absolutely incredible by any standard — and sure, there was the occasional set of breasts purely for the sake of breasts. But really, by and large, the show wasn’t nearly as horrible as expected. It featured two musical segments (granted, they were ruined by sound effects and countdown timers, as if we couldn’t enjoy music without knowing when the next explosion was coming). And the trailers were for games like The Phantom Pain, The Last of Us and Dark Souls 2.

Not to jump the gun on things, but I was moderately impressed, and perhaps that’s a sign of how bad things have gotten. Or maybe it’s a sign that things are getting better. In a gaming climate that includes events like #1ReasonWhy and open dialogues about important issues in the forward motion of the medium, we saw a VGAs that didn’t completely paint our entire subculture as a meaningless hobby enjoyed only by prepubescent little boys, basement-dwelling social outcasts and beer-guzzling ass-grabbing frat bros. A lot of the show was about artistic-type things, even; at least enough to balance out a number of instances of Sam Jackson saying “motherf–ker.”

More than that, the awards really did showcase of number of the best titles the year had to offer, and while it still caters to the safe and the mainstream, it’s definitely not nearly as safe or mainstream as it has been in the past. And any year that contains zero live-action teabaggings is a victory.

So call me an optimist, maybe, but I’m optimistic. With three new IP games getting a serious showcase on one of gaming’s biggest stages — awful a thought though it may be that this is one of gaming’s biggest stages — it could encourage more great stuff to come. It almost certainly shows that gamers really do appreciate the good stuff, not just the mindless, explodey stuff. There’s a place for all kinds when it comes to gaming, and the VGAs this year suggest to me that the culture might be growing up a bit. Not a lot, and not very quickly, but a bit. This year is better than last year.

I wonder what next year might bring.

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4 Comments on The VGAs Show There Might Be Hope for Gamers Yet

Kami

On December 11, 2012 at 11:26 am

It was certainly more of an awards show and some of the jokes were actually funny as well! Plus it unveiled Dark Souls 2, which is a ticket to automatic win.

Perhaps they realised that gaming as an artform and entertainment medium is maturing a little and they wanted to accurately reflect it? Or perhaps the people organising it actually enjoyed games and were more interested in games, not big-name franchises? Either way, you’re right. It didn’t entirely suck and it wasn’t that predictable either. And that’s a dramatic improvement from its prior years.

We’ll have to wait for next year to see if it’s just a pleasant blip or the start of an annual tradition we want to revisit….

Lee

On December 11, 2012 at 11:37 am

@Phil Hornshaw I think your missing the point on the VGA’s. The show is just for entertainment and celebrating our favorite games. Also how exactly do you know that the celebrities at the show are not gamers. They could enjoy playing video games as much as we do. Now I’m sorry that you did not like the show but it is apperant that many do otherwise they would have not had a tenth anniversary this year. Now granted there is some bad things about the show that needs to be improved but hey I can say that about alot of shows that I watch.

Phil Hornshaw

On December 11, 2012 at 11:50 am

@Lee

Fair points, all. The thing about the VGAs is that it tends to celebrate the sort of frat boy broski segment of gaming, which is definitely a component of it, but which many gamers don’t feel represents them. The teabag incident is a good example — a lot of us see that as a harmful stereotype, and to perpetuate it on a major televised event doesn’t do us any favors as a culture that wants to be taken seriously. That said, yes, you’re absolutely right that the VGAs are an entertainment product and that they do, in fact, entertain people. I think what I’m excited about is the VGAs intersecting with gaming culture as a whole more, and being a little more representative of all of us, instead of just the people who like Call of Duty.

R.J.

On December 11, 2012 at 11:53 am

I was pretty surprised to see The Walking Dead come away as the big winner considering it is far from the type of game that the VGAs focus on, and it was rather pleasing to see something like that be recognized. The one thing that I do worry about is that perhaps the big reason the TWD caught the interest of the VGAs is because it is based on a property that has a lot of appeal to Spike’s target audience. I know it’s cynical, but I really hope that the merits of the game are why it did so well, rather than people saying, “OMG, The Walking Dead!”

Seeing new IPs do so well also calls into question comments like those from the Ubisoft president about how gamers aren’t interested in new IPs and only want sequels this late into a console cycle. There is a give-and-take relationship when it comes to new games. Gamers want new games, but they also expect a quality product. Sure, some games slip by because of bad marketing or a general lack of interest, but oftentimes new IPs don’t succeed because they just aren’t that good. There is always a market for a quality game, it’s just that companies have to set realistic expectations. EA doesn’t like new IPs because they have the unrealistic expectation that all of EA’s games are going to sell COD numbers.