I used to love the Academy Awards.  My sophomore year of college I stumbled on a website called oscarwatch.com (I believe it’s now awardsdaily.com), a site that spent 365 days posting blog articles about what movies might be the Oscar front-runners, making predictions about the nominees far in advance, and speculating about the power unions of producers, directors, writers, and actors.  Back when I first stumbled upon the site it was a niche market, something for only the hardcorest of hardcore fans.  But within a few years the site started to gain traction as the Oscar race became something that people were more interested in.  Predicting the Oscars is now a favorite pastime, something you can follow like political elections or the NFL.  The Oscars is event television to celebrate film, but it is also a gathering of who’s who in the industry.  It’s a moment when film-junkies, people who follow celebrity gossip, and the general population turn their attention to Hollywood and watch the industry stroke its own ego.

It’s a recipe that many forms of entertainment try to mimic.  There’s the Emmys for television, the Grammys for music, the Golden Globes, and dozens of other smaller shows (Tonys, BAFTAs, SAGs, CMT, ect).  Award shows have long been used as fairly risk-averse, money-making TV and video games have tried their hand at this multiple ways and multiple times, the most famous of which is the VGA/VGX awards.  But the results of video game awards shows have been unimpressive.  Starting on the Spike channel, the VGAs moved to a digital format a couple years ago and have waivered between dismissable and disastrous.  They’ve often featured a fan-favorite celebrity pandering to a geeky audience, clearly with little interest – or at times, respect – in the medium.  There’s a bit of pageantry, some people proudly take their little statues home, but it’s never evolved into anything substantial.

The biggest problem with the VGAs is that they are undone by dozens of other video game awards and top ten lists, muddying the waters so there’s no clear-cut winner.  Unlike the Academy who vote on the Oscars, the VGAs are voted on by a team of journalists. By definition, the D.I.C.E Awards are more structured like the Oscars, as they are voted on by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences.  But none of the awards carry more prestige than the others; the VGA isn’t more coveted than IGN’s Game of the Year or Giant Bomb’s.  There is no Oscar, no crowning achievement, but rather a myriad of voices, each with their own opinion.  

Video games have never really been much about awards.  One of the interesting things about the medium is how it is – largely – a forward facing industry.  While film constantly looks back at the Golden Age of Hollywood and celebrates Citizen Kane, a movie released seventy-five years ago, as the greatest film ever made, video games only ever promise to be better.  While the Oscars channel the spirit of Hollywood looking back over its history with wistful, watery eyes, video games look forward at an event where it’s real pageantry is on full display – E3.

There are plenty of people who hate E3, but it is impossible to deny that E3 is the event that garners the most attention from mainstream viewers.  It’s where the definitive moment of the video game industry’s year, where the biggest names in video games come together to celebrate not the past year in games, but the future year.  When you think about how video games operate as a forward facing-industry, it makes sense that those who follow it would care more about an event like E3 than the D.I.C.E Awards or the VGAs.

There’s still an argument that video games lack that pinnacle moment, the crowning achievement for a designer or a studio.  There’s no ceremonious lifting of a trophy or an acceptance speech thanking all of the important people who helped a game along the way.  There’s no red carpet, no national TV, no history of wacky goof ups or candid moments of tearful  happiness.  No one wonders if the big names of video games are ever “going to win one” because there’s no “one” award to win that makes a career.

But the flip side of that is that video game careers aren’t measured by a single golden statue.  The worth of a game isn’t based around trying to fulfill a number of checkboxes in order to be invited to an event held by industry peers while they collectively congratulate themselves in a masturbatory fashion.  The reason I stopped following sites that spent the year obsessing over the Academy Awards is because it changed the way I talked about movies.  I no longer cared about the joy of going to the theatre or the true mastery of a film, I instead looked at the names, the campaigns, and the momentum associated with the project.  While the Academy Awards usually do a fair job celebrating cinema of all shapes, sizes, and nationalities (even when #OscarSoWhite is a thing, it’s worth pointing out the Academy honors shorts films, documentaries, and animated films you likely never heard of), the event puts people in a mindset to not care about who was best but rather who deserved to win.  With an event like the Oscars, the art often disappears into industry politics and frivolous competition.

In some ways, I feel the way video game awards are handed out – in this hodge-podge swarm of industry publications, critic circles, and organizations all giving out their own recognition – makes for a more genuine representation of taste.  There is no singular opinion on what is best when it comes to art, no one voice that can determine what is worthy of praise.  When it comes to determining the best of a medium from the past year, it should be a discussion, something that highlights the accomplishments of many, rather than celebrating the triumphs of a few.  

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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  • I think it would be a positive development if Hollywood took over much of the video game development process. Its studio model has proven itself much more effective at producing valuable art. It’s often difficult to tell if a video game is trying to be a work of art or a toy, or an artful toy. Do we need Oscars for toys? It’s hard to say. Like there are museums of design that proffer awards for essentially creating toy-like objects. I don’t know…

    But what I know is films that are said to be “Oscar-bait” are often not successful films. They are not targeted at the mass-market. They are made because they bring prestige to the studios that make them, and prove that those studios can produce high-minded art, even if such art will be viewed askance by the general public. It’s what we call art-for-artists. Or he-or-she’s a musician’s musician. When we say this we mean it takes actual ability to appreciate some things, and that this is just a smaller demographic, because ability doesn’t arise out of participation in the mass-market (accepting what is popular is what is most deserving of your attention; this is the default assumption, for most people. It is what it is.)

    Even more impressive than Oscar-bait is smaller and independent film. Oscar best-film categories must also be relatively accessible, especially to the culture in the U.S. The small experimental or daring/personal films are also usually backed by the studio system. They are used to train new directors, actors, the next generation of film-makers: there are many positions to fill. Each new crop of star directors usually has a very impressive resume, that looks nothing like the work they will do when they are chosen to apply their skills to the mass-market in the middle of their careers by the studio executives.

    So in a way what all of this amounts to is a diverse ecosystem. where yes at the end of the day money calls the shot. But it’s not so Philistine as video games. I am personally more inclined to champion the barbarians at the gate, but these reservoirs of old institutional largess are where the money is. So I’d like to see money put to good use in the service of video games one day. And then maybe there will be a role for something like the Oscars for video games.