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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Do We Really Need A Video Game Awards Show?

     Joel McHale, as I understand, is a comedic genius under the right circumstances. I honestly haven't seen but a few episodes of Community, but I've been told... over.. and over.. that it's a brilliant show. He also used to do The Soup and, while I'm sure it was funny in its own right, was completely irrelevant to me as I'm not a terribly huge television watcher, let alone a follower of the genre covered by that show. What Joel McHale has proven himself not, however, is an apt presenter of a video games awards show.

     Normally, when I title an essay "Do we really need..." I'm going to be arguing that we don't. In this particular instance, I'm going against grain. I've made it clear, in the past, how much of a dedicated gamer I am. Go back and read any number of my previous diatribes, and you'll see my love for the medium. If I had to forgo all form of entertainment media and pick just one for the rest of my life, it would be games. The stories you can tell when you're part of the narrative are touching and personal in a way that, for me, other media just can't match. Aside from getting choked up over the odd episode of Doctor Who, I can't remember the last time I openly wept over something the way I did when Eleanor Lamb said goodbye to her father, or when Tiny Tina and the Vault Hunters made their peace with a great personal loss.

     I'm firmly in the camp that gaming is an art form, and we need to show appreciation to the creators in an art form. Someone needs to have their name out there and a little trophy over their fireplace proclaiming that they told the best interactive story, or crafted the best accompanying music, or were instrumental in introducing the most revolutionary mechanic in a game. We need heroes in the industry that can give clear goals to up-and-comers to aim for and topple down the line, and we need to make a big goddamn deal when someone crafts something so perfect it evokes a genuine emotional response.

     The Spike VGA/VGXs are not the way we need to do that. There's highlight reels out there (if highlight is the right word). I challenge you to watch them. The first time I tried, I got a minute or two in and just closed the video out of complete discomfort. It doesn't help that I'm biased against Geoff Keighley, the main host, to begin with. Dead-eyed Geoff Keighley, sandwiched between a Halo 4 poster and a table full of Doritos and Mountain Dew, long-suspected and outright accused of being a schill for games publishers with his smug gobby face and his awkward diplomacy. He's practically the poster-child for corporate meddling in gaming journalism. I genuinely don't like this guy. He rubs me the wrong way in an (at least in my eyes) irrational way and I feel sorry for the guy.

Courtesy of Eurogamer. This is not a photoshop.

     The previous Spike VGA shows were hollow, overblown mockeries of other shams like the MTV VMAs, which fit right at home on Spike. I'm not fond of Spike, either. Marketed as "The First Network for Men." Apparently Mens programming involves Pamela Anderson, Professional Wrestling, and syndicated prime-time dramas. That's another article in and of itself. This year's "VGX" was re-branded and down-sized, which I think really helped, but still couldn't save it. Joel McHale seemed determine to undermine the subject matter with jokes about female orgasms, Cheetos encrusted fingernails, and taking shots when hearing the words 'next-gen.' Constantly going off-script and blathering on about the teleprompter and being needlessly disrespectful not only to Keighley (which I'd have been ok with), but Reggie Fils-Aime from Nintendo and Double Fine's Tim Schaefer. We get it, Joel, you're drunk and you don't want to be here. Do us all a favor and go home. Get someone who'll appreciate it like Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, Chris Hardwick, Veronica Belmont. Someone who's played a game recently and can actually muster some genuine enthusiasm. I hate Geoff Keighley and I could have done a better job.

     What really didn't help was when they cut to some rap group I've never heard of who contributed to the GTAV soundtrack that went on to shout things like POTATOES and MY SUIT HAS SHOULDER PADS in between listing the most violent things you can do in a GTA game as why they love games. Way to make gaming look like a pastime for mature adults, guys.

     Fortunately, there are alternatives. The GDC, Game Developers Choice Awards, the Independent Games Festival, and the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Awards exist. If only we could funnel the attention and funding that Spike gets for the VGA/VGX into one or more of those, broadcast them over the internet, and get someone notable - and related to the industry - to host them, we wouldn't have situations like this year's debacle. Few things make me ashamed of being a gamer. Joel McHale just managed it, though.

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