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Spike VGAs- Beyond Taste and Dignity

There are times when a man must take stock of the things he’s done and account for them. Regret for things done wrong, bad choices made, and time lost can all weigh heavily against this accounting of the soul. This post is my attempt to try to make sense of a grievous transgression against all my sensibilities of taste and dignity. Saturday night, I watched Spike TV’s Video Game Awards.

Granted, I didn’t give the gaudy, pandering, and horrendously juvenile program my full attention. I was sitting in the floor playing through a walkthrough of Vlaada Chvatil’s awesome Mage Knight board game and sort of had it on in the background, glancing up occasionally to have my TV pour non-stop advertisements into my eyeballs peppered with intermittent “funny” skits and flashing lights. A lot of it is a blurry misasma of Hulk Hogan, Portal 2 references, and the talentless Felicia Day acting like an ass for charity. Then there are the Z-grade celebrities like Charlie Sheen with their empty, soulless canned speeches…”Games. We Play them and they are fun. Here are the nominees for ‘Most Bad Ass Bad Ass in a Bad Ass Video Game”

Like far, far too much of the attendant media that the games industry generates, the VGAs are really just an opportunity for publishers to shit out endless advertisements masquerading as “reveals”, “announcements”, and “trailers”. The entire show, with its meaningless awards that have absolutely zero credibility or sense of actual creative or artistic recognition, is nothing more than a marketing opportunity for the publishers and a sales opportunity for Spike TV. And if you watch this program and think there’s any merit or substance behind it beyond enticing dollars out of your wallet- you’re a sucker.

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As for the awards themselves, it’s really a damn shame that there isn’t an actual peer-nominated and awarded program of recognition for the games industry. Maybe you think awards like the Oscars or the Emmys are meaningless, but try telling that to the directors, screenwriters, actors, and musicians that have been nominated or have won them. Or for those working in film and TV for whom winning those top prizes is a personal goal. Some kind of credible, authoritative game awards (i.e. not “as voted on by the visitors of” or picked by a committee made up of professional bloggers) is desirable, and I’d love to see a mature, dignified award for this business to acknowledge great work.

But the VGAs aren’t it. Mature and dignified means not having Sergeant Teabag or whatever come on the stage and teabag folks with long speeches. Mature and dignified means not having the on-stage valets dress like hookers in thigh-high boots. Mature and dignified means leaving all of the “hilarious” gamer jokes and memes on the Internet.

And it also means presenting a respectful awards program that isn’t just a bunch of fucking “reveals” and advertisements. But when so much of games journalism is marketing anyway, I guess I really shouldn’t expect more from an awards show. There’s a lot of suckers out there, enough to keep this kind of shit rolling for years to come.

The highlight of the show wasn’t the “reveal” of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us (another fucking zombie game) or Epic’s goofball Minecraft clone Fortnight (another fucking zombie game). It was when Hideo Kojima, one of the greatest of all video games creators, got up there at the close of the show and completely botched his entire “reveal” of Metal Gear Solid: Revengeance. His broken English stumbled, he apologized a lot, looked shy, and overall it was a very human, very “real” moment closing off an incredibly plastic and phony evening of high-tech holograms and super-slick commercialism.

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At one point during the show, my wife came in the room and asked what I was watching. I said “some kind of video game award show”. She said “it looks really fucking stupid”. Given all of the time that I spend trying to convince her and others that games aren’t just for the ne’er-do-well, live-at-home teenage losers that this show is apparently targeted at, all I could say in response was “Yeah, it’s pretty shameful”. And I went back to reading rules and rolling dice.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

22 thoughts to “Spike VGAs- Beyond Taste and Dignity”

  1. You know, I was content to let Spike have its fun because nobody took this thing seriously anyway. But now, I think they’re doing actual lasting damage to the video game industry as a whole and the perception of people who play video games. Your average non-gamer who sees this shit is just going to have a negative opinion of everyone associated with video games reinforced. It’s just so gorram awful on so many levels. The barrage of advertising; the half-assed awards, some of which are just disguised advertising (seriously, who the fuck gives out awards for things that haven’t come out yet?!); the scantly-clad women reinforcing every negative stereotype about how video games are for juvenile teenage boys. The sheer idiocy of the entire proceedings is just mind-boggling. We absolutely need a version of the Oscars for video games, but this sure as fuck isn’t it.

  2. I completely agree with you regarding the show itself. It was embarassing. It did nothing to legitimize the gaming industry as a mature and mainstream entertainment industry. Thanks to shows like this, gaming will continue to be considered stupid and immature to the mainstream audience.

    I disagree with you regarding the awards themselves though. Aren’t the award judges a panel of highly credible industry critics? Giant Bomb, Destructoid, Kotaku, Joystiq, Game Informer, etc. . .they all have people contributing to the judges. I’m surprised No High Scores wasn’t called on to participate. The point is that I feel the awards themselves, if given the right venue (not Saturday’s fiasco), should be given respect.

  3. In turn, I completely agree that shows like this do _nothing_ but harm the legitimacy of video games as an entertainment medium.

    But on the second part, I only partially agree with you because what exactly is “credibility” when you’re talking about sites like Destructoid, Kotaku,and Joystiq, sites that aren’t much more than sounding boards for marketing departments run by people who may or may not be exactly credible? When I visit those sites, I see articles about cosplay, some guy’s fan art, press releases, horka-horka in-jokes that I don’t get, and other things that are just as off-putting and juvenile as anything on the VGAs. And frankly, using “Game Informer” and “credibility” in the same sentence is laughable!

    With the Academy Awards, the voting is done by people that work in the industry, not journalists, and I think that’s significant. It gives the award more weight, and for the recipient I think it’s more meaningful to get an award given to you by your professional peers.

    Let the bloggers and magazine writers have their GotY lists, leave the high-profile awards to professional organizations and peer groups.

  4. I dont know if its I hit 40 or if world of warcraft has done me in.

    For 6 years I played WoW. Religiously. In my first year I logged like 1803 hours of wow averaging 4.94 hours of play each day for 365. after that as one might imagine its a blur of raids, pvp, and general hanging out in vent. Then I quit. I started playing MW2 and Blops. They were great and I loved my time with these games.

    Then something happened. I bought MW3 I played a little single play. And bam I didn’t want to play games anymore. Make no mistake I am saddened by this. In fact I dont know what to do with my time sometimes as I want to play but just don’t. Even the sports games seem to suck. Baseball seems less like baseball and more like a game, football seems less real and more cheat.

    I used to watch the award shows and g4 and anything I could about gaming. I used to fight the fight with family and friends that gaming was no different than watching a movie except I was playing the movie.

    Now all of a sudden it does all seem like childs play adolescent crap. I do not know and have been wrestling trying to figure out if something snapped inside me? Or if games just suck? Or if they have suddenly gotten stupid. It seems like its all the same crap I have been playing for the last 12 to 15 years without much change. Except now a kung fu panda race is kool instead of “gay” (yeah I said it I’m from the 80′s) A raid boss who makes lots of fart noises and says must be the cherry pie is awesome (no wtf is that doing in a rpg game its just wth).

    In other words all of a sudden stuff in games seems to have become so 10 year old to me I cant stomach to play em.

    A console to me has become more useful as a media box than system lately.

    Not sure if this has anything to do with your entry, but somehow it feels like it does. I have lost that lovin feeling.

  5. It doesn’t matter if it’s all just a lark (which it isn’t, it’s an advertising and advertising sales opportunity), like you’re saying here it is damaging to the legitimacy of games. It’s just another thing that makes playing video games look FUCKING AWFUL if you’re an adult.

  6. I agree that the Spike awards lack credibility. The problem is, while the Oscar/Grammy may be more “mature” they are ALSO commercial laden fluff, with ZERO credibility.

    You can NOT give Taylor Swift “ALBUM OF THE YEAR” and still hope to please anyone but 14 year old girls.

    These awards seem to be doing the same but with 14 year old boys instead.

  7. I was with you until you called Felicia Day ‘talentless.’ Seriously? She is fine actor and writer, and the Dragon Age DLC she voiced the main character in was wonderful. The Guild and Dr. Horrible are excellent. She is a genuine fan of video games, and a very talented lady. It is unfortunate that she participated in this stupid VGAs, but so have others.

    I think the best criticism of the VGAs was from Mark Hamill, who was invited to the ‘ceremony’, was given shit seats, and the category which he was nominated for was given in a montage. Which is just ridiculous.

  8. Oh, this is totally related Mike…what you’re feeling here is the realization that the games business isn’t working _for you_. You’re seeing that as a 40 year old man that games haven’t grown up with you and that the way things are marketed and presented it’s still in a state of arrested development. Even at only 36, I see a lot of this stuff and I’m just like “that’s not for me”.

    For as much as I dearly, dearly love video games there is so, so much about the video games culture that I really wish would fuck right off and die in a fire.

  9. Sorry GM, just not a fan of hers at all.

    Yeah, that is embarassing that one of most impressive achievments of the year in video games was awarded in a montage to a man who really should be more recognized for his work anyway…and not just because he played Luke Skywalker.

  10. Well, I think it’s a little different with those shows because they are peer nominated and voted on. But there are undeniably commercial reasons for certain things winning. But that said, that Taylor Swift album might be totally top shelf in terms of production, pop songwriting, and other qualities that other people working in the recording industry appreciate and want to recognize. But when it comes to taste…well, you know there’s no accounting for that…

  11. I made a very conscious effort to skip this even before I knew grown men would tea bag each other. I don’t know what to say other than someone should set fire to the people responsible.

    Oh, and I was happily playing Skyrim while that crap was going on.

  12. Play Dark Souls and learn to love again. I agree with you, pretty much, although I have never watched these awards shows. They just look so awful. And I still play WoW, mainly for the raids, although my guild is all adult professionals. I would have quit a long time ago if not for that.

  13. I can’t get into the idea of something being so hard I throw and break controllers. I have been there done that. For me hard, doing it over and over and over doesn’t equate to fun anymore. It means 50 bucks a pop on new controllers. I played with only college age thru 60 year old raiders but the love of that game is long lost. I had finally realized I was playing spending alot of my time bitching about it not being original wow. Then I realized that is what drugs do. You get your first unreal high. then you spend every other time getting high trying to relive the first time which is unattainable. The game that I loved is long gone and now so am I hehe. its all good. I really have just lost that lovin feeling like I said. Been fixing things around the house. Reading. Learning astronomy with my 10inch telescope. Working out instead.

  14. Honestly, at 23 I feel some of these things. I’m not even sure it is entirely an age thing. In some places games are going backwards.

    But there are still good ones being released thankfully.

  15. I’m about to hit 41 and my wife and I just acquired our first child, which has put me through a similar personal crisis as you are experiencing. I have a hard time with passive media (outside of books) anymore, gaming is so in my and my wife’s blood, that while I can no longer stomach the juvenile antics of much of the industry (never mind the actual juveniles that one runs into while playing CoD or WoW!), I find that shifting my focus exclusively to games of a more serious bent (Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout 3, Metro 2033, Alan Wake, etc.) did wonders for my personal enjoyment of the hobby. Anyway, focusing on the good stuff, stuff which does not presume I am physically or mentally 13 years old, while ignoring as much of the marketing media as possible and avoiding those games aimed at a younger demographic (or saturated by it) has done a lot for me to keep my interest in the hobby. It is possible!

  16. There two awards in gaming given out be the developers peers, the Interactive Achievement Awards, given at the DICE summit, although these have a restriction that the publisher must be part of the association I think, and the GDC awards given at GDC conference, sure they are not a TV show but they should at least be live on the web I’m sure they would be more entertaining that the VGA

  17. I’m 26 and I can totally relate to where you’re coming from. I don’t think it’s age. It’s more that gaming is becoming more mainstream. Instead of making games that are more complex and mature each year, the big companies are putting out titles that are more accessible and juvenile. The motion and casual games that the industry is wild about? I couldn’t care less.

    Thankfully, it’s not all doom and despair. There’s still plenty of good CRPGs being made for a more mature audience. Bioware/Bethesda/Obsidian still practice this ancient dark art, but for how much longer, I’m not sure. Minecraft and any grand strategy title from Paradox can steal weeks of my time too. The bottom line is that there are still good games out there, but the big AAA title that everyone is excited about may not be for us anymore.

    Oh, and I turned off the VGAs right after the tea bagging skit at the start. I’m not saying the show needs to be uptight formal, but at least raise the maturity to a level where we don’t need to be ashamed and an adult can watch without cringing. Giving the awards some industry credibility would be nice too.

  18. as ‘a gamer’ by marketers, but Spike trafficks in this kind of pandering to a demeaning stereotype that was made up by advertisers in the first place in all of its programming. That said, until you guys learn to grow up and represent the demographic better, I’ll just be over here half-crouched on my couch, holding my gamepad at an improbable angle and hooting at the TV while my bros high-five and drink Mt. Dew.

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