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The Point of Pointlessness: Or How I Stopped Worrying About the VGA's and Dropped This Bomb
Posted on Saturday, November 28 2009 @ 10:12:04 PST

As the holidays draw closer to us, three things happen. One, a ton of shopping for your respected holiday, but it Christmas, Chanukah, or Festivus to name a few, will likely get done. Second, you’ll get fat with all the food you will eat. Always. Lastly, it becomes award season for all the entertainment industries, which begin to pump out the best stuff of the year, supposedly, in the span of eight weeks before January.

So what does this mean for video games? Why it’s the annual Spike TV Video Game Awards, a piece of poop that for the past six or so years has airs on the “network for men” channel to promote the best video games of the year. With star-studded hosts like Samuel L. Jackson taking center-stage with some other B-list celebrities, the VGA’s have become a fixture for the video game world, a fixture that is more like a dark stain on the souls of mankind that needs to be removed to the depths of hell as soon as possible.

You might be wondering right about now, why am I so bitter towards something that can be seen as harmless? It promotes decent games all the time and it also gives us some credit as a medium. To which I reply with a snarky roll of the eyes and say you’re wrong. The Spike TV VGA’s is really more detrimental than you think, because what it does is cater to the lowest denominator for the audience in the end, turning what a night of deserving accolades should be into a political popularity contest for the masses to enjoy. Granted this is similar to the Oscars and the Grammys, but at least they hide it better. The VGA’s are just blatant about it.

So what is really so bad about it? Well, for starters, it’s the inconsistency of the reward categories. Last year, there were 25 categories for games to win awards in. This year, they added four more to the list, some of which repeat themselves. It also the categorization’s in the past that sometimes made no sense. 2007 was particularly bad, having “Best Military Game” and “Most Addictive Videogame.” As major categories. The categories seem to come and go as they please. “Best performance by a male/female” voice actor (which for some reason is ALWAYS A KNOWN CELEBRITY over an actual voice artist.) disappeared in 2007, when it was a part of the ceremony in 2006, and was later added in 08 and the upcoming awards show this December. The inconsistencies’ make it hard to track anything in terms of a narrative of the show. The only staples are genre awards (usually best shooter, action game, RPG and sport sim) and the two big awards (Game of the Year and Best Studio/Developer.)

Speaking of celebrities, they put a lot of emphasis on them over the games themselves, and even less emphasis on the game developers and producers. Unlike a more stable award show like the Interactive Achievement Awards (IAA), the VGA’s try to make things as flashy as possible for everyone to I guess enjoy.  The celebrity hosting, cameo’s and promotions for the celebs in-game essentially mask the purpose of the awards at times; which is honoring the hard work the developers did. Granted, the VGA’s used to have a designer of the year award, but that was dropped for two extra categories for the celebrities. In fact, of the 29 categories, five of them deal with celebrity voices in game, and some of these categories are repeats of themselves, like “Best voice” and “Best Male/Female performance.” The choices are all different, however, so perhaps it was just a bad ploy to get more celebs in the running.

Then we get nonsense categories like “Most Anticipated Game.” I mentioned this briefly above, but when your award show is going to hand out an award for a game that was not released yet, and is all about hype, there is a problem. In fact, a lot of the games nominated are usually the result of hype-fueled debates. These categories take away from the show, turning it into the prom contest we don’t need to see.

Another problem is the timing of everything. Most award shows begin around February, with selection throughout January on the previous year awards. The VGA’s seems to do things in December, and selects games in November. The timing is way too short of a deadline to pick a good list, and since the year is not finished yet and three of the five games up for game of the year came out literally within the week of the nominations being announced, it is hard not to draw conclusions over a major problem of biased nominations. The three games in questions, “Modern Warfare 2,” “Left 4 Dead 2,” and “Assassins Creed 2” were all hyped up to be the best games of the year, and while I am sure each has its own strengths and weaknesses, the fact that they came out days before the announcements of the nominations is a major problem. It once again seems to be more about hype over results, and while many gamers will argue for one over the other, the simple fact that other games which are just as good, or even better in some opinions, were left out on the cold.

And perhaps the most damning thing the VGA’s can do is being biased. As I said, the Oscars and Grammys do it all the time, but nine times out of ten they can mask it. Here, it’s blatantly obvious ALL THE TIME. Take, for example, “Muramasa: The Demon Blade.” While it was a really niche title in terms of it’s play style, and it was on the Nintendo Wii, it was beautiful, frantic and overall fun, an experience this year that is being overlooked at the VGA’s because it was not nominated in any category. Even for “Best Wii Game” it was shut out, and instead we get “Madworld” and “Wii Sports Resort” two games that, while good, paled in comparison to “Muramasa.” The inclusions of these two show something about the VGA’s. For one, they rely on bigger name companies, SEGA and Nintendo respectfully, over an obscure developer like Vanillaware and Ignition entertainment. It also shows a major difference between tastes of gaming; “Muramasa” was a Japanese developed game which looked the part, the latter were games that looked more western, or at least not as Japanese as they could have been depending on the company like Nintendo and Sega. Lastly, one can argue that “Madworld” is included just because it waas  rated M filler game that was on a Wii. This can bring up a whole new debate if it win’s best Wii game over the likes of “Punch Out!!” and “Super Mario Bros. Wii," although to be fair this is unlikely.

But the shafting of “Muramasa” is not the only oversight. Other great games this year, “Dragon Age: Origins,” “Scribblenauts,” and “Blazblue” each got shafted in their own way. “Dragon Age” is up for best RPG and PC game, but not game of the year, developer of the year, and best cast. “Blazblue” is only up for best fighting game this year, and not for soundtrack and graphics. Lastly, “Scribblenauts” was shafted by being nominated for best Hand held game only, and is not up for any other categories like best developer, which it could be nominated for.

Now granted, the majority of the games nominated were chosen for a reason in their categories. And this is where varying opinions as to why these games are up for game of the year, or why other games are not nominated at all. But, it seems to me at least, the bottom line always comes down to two things, money and ratings. To put butts in front of the boob tube they need to pick the big draws. There is no denying games like "Modern Warfare 2," which had so much pre-release hype and sold around 2 million copies on launch day, is a big draw. It puts any Wii game nominated for "Wii Game of the year" to shame, in fact I doubt those five games combined can even be half of  what "Modern Warfare 2" has sold in general since launch. There is nothing wrong with popularity in this sense, but it is the business-like mentality that lets games like "Muramasa" slip by. It is more about the bottom line over the merits of the game; to sell it for viewers at home they put the AAA titles, whether they deserve it or not, up for nominations over the little guys which, to some gamers, should at least get some degree of recognition for their hard work.

And this is what you can say separates the VGA's from other award shows. The Oscars, despite being political, at least nominate movies that, while for the general audience may not enjoy, understand, or like them at all, they get the recognition they deserve. Not every "Gladiator" or "Lord of the Rings" movie nominated would win either, sometimes we get the more obscure "Crash" or "The English Patient" over something more well known. It is debatable if they deserve it again, but the fact that they are nominated is recognition for the merits of the medium they are trying to present. For games, it comes down to partially what is known to be popular through sales and word of mouth, and partially what is familiar to the general population.

The Spike TV VGA’s are, in effect, the obvious popularity contest you would expect at a high school prom. The most likeable to the masses get’s the top billing, even when they don’t deserve it. The flashy celebrity appearances, the lack of respect for the developers, both mainstream and independent, the total exclusion of deserving games in numerous categories all concocts a disgusting potion that frankly is not worth our time as gamers. Yet the problem persists because now outlet’s like Gamestop try to promote the VGA’s as much as possible. There is nothing wrong with that, but when the popularity contest is getting more ink than the peer-reviewed award shows, like the IAA’s, there is a serious problem for the industry as a whole, because even the Oscars, for all of its political dealings, is peer reviewed. If we want to be taken seriously, the IAA’s, or an IAA-style award show needs to be pushed more over the bloated mess that the VGA’s takes on every year. We may not be able to stop it, but as time goes on and gamers grow up with their medium, I just hope that they discover how much of a stinking turd this award show is.

But you know what? What is the point? Everyone reading this knows that the VGA's are a joke, so why make this point. I guess there really is no point to the pointlessness, other than a plus one rant for my own ego to stroke for a week. But frankly, the fact that no one talks about issues like this is a problem if you ask me. Every year many games shout in disdain against the VGA's and other subsequent award ceremonies, so what is stopping these said gamers from showing it to others out there. There is no point to this, but I guess I shouldn't worry either, because everyone knows it in the end as well.


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