The Game Awards Can’t Overcome Fundamental Flaws, Despite Brilliant Moments

The Game Awards 2016 is in the books, a ceremony that saw controversy, tragedy and humanism converge on one stage in combination with one of the most popular forms of today's entertainment. At times, especially in the early goings, the Game Awards appeared like a professional awards show, lending credence to video games’ legitimacy on the public stage.


Unfortunately, these great, human moments were few and far between, and the space in the middle was filled with forced humor, head-scratching production decisions, and a bevy of unentertaining advertising tie-ins and low-quality live performances.


All this is especially disappointing given how strongly the night started – a heartfelt monologue from host Geoff Keighley dedicated to industry darling Hideo Kojima, whom was being presented the Industry Icon Award. This had the juiciness of controversy, by calling out Konami, a studio now universally despised for forcing Kojima out of their company, but also the tenderness of human emotion, right down to Kojima’s unflinching humbleness, despite being the focus of unabashed adulation.


The night continued strongly with the presentation of the “Games For Impact” award going to That Dragon, Cancer, which tells a fantasy version of the true story of a boy who tragically lost the battle with the titular disease. Developer Ryan Green is also the father of this boy, and his acceptance speech left hardly a dry eye in the house, and I’m sure that extends to the numerous at-home viewers.


Where The Game Awards struggled was in the moments between and after those two highlights. Hosts often stumbled over ham-handed jokes and segues that fell as flat as the screen on which I was watching them. It seems an obvious attempt to pad time, but that turned out to be an awful waste, given that many award-winners were unceremoniously announced without an acceptance speech or even a presentation.


One such decision represents perhaps the biggest head-scratcher of all. When Inside was early in the show presented with the award for Best Art Direction, the developer who accepted the award was walking up when an unseen announcer threw in “Inside also won the award for Best Independent Game.” Consider the 88th Academy Awards, where the film Spotlight took home both Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture: when they were called up to accept their screenplay Oscar, they didn’t then announce “Spotlight also won Best Picture.” The reasons why should be obvious.


The Game Awards clearly didn’t need to pad out run time, when they didn’t even have enough time to do a proper presentation for each award. That makes the lethal injection of poor attempts at humor all the more questionable. While there were some genuinely funny moments, those were clearly accidental, such as Deadpool director Tim Miller asking interviewer Alison Haislip “why are you yelling? It’s like we’re in a wind tunnel.”


And it wasn’t just humor that unnecessarily padded the run time and took away valuable real estate from articles of genuine interest. Whether it was repeated commercial interruptions or the live-show ad-placement of Schick Hydro with a man in a razor suit, The Game Awards wasted no opportunity to maximize profits while minimizing viewer experience.


I can certainly appreciate the expenses that go into putting on a show of this capacity. Even without paying for Television network time, the cost of the venue and the production crew, who I imagine are getting paid hourly, will add up quickly. But, at the end of the day, you need to deliver a solid product in between those money-making opportunities. If you don’t, your production will unravel, which is what seemed to happen with The Game Awards, as the show couldn’t consistently hold audience attention.


Of course, The Game Awards still ended on a high-note with Overwatch winning Game of the Year and the production crew at Blizzard humbly accepting the award with yet another heartfelt speech. The fundamental problem with the show as a whole is relegating these experiences to short moments that could only act as pepper over a spoiled meal.