The Video Game Awards premiered on Spike TV in December of 2003, and they’ve been the subject of scorn and ridicule ever since. While the majority of that ridicule is very rightly deserved, I think a lot of people have failed to see how insanely far we’ve come.
Each year’s awards were hosted and guested by celebrities who clearly had no or very little gaming credibility. They were a testosterone tour-de-force, being sponsored by every major “macho” product and organization that existed. To be fair, the awards show aired on Spike, which billed itself as a Men’s Interest channel, and targeted the core demographic of gamers, which at that time was polled as skewing towards young adult males. This led to ten years of a very out-of-touch awards show, where the focus was not so much on the awards, but on the brand placement and attending celebrities.
There was not an 11th annual Video Game Awards, but Geoff Keighley decided to organize and finance another show personally — The Game Awards 2014, and I think it showed the industry finally heading in the right direction. No celebrity unrelated to video games was there (unless you count Imagine Dragons, but I enjoyed their presence and personal gaming stories); there were no AXE Body Spray commercials; and rock music wasn’t loudly thumping throughout the whole thing. In fact, the only commercials were for sales on games, which I actually appreciated!
I saw a lot of people complaining that the entire thing was an ad for games. Of course it was! Games are what we’re talking about! Would you rather the breaks be filled with ads for food or razors? Or headphones, perhaps? It was nice to see some of those games on sale on Steam — sales I didn’t know about it beforehand. Even the music was great — there was something for everyone: chiptunes, classic medleys, modern hits, and even Lindsey Sterling showed up to play. The end featured an acoustic performance Imagine Dragons, featuring Koji Kondo! Tell me where else that would happen! To me, that is a sign of being catered to as a gamer, and not as a demographic of young white males.
Yes, EA, Sony, and Nintendo probably contributed a lot financially to the show. Yes, their games were heavily previewed and talked about. I won’t say I was particularly fond of it, but if that’s what it takes to get companies to show up and take interest, I’ll put up with it! They featured plenty of indie games as well, and I think a lot of people forget that without the Video Game Awards, No Man’s Sky might have fallen to the wayside unnoticed. It’s a great platform.
I will agree it would have been very nice to focus on the actual awards. It seems weird to me that major awards were handed out on the sidelines almost as an afterthought. Maybe changing the name of the show would be in its best interest, to reflect an event about both the awards and the previews? The Video Game Show, perhaps? I was extremely glad that recognition was given to Roberta and Ken Williams since I grew up with Sierra adventure games. Had this remained on Spike, or disappeared entirely, that would not have happened.
A lot of people seem stuck on giving Geoff a rough time, and I can’t really understand why. The “Dorito Pope” meme is still popular, and people act like he’s a shill for all these companies. Personally, I have always enjoyed him as a reporter and as a host. He’s quick on his feet, funny, professional, and he seems to have his fingers on the pulse of the industry. He’s certainly never insulted me as a gamer — I can’t say the same about many other industry pros — and I really don’t see any devious or malicious intent behind his actions. I sincerely doubt he’s making a ton of money off of doing this, and his passion for it is obvious when you read his tweets and watch his interviews. I have absolutely no beef with him, and I think a certain respect is owed to him for trying to bring us something. There are much, much worse offenders to pick on when it comes to our industry.
Is the show perfect? No. Was it heinously bad, to be mocked and shamed into non-existence? No. Constructive criticism, encouragement, and excitement will only help it get better. Not everyone will always be pleased. The world is like that. But if we try to focus our energies on making it better instead of complaining about it, I have no doubt that our community can create what we’re after.