The Game Awards is a course study in giving an audience what they think they want.
And if you’re a consumer of interactive entertainment, the Game Awards thinks you want teasers, previews and lots of marketing. “Elden Ring,” a complex and, to many, intriguingly intricate fantasy RPG, won big at the show, but, as is typical of the Game Awards, it was overshadowed by host Geoff Keighley’s glimpses of new games and suggestions for demos and take advantage of offers, sometimes for games and sometimes for meal delivery services.
No wonder the Game Awards is a cheerleading palace — Keighley is a relentless advocate of the belief that games should be taken as seriously as film, television and literature, and he strives to achieve that goal without pretension. He ended the show by revealing there would be a Game Awards concert at the Hollywood Bowl next year and he gushed about glimpses of upcoming games.
“It’s moments like this that get me excited about the medium,” Keighley said before sharing a clip from Judas, the upcoming game from Bioshock architect Ken Levine. While the game is hyped as one that will experiment with narrative, we saw plenty of violence, hints of magic, and twisted versions of retro decadence. Keighley later explained he was excited that “we can all witness the global announcement of one of the most visionary studios in the industry together” before introducing Hideo Kojima’s typically cryptic Death Stranding 2, a visual feast but one that offered nothing recognizable indicates where the story is going.
For Elden Ring, the latest game from acclaimed director Hidetaka Miyazaki, a designer who believes in the artistry of difficulty, to win Game of the Year signaled a sort of return to form for the Game Awards. Elden Ring is a game that, in the words of Miyazaki, delves deeply into the “myth,” this time one dreamed up by Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin. It’s been something of a surprise hit – a surprise only in that Miyazaki games are deeply challenging – but it’s also a long journey of exploration and an uphill battle. Known as a game for gamers, it’s best known for beating out the more linear God of War Ragnarök, which topped the field with 10 nominations and took home the storytelling award.
Last year was a celebration of a very different game. A wacky, colorful, and delightfully unpredictable action-adventure, It Takes Two won Game of the Year for constructing a world of puzzles, platforming, and collaboration that reigns in a constant tug-of-war with each other . It’s also narratively risqué as it delves into a relationship on the brink of disintegration, and it’s the happiest divorce game ever created. Where “Elden Ring” portrays the gaming industry most concisely and comprehensively, “It Takes Two” is gleefully chaotic and tends to be far more experimental.
So things went on as usual at this year’s Game Awards. Last year’s Game Awards began with a proclamation: “Game developers need to be supported by the companies that employ them,” Keighley said. “I think we all agree on that. So before we get to the news, announcements or awards, let me just say this: we should not and will not tolerate any form of abuse, harassment or predatory practices of anyone, including our online communities.”
It was a not-so-subtle nod to workplace harassment lawsuits and stories that have happened to Activision Blizzard. But this year there was no nod to anything that happened outside the doors of the Microsoft theater, once again largely returning the Game Awards to a marketing vacuum. The tone is one of constant confetti being blasted out – all catchphrases all the time.
Some cut through the noise. Roberta and Ken Williams, the founders of Sierra and the team behind the acclaimed King’s Quest games, were on hand to present the Games for Impact award, a game that Roberta says “represents how people move about the world.” think and feel.” The very good “As Dusk Falls” won the award, a game that navigates through life’s struggles, from debt to death to broken relationships. Director Caroline Marchal said the goal is to create a game where regular people grapple with real-world problems in hopes “that players will feel empathy for them and learn a little bit about their values.”
Christopher Judge, the actor who plays the gruff Kratos in God of War Ragnarok, delivered a long, impassioned speech as he accepted his award for excellence, the only one to stray completely from jargon. “Thanks for believing me,” he told Cory Barlog, who cast him in 2018’s God of War. “Thank you for letting me read for the role. I was the last actor in California to read for it, and Cory said he didn’t think I would. If I had known at the time it was a video game, I might not have done it.”
And Al Pacino, who presented the performance award, caused a few laughs. “It may shock you,” he said, “I don’t play many video games.”
Of course, there are many games worth celebrating this year, including Elden Ring. The latter isn’t my type of game, but I appreciate the lack of hand-holding and the way players can slowly uncover an abstract story. Other games, like Immortality, Sam Barlow’s take on Hollywood, told via a compilation of live-action clips, make an argument that there’s still a lot of experimentation to be had when it comes to presenting a story. And “Stray,” which has won multiple awards including the Indie Games award, is a bold proclamation that players want to play various characters, including (perhaps specifically) a cat.
But there was a nagging feeling that things at the Microsoft Theater were just a little too convenient — or worse, too promotional. Even a performance by Halsey intended to promote Blizzard’s “Diablo IV” was cut, as if each verse was being held back for later revelation.
And while those sitting around me screamed at all the appropriate moments, such as when a clip for an upcoming Final Fantasy game or Super Mario Bros. was shown. Animated film didn’t mention the biggest news of the day. Hours before the Game Awards, the FTC announced that it would question the merger of Microsoft and Activision Blizzard, raising doubts about one of the biggest deals in gaming history. Also the promotion of “Diablo IV” felt a little outshortly after a Washington Post report on a stressful, draining work environment at Blizzard’s offices.
All of this means that Keighley has successfully completed his mission. The Game Awards are a worthy advocate for the gaming industry, now regularly bringing in more than 80 million streams. Games are taken so seriously that their workplaces are under scrutiny, and protesters outside the Microsoft theater sought to raise awareness of union organizing efforts, income inequality, workplace harassment and a host of other issues grappling with the industry.
The gaming industry no longer lives in the vacuum created by the Game Awards. It’s time to let the TV show breathe a little.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-12-09/the-game-awards-recap Review: The Game Awards ceremony needs to evolve