Bafta Video Games Awards

As a result of speaking at the London Games Summit, I was invited to last week’s Bafta Video Games Awards (at least, I think that was the reason). While Perplex City hadn’t been nominated, I figured that I really couldn’t turn down the invitation, if not for politeness’ sake, for the free drink and potentially interesting people.

The Awards were held in a very impressive venue, the Roundhouse, by Chalk Farm Road in north London. No expense had been spared in order to push the glitz factor to max, and almost everyone had heeded the instruction of black tie dress – everyone being 95% male. I suppose there might have been some female game designers or programmers there, but it didn’t seem like it. In any case, I didn’t think there were too many male game designers or programmers either – PR, media and marketing types had more than their fair share of the tickets, and there was plenty of European-style kissing and non-game related networking going on.

I don’t particularly have anything against European-style kissing or networking, but let’s face it, it really has little to do with video games. In fact, the whole event felt like it had been shoehorned into the normal Bafta awards mould, which are of course for film and television. Everyone was trying hard to be cool, but the MC (Vernon Kay) and the presenters (Andy Serkis, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, etc) really had nothing to do with video games at all. If they had anything to say about video games, which most didn’t, it was normally a joke. Nothing wrong with a joke, but there’s also nothing wrong with saying something intelligent.

In fact, Colin Salmon, an actor in the James Bond movies, got the biggest cheer of all when he said he’d been in two (sadly not very good) video game movies and said that he thought it was a wonderful thing for the industry that it had been recognised by Bafta. I’m pretty sure that was the only serious thing said by a presenter, which was pretty sad. On reflection, I really have no idea why the organisers didn’t try to get more video game related figures to present awards. I suppose the reason is because the people watching on E4 wouldn’t recognise them, but let’s face it, the only people who are going to watch the Bafta Video Games Awards are going to be pretty serious games fans.

As for the awards themselves, I didn’t have any major problems. I didn’t agree with many of the judgements, but that’ll always happen. However, it was interesting to note that the Best Game winner was Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. I’ve never played the game – I have no idea whether it’s good or not. I’ll probably never play the game, or anything like it. I’d wager that most people would say the same. And that’s a sad thing for the winner of the Best Game award.

Over dessert, my mind drifted over to the Oscars. Say what you like about them, but the nominees for the Best Film award are usually all very, very good, and while their appeal might not be universal, it’s certainly much broader than Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. The jokes and jibes from the MC, the niche appeal of the games, the skewed occupations of the guests – it points to the fact that video games simply don’t have the cultural weight and appeal as television or movies, and that apart from the fact that they all share a ‘moving image’ (as said by the head of Bafta) they’re fundamentally very different entities. MTV doesn’t make its guests dress up, and the Booker Prize is comfortable with being different.

Perhaps the video games industry will grow into the Bafta mould, if it successfully broadens its appeal and creates games that everyone can appreciate and enjoy (cf. IMDB top 100). But for now, that’s not what the video games industry is, and I don’t see the point of pretending. The energetic throngs at the Penny Arcade Expo, or the earnest programmers and game designers at GDC – for me, they represent what the games industry is now.

3 Replies to “Bafta Video Games Awards”

  1. The double-tragedy is that there are a lot of celebs who are games-players and games fans, from the obvious (Simon Pegg, Peter Serafinovich) to the less so (Jonathan Ross, who beat me to CEX’s last pair of Samba De Amigo maracas back in the day), actors who have done v/o work for games — or appeared in them back in the FMV era — even people with videogames about them (hate him though I may, 50 Cent)… to get presenters who know nothing about the field and are prepared to joke about their lack of knowledge on stage is a travesty.

    You talk about GRAW not having the broad appeal of an Oscar winner. Well, Crash took $50m at the US box office. Call that five million people, or one in 60 Americans, paying full price to see it. Whereas GRAW has shifted 2.4 million copies worldwide, and Ubisoft say half their sales are in the US. Given that there’s 100 million modern games consoles in the US, that means — ballpark figures — 1 in 80 American gamers has bought GRAW. I’d say that given their respective constituencies, the winner of BAFTA’s Best Game and the winner of the last Best Picture Oscar are pretty comparable on grounds of their respective commercial appeal.

    It’s BAF-“Any excuse for a piss-up in a tux”-TA. That’s the problem.

  2. The sad thing is that they chose their presenters so that they’d look good on TV. Unfortunately, I’m told that the broadcast on E4 was deathly dull.

    I agree that GRAW has the same level of appeal among gamers that Crash has among moviegoers, but whereas moviegoers represent (essentially) the entire US population, gamers are much more demographically limited. So while BAFTA would like to pretend (even if it doesn’t believe it itself) that gaming has hit the mainstream and has the same sort of cultural universality as movies, it simply doesn’t. I’m sure GRAW is still a fun game though.

  3. I dunno, Jonathan Ross is a relatively obvious gamer to me, what with being married to Jane Goldman and from there we get a Hilary Goldman / Hewland International / Gamesmaster connection.

    Ross’ funniest ever moment IMHO was on “They Think It’s All Over”, at the end of a “90 seconds to describe as many sportsmen as you can” round where he lost the plot and started ranting incoherently about Sonic The Hedgehog. Many years old, but highly entertaining all the same.

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