We Need to Talk About Video Game Awards

Pity the poor awards voters. Yes, Elden Ring will surely win game of the year just about everywhere, but what about all the other categories? Anyone doing a halfway-decent job at judging this year’s best narrative game or the best debut game will still have to spend hundreds of hours to get through the longlist. And while you might not sympathise with the plight of those poor games industry voters who get to play dozens of games, the practical impossibility of judging puts the entire notion of games awards into question.

I’ll focus on one of the most well-known awards bodies: the BAFTA Games Awards, which I’ve been part of for over a decade. Each year, perhaps a couple of hundred games are up for consideration across multiple categories. Around 850 members then vote on the best games in each category, with the top ten going before a jury of nine to twelve games industry experts (see the rules PDF).

Ten games doesn’t sound too bad, but jurors need to play them to completion in just a few weeks. According to How Long To Beat, a representative set of ten games a jury member might judge would take the average player 150 hours to complete. Even if they’d already finished a couple of the games, that’s still over 120 hours – a solid four hours a day, every day for a month. That’s only just doable if you have a full-time job, which most games industry experts do. And forget about experiencing any optional sidequests or New Game Plus, because those definitely aren’t included in the 150 hour total. 

A single month of relentless after-work gaming might be tolerable, but most jurors should have been playing dozens of games before that point simply to vote on their top tens in each category. It leaves barely any time for voters to experience other art like TV, movies, and books to inform their opinions.

It’s useful to compare this process to the BAFTA Film Awards, which sees around a hundred films across all categories each year under consideration by voters (rules PDF). That’s two hundred hours to watch every movie – not just all the movies in a single category – spread over a considerably longer voting period of a few months. It’s still a lot of time, but you can manage it with a mere movie a day, meaning it’s possible for film voters with full-time jobs and families to get an appreciation of the entirety of the awards field in a way that is completely impossible for games voters.

Other games awards aren’t any better; in my experience, BAFTA does a lot to ensure a diverse, representative array of games and judges. Ultimately, any awards body that claims to represent the entirety of video games suffers from the same problem of demanding too much from its voters.

Should we get rid of all game awards? Maybe. Some say awards are more about the prestige of the voting body than anything else. In far too many cases, that’s true – but it’s also true that the best award bodies can draw attention to art that would’ve otherwise been overlooked. In the case of games, I have to question whether the top games of 2021 really needed more attention than they already had; did we need to spend so much time deciding whether It Takes Two (winner of The Game Awards’ Game of the Year) was really meaningfully better than Resident Evil Village or Deathloop?

The solution lies in the overreach of games awards themselves. Back in 2018, the V&A Museum held an exhibition called Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, exploring the design and culture of games, to widespread industry praise. I was a little more sanguine – not about the exhibition itself, which was very good, but about its framing. Imagine the V&A holding an exhibition called “Painting”, or one called “Fashion”, aiming to sum up an entire artform in one go; it’d be laughable. Instead, outside of games, the V&A correctly focuses its exhibitions on individual artists and genres and styles, which gives it the space and focus to do them justice.

I can’t blame awards bodies too much. Games have exploded in quantity and variety over the past few decades in a way unparalleled by other art. We should celebrate this diversity, not by trying to crown the best game of the year, as if we could crown the best piece of “video” from all of TV, movies, YouTube, and Twitch, but by creating new awards bodies for every genre and style. If we did that, voters could give every game their due – and maybe get an early night.

Originally published in EDGE magazine issue 378 (Christmas 2022). Photo by Joshua Golde on Unsplash.

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