Let’s Be Done With The Game Awards

December 12, 2023

Written by Jamie Galea

Game of the Year season, or the fifth season, to borrow a new Giant Bomb idiom, is one of my favourite times of the year as far as covering games goes. It’s a great time to reflect on the year that happened, and see where everyone lies as far as what their favourite and least favourite things were. It usually means reading a lot of lists and listening to a lot of podcasts, but it’s something I genuinely enjoy doing. The real downside to all this season is the return of Geoff Keighley and the looming spectre of The Game Awards, something that’s been around for well over a decade now in one form or another.

I didn’t want to write about The Game Awards because year in year out it continues to be a show where the awards matter less and less over the announcements, and I feel if you are tuning in, it’s to mock it. It’s ostensibly meant to be an awards show, a celebration of the year in gaming, but you wouldn’t know it across the many hours these shows tend to drag out of you. It’s a show that’s best enjoyed by watching a compilation of the many game announcement trailers well after the fact, because watching it live is an exercise in tedium.

This year made it apparent where Keighley’s priorities lied as anyone lucky enough to receive an award this year was given 30 seconds to give a speech before they were whisked away to make room for new game reveals, ads and celebrities. And that’s if some awards were even deemed important enough to even have stage recognition. Because in and amongst the three hour run time this show seemingly still demands, there are still awards given out in ten second bursts with no fanfare or celebration. If you genuinely think they’re not that important, they why are they even there? Why bother giving any celebration to a thing you clearly are rushing to get to the next segment?

Me realizing The Game Awards are coming back next year.

It feels like a massive overcorrection from last year where Christopher Judge had a long acceptance speech for his performance in God of War Ragnarok. I don’t blame Keighley for wanting to clamp down on long speeches to keep the show moving, lord knows it needs it, but having it affect every award winner is a stretch. Even the Game of the Year award winning speech from Swen Vincke from Larian, where he was talking about a colleague that passed away in the middle of development of Baldurs Gate III, got hit with this time limit. Literally the most important award of the whole event can’t escape this. Maddening.

If it was because there was some massive announcement that required the final speech to be wrapped up quickly, or they need to get everyone out of the venue quickly, I could understand somewhat. As crummy as it would be, there would be at least an iota of logic behind that choice. Instead, Vincke’s speech was wrapped up quickly so Keighley could give advance notice that The Game Awards will be terrifying audiences and the game industry once again sometime in December of 2024. Frustratingly, Keighley commented post show that the timer was manually controlled, and he allegedly told the people running it to loosen up on it somewhat, but clearly this never happened.

In a year where the game industry has had one of its worst years as far as steady employment goes and one of its greatest in terms of releasing quality games, having any moment to thank those who made these incredible games would’ve been appreciated. It’s a show that needed some degree of levity, and I don’t think you can get that from celebrity appearances or new game announcements.

I was reminded online about the 2016 show, in which Ryan Green of That Dragon, Cancer receiving the Games for Impact award that year. The game, which was about Green’s experience of raising his son who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at twelve months old, is an extremely emotional tale, and Green didn’t hold back on being recognised for it. It’s a powerful moment on its own merits, one helped by Green being given enough time to accept his award and share his son’s story. He was able to show some humanity and it didn’t break the flow of the show.

That moment today would not be allowed to go as long as it did. Not when Hideo Kojima could rock up and spend ten minutes palling around with Keighley and Jordan Peele and announce a whole heap of nothing. Or when Keighley could live out his dreams and have yet another segment with the Muppets that went on for far too long (they’ve been a part of the show for a few years now). When more than half of the awards show is dedicated to ads and announcements over celebrating people’s achievements, there is something wrong, and for as much as he won’t cop to it, the buck stops at Keighley.

When did we let Geoff Keighley worm his way into running nearly every significant gaming event? How did we not notice it sooner? Because as long as Keighley is running these sorts of shows, the more it becomes apparent he’s less interested in trying to celebrate the video games industry and its achievements, and is more interested in become a glorified ads salesman. I won’t question that he’s able to court major game publishers onto what prestige his stage has, but as always, any publisher worth their salt could always announce separately from the extended Keighleyverse (not my phrase, I wish I remember who said it) and still get plenty of eyeballs. Hell with even more showcases for smaller games out there, I cannot see what Geoff Keighley and his black hole of charisma can bring to the table.

We are still giving out awards via this splash screens.

This year, more than years prior, showed that Geoff Keighley’s primary interest was to be the guy who got to be the centre of the news story, the guy that’s friends with all these people in Hollywood, the guy that got to announce the hot new video game. There is an almost pathological desire to be the moment with this guy. To do that, he has to be neutral and not do anything to upset anyone potentially wanting to share his stage or advertise for him, even when it’s the right thing to do. If there’s any actual issue or question with the awards, he sure as hell won’t do anything about it. To him, it’s someone else’s fault.

There was never a chance he was going to address the open letter from the Future Class calling for some comment on the current situation in Gaza, because why upset and alienate potential advertisers who want to stay away from politics? Even a comment on the massive layoffs the industry he claims to love was absent. It wouldn’t have even been that hard to comment on that either and still be somewhat neutral! Everyone knows and agrees this sucks! It’s such an easy layup that it’s astounding Keighley didn’t even make an attempt.

The galling thing is that he’s absolutely capable of taking a stand when it counts (read: looks bad on him and his advertisers). In 2021, amidst the state of California investigating Activision Blizzard on allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment, Keighley took the step of barring them from participating in the show outside of their nominated games. He even opened the show by taking to the stage to generically and vaguely denounce abuse in the industry.

Granted, Keighley had to be called out for a wishywashy stance ahead of time to even get to that point, but the exercise proved he’s capable of at least recognising the optics…kind of. Almost immediately after his denouncement of abuse, and because the concept of irony is completely lost on this guy, he threw to an announcement trailer for Quantic Dream’s Star Wars Eclipse, a studio that’s also had many reported issues of treating their employees poorly.

Yet at the end of it all, the question that bothers me the most is the one that’s bothered me for years: who the hell is this show still for? If it’s for recognising the best games of a given year, that part feels even more diminished than ever. If it’s for announcing new games, why tack it on with an half arsed awards show? If it’s to put on a show for the public, why is it still so long and bloated?

If Keighley is going to just use this as a means to show hype game announcements before the end of the year, drop the pretense and rename the event the Winter Game Fest. At least it’d be more honest than what we’re currently getting.

When he’s not too busy helping plan better GOTY celebrations, you can find Jamie on Twitter

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