The Game Awards, the annual award show hosted by Geoff Keighley, was on Thursday, and it was full of surprises and twists. As per usual, it was really more “The Game Advertisements” than “The Game Awards,” a largely undeserving AAA game took home Game of the Year, and Nintendo unveiled a new Smash Bros character.
It’s no secret that the Game Awards are a huge moment at the end of the year for developers and publishers to show off trailers for upcoming titles. Often, things that were not quite ready for E3 can be showcased during the Game Awards, and often in a more slick, cinematic way than the hands-on nature of E3.
Moreover, this year has been a bit weird, in general. E3 was canceled outright, leaving companies to have to foot the bill for their own ad campaigns. The industrial hype complex around the event often gets a lot of eyeballs on E3 trailers for free. Many companies were likely quite ready to take advantage of the opportunity to get their games in front of a wide audience with the Game Awards this year.
The biggest news out of the Game Awards, in terms of new reveals, was the reveal that Sephiroth will be joining the Smash Bros roster. The One-Winged Angel is the antagonist of Final Fantasy 7 and is an iconic RPG villain.
A very divisive game got the nod for both Best Direction and Game of the Year: The Last of Us Part II. The violent, moody and critically lukewarm game received a generally tepid response from professional reviewers and very divisive responses from audiences.
The controversy surrounding the game ranged from bad-faith attacks on the appearances of some of the female characters in the game, with some ill-meaning critics insisting that Naughty Dog was pushing a political agenda with the game.
Others pointed out that the game’s tone was didactic, forcing the player to commit egregious acts of violence to continue the story, only for the game to then preach to the player that violence was never the answer. Many players felt that this preachy tone left them confused: the game gives no option to advance without using violence.
Some outlets, like Kotaku, have noted the hypocrisy of giving a game made under intense working conditions an award for “Best Direction” is sending a tacit approval of toxic work cultures in bigger game studios.
It’s no secret that Naughty Dog compelled developers to work extremely long hours to “crunch” for the release of the game, which caused many critics to decry the game’s win in the “Direction” category. Their win in that field is all the more egregious when compared to a game like Hades, made by Supergiant Games, which was explicitly made without the use of exploitative labor practices.
Hades also, unlike TLOU2, was critically well-received, is beloved by fans, and has remained relevant post-launch in ways that don’t involve any ongoing controversy. Other games journalists have pointed out that Animal Crossing, which was also up for Game of the Year, has been a far more relevant game than TLOU2, selling many more copies and being played and discussed for months both before and after the PS4 game’s launch.
Whether or not any individual game’s quality or development realities play a role in whether it wins awards at the show is unclear. While critics may say things like “the Game Awards are meaningless,” it’s not true: everyone from serious gamers to the most casual fans take note when a major award show issues its “game of the year” verdict.
So, is it fair that a game propped up by hype and made under exploitative conditions cleaned up at the award show, while more relevant and beloved games were overlooked? Highlighting companies who engage in a toxic work culture is damaging, and hopefully the Game Awards doesn’t repeat such a mistake in the future.