Today, The Game Awards revealed its list of 2015 nominations—nominations I won't bother listing here simply because they're so staggeringly obvious.
Don't believe me? Well, think of what they could be, then head over to the listing to see if you're right. USgamer will still be here when you get back.
So, I'm guessing you managed to guess most of them correctly. Well, buddy, don't think you're on the road to being the next Michael Pachter just yet. This is an awards show, after all, and awards shows are engineered towards a single goal: putting on an entertaining awards show. Yes, talent is often duly recognized and rewarded during these overlong ceremonies, but awards shows are also products designed to make money. Since the TGAs have yet to become an institution, they're reaching for the broadest audience possible—and that typically entails shining a spotlight on games that've already received plenty of attention.
That's not to say the TGAs have made some particularly bad nominations for 2015, though. All of their Game of the Year choices are certainly worthwhile—even if Super Mario Maker stands out as the token "Guys! Guys! These can't all be M-rated violent games!" nominee. And, looking across the other categories, I'm seeing plenty of nominations I definitely agree with. The real problem, then, is that the TGA's unfortunate categorization process broadcasts a strange message about what we as a community value about the medium.
In the kindest terms, the Best Independent Game category is just a little bit offensive. It's great that the TGAs are giving indies some attention, mind you, but segregating a certain "type" of game from Game of the Year nominees is implicitly saying "You must spend THIS MUCH to be considered The Best." There's no reason, say, Undertale or Rocket League couldn't sit alongside Metal Gear Solid 5 or Fallout 4, and yet they're essentially ghettoed away from the Big Boys. It's especially funny when you consider one of the biggest gaming successes of all time, and one of the biggest games of the moment, Minecraft, is essentially an indie game. Something tells me the Big Guys might be getting a little territorial about their turf.
And then we have the "Games for Change" category—again, another move with good intentions behind it. The games under this designation—Cibele, Her Story, Undertale, Sunset, and Life is Strange—each do something entirely fresh and unexpected with narrative and/or mechanics. Why, then, do we have a category that rewards thinking outside the box, but none of the games within it also appear as Game of the Year nominations? Everything nominated for Game of the Year is absolutely a valid choice, but all the games in this category outside of Mario Maker rest on formulas established by previous installments—though I guess you could argue Super Mario Maker kinda does as well. The message I'm getting is that innovative and unique experiences have their charms, but nothing beats a big, beefy sequel.
In a sense, I get what the TGAs are doing: Essentially, trying to cover their bases when it comes to games that don't fit into established categories. But, in doing this, they've created a type of segregation that feels incredibly patronizing, even if that wasn't the intent. It's true that some of the smaller games, like Undertale, have more than one nomination under their respective belts. Yet this indie RPG still doesn't fit into the entirely rigid Game of the Year Category, which seems designed to reward a certain level of scope and production values. And that very well could be due to the fact that the TGA Advisory Board is comprised of people behind "Game of the Year"-style games: the ceremony is essentially guided by CEOs and Presidents from the biggest publishers and console manufacturers out there. (Maybe there's a reason their games are getting the most attention?)
We're well past the dire, dire days of the Spike Video Game Awards, but what they've been replaced with isn't much better: something as fluffy as The Grammys, but without the same cultural capital. And the depressing thing is I honestly don't expect The Game Awards to provide an accurate representation of what games are important: To do that, I just need to scroll through my Twitter feed, or ask my peers what they're playing. The Game Awards aren't designed for me, and not everything has to be. Still, it would be nice if some of the smaller or more daring games of 2015 received attention from an audience that likely won't discover them on their own.