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Balthazar Auger

Bringing down Babel: why Games could use another Cold War

3 min read

This might probably be considered as a flame.

On Awards

I will assume that you have either attended the conference, or at least kept up with what goes on there, and have attended or at least watched some of the Awards ceremony on video.

Awards ceremonies are always a very exciting glimpse of how the industry thinks of itself. In that sense, games continue to feverishly idolize their older brother, Cinema : red carpet, VIP sectors, big screens, loud noises, funny hosts reading from a teleprompter and live broadcast. This, judging from the audience reaction, works beautifully.

The awards ceremony are a very easy way to communicate to a broader audience what games are about, using the most powerful channel of communication: winners. People love to win, and people love winners. It gives the industry a new standard to emulate, and it gives consumers a clear guide for investing their money, i.e. “This game is obviously more beautiful than that one because this one won the Visual Arts award”, or “This game is the BEST GAME of the year, period.”

Of course, the choice of the best of the best in all the different categories that matter is not left to chance. Both award shows have clear rules and transparent processes, polling nominees and awards from a voting process involving many “game industry professionals” (quotation marks are because I was included in that group, a claim that still needs to be backed by myself). Accordingly, what most people will choose is deductible from a game’s Metacritic rating. Sadly, this makes the GDCA and the IGF’s global cultural significance equal to ZERO (with one little exception).

Their judging approach is an attempt to reach an objective absolute result based on an aggregate of subjective impressions. The thing is, the games industry’s goal is NOT to produce reliable software, we are producers of (at least) entertainment, and such it is impossible to give an accurate measure of the level of entertainment a game provides. The best we can do is voice our opinions about it.

I’m most uncomfortable with the fact that the whole process makes it hard to disagree with it’s outcome. There is no opinion to argue against. Everyone hides behind that impersonal polling system to avoid giving their informed and well-voiced opinion of why a game is more better than the next.

And this goes for both awards, with just one notable exception: the Nuovo Award. In terms of process, it is completely different from the rest: the only ones to be involved in the final decision is a limited panel of judges and we know who they are.

Check this out. This is what I mean: get people who are relevant to the prize together in a room and have them reach a consensus through informed discussion. Then, have them output a professional opinion of who should get the prize and why.

Don’t hide behind numbers, educate your audience.

I really think this should be the dominant method of prize assignment for both award shows. Mass-polling asphyxiates all possible following argumentation, stifles intelligent discussion and kills innovation. If we want the awards to be more than just loud noise and bright lights, we should make a method switch as soon as possible. Make all awards function as the Nuovo award!

This is the part where I justify the title

Artistic currents have always defined themselves by agreeing or dissenting with other ideas, philosophies or political currents. The most dynamic times in artistic and philosophical thought coincide with historical periods where the balance of power is multipolar: during the Renaissance, the Industrial age or the 20th century, cultural evolution was driven by a continuous back-and-forth of competing opinions, theories or schools of thought. Hollywood cinematography wouldn’t be what it is now were it not for George Méliès, the German Expressionism, Italian Neorealism, the French Nouvelle Vague…

WHY do we allow a single North American, corporate-run event to act as the face for most game creators in the world?

The main reason we should work for better visibility of personal opinions at the GDC and IGF is to foster dissension of those same opinions by people, or groups of people. We SHOULD NOT all agree, that would be aberrant and incestuous. We SHOULD all pursue completely different directions to prove each other wrong.

We should become POLITICAL about what we do. We should talk about our work, and argue why it was made the way it was made, and people should be able to disagree on WHY, not on HOW it was made.

Imagine the mighty Tower of Babel, the place where everyone talked the same language and everyone understood each other. Now, imagine how FUCKING BORING it must have been…

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