This is a trend that applies to the movie industry as well. Some directors go out of their way to make films that are considered “Oscar Bait.” Clint Eastwood, as fantastic as he is, has been doing this with a lot of his recent films. I think the games industry is just following suit. If you fill your game with dramatic storytelling and excellent pacing, you can be pretty assured that a mass quantity of people are going to enjoy it. Since you have confidence in your narrative structure, why not just lay claim to GOTY presumptuously? Gaming is a different medium, though. When critics and fans were shouting about how superb BioShock was [the original, not Infinite], I had no idea what to think. I clearly couldn’t play the game at launch or I’d hate it ironically. I even began to feel afraid of gracing the presence of the title. I had to wait about two and a half years after its release to give a completely unbiased and objective opinion about it.
My initial reaction was even just, “It looks like a dumbed-down System Shock 2!” How could a game that shares so many similarities to a previously-released game be GOTY? More goes into that factor, though. I believe another reason we are seeing so many quote-unquote “lackluster” titles is that gaming journalism is a relatively young field. We’ve had sites like IGN and GameSpot for almost two decades and now everyone has their shot at the journalism pie. I don’t want to imply that sites are giving out the awards to stand out as I don’t even believe that myself. I’m trying to say that we just have younger writers. These people weren’t around when System Shock 2 was brand new. For that matter, a lot of gamers didn’t even grow up with Nintendo or Sony! Their first shooter is honestly BioShock and to them, it’s mindblowing. They aren’t wrong by praising it, either. I do wish there was a more objective panel of judges for such things. I also wish more independent game sites would trek through paths less seen in the game world. Instead of claiming that mainstream title C is the best thing ever, why not delve into some indie games or even niche markets?
Do I think that larger budget games get better attention when it comes down to GOTY time? Yes, and rightfully so. We can talk about lacking gameplay and emotions and story and industry commentary all day but what it comes down to is universal appeal. I’m not saying to sell out or go mainstream (though I have zero desire to buff my indie cred, either), but there’s a reason hákarl isn’t as celebrated as pizza. A reason why we love olive oil so much more than fish sauce. Because – to keep the food metaphor going – some games are acquired tastes.
Sure, after a while you might come around to some indie starlet like 30 Flights of Loving (not me, not yet), but some won’t. Game of the Year honors simply cannot go to a game with low universal appeal because so many people’s opinions will be left out. For every one person that thought BioShock Infinite underwhelmed, ten more swooned. It might not be fair, but them’s the breaks. Larger games appeal to larger audiences. Larger audiences are more important than smaller ones when committees are involved. Sorry.
(And of course Luke decided to shill out his own work from earlier this year) “Like I said in January, emotions rule.”
So there you have it, six opinions on the rubric of game of the year contention, selection, and decision. We’d love to hear what more you have to say on the subject too, so be sure to comment with your thoughts below! (God, this December is going to be a lot of arguing and yelling; I need to go stock up on aspirin STAT!)
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