PlayStation 3 exclusive “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” took top honors at Spike TV’s annual Video Game Awards last weekend. While “Uncharted 2” (rated T, $60) is a solid, counterintuitive choice amidst a wave of hype for “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” it’s tough to engage in an honest critique of the awards show when so many nominees have been in stores for just a few weeks. For that reason, I’m holding off on my own “best of ‘09” picks until sometime in early January.
Even though the show takes a lot of flak from gamers, the VGAs are the closest thing our pasttime has to the Oscars. While I don’t bemoan the existence of an annual awards show to celebrate the video game industry’s best work, here are a few changes I’d make in the name of improving the show:
Don’t air the VGAs in December: While there’s no doubt considerable pull from advertisers to air the VGA’s when the holiday shopping season is at its most frenzied, the show’s timing short-changes fans of titles released in November. Yes, such late bloomers as “Left 4 Dead 2,” “Modern Warfare 2” and “Dragon Age: Origins” captured their share of awards this year. But an interesting element of the VGAs is the inevitable fan debate that surrounds the show. “Assassin’s Creed II” wasn’t even in stores when Spike opened up fan voting on the awards’ Web site. In contrast, Academy Award nominees for the previous calendar year aren’t announced until January, giving anyone who cares enough time to see the films in line for awards. Given that most games take at least 10 times as long to complete as the average movie, it’d be nice to see similar scheduling in play for the VGAs. With the summer being a slow time for new releases, changing the “year” the VGAs cover to a July-1-to-June-30 period could also work.
Get rid of nonsensical categories: Jack Black deservedly won “Best Voice Actor” for his work as roadie Eddie Riggs in “Brütal Legend.” So how did he lose “Best Performance By A Human Male?” to Hugh Jackman, in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” a game most folks have long forgotten? Is Jack Black not human? Is he not male? Giving “Best Performance By A Human Female” to sex symbol Megan Fox for her work in a “Transformers” game is an obvious ploy to cater to Spike’s core demographic of teen and twentysomething males. It’s also a slap in the face to talented industry veterans like Jennifer Hale (Ophelia in “Brutal Legend”) and Claudia Black (Chloe in “Uncharted 2” and Morrigan in “Dragon Age: Origins”).
More gaming “celebs”: Ken Levine, Cliff Blesziszki, Fumeto Ueda and Tim Schafer, all folks who’ve been involved with some of the decade’s best games, aren’t exactly household names. So you can understand why the VGAs turn to the worlds of music and movies when it’s time to fill the ranks of award presenters. Why not seek to promote the industry a bit more, though, by choosing celebrities who play video games to present awards, then pairing them with a game industry luminary of their choosing? Spike could even shoot short promotional videos in which actors and rock stars drool like common fanboys over Ueda’s upcoming “The Last Guardian” or Belszinski’s “Gears of War 2.” It’d humanize the celebrities and promote the industry both.
Go beyond the obvious: While having categories like “Best Shooter” and “Best Racing Game” is a no-brainer, how about giving out awards for “Best New Game Mechanic,” “Most Surprising Plot Twist,” or “Most Unforgettable Character?”