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As you may or may not have seen last Friday, the Spike TV Video Game Awards just celebrated its 10th anniversary. The show has endured more than its share of criticism, and by the time you read this, I guarantee that there will be more.
Some denounce it for being misogynistic or biased, and many critics object to the heavy advertising. All of these are valid claims, and anger has been an appropriate reaction to the show in past years, but I’ve begun to realize that everyone is fighting a battle that’s impossible to win.
The further we get into the 21st century, the more I realize just how divided our industry has become, whether it be in more minor, subjective topics, like level of objectivity and professionalism required in writing about games, or more drastic disagreements on how the medium should be viewed.
Some see games as an entirely new entity — influenced by literature and cinema but not confined to the same limitations — whereas others view them as little more than toys, simply playthings for an increasingly large audience with various tastes and preferences. But whether games be viewed as toys, art, entertainment, or time wasters, they are gaining more and more respect through their refinement and sheer sales numbers.
The problem is that while some are treating it as an emerging medium that should be applauded as it takes on more direction and purpose, such as through the Game Developers Choice Awards, Spike is treating it as entertainment for that mythical 18-to-34 aged male audience: The same audience who watches all of Spike’s other programming.
What few have realized, though, is that the VGAs isn’t put on for us. It’s put on for the Medal of Battlefield Duty audience who thinks their specific brand of modern war shooter is the pinnacle of gaming. There are categories made to appease more rounded gamers, such as Best Independent Game and Best Downloadable Game, but the show is treated like a big event for a reason. Even though other award shows tend to give more respect for video games and their creators, they’re boring … at least by normal standards.
This is far more entertaining … if you have no respect for women or video games.
The more I see of Spike’s attitude toward games, the more I realize that this is exactly what the network's audience wants. Even though I and many others look at the show in disgust, knowing that all of the fanfare and clueless celebrities shift the focus away from video games, the target audience doesn’t care.
They just want to see the year’s best-selling games battling it out for an award, and although some of the choices seem a bit dubious, their favorites are likely to receive at least one award. To this audience, seeing video game highlights with comedy skits and world premieres interspersed throughout is exhilarating.
All of the awkward attempts at humor and the celebrity appearances, though certainly unnecessary, keep the show moving along. And while I strongly disagree with how the awards are often presented, by only mentioning the other awards a particular game has won, the time spent focusing on one game is cut down.
We take for granted that many actors are excellent public speakers. To those who aren’t familiar with the creative minds behind a studio, one acceptance speech barely seems necessary. Three or four more would feel like a clichéd formality instead of the heartfelt thanks it’s meant to be.
The fact of the matter is that "hardcore" gamers want a show, too, and some of the more intelligent, respectful award shows just won’t cut it. Spike gives them exactly what they want even if it isn’t very good. Dirty jokes, exciting video game announcements, musical performances, and beautiful women round out the event for them in a way that the others can’t compete with.
It’s a tactic that undercuts every stereotype gamers have been working to dispel over the last decade, but it works. And although I disagree with Spike’s choice to broadcast such garbage, there’s an audience for it. As flimsy as its excuse for existing is, Spike’s VGAs have a place in gaming as a whole … just not a very good one.