The Evolution of Video Game Awards: From Crassness to Progress

This year’s Game Awards ceremony faced significant backlash for its rushed approach and prioritization of adverts, celebrity cameos, and rambling conversations with industry figure Hideo Kojima. Obsidian’s Josh Sawyer aptly described it as an “embarrassing indictment of a segment of the industry desperate for validation via star power.” However, despite these valid criticisms, I believe it is crucial to also view the Game Awards as a testament to progress. To understand this progression, we must take a trip down memory lane to the infamous Spike Video Game Awards of 2007.

Produced by Geoff Keighley, the Spike Video Game Awards were an annual event from 2003 to 2013 and served as the precursor to the current Game Awards. Spike dropped its support in 2014, prompting Keighley to establish the revamped Game Awards we know today. While the Game Awards 2023 faced criticism for excessive celebrity appearances, nothing compares to the gratuitous nature of the Spike years. The 2007 edition was hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, who kicked off the show with jokes about STDs and Britney Spears. The first award, “Hottest Newcomer,” was presented to Kristen Bell for her appearance in Assassin’s Creed by two actors from the MTV series The Hills. The rest of the show continued in a similar vein, with an array of actresses from mid-2000s CW shows and appearances by Tila Tequila, Criss Angel, and a musical performance from Kid Rock.

Yet, it is the finale of the 2007 awards that truly captured attention. Rachel Bilson and Hayden Christensen arrived to reveal the winner of Game of the Year: BioShock. However, as Ken Levine stepped up to accept the award, the founders of Gamecock, a short-lived video game publisher, rushed the stage in capes and rooster hats, hijacking the microphone to promote their company. This incident, although controversial at the time, pales in comparison to the other crass elements of the show that generally went unnoticed or unscrutinized.

The 2007 Spike Video Game Awards revealed the extent of their crassness during the announcement of the Game of the Year winner. At the start of the show, Samuel L. Jackson mentioned the unique method of revealing winners: mostly-naked women covered in body paint. The camera crash-zoomed onto a woman’s breasts painted with the BioShock logo when Rachel Bilson said, “And the winner is…” To amplify the spectacle, a person dressed as a full Big Daddy costume stomped onto the stage. As Gamecock seized the microphone, wearing their distinct red costumes (surprisingly the least tacky element on stage), Ken Levine never had the chance to deliver his acceptance speech.

What followed was equally cringe-worthy. Moments after Levine’s exit, alongside the Big Daddy and the body-painted women, Samuel L. Jackson returned to the stage. He jokingly referred to the body-painted women as the “prettiest envelopes in award show history” as they reappeared on stage in a procession. This entire sequence highlights the prevalence of crassness and objectification within the video game industry during that era.

Looking back, it is tempting to construct a narrative of the video game industry undergoing growing pains during that period. BioShock, often hailed as the “Citizen Kane of games,” was seemingly debased through its association with mainstream perceptions of the medium. However, this narrative crumbles upon closer examination. In reality, the Spike VGAs faced only minor criticism at the time, and the same crassness persisted for several more years. For instance, the 2008 awards featured cheerleaders and a complete absence of developers on stage. Both the games and developers themselves often mirrored the crassness displayed in the production around them.

While the 2023 Game Awards have evolved to limit developers’ speech time with signs asking them to “Please wrap it up,” this does not negate the valid criticism leveled against the event. The transformation from men in rooster masks silencing developers to signs enforcing time constraints showcases some progress, but there is still room for improvement.

Remembering the Awfulness

The purpose of recounting the cringeworthy moments of the Spike Video Game Awards is not to discount the criticism aimed at the Game Awards 2023 but rather to bring attention to the need for reflection. It is essential to acknowledge the industry’s past missteps and learn from them. Instead of forgetting an unpleasant memory, we should confront and address the issues it represents. The questionable content from the Spike years serves as a reminder that the trajectory of video game awards ceremonies should always prioritize integrity, inclusion, and celebration of the industry’s achievements.

The transformation from the Spike Video Game Awards to the current Game Awards signifies progress. While the crassness and objectification present in the former may seem distant now, we must remain vigilant, ensuring that the awards evolve further to become a true platform for recognizing excellence in the video game industry.

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