What the VGAs Did Wrong (Again)

It’s nearing the end of December, and 2008 is coming to a close. Time to put up the Christmas trees and lights, time to start making resolutions for the new year, and time for Spike TV to mangle the VGAs once more. Since 2004, Spike has been striving to make their Video Game Awards show into the industry’s Oscars, but they have tough competition. Other gaming awards may not have flashy shows with celebrities and Ultimate Fighting Championship advertisements, but honors like the Golden Joystick Awards, which have been handed out since 1982, come with much higher esteem in the world of game development.

Alright, alright, to be fair, this year’s show wasn’t nearly as bad as shows past. But Spike still has a long way to go if they want to transform the VGA’s into the "next E3." What follows is a list of what they still got wrong, and why.

Guests and Musical Acts

Weezer

Wearing a cowboy hat does not mean you’re cool again.

So close, yet so far. This year’s guest list certainly sounded promising: a musical performance by Weezer, the stars of the upcoming Chun Li movie, and Jack Black as the host…how could it possibly go wrong?

Let’s start with the musical acts. The All American Rejects were unnecessary, but then, was anyone really looking forward to them anyway? LL Cool J’s impromptu performance was equally unasked for, and he was one of the many guests who looked more than a little out of place. 50 Cent was a smart choice, considering his game, Blood on the Sand, will be coming out in 2009, but does anyone really still listen to his music? And then there’s Weezer, who closed the show with their single, "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived." In their heyday, Weezer was the epitome of nerd rock. Nowadays, however, the band is more than a little washed up, while their songs refer more to Beverly Hills than geek culture. I would have much preferred to see them play something from their glory days (In the Garage couldn’t be more apropos) than watch frontman Rivers Cuomo suffer through what may be the worst song they’ve ever written.

The guest presenters, meanwhile, ranged wildly from A list to B list, and their level of comfort followed suit. Very few of them seemed to feel at home on that stage, instead projecting a sort of "what am I doing here" kind of vibe. This was especially noticeable by watching the live feed from Spike’s own website. The camera on the website wouldn’t cut away from the presenters when the nominees were being shown, so it was plain as day which of them knew what exactly "Metal Gear Solid 4" was, and which of them were left scratching their heads. Most painful was the introduction of Uncharted 2 by Busta Rhymes, who clearly didn’t even know what a game "in-engine" (in-game engine) WAS, let alone how to say it in-between promoting his new album.

It was also kind of surprising that none of the presenters were ever actual game developers. When you see an awards show like the Oscars, it’s nice to see an actor hand out an award to another actor, as it appears as though one of them is acknowledging the outstanding work of their peers. I would rather see something similar to that than puzzle over why a rapper is giving an award to Cliff Bleszinski… but perhaps I’m the only one?

To end this section on a more positive note, however, Jack Black did a fairly good job, even though it was often marred by poor writing. An inexplicable appearance by Jerry Stiller was also enjoyable, if only for the fact that it’s Mr. Costanza. How could you not be happy to see him?

Game “Premieres”

Brutal LEgend

Jack Black not only hosted the event, but also starred in a "world premiere" title.

This year’s VGAs promised to provide huge announcements and game premieres — events more in line with a trade show than an award show. To Spike’s credit, they delivered…sort of. Depending on how high your expectations were, the announcements and premieres were either totally awesome or totally disappointing.

For starters, Epic Games promised a similarly epic Gears of War 2 announcement, which turned out to be a fairly small map pack. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that it was available hours after the show aired was great, it’s just that for the amount of hype the announcement received prior to the show, the less jaded in the audience probably expected something more substantial.

The world premieres were also hyped up beyond belief. Among the games shown at the show for the first time were God of War III, the Grand Theft Auto 4 expansion The Lost and Damned, and Uncharted 2.  And while it’s great to finally see more of these games than just the logo, I think everyone in the audience would have liked to see more than just an extremely brief collection of cut scenes. As Busta Rhymes asked, aren’t we all tired of game trailers that include nothing but CG?  Yes, Busta, yes we are. So why did every trailer shown neglect to show even a second of gameplay footage?

Speaking of gameplay…

The “Awards”

GTA IV

Such thoughtful nominees and winners.

Maybe it’s just me, but when I tuned in to the Video Game Awards, I actually expected some to be awarded. Between the game premieres, musical acts, and nightmarish silver women, there was almost no time to actually give the developers the awards they came to win. Half of them were given away in a brief montage with no one to even accept the awards at all.

And as for the winners, why not pick some underdogs here and there? It’s okay to upset fanboys, they’re just going to complain anyway. I applaud picking Professor Layton and the Curious Village as the handheld pick of the year, but why couldn’t more of the choices (or even nominees) reflect a more critical eye, rather than picking what’s popular?

Last year at the VGAs, Bioshock beat out Halo 3 for game of the year, which was a welcome change of pace. This year, however, there were no surprises. Grand Theft Auto 4 took home top honors over other contenders Gears 2, Fallout 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, and LittleBigPlanet. This was the second time a Grand Theft Auto game won game of the year (even though it didn’t even win best game on either console), as San Andreas earned the award in 2004. There were no surprises then, and there were no surprises now. Why not give it to an underdog, like LittleBigPlanet? Or a game not even nominated but no less deserving, Braid?

Overall, this year’s VGAs were admittedly the best they’ve had so far, but the show has only been going on for four years, and there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Perhaps Spike needs to pay less attention to the Soulja Boys of gaming and more time to the average, hardcore gamer. Next year, let’s have a show that focuses on the best games of the year, and doesn’t just serve as an outlet for aging rappers to promote themselves. I look forward to writing an article about what the 2009 VGAs did RIGHT.

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