Debate Club: Did the Title of “Game of the Year” Lose Its Meaning (If It Ever HAD Meaning)?

Chris’ stance: NO, it’s meaningless and it always has been

There has been an ever-growing backlash against the overuse of the label “Game of the Year” and how that distinction loses its impact when there are 500 different websites, blogs, YouTube channels, and more all throwing out their own Game of the Year picks.

I definitely agree that there isn’t anything especially special about being called Game of the Year anymore –but my stance is that it’s never been all that special.

Let’s look at movies, the form of mainstream media that is arguably most similar to video games. There are certainly just as many–maybe more–people out there writing and talking about movies in a journalistic and/or critiquing fashion as there are doing the same for video games. So there is the potential for dozens of completely different picks for Movie of the Year each and every year, as with gaming. However, there is one important difference for movies: the Oscars. No matter how you feel about the Oscars, whichever movie takes home the Best Picture Oscar definitely has a more universally accepted and “official” stake to that title than what Entertainment Weekly or The Chicago Sun-Times or Kewl DOOd’s Moovie Newz picks as their best picture for that year. The Golden Globes is probably the next biggest awards show, but they not only split their trophies amongst movies and TV shows but there is no overall Best Picture winner–it’s divided between the best movie in several different genres. So that leaves the Oscars as the unofficial official chooser of each year’s Movie of the Year.

Definitely better than Goldeneye.

The fact is, the video game industry lacks such an award. The closest thing to an “official” video game award is probably the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ annual Interactive Achievement Awards. However, I don’t think that the video game industry and the gaming community at large is as willing to let the IAA’s speak for them the way that Hollywood’s creators and fans largely accept the Oscar winners. The fact of the matter is that most of the choices that have been made for the overall Game of the Year by the IAA have been met with a fair amount of resistance, far moreso than Oscar winners typically are. For instance, Goldene 007 took home the award over Final Fantasy VII and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Battlefield 1942 beat out Metroid Prime and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. And most recently, Little Big Planet managed to best BioShock, Fallout 3, Dead Space, Left 4 Dead, and Metal Gear Solid 4. Needless to say, the IAA’s haven’t exactly proven themselves to be the “voice” of the people when it comes to many of their Game of the Year selections. Besides, let’s be honest: Given how fiercely opinionated the gaming community is, could there ever be an official awards show that comes anywhere close to “getting it right” with the overall gaming world anyway, and one where, even if we disagree with who they pick as the GotY, we still sort of accept it the way people tend to with the Oscars? I highly doubt it.

So what does that leave us with? The same thing it has always left us with: Literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different opinions as to what is a given year’s best game. To be fair, it used to be just a little more manageable, with only a dozen or so different game magazines out there even at the height of print media’s golden era giving their picks for GotY. So even if they all said something different, you’d at least have a sort of general consensus top X list of that year’s best games. It was the same thing when there were primarily only “big” gaming sites–there was a fairly small number giving their two cents on the year’s best game. Now, of course, things are a lot less cut and dry, with there being a nearly impossible to count number of pundits throwing their GotY choice into the ring from their websites, blogs, magazine articles, TV shows, podcasts and YouTube channels. And with the sheer volume of games released each year being greater than it’s ever been with independent games and services like Steam, XBLA, PSN, Google Play, iTunes, and so on, there’s a much larger well to choose from than ever before, making the actual number of possible GotY picks impossible to even fathom.

EGM’s 1994 Game of the Year…the same year that Super Metroid was released. Enough said.

Here’s the thing, though: It doesn’t really matter, and it never has. Let’s take Electronic Gaming Monthly, for instance. There was a stretch of time when that was basically the top dog as far as video game journalism. How many Game of the Years can you name right now off the top of your head that EGM awarded? I bet you can easily name more Best Picture Oscar winners. Even at the time, was it ever really that big of a deal? Did the gaming community’s opinion on a game really change all that much after EGM named it their game of the year? I certainly don’t remember that being the case. It didn’t really feel all that much bigger or more significant than just the regular review scores in any given month’s issue. And I am willing to bet that the developers who won a magazine’s or website’s Game of the Year award don’t relish it the way Oscar winner relish their awards for the rest of their life. I bet most of them were barely even thinking about it a couple of months later as their “trophy”–if they even got one–sat dusty behind empty pop cans and stacks of TPS reports on their desks.

Big awards or universal distinctions just don’t seem to be a huge deal in the video game industry, and I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. I think it’s kind of neat that pretty much any game company can release a “Game of the Year” edition based off of whatever criteria they want to use to determine that their game was a Game of the Year. I have never looked at a Game of the Year edition of a game and thought, “I call BS on that! That wasn’t the game of the year! Where are they even getting that from?” Nor have I ever followed the asterisk next to “Game of the Year”* in advertising or marketing of a game to see just who actually said that. Because I don’t really care. I have my games of the year each year, and that’s all that matters to me. I enjoy looking at other peoples’ lists, don’t get me wrong. I eat up end-of-year lists just as much as anyone else. In fact, the more, the merrier. There doesn’t need to be a definitive list, or even a select few lists that are considered more “official” than the rest. Like I said, we’ve really never had that before, and we all survived just fine without there being an officially agreed-upon Game of the Year. Why mourn the loss of something that never existed in the first place?

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Steve’s stance: YES, it did have meaning and it definitely still should

First off all, how dare anyone belittle the work they’re doing over at Kewl DOOd’s Moovie Newz.  That website is a gem, the likes of Rotten Tomatoes or Movie Poop Shoot.  Anyway, let’s get to the debatin’.  Chris believes that game of the year hasn’t lost its importance because it was never important in the first place.  I disagree that game of the year has always been irrelevant and I certainly disagree that it should continue to be irrelevant.  Determining an “official” game of the year is more important now than it has ever been.

Game of the year was ABSOLUTELY relevant.

Back in the day print media was king.  Back then there about twelve reliable publications to find information (Chris’s estimate – seems pretty close to me).  Of those twelve periodicals, I’d say three of those were the major players.  You had EGM, Game Informer, and GamePro.  There were others, like Nintendo Power and PC Gamer, but in terms of major, multi-platform game coverage, those were the big three.  That meant that the term “Game of the Year” could only be handed out with any real sense of brevity by three institutions.

Chris’s point was that while the movie industry basically had an “official” best movie award in the form of an Oscar, games have never really had that.  I can’t say I disagree, but at least back in the mid-90’s we were getting kind of close.  If the writers from the three magazines I mentioned above could have all gotten in a room and voted together, we would have had a pretty legitimate “official” game of the year.  In his article Chris refers to this time period as being “a little more manageable”, which I think is a gross understatement.  For a few years there the industry wasn’t too far away from being able to generate some real consensus.

What’s more, the term “Game of the Year” was definitely more important than Chris gives it credit for.  Whether or not you agreed with a given publication’s choice for game of the year there was undoubtedly more respect for the title then.  EGM specifically was always known as a great source of credible journalism in the gaming industry.  Having a game labeled EGM’s game of the year did mean something then.  It never held the weight that the Oscar did for movies, but it wasn’t a joke.  Today, it feels like every game is game of the year according to someone, but back then it didn’t feel that way at all…which brings me to point two.

Game of the year needs to be relevant again.

Now, more than ever before, we need to start working on some consensus for game of the year.  With marketing hype spiraling out of control it’s already too easy for uneducated parents and grandparents to throw money away on bad games because they so a commercial or a poster.  The last thing the industry needs is to have half the games on the shelf sporting a “Game of The Year” sticker.  These days it seems like the term game of the year is really akin to “A Game Made This Year”.  You don’t see that type of nonsense with DVDs.  Sure, there is marketing garbage for every product, but you don’t see “Movie of the Year” stickers on every single DVD on the rack at Best Buy.

Destiny is a great example of a game that definitely shouldn’t be considered “Game of the Year”, but it will certainly be on the box come January.

To me it’s completely unacceptable that an industry like film can create consensus on who to give awards to but the video game industry can’t.  Sure, there are a lot of video game pundits, but just like Chris said, there are a lot of movie pundits too.  Find the most established ones, combined with the most established industry professionals, and start handing out voting ballots.  There is really no reason that the video game industry shouldn’t have awards that carry as much weight as music or film.  You may not always agree with them, but at least with some real consensus we could at least slow down the virus known as “Game of the Year”.

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