Sunday, April 21, 2013

Crescent's Thoughts On: Video Game Awards and GOTY

If this belongs to someone, I'm sorry.
Last week a weird thing happened to me. I was just walking down the street to get home from college, like I always do, and when I looked down on the street I saw an MP3 player.More interesting was that after closer inspection, it was a working MP3 player. I have no idea where it came from or who owned it before it came into my possession, but hey free MP3 player. That has nothing to do with the topic at hand, it was just a funny little thing that happened to me.

I know it is early to do a rant about video game awards and Game of the Years but this has been on my mind since the release of a particular game. Well, actually two particular games, which I hope will help illustrate my issue with the current state of video game journalism. And it all starts with my favorite game of this year: Fire Emblem: Awakening.

Are you sick of me talking about this game? Well, too bad.
Now, it probably wouldn't surprise you to know that I'm a big Fire Emblem fan. Have been since around Sacred Stones. Though my favorite FE game (until Awakening) was Rekka no Ken, my first FE game. I am, perhaps a bit obsessive about the series, may not to the point where I write erotic fanfics of my favorite pairings, but definitely to the point where I passionately defend why Eliwood and Ninian is a "one true pairing" and why it should be Wyvern Riders rather than Dracoknights. However, despite my fanboyism and the immense popularity of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee which prompted Nintendo to start releasing the games internationally in the first place, the Fire Emblem series hasn't had that much success in the world at large. Sure there is a loyal fanbase in the US, but all things considered Fire Emblem never found a place in the spotlight, not even within Nintendo's sphere of influence. In fact, for the most part Fire Emblem have been neglected by a AAA gaming culture that thinks that anything that didn't score at least a 9.5 isn't worth playing. The only people who seem to care that Shin Monsho no Nazo wasn't released in the US is the hardcore FE fanbase which is rather small compared to other gaming groups. In fact, not many pay attention to Fire Emblem that much... That is until Awakening. When I played the demo, that experience told me that this game was going to be great, and when I finally played the game, my expectation where not only met but exceeded. And it wasn't just me, Fire Emblem: Awakening has an unprecedented number of 5 star ratings on the Nintendo eShop, gaming publications around the world have all raved about the game. 9.6 out of 10, the declaration of being one of the best 3DS game, and being declared a portable omnipresent obsession, as shown in Nintendo's Accolades trailer for the game. It was loved by critics and loved by fans, and sold better in the US than any Fire Emblem game in the past. To me, this all told of one thing: Game of the Year.

For a fan of a series, having the latest game in the series be declared a "Game of the Year" is huge. It's almost a validation of your personal tastes, which is probably why such awards spark such personal heated debates. And for a series that has for a long time been ignored or neglected first by the company that made it and then by the people who asked for it, to be in a position where it is almost universally recognized as one of the greatest games ever made, sounds like the plot to any underdog feel good movie. And that maybe, just maybe, by having a Game of the Year where the player can become personally involved with the lives of the characters, we can paint video games as more than just a bunch of guys with guns shooting everything in sight to create a body count so high that John McClane look like a pacifist. But then the OTHER game was released... and that game was Bioshock: Infinite.

Oh look, a guy with a gun.
Now before I begin, I'm not saying that Bioshock: Infinite is a bad game. I'm not passing any kind of judgement about the game's content or quality, or even suggesting that it shouldn't qualify for being Game of the Year. I'm not saying any of that, what I am saying is that Bioshock Infinite's sheer existence, pretty much rings the death knell for Fire Emblem Awakening's shot at being Game of the Year. Why? It is very simple, it is more loved by critics and, here is the kicker, it is more popular. Fire Emblem got 9 out of 10s, Bioshock got 10 out of 10s. Awakening sold 240,000 copies both physical and digital, Infinite sold 878,000 physical copies alone. As soon as these reviews where in, it became painfully clear what game is going to be Game of the Year. It is so obvious that you might as well just announce it now, that Bioshock: Infinite is going to be GOTY on every major gaming publication.

And this pretty much cuts to the heart of my problem with Game of the Year and any kind of Video Game Awards we've had: at the end of the day all of this Game of the Year, Top 10 Games, or whatever, is nothing more than a popularity contest. This is because even before a "Game of the Year" award ceremony is started, most people already has their own ideas on what is the "Game of the Year." To me, it is Fire Emblem: Awakening, but to others it is Bioshock: Infinite, and to even more people it could be a number of games. But this is just human nature, and there is nothing right or wrong about it. The problem comes in when a "Game of the Year" is announced because, as I said, having a game you like be not only recognized as a great game, but also given a lofty title such as "Game of the Year", creates a sort of vindication for your tastes in gaming. BUT, when you don't get such vindication, and instead a different game is given the accolade of GOTY, and you have the benefit of anonymity, you will either A) argue your point of view calmly or B) insist that anyone who doesn't agree with you is stupid and that your game should be GOTY. Unfortunately, the people who response like B out number the people who response like A on the internet.

Now, this will happen regardless of what game gets the GOTY title, but the number of negative responses you will get is depended on the game's popularity. For the sake of demonstration, let's say that the only two choices for GOTY is Fire Emblem: Awakening and Bioshock: Infinite, and, again for the sake of demonstration, let's say that every single person who bought a copy of each game think that THAT game should be GOTY. Knowing that you will get angry comments either way, will you choose Bioshock: Infinite and suffer 240,000 angry comments, or choose Fire Emblem: Awakening and suffer 878,000 comments? Sure you can go with whatever YOU think is GOTY material, but remember that if your livelihood depends on your publication, upsetting a large number of people might not be the best idea.

This is what I mean by Video Game Awards have become a popularity contest, because even if it is an editor's choice award, the potential public backlash largely determines what is going to be given awards. I doubt any video game publication is going to have the courage to give any game other than Bioshock: Infinite the auspicious GOTY title. If they did, the resulting flame storm form the less desirable fans would likely destroy their credibility, unless the game they chose happen to be even more popular.

As I said, I'm not saying that Bioshock: Infinite is a bad game. It's probably a great game, and if Metacritic is in any way a reliable metric it is as great as Fire Emblem: Awakening. But Fire Emblem isn't anywhere near as popular as Bioshock, which is why Awakening is unlikely to win GOTY. It would still probably win 3DS game of the year no doubt, and will likely still be nominated for the lofty GOTY. But with our gaming culture as it is, no one remembers the runners up in any kind of award ceremony. Just like the perception of AAA games, if you are not the best, you don't count.

Sources for this rant are:
Nintendo's Fire Emblem: Awakening Accolades Trailer:
Wikipedia's page on Fire Emblem: Awakening:
And Wikipedia's page on Bioshock: Infinite:

Until next time.

-Crescent, screw it, Fire Emblem Awakening is still an awesome game even if it isn't GOTY.

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