Every once in a while, I’m reminded of how immature the gaming industry can be. Usually, it’s when someone suggests we might be immature, and we fire back that we make more money than film and television combined, actually. So do arms dealers, so I guess they must be great too, right? Anyway, this comparison to the world of film is particularly emblematic of how gaming sees itself, because we’re perennially celebrating every so-called victory over them, while film doesn’t even care that we exist.
Film is Barcelona, and we think we’re Real Madrid, but we’re actually Espanyol. The latest battle in this one sided war film has no idea about is the Oscars versus The Game Awards, especially in light of the Oscars’ declining viewership. We won! Kind of. Film didn’t realise it was in a contest, but still, it lost. We’re great.
My first issue with this comparison is that they’re not the same show, at all. The Game Awards considers itself the Oscars of gaming, but it just isn’t. Not only would the film community (rightfully) scoff at the suggestion that the Oscars are The Game Awards of movies, the shows are completely different in every meaningful way. The Oscars, the Emmys, and the Grammys are all basically the same thing for their respective industries, but The Game Awards are not.
We sometimes think our rejection of the pomp and circumstance of the others makes us better and edgier, but when we look at what our award show has instead, it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that ours is actually worse. I know more people watch ours. I get it. But what are they watching for?
At the most recent ceremony, several awards were announced in the pre-show, just rattled off quickly in order to get them out of the way. That’s because The Game Awards are less about rewarding than they are about promoting. In the aftermath of the Oscars, all the chatter has been about Daniel Kaluuya’s win for Best Supporting Actor, Chloe Zhao’s groundbreaking Best Director win, and Carey Mulligan being passed over for Best Supporting Actress. After The Game Awards, all we talk about is the adverts. It’s never about the games that won, it’s about the games that might win next year, or the year after that.
Part of the reason that is because The Game Awards aren’t really big on upsets either. The Last of Us Part 2 won pretty much everything it was up for, surprising nobody. While sweeps do happen at the Oscars, they’re the exception. When it comes to The Game Awards, they’re the rule. If an indie game was ever going to make a splash at The Game Awards, it was last year, when Hades was on the blocks. It won Independent and Action (TLOU2 was instead in Action-Adventure, which it won), and lost out in every category where it faced meaningful opposition.
Even the structure of the show illustrates gaming’s need to prove itself. Rather than illustrious figures from the world of gaming, the presenters mainly hail from the worlds of film and television; again highlighting that while the Oscars is about celebrating film, The Game Awards are about promoting games.
Gaming has always had a chip on its shoulder when it comes to film. We simultaneously think we’re better than them, crave their approval in the form of adaptations, never shut up about the fact we’re a more profitable industry, and constantly copy them – at least, we copy the same film over and over again.
I’ve already written about how gaming both needs a Promising Young Woman moment and is still light years away from having the maturity and infrastructure to support one. The fact is, film not only has decades of developments on us, it also has far more diversity of talent flowing into it, and therefore enjoys a much more varied output. Every time a new console comes out, all of the chatter is about how this new generation of games will be the best ever, because the final frontier has eventually been reached. Whether it be 3D, or online play, or photorealism, or zero load times, the future was here. Film doesn’t need to do that. Any new fad in film is treated as precisely that – a fad. That’s because the film industry has already moved beyond technical limitations in a way that we simply haven’t.
This isn’t to say that films are necessarily better than games, although I do think our collective inferiority complex is part of the reason we consider it so satisfying to bloody film’s nose with award show ratings. It’s cherry picking in the most extreme sense to point at award show viewership figures to claim our victory over movies, and whiffs of our desperation to be accepted into and taken seriously by pop culture at large. At least the arguments about higher profit margins make some logical sense.
I have no doubts that the pandemic and the reduced showmanship is partially responsible for the declining viewership figures. Part of the draw of the Oscars is seeing the stars together, the glitz and glam, and the fashion, darling. The Game Awards was presented by a grown man in a blazer and high tops, for the record. But even without this, maybe Oscar viewership would have continued to drop. It has struggled for a host, the ‘stars; they’re just like us’ gimmick doesn’t land as well in the era of social media, and the more movies push for awards season, the more tactical and less audience friendly their release schedules have become.
In 2018, both the Oscars and The Game Awards had an audience of 26 million. Our most recent show pulled over 80 million, while the Oscars dipped below ten million. It’s tempting to celebrate that as a victory, but all it really proves is that people like watching adverts for games more than they like watching a group of people, most of whom they’ve never heard of, sit in a socially distanced room to collect a trophy for a film none of us have even seen. I try to keep up with awards season flicks, and even for me, there were a few films I hadn’t caught up on in the running this year.
I think it’s great for gaming that The Game Awards is doing well, even if I wish they were less like The Game Adverts and used presenting spots to grow our community rather than grab headlines. Initiatives like the Future Class are great too. But we really need to outgrow this obsession with film and with taking every opportunity we can to declare gaming the winner of a war so inconsequential to film it hasn’t even realised it’s going on. Is Baby Shark the greatest video of all time? Didn’t think so.
When Josef Fares said “fuck the Oscars” he was making exactly this point – that we need to get over our inferiority complex with films if we want gaming to be taken seriously. If you’re using it to gloat over something as trivial as award show figures, you have badly missed the point.
Next: Give Josef Fares A Reality TV Show Already
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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