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Spike VGAs 2011 post-mortem, or: Suppose they had an awards show, and no awards were given?
by Andrew Testerman

I want very much to say that this year’s Spike VGAs were the best they’ve ever been, but I’m not sure that I can.

Make no mistake; this year’s broadcast, which aired on the 10th November at 8:00pm EST, saw markededly clear improvements over previous years' instalments. The now bog-standard celebrity guests were, by-and-large, less awkward, with most sounding excited to be there, and several even giving off a genuine gamer vibe. Spike also finally found a competent host for the VGAs in Zachary Levi, whose ‘aw, shucks’ charisma helped sell even the most staid of material (oh look, a life bar joke in 2011). And the actual broadcast itself has become a well-oiled machine, shuttling between segments of the show and killer trailers with an ease that the Oscars could only dream of.

The problem was, though, that it was too well-oiled. In all of the fervour to promote new trailers, promote VGA-related competitions (“Check out how popular the VGAs are on Twitter!”), and Felicia Day’s noble-though-misguided backstage shenanigans, the producers failed to give attention to the actual reason everyone was there: the awards. During the course of the evening, all of three proper awards were given and accepted. Three. The first, Best Action Adventure, was given at the very beginning of the show, and nearly a solid hour and a half went by without so much as a peep about the other awards.

Actually, I take that back — they did mention sixteen other awards during an earlier portion of the broadcast, because they announced the winners in the form of a montage. To put this in perspective, more time was devoted to Kevin Jonas introducing the Rainbow 6: Patriots trailer than on the presentation of sixteen different awards. In fact, so much was lost in the shuffle that Spike didn’t even mention the winner for one of their categories (if you’ll check out the Wikipedia page, you’ll notice a blank spot for Best Team Sports game.

It’s kinda surreal, truthfully. I realise that the VGAs are starting to become a hot zone for announcing new games and showing off huge trailers, which, in all fairness, is pretty conducive to television, but Spike aren't even pretending that the awards matter anymore. I mean, fun as it was to watch Felicia Day play real-life Fruit Ninja with the cast of Comedy Central’s Workaholics, it felt disrespectful to all the major industry figures whose hard work was supposedly being honoured at the ceremony, a sentiment shared by more than a few actual nominees. Though, in terms of developer disrespect, nothing quite tops Michael Condrey of Sledgehammer Games getting teabagged for running over the time limit on his acceptance speech for Best Shooter.

Award neglect was certainly the largest problem this year, but it was far from the only one. As with any awards show, several presenters were absolutely dire during their onstage moments, particularly Jason Biggs of the American Pie franchise, who either did not care one iota about how obvious it was that he was reading from the autocue, or was simply stoned out of his gourd. Felicia Day’s Japanese game show-esque antics for Child’s Play were sound and admirable in concept (promoting a major game-related charity, and doing silly stuff for donations), but they killed the programme’s momentum whenever they popped up. And the aforementioned teabagging, which was funny as a concept-based joke, was simply terrible as an execution-based joke.

The most frustrating aspect of the VGAs, though, wasn’t the unfunny jokes or the awkward celebrities. No; it was the moments of actual, legitimate entertainment, the slight glimpses of what the VGAs should be. Case in point: The Legend of Zelda’s induction into the Videogame Hall of Fame.

Seth Green briefly talked about Zelda’s achievements, and then showed a video with clips from nearly every Zelda game, whilst a tasteful narration discussed some of the series’ finer points, including an acknowledgement of the game’s resonance despite the lack of spoken dialogue. After the video, the curtains opened, and who should walk out but Shigeru Miyamoto, who gave a charming acceptance speech in English to a standing ovation from the crowd. In another cool segment, Levi showed a video from Activision featuring Captain Price and Frost of Modern Warfare 3, saluting US troops and promoting a program to help veterans acquire jobs after they've returned from active duty. Moments like these tell me that, ultimately, the VGA producers 'get it', which makes the segues into rocky, stereotypical ‘gamer’ territory that much more painful.

Despite my negativity, I really do have hope for the VGAs. This year’s ceremony was ultimately stronger and less painful to watch than in previous years, and if the show continues to improve in the way it has, there is every potential that it might really be worth watching in a few years. Still, if the VGAs want to be taken seriously as an awards show, they need to focus more attention on the actual awards; to quote Justin McElroy of Joystiq, "if winning [a VGA] is ever to be a big deal, that has to start with you guys [the Spike producers] believing it is." [source] Even the MTV VMAs (the ‘award show as entertainment’ programme that the VGAs obviously wants to be, which is a perfectly fine goal) understand that winning is a big deal; if Spike wants to improve the VGAs for next year, I’d start there.

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- Andrew Testerman

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