Last week BAFTA announced the time and place for the 2009 Video Games Awards, a prestigious, event that’s been going since 2003. BAFTA have a high profile here in the UK and that they dedicate an entire ceremony to games is a sure sign that we’re heading in the right direction. There are, however, a few concerns over the awards categories, many of which seem to be somewhat indistinct.
Let’s take the Action & Adventure category. Now, admittedly this is due in part to the gaming industry and press, which often blathers on about ‘action adventures’ as if it’s a useful term or a definable genre. As a single term it perhaps makes sense, as you do indeed get adventures that are full of action. By adding in that sneaky little ‘&’, though, BAFTA have muddied the waters. Action and adventure, in a single category? But surely you can get outstanding adventures that have very little in the way of overt action? And surely you can have action games that don’t have a huge amount of adventuring? How exactly do you judge the quality of a game’s ‘adventure’?
Then we have Story & Character, once again mixing two things that don’t necessarily go together. Is it referring to the character of the game, its personality, or is it about the characters you meet or play? On what criteria exactly will this be judged? Is it aimed at writing, voice acting, animation? All of them together? If it’s just element, then that is overlooking the vast and unique complexity of creating game stories and characters; if it’s incorporating all of them, then it’s doing each a disservice – especially as music is deemed important enough to get its own distinct category in Original Score.
Use of Audio, meanwhile, is bizarrely specific. Why not go for something a little more standard and understood, such as ‘Sound Design’ or ‘Sound editing’, rather than including the superfluous ‘use of’? The Gameplay award dares to suggest that such a thing can be assessed objectively, across all genres and releases, which is clearly ridiculous. Can you really compare the gameplay quality of a puzzle platformer directly against that of a violent shooter? There are separate categories for Sports and Strategy, while other genres are conspicuous by their absence (perhaps they’re covered by the ubiquitous Action & Adventure?).
Perhaps most irritating of all is the Casual category. This simultaneously puts ‘casual’ games on a pedestal and also obliquely suggests that they aren’t as worthy as ‘proper’ games, and couldn’t possibly compete against them. Can casual games not have Action! & Adventure!? Are they not allowed to have strategy? Why do they even have their own category? Surely this should be titled the Identifying a Hole in the Market award?
I am, of course, arguing semantics – perhaps the only subject more tedious than awards ceremonies. While BAFTA is to be commended for even having an event for gaming, it really needs to try a little harder with its structure. The current category listing reads like a bad compilation of terms culled from the last two decade’s of gaming press (itself already confused by its own terms and definitions) by somebody that has never really played many computer games. There are so many critical areas of game creation left untouched here – hopefully the more mainstream awards such as this one will continue to expand its range and understanding of the medium its addressing over the next few years.