Since 2003, the Spike TV Video Game Awards (VGAs) have aired every December to the collected groans of most gamers, despite their emphasis on the hardcore gaming market of males aged 18-49. While there are many prestigious video game awards ceremonies, including the GDC Awards and the AIAS Awards, only Spike's VGAs are televised and have a presence in popular culture. Many game critics complain that the VGAs exist simply as an excuse to sell advertising space to corporate sponsors and game marketers looking to get their next big hit recognized by their core demographic; while I do not disagree with these critics, I suggest the VGAs perform a larger disservice to the games industry.
There is little arguing that the VGAs do not resemble a two-hour commercial, complete with spectacle (the latest ceremony boasted augmented reality), cheesy humor (bad jokes abound), and a multitude of inappropriate appearances from celebrities native to other media (why does the cast of Jersey Shore present an award?). Ironically, even when celebrating independently developed games, Spike sells the naming rights to the award: Best Independent Game Fueled by Mountain Dew?
However, the problem with the VGAs is not that they sacrifice integrity and authentic accolades for advertising and capitalism (the gaming industry is an industry after all), but that they perpetuate the position of video games in culture as first, a medium subordinate to film and television, and second, as a medium dedicated to the same demographic as Spike itself, a demographic entangled with hegemonic masculinity.
Whether Spike wants to admit it or not, the VGAs are another key access point for the public into the culture and identity of video games. The emphasis on other media and the continued use of problematic gender tropes might be right for the Spike audience, but as the only televised gaming awards ceremony, the Spike VGAs paint the industry as the same immature, misogynistic, boy’s club it has been popularly known as for decades.
But are these criticisms too hasty? Does Spike owe the industry anything more than face time with a willing audience? Should critics expect the ceremony to be the Oscars when its closest cousin is really the Teen Choice Awards? Should media awards be about entertainment or recognition? Moreover, in what ways can an awards ceremony overcome the same pitfalls of the industry it represents?