The Game Awards 2021: The Best and Worst Moments

Game Awards 2021: A Three Hour Tour, A Three Hour Tour

Dear The Game Awards: three-plus hours is a long ass time to sit in front of a screen. That’s the flight time from New York to Miami. It’s longer than Richard Wagner’s opera The Flying Dutchman. Hell, most surgeries don’t take three hours. There are speedrunners who have completed no-hit runs of all three Dark Souls games in less time.

I’ll admit it, I haven’t watched the last couple of Game Awards shows, so maybe the proportion of content to filler has always been as bad. The actual awards seemed like an inconvenient afterthought. They were a pesky intrusion into the numbing barrage of “world premieres” and poorly disguised clusters of ads and PSAs. Some of those trailers were impressive — more on that later — but for a show meant to look back at the year’s achievements, the focus was almost all on the future.

The Show Opened with Sting. Sting?

There’s nothing that the kids love more than a septuagenarian crooner whose career peaked in 1985. Look, I really like and respect Sting as a musician, but he’s more into macrobiotic yoga and the Baroque lute than videogames. He sang a song from Arcane, which is an awesome show, but only marginally related to games. What’s more, he sang it badly, backed by the Photogenic Philharmonic. No old musicians allowed!

What’s weirder is that they didn’t open with Imagine Dragons, who actually sing the opening credits theme from Arcane. Instead, they saved the Dragons for later, to wake people up after a long, mid-show slumber. They were great.

Then Geoff Keighley Bummed Us Out

After a short welcome, Geoff Keighley pivoted to disappointed father mode. With all the warmth and sincerity of a EULA married to a hostage statement, Keighly berated the industry for its workplace violations and toxic culture. He pointedly did not name names. “We should not and we will not tolerate abuse, harassment…by anyone including our online communities,” he said. “I call on everyone to do their part to build a better, safer video game industry.”

It’s a noble, important, and appropriate sentiment, but in the context of the show it felt like a hasty disclaimer. You could almost hear Keighley thinking, ok, we checked that box. I didn’t look, but I can only imagine what the “better, safer” subreddits did to his statement.

The DIY Awards Show

At several points in the program, Keighley didn’t even bother to read the nominees for a category, telling the audience they could just read it themselves. Cool! Audience participation! Seriously, this lame disregard for creatives included major categories such as best score (won by Nier Replicant, FYI). Maybe shove aside one of those “vaping is bad” PSAs and show some respect. Note: vaping is bad, kids.

The Show’s Best One Liner

Over the course of the three-hour marathon, there was very little actual humor, irony or wit. One exception was Bethesda’s weird, 60-second, low-tech promo. “Free game codes” flashed on the screen as Pete Hines stood in front of plastic woodland creatures and did his best Ziprecruiter impersonation. “We’re running out of platforms to port Skyrim to.” LOL (Note to Pete: there’s still the Steam Deck left)

Man, Games Look GOOD

If there’s one thing to say about the upcoming games, they almost all looked technically amazing. From Hellblade 2 to Star Wars Eclipse, from Suicide Squad to Nightingale, every trailer made me want to stock up on GeForce 3090s. Other games that caught my attention included Steel Rising, Slitterhead and Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands.

Hellblade 2 looked fantastic, and the entire trailer was one, uninterrupted camera shot. I’m not a huge Star Wars fanatic, but Eclipse looked incredible. I loved the mechanical puppet vibes of Steel Rising, and the steampunk faerie world of Nightingale. Slitterhead looked genuinely terrifying. Gimme those games. Now.

Also, this was cool. Kids, ask your great grandparents who the Andrews Sisters were.

Man, Games Are Stuck in a Rut…or Are They?

On the other hand, there was an absolutely mind-numbing progression of shooters, and very, very few games that weren’t focused on blowing shit up. I counted maybe one, Tchia. Here’s the thing, though. We all know that there is an amazing variety of approaches to storytelling, visual design and mechanics. They just didn’t have a place on the show, apparently. Or enough money and clout to buy their way on. Someone outside the world of games watching the show — you know, a spouse or non-gaming significant other — would have had their worst, cliche ideas about games confirmed.

Before We’re Done, The Photogenic Philharmonic Returns, Keanu Chews the Scenery, and It Takes Two (?!) Wins

The show ended with an over-animated Keanu Reeves once again fulfilling his devil’s contract as the poster boy for videogames. After the impressive “Unreal Engine 5 Experience” we were treated to a medley of musical themes from the year’s “top games,” weirdly arranged so that they all sounded exactly the same. Then it was time for Game of the Year, picked from a roster of titles that could charitably be called random.

Stop Pretending It’s an Awards Show

Whatever The Game Awards 2021 was, it wasn’t an awards show. Sure, it “awarded” a handful of recognizable, high-profile games for one thing or another. Sometimes it made sense (narrative award for Guardians of the Galaxy) and sometimes it didn’t (best family game for “It Takes Two”). Mostly it ignored the vast majority of really excellent games released over the past year, in favor of hawking big-budget games from the future. Between the ads, the perfunctory PSAs and the constant pandering to social media, it was like buying a computer, only to find it choked by bloatware.

But what did you think of the show? What games didn’t make the cut? Did you agree with the winners? Let us hear from you!

Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.

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