It’s getting to be that time of the year again where Hollywood and the music and video game industries pat themselves on the back for all of the hard work they’ve done breaking ground and being extremely innovative. When I was younger and much more impressionable I thought that award shows like the Video Music Awards and the like mattered and that they had any bearing on the industry. Sure there are the really memorable times when someone who really represents what should be important wins, but more often than not we’re given more of the status quo towing the line.
The video game awards are pretty much the same. 2013 was a big year for women in gaming, for instance. We had three triple A titles that were headed by women or had women in prominent and non-sexualized roles. And it’s not just that, two of the three games had an amazing story on top of it. Stories that explored human nature or causality or love (and not romantic love). These are things that are rare enough in popular media, they’re almost unheard of in video games.
But more than likely we’re not going to see anything given to those games in terms of awards because this was the year another installment of Grand Theft Auto. Despite the fact that GTA is a fun game, it hasn’t done too much innovative besides make the world it takes place in bigger and add slightly more characterization. The latter isn’t saying much for a game franchise that started by letting you pick from a group of voiceless protagonists and moved on to thinly veiled versions of gangster movie protagonists.
I enjoyed Grand Theft Auto V. But it won’t stay with me. When I beat Last of Us I felt change inside. When I beat Bioshock: Infinite I felt deeply changed and sad that it was over (oddly enough, when the DLC was out and I played it I felt like I was revisiting old friends). Characters like Joel and Ellie and Elizabeth aren’t the standard fair in games and while I don’t doubt the creative work that went into making many of the games that came out this year, I think it’s sad that it’s apparent that special games won’t stand a chance when put up against the run of the mill titles that don’t really work as hard at making a change.
There were times when GTA V could have really gone a different direction. The torture scene early in the game seemed like it was trying to set up for something profound having to do with the sanity of one of the characters and him being a bad person. All that really ended up happening was it was kind of pushed aside like a joke. The game has taken this idea that it has to be satire too far and it really seems to be wallowing in it rather than thriving in it.
I think that sales are a simply bad way to judge things like this, movies like Avatar or Twilight might sell a lot of tickets, but they don’t deserve the Oscar for best picture. Likewise, I don’t think that we should set the goal so lofty that only artsy bullshit gets to win awards. But there has to be a happy medium when it comes to these things. We can’t keep giving awards to the same studio or game company when they bring nothing new to the industry and don’t try and push the envelope in meaningful ways.
Grand Theft Auto could have tried to write a more moderately sensible female character (before you go saying all the characters are a mess, it’s not true, even in the last game Franklin is pretty normal in terms of the games). They could have tried a new setting or a new type of setting, they could have changed how missions worked. They could have made the character creation in the multi-player make any kind of Goddamn sense.
I will say this, they did a good job with the three character thing and the switching between people. There’s an attention to detail that’s significantly well done and there’s some well directed portions of the game that rival that of most gangster movies (the small town bank robbery comes to mind). But the game tends to only take the predictable risk, never true risks the way something like Spec Ops: The Line did.
We deserve an industry that really pushes to be the best in more ways. Games are the youngest medium for entertainment out there and we need to make sure they don’t fizzle out on us.