he Canadian journalist turned award show host Geoff Keighley tweeted, the morning after he hosted the Game awards in Los Angeles in early December, that he “built this show” to “demonstrate the power, potential and influence of this medium”. The annual event, which debuted in 2014, is Keighley’s attempt to establish an Oscars for video games. This year’s effort featured a clutch of luminaries, not only from the game industry, but also, with performances from composers such as Hans Zimmer, from film. “Gaming,” Keighley continued, boldly, “has been marginalised and dismissed for far too long.”
The use of the loaded word “marginalised” was careless, but Keighley captured a feeling, shared by many who play games, of ongoing ostracism. Indeed, the general resistance to video game criticism in mainstream newspapers and magazines has contributed to the siloing of the form in culture, adding to the sense, particularly in young men, that their interest is somehow inferior to an interest in music, film, dance, and maybe even Broadway musicals.
While for many over-40s, video games are something of a cultural backwater, for most young people they are the dominant entertainment form. As such, games shape world views and attitudes – not only through the material itself, but also the encircling communities. To turn a blind eye to what is happening is, surely, to enable fanatical views to incubate unchallenged.
Video games, like any vibrant form of entertainment, have the power to capture the attention, and, once held, to edify or to depress the spirit. At their best, they are snowglobe realities that teach us about our own world and its inherent systems. But they’re also needy places, ravenous for our attention with their never-ending problems. It’s this capacity to devour our time that makes them, for many parents, perhaps concerned about their children’s looming exams, a worrying distraction.
Even the worthiest awards are, as Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel peace prize illustrates, complicated things that usually bring out the worst in everyone. Swilling with marketing dough, they are not the cleanest way to legitimise a supposed art form. That job, as ever, belongs to artists, as they pursue interesting, challenging, literate, exquisite work.
The top five video games of 2018
Gone is the hummable theme tune(unforgettable to anyone who owned a Game Boy in the 90s); in its place a dazzling soundtrack under the direction of Japanese game designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Firework sound effects pop off every time you twist, shunt or drop a tetronimo, a crescendo effect that is mesmerising and weirdly emotional.