A Recap of the 2011 Video Game Awards

Video games have been surging in popularity these last few years, but never has the rise felt more tangible than this year. 2011 saw some of the biggest sales and best-rated titles of all time, leading some to consider this one of the industry’s golden years. With the question of games’ legitimacy as relevant as ever, it’s never been more important than now to look back and credit the best of the business for their achievements.

The 2011 Video Game Awards could have been our opportunity to rally behind our industry leaders, to share our love for interactive storytelling with the talented men and women who create it. Aaaannd as expected, that’s not at all how it went down.

The VGA’s aired this past weekend and just like every year it was insulting, childish, and depressing to watch. I understand that the show is a vehicle for game trailers and commercials. I don’t expect or want the grandeur and extravagance of the Oscars. All I want is for the producers to treat the fans, and more importantly the game creators, with respect and at least pretend to care about our medium. And all they did was project and reinforce the stereotype that all gamers are idiots and imply that our craft is a joke.

Basically, your all n00bs

I didn’t catch the opening number which, admittedly, I hear was pretty well-orchestrated – a montage of the year’s biggest games with the host, Zachary Levi (star of Chuck), caught in the middle of it all. I came in part-way through the opening monologue, which summarized 2011 pretty accurately, and with the right amount of safe humor. I’ve seen Levi on talk shows a couple times and heard him on the Nerdist podcast, and while I know next to nothing about him he always comes across as a likeable, charming guy. The monologue was no different. It’s after the opening that the writing, or Levi, or something crucial fell away and the host gags and jokes became more and more cringe-worthy.

I don’t know if Mr. Levi plays games much, but he certainly came across as completely removed from the whole concept of a video game, and as the minutes rolled by I got the sense from the look in his eye that he and I were thinking the same thing: Just what the hell was he doing there? He shouldn’t have to stoop so low as to appear in a circus like this, and we don’t want to see an actor pretend to share our passion.

The same curse befell nerd-star Felicia Day, who sort of played the role of co-hostess. Day actually holds a place in our gaming world and it’s fitting for her to be on stage, so I wonder if she’d have been better-suited to host the whole thing, but anyway, she was reduced to parading around in a mini-skirt and subjecting herself to bad visual gags (Cutting up fruit is just a reference to Fruit Ninja. It’s not a joke. It also isn’t entertaining, no matter how close the sword comes to flying out of Felicia’s hands and stabbing one of those horrible Workaholics kids). It hurts just so much more to see one of our own being punished like that.

Above: Fruit Ninja. Note the lack of awful comedians.

Next to Levi and Day, the presenters were a parade of low-rate celebrities who came happily and hungrily for their brief minutes of screen-time before running off to whore out their dwindling stardom to some other venue. I have a game for you – I’m going to list some names, and you tell me if they make you think ‘video games’: Kevin Jonas. No? How about Will.I.Am? LL Cool J?


Charlie Sheen came on stage at one point and made the standard “I wasn’t going to be here and then they told me how much they’d pay” gag. And nobody was laughing because it was so plainly the truth. Not one person hired to be on stage made any indication that they respected, were involved in, or cared at all about the industry they were there to honor. I counted three occasions where someone flubbed the title of a game. None of the actors that marched in front of the cameras were talented enough to hide the bewildered look on their face while they read the teleprompter.

Of course the real reason I (and most likely everyone else) tuned in to the awards at all was to watch the announcements and previews, and despite a huge number of reveals and trailers that were dropped throughout the show, the titles that I was most looking forward to seeing were either absent (The Last Guardian) or relatively lackluster (Mass Effect 3, Bioshock Infinite). That’s not to say there weren’t some fantastic ones – Diablo III had an amazing trailer, and surprisingly Transformers: Fall of Cybertron was my favorite one of the night. You can see all the premieres here on GameTrailers.

The trailers as always were the main focus of the show, and thank God they were worth it because it feels like there were deliberate steps taken to keep the actual people who deserved to speak from spending any amount of time on stage. In order to keep the show from going over time, they had a man in an army costume ready to teabag winners if their speech went too long. Then they used that extra time to do dozens of awful skits. Hey Spike, how about cutting out the FarmVille cutaway gag composed entirely of Zach Levi pointing at a cow, or the thing where Kevin Jonas jumped onto a Velcro wall, so we can hear from an actual developer for more than a few seconds?

As Jason Schreier mentions in his open letter to the VGAs, the most frustrating thing about the awards was that there were moments that were truly special and great. Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima both had appearances which were painfully awkward and hard to understand, but charming, endearing and wonderful. These are pillars of the industry we’re a part of and it is a treasure to see them and hear them speak, whether they’re inducting their game into the hall of fame (Miyamoto) or just trying to sell us their next product (Kojima). Even the augmented reality moments were pretty cool and surprisingly well-choreographed, bridging the creative realm of a digital space to the live show on-stage, a feat that appears organic and effortless, yet a few years ago would have been impossible.

Shigeru Miyamoto accepts the Video Game Hall of Fame award

At this point you’re probably wondering where the awards are in this recap of the video game award show, but if that’s the case, you clearly aren’t familiar with the VGAs. A number of awards were announced during the show, but I only actually remember seeing one of them, and that was Game of the Year, which was announced immediately before the show ended. The awards take such a backseat to the rest of the pandering bullshit that I’m seeing the majority of the nominees, winners and categories for the first time as I list them in this article:

[toggle_simple title=”The Winners…” width=”600″]

The winners will be listed in bold. I’ll signify my picks with an arrow (<).

Gametrailers.com Trailer of the Year:

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (E3 trailer)
Batman: Arkham City (Huge Strange reveal trailer)
Dark Souls (‘Ignite’ debut trailer)
Dead Island (GDC cinematic trailer) (<)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (‘Purity First’ infomercial)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (In-game debut trailer)
Hitman: Absolution (E3 trailer)
Prey 2 (E3 trailer)
Tomb Raider (E3 trailer)
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (E3 trailer)

Most Anticipated Game:

Bioshock Infinite
Diablo III
Halo 4
Mass Effect 3
The Last Guardian

Best DLC:

Fallout: New Vegas – Old World Blues
Mass Effect 2 – Arrival
Mortal Kombat – Freddy Krueger
Portal 2 – Peer Review

Best Downloadable Game:

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Iron Brigade

Best Performance by a Human Female:

Claudia Black as Chloe Frazer – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Ellen McLain as GLaDOS – Portal 2 (<)
Emily Rose as Elena Fisher – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Tara Strong as Harley Quinn – Batman: Arkham City

Best Performance by a Human Male:

J.K. Simmons as Cave Johnson – Portal 2
Mark Hamill as The Joker – Batman: Arkham City
Nolan North as Nathan Drake – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Stephen Merchant as Wheatley – Portal 2 (<)

Best Graphics:

Batman: Arkham City
L.A. Noire
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Best Original Score:

Batman: Arkham City (<)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Portal 2

Best Song in a Game:

“Build That Wall (Zia’s Theme)” by Darren Korb, Bastion
“Exile Vilify” by The National, Portal 2
“I’m not Calling You a Liar” by Florence and the Machine, Dragon Age II
“Setting Sail, Coming Home (End Theme)” by Darren Korb, Bastion
“Want You Gone” by Jonathan Coulton, Portal 2 (<)

Best Adapted Game:

Back to the Future: The Game
Batman: Arkham City
Captain America: Super Soldier
LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars

Best Independent Game:

The Binding of Isaac
Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP

Best Motion Game:

Child of Eden
Dance Central 2
The Gunstringer
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Best Fighting Game:

The King of Fighters XIII
Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Mortal Kombat
WWE All Stars

Best Driving Game:

DiRT 3
Driver: San Francisco
Forza Motorsport 4
Need for Speed: The Run

Best Team Sports Game:

FIFA Soccer 12 (<)
MLB 11: The Show
NBA: 2K12
NHL 12

Best Individual Sports Game:

Fight Night Champion (<)
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters
Top Spin 4
Virtua Tennis 4

Best Multiplayer:

Battlefield 3
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Gears of War 3
Portal 2

Best RPG:

Dark Souls
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Dragon Age II
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Best Action Adventure Game:

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
Batman: Arkham City
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Best Shooter:

Battlefield 3
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Gears of War 3

Best Handheld/Mobile Game:

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Infinity Blade
Jetpack Joyride
Super Mario 3D Land

Best PC Game:

Battlefield 3
Portal 2
The Witcher 2

Best Wii Game:

Epic Mickey
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Lost in Shadow

Best PS3 Game:

Killzone 3
LittleBigPlanet 2
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Best Xbox 360 Game:

Batman: Arkham City (<)
Forza Motorsport 4
Gears of War 3
Portal 2

Gamer God (Honorary Title, I Guess?):

Blizzard Entertainment

Character of the Year:

The Joker, Batman: Arkham City
Marcus Fenix, Gears of War 3
Wheatley, Portal 2
Nathan Drake, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (<)

Studio of the Year:

Rocksteady Studios, Batman: Arkham City
Bethesda Game Studios, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (<)
Naughty Dog, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Valve, Portal 2

Game of the Year:

Batman: Arkham City
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Portal 2
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception


Some of these awards are redundant; the ‘Gamer God’ award was given little explanation, and many of them were just flown across the screen in a short montage. Meanwhile they took great care and attention to dedicate an ongoing segment to which football player would appear on the cover of the next NFL Blitz. I’m neither a football fan, nor a player of sports games but I can tell you if I was I wouldn’t care what person, object or abstract idea they put on the box. Certainly not enough to make it a major focus of an award show. A week or two ago I heard a Game Trailers employee on a podcast talk about how excited he was to finally have a music category added to the awards after years of lobbying and working to make it happen – I can’t even tell you for sure if those awards made it onto the air, but I do know that Ray Rice’s picture is going to be on a plastic box next year.

Thank you, VGAs, for providing the perfect imagery for what you’re doing to our industry.

I guess in the end, despite falling into the same traps they do every year, The VGAs couldn’t completely sink what was a momentous year in gaming. 2011 treated fans with some of the best content we’ve ever seen, and all the blatant commercialism, misogyny and mistreatment of the industry’s talent couldn’t overshadow the quality of their work. We still have a long way before the awards can actually honor our best and brightest, but luckily we can probably still spend the 10 years it’ll take for that to happen playing Skyrim.

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