Spike’s VGAs 2011 Recap: How It All Went Terribly Wrong

The SpikeTV Video Game Awards happened over the weekend. It began with a Billy Crystal style opening montage with the host being put through a number of this year’s game and was genuinely funny and it all dropped off from there like a stone. Every year we do this to ourselves. Every year we think, ‘maybe this year, maybe this time I wont feel so embarrassed to love this medium and/or gouge out my eyes with a salad fork. And every year we are let down.

I don’t expect an Oscar caliber award show from Spike, as I know that isn’t going to happen. I just wish their awards show was an actual awards show and didn’t feel the need to insult me every chance it got. I fall into the 18-30 white male target demographic and this show actively insulted my intelligence at every turn. I said at the beginning that the intro was the best part—and it was—but the opening bit and monologue are ended with this statement: “It is your night, developers. This is your night.” That was the biggest lie of the show. This wasn’t an event to celebrate the achievements of the developers that worked so hard to give us great games. It was primarily an advertisement for upcoming games and secondarily for a bunch of “celebrities” to get some free face time on TV with the developers being the excuse to be there.

I could talk about the awful cutaways skits, things they did to divert attention away from the awards and unto themselves. Like the Black Baron, who while his video expressed pretty much my feels on the entire show, was out of place and did more to disparage anyone who would disrespect their wonderful, high class ceremony with derision or uncouth anger. Ending the segment with him saying, “Congratulations, Spike, your show is now watchable.” No, no it really wasn’t. Or the 11 seconds of showing us a cow backstage just so they could mention Farmville. It wasn’t even a joke but a mere mention. Felicia Day did herself no favors by pandering to I don’t know who by slicing fruit and mouthing cupcakes for charity. A double insult so soon after the wonderful Desert Bus for Hope Child’s Play charity drive. At one point, she motioned to her mouth and said it had +20 to agility.

But I think the perfect moment that highlighted the bizarreness of the entire endeavor, that could stand as a metaphor for everything wrong with the show, was when Charlie Sheen came out to present the award for Best Shooter. Let me say that again, because it bears repeating: Charlie Sheen was the award presenter for Best Shooter. What on earth does he have to do with video games? At all? He isn’t even a geek symbol like William Shatner or in anything that was is or ever will be a geek product. His presence is absolutely baffling and I think more than a little baffling for Charlie Sheen himself. He starts off by telling an anecdote of his agent calling him up and asking if he’d like to present an award and he asks if there “will be chicks?” Even worse he represents what SpikeTV thinks of us, that this man, a convicted woman beater and drug abuser is representative or speaks to gamers in anyway. Even as a celebrity, there only to give the show extra star power doesn’t make sense. He is irrelevant in today’s world and far passed his prime, shunned by the mainstream he comes to us. This was the moment that stuck out the most, because it makes absolutely no sense and this was the show where they teabagged someone on stage—twice—and one of them was an award winner. As crass, juvenile, disgusting and insulting as that was at least has a connection to video games no matter how much we wished it didn’t. The spectacle just failed to entertain or even matter.

Even the awards part of the award show failed at its simple task. It was about halfway through my second viewing (see what I go through for you dear readers) that I realized the inherent problem with the VGA’s awards section of the “award show.” I knew who was going to win Game of the Year before they came back from commercials and anyone could have known it ahead of time too. Each game would only be awarded once throughout the show, even if they won more than one award. They read off the list of nominees, give out the award and while the developers are walking on stage to accept they list out what other awards the game won. By the end of it the only game in the Game of the Year category that hadn’t been honored yet was Skyrim. I knew who was going to win before they presented it. The idea of an awards show is make a show centered on the competition of who will win the honors. Giving it away ahead of time and doing so by not naming all the nominees and actually presenting the awards misses the whole point of why anyone would tune in. If that is how you are going to run it you might as well wait for the lists coming out the next day.

But the true damage—the true insult with the awards—came from the categories that needed the screen time the most. Only Best Action/Adventure game, Best Shooter and Game of the Year had all their nominees listed before they announced the winner. Every other winning game was announced in a 53 sec montage that covered over 10 awards. Only the winners too, as all the other nominees were left by the wayside. Among those were Best Indie, Best Downloadable and Best Handheld/Mobile game. The games that could have used the recognition the most were simply ignored, and given little recognition by Spike.

Games like Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Stacking, Trenched, The Binding Of Isaac, Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, Infinity Blade, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective and Jetpack Joyride are among many of the titles that were officially nominated, but never mentioned during the show. Not mentioning them at all was a complete slap in the face to the developers who showed up.

(I should add that an entire set was dedicated to The Black Keys playing a single off their new album. It was a good song and I’m sure they are a great band, but playing the song that won Best Song in Game might've been a better idea instead.)

The VGAs are simply a big advertisement for next years games, and this is evident with awards like Most Anticipated Game and the slew of trailers that interrupt the show. Just imagine if movie trailers interrupted the Academy Awards. If not much of a concession, but it's good to note that without exception, all of these trailers were put online within minutes of the live broadcast. Perhaps they should have saved us the trouble and done away with an awards show altogether.

The VGAs are a disgusting, insulting, time wasting, out of touch, illogical flash spectacle they call an awards show. It failed as spectacle event, it failed as an awards show, and it failed as a marketing engine. What made everything worse were the few bones they threw the audience that want an actual awards show like honoring Shigeru Miyamoto for the Legend of Zelda, only further highlighted how awful the rest of it is. It was such a great moment to see that Zelda montage followed by Miyamoto raising that award above his head like it was the Master Sword. They proved they are capable, but they just don’t care. If you missed the VGAs to go out or play a video game instead, good on you, you had a better evening than any of us who watched it.

Finally, I was asked to chart the time breakdown of the show. So here are the stats I ended up with:

Total Running Time – 2 hours

Show Running Time – 1 hour 30 minutes 16 seconds

Commercials – 29 minutes 44 seconds

In-Show Advertisements – 26 minutes 48 seconds

Pointless Celebrities – 17 minutes 15 seconds

Expensive On-Stage CGI – 3 minutes 40 seconds

Gameplay – 0 minutes 0 seconds

Introduction Movie and Standup – 9 minutes 23 seconds

Cow – 11 seconds

Failed Health Bar Gag – 58 seconds

Cathartic Online Game Douchebag Rant – 2 minutes 0 seconds

Black Baron Skit – 3 minutes 30 seconds

Actual Award Show Material – 26 minutes 33 seconds

Longest Single Segment of the VGAs – The Diablo 3 Intro Movie – 4 minutes 14 seconds

Second Longest Segment – The Legend of Zelda induction into the Hall of Fame with Miyamoto – 3 minutes 55 seconds.

Direct Insult to My Intelligence Final Count – 13