The Games Media Awards – loved or loathed?

games-media-awardsThe Games Media Awards (or GMAs for acronym fans) took place last night, and with it came the usual outpouring of moany tweets, mostly from people who weren’t there.

For those not in the know, the GMAs are a UK award ceremony in which some members of Britain’s gaming journalism industry are given little plastic blocks to commemorate their top-notch journalising over the past year.

In case you’re curious, here’s who won last night.

First of all, let me get a few disclaimers out of the way, so you know exactly where I stand.

• In the nine years I spent living in London, I attended the GMAs maybe seven or so times.
• I was nominated for two Games Media Awards – Rising Star in 2008 and Specialist Writer (Print) in 2011. I won neither: naturally, I was horribly bitter on the night.
• I wasn’t really that bitter.
• I’ve also been nominated as part of a group numerous times over the years when Official Nintendo Magazine, CVG and, last night, the Chat Very Good podcast were nominated.
• Of these group nominations I’ve only been part of the winning team once – the oddly specific Best Nintendo Magazine award in 2008 when I was at ONM.

Sadly, I looked like a fucking nimrod back then
Sadly, I looked like a fucking nimrod back then

• Some of the people who have won GMAs over the years were people I didn’t like, or didn’t feel were deserving.
• Conversely, many of the people who won GMAs over the years were friends of mine, or peers I massively respected.
• I didn’t attend last night’s show because I now live in Edinburgh, and since I’m currently contracting, taking time off to go and travel down to London would have left me around £400 out of pocket in total.

As ever, anyone who follows a healthy number of British games journalists will have had their Twitter feed dominated last night by GMA chat.

These tweets mostly fell into two groups: the drunk people who were there and enjoying themselves, and the sober people who weren’t there and wanted to moan about the whole concept.

I wasn’t there last night, and as I’m tee-total I was obviously sober. But you wouldn’t have found me moaning about it. Except maybe as a joke. Like this:

Granted, I’ll admit that many a year ago I used to hate the idea of the GMAs. On a personal level I’m not really much of a socialiser, and on a general level I didn’t like the idea of what was essentially a popularity contest.

Over the years though I’ve grown to accept them. Not love them, but accept them. Here are some of my thoughts on the GMAs, coming from someone who’s been to more than a few:

1) It’s still a popularity contest

Of course it is. That’s how award ceremonies work. You put a bunch of nominees in front of a jury (be that a panel or a mass vote) and they decide who they like best.

And for those who aren’t nominated, or who are but don’t win, this can be a real kick in the arse. After all, it’s easy to make the logical leap that if you don’t win a popularity contest you aren’t popular.

The reality is though, as in Highlander, there can be only one. If someone wins a popularity contest it doesn’t automatically mean everyone else is unappreciated.

I could name you right now 20 members of the British games media whose work I love. Christian Donlan, Rob Crossley, Tamoor Hussain, Joe Skrebels, Kate Gray, Jon Blyth, Keza McDonald, Aoife Wilson, Steve Hogarty, Chris Schilling, Jamie Trinca, Simon Miller, Steve Burns, Gav Murphy, Holly Nielsen, the BitSocket guys, Lucy James, Kim Richards, Andy Kelly, Mike Diver.

The lovely BitSocket boys won last night.
The lovely BitSocket boys won last night.

I’ve left out loads more, and I immediately feel terrible about it. In fact, I could easily list another ten off the top of my head if I wanted to – Rich Stanton, Jim Sterling, Ryan King, Chris Bratt, Matt Pellett, Alice Bell, Simon Parkin, Gillen McAllister, Cara Ellison, Louise Blain – and I know there are still plenty of people I haven’t mentioned.

What’s my point? Simply put, if you expect me to pick just one of these people (or even a few) to win an award, it would be ridiculous to assume I hate anyone I didn’t pick.

In short, if you were at the GMAs and didn’t win, there are probably still plenty of people who love your work.

2) It’s not a complete representation of British video game journalism

It absolutely isn’t. That said, it’s at least a decent slice of what’s out there and, again, what’s popular. My list above only scratches the surface of British games critics: there are countless freelancers, blogs and smaller websites out there who don’t get a mention at the GMAs and still produce great work.

Indeed, if you were a massive suck-up, you could even suggest that you’re reading one right now. Where was Tired Old Hack’s nomination, you prrrrricks etc.

It must be magical or something: it's just a cupboard, so where did that guy come from?
I mean, I talk about Night Trap and everything, what more do you want?

But awards ceremonies simply can’t name-check everyone, and often those who are name-checked are the most ‘mainstream’ examples of that particular industry, purely because the jury is more familiar with them.

Take the Oscars. Even if you pretend it’s only about American films there are still many thousands of movies made every year: not just Hollywood blockbusters, but countless independent films. As an example of scale, more than 4000 feature-length films were submitted to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival alone.

Unless you want the Academy Awards ceremony to be three months long, not every great film is going to get a mention.

Obviously, the number of British games journalists and publications is far smaller, but the point remains.

Ultimately though, this is all beside the point. The real point is:

3) The GMAs are a ceremony for the games industry, by the games industry

Yup. People can moan all they like about the GMAs and how they didn’t get a vote but really, it’s just a wee daft awards thing for industry people.

These awards are by and large nominated and have the winners decided by fellow peers. It’s the games journalism equivalent of the FIFA World Player Of The Year award in football, in which the votes come from the managers and captains of national teams.

Don’t think Eurogamer should have won Best Website? Annoyed you didn’t have a vote on the matter? Sorry mate, but it’s just a wee 20-minute ceremony voted on by a bunch of writers, it’s really not that big a deal. Some people may like to think it is, and build it up like it is, but it really isn’t.

Deep down, even the lovely Eurogamer know it isn't. But they're still lovely
Deep down, even the lovely Eurogamer know it isn’t. But they’re still lovely

The only reason the GMAs get so much coverage and end up getting NeoGAF threads dedicated to them is because we’re all members of a tech-heavy medium and as such it’s in our nature to tweet the piss out of the GMAs when we’re there, thereby making our followers think they must be a big deal.

But they really aren’t. They’re just a group of people from one industry acknowledging some of their peers.

Does this mean there’s a gaping big hole for a games journalism award ceremony voted for by the public? Sure, by all means, but good luck setting one up that does even a slightly better job of paying tribute to unsung heroes.

Let’s face it, if you start a competitor to the GMAs and open up voting to the public then the publications that win won’t necessarily be the ‘best’ ones (as subjective as that is), it’ll invariably be the ones exposed to the largest audience. Eurogamer would probably still win best website.

Deep down, even the lovely Eurogamer know it isn't. But they're still lovely
And they’d still be lovely

Going back to the Oscars analogy, open those up to the public and you end up with the MTV Movie Awards and a situation where, as was the case in 2014, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire wins Best Movie instead of 12 Years A Slave. Is that necessarily a better choice? Again, it’s completely subjective.

It’s very difficult to explain this without implying something massively condescending, like ‘the public don’t know any better’. But that’s not what I mean.

I’m not implying games journalists know more about the industry than its readers, but in a way I sort of am. All I’m saying is that we’re immersed in it for at least eight hours a day – almost always far more than that – and so are exposed to a wider range of coverage, websites, magazines and writers than many readers, who often find their favourite publications and stick faithfully to them (and understandably so).

Ugh. I want to move on from this one because I can feel myself sounding more like a prick by the second.

4) For those nominated, it’s great

Like I said above, the GMAs are undoubtedly a popularity contest. But while this ultimately leads to disappointment for those who don’t win, there are two sides to every story.

If I know her like I think I do, Kate Gray will feel about twenty feet tall today. She’ll have been floating all day after winning the Rising Star award last night.

I’ve been a massive fan of Kate’s ever since she started at ONM and had to put up with me sitting across from her (CVG used to be located right next to ONM at Future’s London offices).

In an increasingly cynical industry where negativity sells and “this game has a shit framerate” is a more lucrative story than “this game will brighten up your life”, Kate’s enthusiasm is something I wish we could bottle up, stick a syringe into and jag up the arses of the countless moody veterans who reckon they’re over the thrill of getting to play games for a living.

Kate’s been working like a bastard since she stepped foot in this industry and in such a short time she’s already found herself writing for ONM, OXM and The Guardian, before jumping to Xbox to make (genuinely funny) videos for them, then heading over to Gamespot.

She's also a fucking demon when it comes to puns. They're all spot no too - no Gray areas there
She’s also a fucking demon when it comes to puns. They’re all spot on too – no Gray areas there

In short, she’s tailor-made for the Rising Star award. Which is why she deserved to win it, and why I know she’ll have been delighted to.

And then you go on Twitter and find a bunch of miserable pricks moaning about how the GMAs are all just a big waste of time and it’s all a bit cliquey pals act. Well, fuck that. I’m sure any time Kate – or anyone else who won last night – looks at their award it’ll fill them with pride, so I have no time for anyone trying to diminish that.

It’s something I’ve been through myself. I don’t usually tell people this but I have massive self-confidence issues. Always have. As a chunky chap who doesn’t drink and doesn’t socialise much, I can be pretty bloody awkward around people, and for the entire nine years I lived in London I was convinced there were loads of people who thought I was shit.

Those two times I was nominated for a Games Media Award were enormous for me, even if I didn’t win. To have been recognised by my peers and to have heard a wee cheer when my name was announced among the nominees was something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Yes, it’s a popularity contest. But some people don’t get to feel popular too often.

5) Actually, it’s nothing to do with ethics in games journalism

It would be remiss of me not to point out that a few years back there was a ridiculous incident at the GMAs involving a massively ill-judged promotion.

Back in 2012, a PR team decided it would be a good idea to try to promote their game at the GMAs. They went up to journalists at the event and asked them to tweet a hashtag promoting their game, in order to win a PS3.

My pal Robert Florence wrote an article lambasting it, and rightly so. It was fucking ridiculous.

Getting advertisers to sponsor the GMAs is one thing (they need to raise enough money to host them somehow) but it’s some sneaky shit to pull a stunt like this so you can get the games media to promote your game while they’re all gathered together in one place.

Nah, you're alright mate. I'm just going to stand over here and discuss Filipino politics while drinking fizzy water
Nah, you’re alright mate. I’m just going to stand over here and discuss Filipino politics

Part of the blame obviously lies with the PR team who came up with the idea, but an equally hefty chunk of blame also lies with the journalists who opted to take part in the promotion.

There are plenty of ethical issues surrounding situations like this, not least because it’s blatantly irresponsible to use your influence to promote a game to your followers in return for a valuable freebie (even if it isn’t a guaranteed one). Anyone who’s done media ethics training knows that’s schoolboy level stuff.

A lot of people to this day say the GMAs are some sort of hive of corruption, citing that incident as proof of this. This isn’t really the case: that argument is along the same lines as blaming ‘games journalism’ as a whole when a single writer does something controversial.

The fact is though, this shit isn’t unique to the GMAs: it happens all the time. Whether it’s at an awards show, a trade show, an expo or a press event, games journalists are expected to be vigilant and on the ball when it comes to this sort of thing.

A games journalist should only tweet a hashtag when they’re happy to endorse the product, and never to get something in return for it. I’ve done it a handful of times, most recently when I attended a Nintendo preview event.

On this occasion I saw the above mural as I entered the event, and only tweeted it after I had played Super Mario Maker and was confident I liked it.

Essentially, it’s treating the GMAs with far more solemnity than it deserves. After all:

6) It’s just a big piss-up

As I said above, the actual award-winning portion of the GMAs lasts around 20 minutes. The rest of the night consists of drinking, meeting fellow peers for the first time and catching up with ex-colleagues who’ve moved on to different publications.

The games journalism industry is no different from any other industry. We’re all doing the same job, and though every publication has rivals they secretly want to beat (I have no doubt many will have been rubbing their hands at VG247’s absolute fucking howler earlier that day), when it comes down to it we’re all in the same boat and respect each other.

Another big talking point is the fact that PR from game publishers attend the event too. The implication some make is that journalists mixing with PRs is a massively corrupt practice, but as I’ve mentioned in a previous article:

Even though we’re apparently on opposite ‘teams’ – it’s my job to ensure our reviews are accurate while it’s their job to ensure games get as much positive coverage as possible – we still respect each other enough to know that if a game’s shit I’m going to give it a shit score and it’s nothing personal. It’s called professionalism, and if you let your friendship get in the way of your ability to accurately review games, you’re doing it wrong.

And contrary to what some of you may be thinking, when writers from other publications meet up they don’t immediately start conjuring up ways to work together and bring down the tyrannical 20-something male core gamer movement to make way for militant feminists riding massive winged Candy Crush Saga blocks and armed with Peggle guns.

We just have a bit of a laugh.

Look at the fucking CORRUPTION. It's so rife they might as well rename the awards Metroid Prime 3
Look at the fucking CORRUPTION. It’s so rife they might as well rename the awards Metroid Prime 3

Much as I’m sure the event’s organisers would argue otherwise, nobody goes to the GMAs for the awards, other than the individuals who are nominated.

For this handful of people, the GMAs are recognition of a good year’s work. But for the other 90% of people in the room though, all it’s recognition of is that it’s good to catch up with old mates and make new ones.

And for the others, who didn’t go and didn’t want to go, and who instead decided their time last night was better spent moaning about the GMAs and belittling those who won: it’s just a bunch of people having a good time. Lighten up.

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