TonThe climax of the ninth annual Game Awards comes within the first 15 minutes. A disheveled Al Pacino took the stage to present the Best of Show award, quick to admit that he neither played “a lot of video games” nor could he read a teleprompter particularly well. Still, he managed to hand the gong to actor Christopher Judge for his stellar performance as Kratos in Ragnarok. Dressed in a sparkling gold suit, Judge kicked off his moment in the sun by hugging the Hollywood star. That’s just the start of another 10 minutes of heartfelt on-stage performance, as the actor recounts the personal pain he went through before making the game. As the days wore on, the show’s producers seemed to start to fret over the evening’s schedule, eventually playing orchestra to hustle him. However, it only makes Judge’s words more epic — and more emotional.
Judge’s time on stage was a rare moment of spontaneity and individuality in the three-hour award show, ingredients sorely lacking otherwise. Creator, host and producer Geoff Keighley has promised “Streamlined” running time compared to its predecessors, so Judge’s extended appearance leaves less time for other winners. The show’s so-called new titles pale in comparison to the timing of “world premiere” trailers for announced games. The award was supposed to be a celebration of this year’s interactive excellence, but the night showed how much it remained focused on a hype-laden future , often to the detriment of the creators it claims to endorse.
This is most evident in the odd parts, where Keighley reads out some of the award nominees and winners in rapid succession. “Here’s the nominee,” he’d say as the nominee flashed on the screen. There was an excruciating pause before Keighley declared the winner with little fanfare. Of the 32 awards, 20 were awarded in this way. None of these honorees were invited to the stage to collect their statues.
Still, fans were treated to a veritable feast of new material for the upcoming game. Most notable of these are Hideo Kojima’s long-awaited sequel to open-world hiking simulator Death Stranding, and Armored Core VI: Rubicon’s Fire, a game from Elden Ring studio From Software. The highly anticipated mech action game developed by As attendees watching the show at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles began to realize what they were being shown, their cheers and cheers echoed through the live stream. Elsewhere, however, the show’s energy stalled. A skit involving actors Keegan-Michael Key (who plays Toad in the upcoming Super Mario Bros. movie) and The Muppets’ Animal failed to land, while another 43 trailers began merging with each other. Watching such commercials starts to feel like wading through a morass of blockbuster spectacle. Games like the action RPG Lords of the Fallen could be excellent, but it doesn’t show any strength in this ranks format. Like the winners themselves, it has no room to shine.
Despite being often described as the video game equivalent of the Oscars, especially since Keighley invited such comparisons, the Game Awards are a far more flamboyant business occasion. Everything in it, except the award and the speech itself, seemed like an advertisement. There’s the “world premiere” trailer, followed by more trailers and commercials that act as dividers between each section of the show. Sometimes, when Keighley announces partnerships with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and food delivery service Grubhub, or when there’s a chance to score a free Xbox Series S controller from Verizon, he’ll take the ad himself. It’s getting harder to distinguish a show from the ads that support it. Sometimes, one has to rely on Keighley’s tone of voice to make that distinction.
Amidst all this elaborate publicity, a moment beyond Pacino and Judge will linger in the mind. At one point, the camera cuts to Microsoft Games CEO Phil Spencer, looking somber, on the day news broke that the FTC was suing to block Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Later in the day, a flautist named Pedro Eustache stole the show with a dynamic orchestral performance of the Game of the Year nominee’s score. The strangest moment, however, comes as an uninvited young man a few minutes before the end (later arrested) took to the stage immediately after the FromSoftware developers won Game of the Year for Elden Ring. He said he wanted to “nominate this award to my Reformed Orthodox Rabbi Bill Clinton.” It was an absurd outburst at an otherwise carefully planned event.
These moments are memorable because for a fleeting few seconds, they offer a humanity that cuts through the veneer of video game enterprise. It would be nice to give game creators more opportunities to show their personalities on stage next year. After all, games are made by people, and the game awards seem to almost forget that.