Geoff Keighley just introduced categories and nominees for The Game Awards 2022. Like every other year, one of those categories is “Games for Impact.” I have nothing against the “shocking” games that were selected this year, such as I was a teenage exocolonist (that I reviewed favorably). It is that the prize itself imposes a limiting vision of what reflective games can be.
Here’s how Keighley defines the category: “Games for Impact” recognizes thought-provoking gameplay with deep prosocial meaning.” Nominees include A Memoir Blue, As Dusk Falls, Citizen Sleeper, Endling: Extinction Is Forever, Hindsight, Y I was a teenage exocolonist. I’ve only played one title out of the six, but I’m sure they’re all good games. That doesn’t change how insulting the category feels.
Take “pro-social” for example. What it is a pro-social game? Suppose you mean non-violent games. am clear about how violence in video games is evaluated. The game with the most kills is often considered more serious, prestigious, and game-like. If the award body thought that teenage exocolonist is a wonderful game for not simulating human murder, so it should be in the Game of the Year category. Otherwise, it feels like our industry is trying to say, “Our medium isn’t just war crimes simulators! We also have non-violent games!”
Does it mean that a game has LGBTQ characters? If so, then I think that’s even worse. as i have previously written, everybody Video games must hold themselves to some basic standards when it comes to representation. Especially if they have multi-million dollar budgets and access to global talent. We shouldn’t be acknowledging a fraction of games for attempting representation. We should expect it from God of War: Ragnarök Y Forbidden Horizon West. Tellingly, those two games present diversity, but no award body would attempt to nominate them for “Games for Impact.” Because it’s the consolation prize category of The Game Awards.
I also don’t think “Games for Impact” is flattering to big blockbuster games. AAA games force me to have big meaningful thoughts all the time. It’s not just indie games that are capable of simulating my brain into having an opinion about the world around me. I worry that if we limit “thought-provoking” mechanics to indie games, then it might be harder to criticize big-budget games because they aren’t considered the right “type” of games to explore “pro-social” issues.
I know why this category exists. The Game Awards are a popularity contest in which the best-known games or titles with the highest budget usually sweep the prizes. But to maintain a facade of meritocracy, the awards need to give some recognition to the most prestigious indie games. I wish they could have done it by leaving sleeper citizen being a GOTY contender or nominating teenage exocolonist for “Best Performance of Roles”. The prizes would remain unequal. But it would give smaller games a better chance of being considered for their artistic and technical achievements, rather than hijacking them in the kiddie pool.