2017 proves that “Game of the Year” as a concept doesn’t work
Could it be that the dust has finally settled on what is surely set to be remembered as one of the best years of games in recent history? Yes, November is at an end, and thus comes with it catch-up time for all the poor souls out there hoping to empty their overstuffed 2017 backlogs. People have already started to dish the details on which games were their highlights, but in doing this, reveal that the “Game of the Year” notion is reductive more than anything.
I get that offering personal praise to a game comes from a place of positivity. After all, whenever you enjoy a meal at a restaurant a lot more than usual, society has taught us that it’s polite to pay compliments for the chef. The chef feels pride in their creative work and similarly you as the consumer are esteemed to have contributed towards this, but the difference here is that your dish isn’t competing with thousands of others. The simple point being that to give praise is welcome, but ranking them against one another? It just comes off as reductive.
2017 has offered up its fair share of gaming delights. Both in the form of ground-breaking open world games like Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Zero Dawn, in addition to genre-definiing indie experiences like the brutal Cuphead and the unforgettable tale presented in What Remains of Edith Finch. For me, the best way to praise the hard work of the people who created these experiences would be to celebrate them on an individual basis without comparison, and I’m sure the one things devs would appreciate more than a showboating award would be a recommendation to friends and family.
Obviously, this isn’t a problem that solely plagues our medium, but others too. Movies have the Academy Awards, music have the Grammys, and video games have Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards. Now this show is many things, but what I look forward to every year are the exclusive announcements and reveals, rather than an arbitrary and awkward ceremony in which a board of judges tell me what games I should be enjoying/playing. If anything, at least the nomination process gives the selected games a tad more publicity.
The best thing I can say about “Game of the Year”, is that it doesn’t directly harm people’s perspective on certain experiences, just rather unnecessarily elevates some above others. Personally, I couldn’t list you a top 5 or top 10 games I’ve enjoyed. There’s just been too many in 2017 to count. And while it’s absolutely been a rocky year in terms of controversy (Telltale/Gazillion layoffs, loot boxes, microtransactions, etc.) I rest comfortably knowing that when we look back, what will stand out will be the games themselves as opposed to the debates surrounding them.