Every year The Game Awards are a celebration of the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make the incredible games that we play. While last year’s show put emphasis on gaming’s unsung heroes, epitomized by Overwatch’s victory as Game of the Year after a nightmarish development cycle, this year more than ever developers expressed their passion for the industry despite the challenges of working in it.
A love of video games radiated from every award winner with memorable moments ranging from heartwarming to thrilling. Melina Juergens’ dramatic upset in the Best Performance category was followed by an emotional speech in which she thanked her team for the support and opportunity to pursue something she never thought would be possible. “We poured our heart and souls into this game, and to be recognized with the greats like this is just out of this world,” Cuphead developers Studio MDHR proclaimed after winning Best Art Direction, making sure to thank Team ID@XBOX for their support in providing an “easy ride” through development. Even Hidemaro Fujibayashi, director for Game of the Year winner Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, was overcome with the passion in the room, stating what was on everyone’s mind: “I’m really happy that I ended up making games.”
The biggest acknowledgment of the game awards, however, came during the Industry Icon presentation. Like many people, I had never heard of Carol Shaw before, but the instant she appeared on screen she became an inspiration. “Carol’s story is important today because she was there with the people who still get called ‘The Big Dogs,’” narrated Chris Garcia from the Computer History Museum. “She was there at the moment when the Big Bang of what the modern gaming industry was happened. And she was their equal and in many ways better.”
As one of the first female game designers ever, Carol faced more challenges than perhaps any other single designer. She began her career as a designer in the early 80’s when she was hired to Atari immediately out of college. Ray Kassar, head of Atari at that time, evidently remarked, “Oh finally we’ve got a woman game designer. She can do interior decorating and cosmetic color matching games.” Rather than conform to Kassar’s stereotype, Shaw developed a game, released in 1982, called River Raid that sold over 1,000,000 units for which Shaw received a platinum cartridge of the game.
I had only just heard Carol Shaw’s name, but in that moment I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving to be called an Industry Icon. She broke past a barrier that many women still struggle against today. She dealt with casual and institutional sexism. She independently crafted experiences that weren’t just financial successes, but that also won critical acclaim. And she did it all for the love of games.
And that was the core of The Game Awards. Whether you were a developer, a journalist, or a gamer, everyone in attendance felt that same sense of happiness: the joy of knowing that each person had made the decision to bring their passion to this medium. Of course, there was one person who was clearly the happiest to be involved in video games. “This is the real s**t!” Josef Fares announced in a five-minute rant that included multiple variations on the phrase “f**k the Oscars” and almost no concrete details about his upcoming game, A Way Out. “I did six feature films, but I don’t care. What can I tell you? This is insane. It’s my time to shine. Do you know how proud I am to be in this industry? This is fun. This is f**king fun! I love this!”
It may have been proclaimed with a bit more profanity, but judging by the cheers that accompanied Fares’ excitement, the entire auditorium agreed with his assessment: video games are an incredibly special industry, and there’s no other medium we’d rather devote ourselves to.
“It’s about celebrating the people that devote their lives to creating this kind of content and that global community that’s coming together around games: this is their night.” – Geoff Keighley on The Game Awards.