The Videogame Oscars: And the Winners Are …

After a fierce few days of polling, you lovely readers have finally put together a decisive set of winners for the first ever Videogame Oscars!

Now let’s see our winners:

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Mark Hamill as the Joker in Arkham City

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Ashley Johnson as Ellie in The Last of Us

Best Developer:

Naughty Dog

Best Game:

The Last of Us

Thanks for voting!

Who are your winners for these categories? There’s no right or wrong answer. Let us know in the comments below!

Advertisements

The Videogame Oscars – The Nominees

There are plenty of awards for the video game industry, but I want to approach this from a different angle. Much like how the Oscars rewards movies for their artistic merit, I want to honour games in the same way. Along with a team of the most esteemed gamers I could find (within walking distance), I’ve put together a list of nominations for the most artistic games of the decade. These nominations aren’t based on just graphics or gameplay, but also storyline, acting and creativity. I need YOUR help to decide the winners. Yes, YOU, anonymous blog reader! Screw the Academy, we’re the Academy of gaming. Simply click the link below and make your choice or even make your own nominations! Feel free to check out these videos of the nominees to help make your decision.

Click here to vote!

And the nominees are …

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Yaani Fisher as Riley – The Last of Us: Left Behind

Ellen McLain as Glados – Portal 2

Merle Dandridge as Alyx Vance – Half Life 2

Mark Hamill as The Joker – Batman: Arkham City

Stephen Merchant as Wheatley – Portal 2

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Ashley Johnson as Ellie in The Last of Us

Courtnee Draper as Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite

Nolan North as Nathan Drake – Uncharted 3

Troy Baker as Joel – The Last of Us

Rob Wiethoff as John Marston – Red Dead Redemption

Best Developer:

Naughty Dog – The Uncharted series, The Last of Us

Bungie Studios – The Halo series, Destiny

Irrational Games – Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite

Rockstar Games – The GTA series, Red Dead Redemption

Valve – The Half Life series, the Portal series

Tell Tale Games – Fables: The Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead

Rocksteady Studios – The Arkham series

Best Game:

The Last of Us

Uncharted 3

Bioshock Infinite

Arkham City

Portal 2

Half life 2

Red Dead Redemption

Shadow of the Colossus

Results to come this week!

Female Representation in Gaming: Why GamerGate can change it for the better

It’s been a whirlwind couple of months as the GamerGate debacle has morphed into a beast that I don’t think any of us quite foresaw. Depending on your point of view, it’s done a lot of good, a lot of bad or both. But it’s undeniable that it’s cast a lot of light and a lot of mainstream attention onto issues within the gaming community that though they might not have been the initial intention of the movement, are still important issues nonetheless and issues that have been quite prominent with other artistic mediums. One such issue is that of sexism within gaming, though at this stage, I don’t want to focus on the issue of female gamers and how they are treated or represented. That’s another important issue for another time. What I want to focus on is the representation of female characters within video games.

Film has long struggled with the idea of prominently featuring female characters and for a while, the film community and the general public has been wrapped up with the idea of “strong female characters”, without realising that this was a fallacy in itself (when’s the last time someone’s called for a “strong male character?) and became a trope that allowed for bland, stereotypical representations. We don’t want “strong female characters”, we want good ones. It’s a trap that the video game industry has fallen into more often than not. There’s been a lot of bad with female representation in gaming, especially considering that the primary audience for a long time has been young adult males. There’s been a lot of over sexualisation and a lot of bland female characters that exist solely as accessories for the male protagonist. Even female protagonists such as Lara Croft were by and large devoid of personality and hyper sexualised. But fear not loyal reader, things HAVE been improving.

In recent years, there have been a number of female characters who are not just some of the most complex, compelling and endearing characters in gaming, but in recent fiction in general. Characters like Ellie from the Last of Us and Elizabeth from Bioshock are characters who have their own motivations, strengths, weaknesses, fears, aspirations, emotional nuances and character journeys. They’re strong but also vulnerable, they have their own important place and arc within the story and do not exist solely to provide support or emotional baggage for the male protagonist. Even characters like Lara Croft have been given a major update. Croft now has an actual personality besides being an unstoppable bad ass. She’s an actual character now and that’s wonderful. As games become more recognised as art, things are improving at a rapid pace. It’s no coincidence that some of the most artistic games in the last few years are the ones with this kind of diverse and effective representation. That’s not to say there’s not still bad with the good, but female representation is certainly evolving and it’s on the upswing.

Which is why all of this debate and controversy brought about inadvertently by GamerGate and the criticism of sexism is a good thing. Art is ever changing and art is controversial. This debate gets eyes on the issue in both the mainstream and from developers and players. It can shine light on the good that has happened and also the issues that still need to be improved. Sure, things might get ugly, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

Depression Quest: Forget the Controversy and GamerGate. Is it art?

There’s been a lot of ugliness surrounding this game and its creator due to all of this GamerGate controversy. But there’s a million voices already sounding off on that debate and that’s not what I want to address in this blog. Sometimes when we get all caught up in social and cultural rhetoric, we forget to look at the games themselves.

Depression Quest was released in 2013 and has split the gaming community down the middle. Some reviews have been overwhelmingly positive with gaming critics leaping to praise it, while others have been crushingly negative with many not even considering it a game at all. Zoe Quinn created Depression Quest as a way to tackle the subject of depression head on and try to build understanding of the issue through an interactive narrative. The player is presented with descriptions of a variety of situations and decisions to make based on those descriptions which lead to five different endings. These are constructed in a way that attempts to bridge the gap between sufferers of depression and those who have never experienced the affliction before by putting them in a depression sufferers shoes. The decisions they are faced with are often illogical and often aren’t decisions at all, as many options are crossed off depending on prior decisions made. This is supposed to convey the idea that depression often robs the sufferer of choice. It’s a very clever narrative device and one that can only be done through gaming.

Many have said that it is not a game. They have criticised Depression Quest for being boring, repetitive, unintuitive and just an all around poor gaming experience. In many ways, they are right. This is gaming used as a social tool, gaming used as education rather than entertainment. It’s making a statement and all of the GamerGate ugliness aside, it’s trying to use the medium in a creative way to try to instigate positive change and alter perceptions. If that’s not art, I don’t know what is.

Art affects people, art changes perceptions and makes a statement about culture or life in a creative way. Depression Quest does this in a way that only a game can. Is it perfect? Certainly not. It’s rudimentary, clunky and  downright clumsy at times. But it’s bold and it’s different. For gaming to move forward as a medium and be recognised as a legitimate art form, this type of experimentation is welcome and needed. The hardcore games will always be around, but there’s certainly room for this sort of experimentation and I’m excited to see more in the future.

Games are art: Morality vs Choice

The biggest difference between film and video games is the agency of the player. Though it’s not always the case and it doesn’t always have to be, players are able to make decisions that can change the course of the story. It’s this agency that can be the best advantage for video games moving forward as a medium. But in order to take full advantage of this potential, game developers need to understand the difference between morality and choice.

Certain games like the Mass Effect series and the Infamous series pioneered the idea of morality based decisions where the player could choose at certain points in the game between the “good option” and the “bad option”. These choices could change everything from the story itself to how the characters looked and played. Often, the “bad choices” would result in the character looking more and more evil, with Infamous’ Cole McGrath becoming more monstrous and inhuman with each bad choice he made. The problem with this approach was that rather than really giving the player a true choice on how to proceed and progress the story, it gave them two linear options that they were encouraged to take rather than making decisions of their own autonomy. In both Mass Effect and Infamous, the player had to essentially choose either the good option or the bad option and stick to it, or else they were unable to get the necessary upgrades and play the game properly.

This is the difference between choice and morality. Games that give you choice understand that decisions are rarely as clear cut as the “good option” and the “bad option”. Don’t get me wrong, Mass Effect and Infamous are great games, but in terms of having the player affect the story and make them feel as if they are truly making decisions, there’s so much potential for much more. There are some games that attempt to do this. Games like The Witcher, Dragon Age and Heavy Rain give the player difficult choices that truly make them think and consider the consequences of their actions. That’s where gaming needs to go in order to truly take advantage of what the medium can allow developers to do.

Games are art: The Plight of the Voice Actor

Much like how video games have been dismissed as not being “real art”, so to have voice actors been dismissed as not being “real actors”. What happens when you combine the two? Voice actors who work primarily with video games were often not given the top billing they deserved. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say “I need to play that game because X voice actor is playing the main character!” But the truth is, a great vocal performance can elevate a great story while a bad one can drag it down. In recent years, thanks to some fantastic work in some of the best games of the decade, more people are beginning to recognise the hard work, dedication and talent needed to become a voice actor. Today I want to take the time to recognise some of the best voice actors working in the industry.

In no particular order, here are my favourite voice actors in the gaming industry today:

Courtnee Draper

Courtnee may be a relative newcomer when it comes to the gaming industry with her first role as a voice actor in Bioshock Infinite, but she has certainly made a splash in her short time performing. She stole the show as Elizabeth, bringing the character to life with a wonderfully nuanced and emotional performance. Since then, she’s taken the character in a very different, darker direction in the noir inspired Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea, showing us just a glimpse of her range. The future is bright for Courtnee and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

David Hayter

David is best known for his iconic role as Solid Snake. His gravelly voice has become a staple of the Metal Gear Solid franchise and has made him a legend in the gaming industry. He’s not only talented, but passionate about his work as he gave up half his pay check to ensure that the other cast members of Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes were able to return.

Ashley Johnson

Much of the success of arguably 2013’s best game, The Last of Us, can be attributed to its female lead, Ellie, who was voiced by the talented and experienced Ashley Johnson. Ashley injected Ellie with a mixture of toughness, vulnerability, dry wit and enthusiasm that made the character someone that gamers could truly empathise with and connect to. Ashley has taken part in several video games before, but this raw, emotional performance truly set her apart form the pack.

Nolan North

This man is everywhere. Widely considered to be the King of Voice Acting, Nolan has provided voices for practically every character imaginable. He has played superheroes, supervillains, assassins, turtles, adventurers, princes, talking animals, you name it, he’s voiced it. Perhaps his most beloved role is as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series where he was able to inject Drake with a roguish, everyman charm that made him the Indiana Jones of gaming. Chances are, if you’ve ever played a game in the last ten years, you’ve heard this man’s voice and you’ll be sure to hear a lot more.

Troy Baker

If there’s anyone who can challenge Nolan North’s claim to the throne, it’s this man. His work in the industry is too numerous to name, but in the last few years, he’s really taken the world by storm. In the same year, he starred in three of the biggest and best games and turned in three of the best performances of the year. He played the amoral hired gun with a warped past, Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite, capturing the attention and empathy of the player despite rarely ever seeing the character’s face. He then went on to play Joel, the gruff and grizzled protagonist in The Last of Us where he also provided the mo cap for the character, turning in another great performance. At the same time, he surprised everyone in his role as the Joker in the latest Batman game, Arkham Origins. His manic performance was barely recognisable and really showed his impressive range. Baker’s got a couple of other huge projects coming up like Metal Gear Solid V and Batman: Arkham Knight. Perhaps he might just topple Nolan North after all.

So those are my top picks for best voice actors. Who are yours? Sound off in the comments below.

Games are Art: How Music Can Make Moments Matter

A great soundtrack can make a scene. The right song at the right time can elevate a mediocre scene to great or a good scene to amazing. Quentin Tarantino is one of my favourite directors who really uses music to its full potential. Take this scene from Kill Bill for example:

Now watch it on mute. Really, most of the scene is just the two characters staring at each other and the scene is honestly a little boring. But the music makes it one of the most tense and exhilarating fight sequences I can remember seeing.

Music can be just as important for a video game and while there are many games that have great soundtracks, only a select few have truly used music to draw an emotional reaction from the player and really enhance the storytelling of the game. One in particular stands out: Red Dead Redemption.

Red Dead is a love letter to Western cinema where you take control of John Marston, a man on a mission to return to his family. After a long, brutal and exhausting campaign across the Wild West, you are finally given the opportunity to reunite with your loved ones and “ride into the sunset”, so to speak. But while most Western movies cut to the credits at this point, by virtue of you being in control of John, you get to play out this victorious moment in full. Just as you begin to ride, without warning, the soundtrack changes (having been almost exclusively instrumental pieces up until that point) and we get this great moment:

The game never cuts away, it never pulls you into a cutscene for this moment, it just lets you ride, keeping you in control. Because this moment is the climax to everything you had been working for since the very beginning of the story. It’s triumphant and sombre at the same time – you finally get to return home, but only after doing terrible things to get there. The fact that you’re in control really lets the moment sink in, really makes you feel as if it’s not just John’s story, it’s your story as well. It’s a perfect example of how gameplay and music can work in concert (pun intended) to deliver an amazing experience. Games are art.

What are your musical moments in gaming or film? Sound off in the comments below!