So, the latest Spike VGAs, sorry, VGXs, just ended, and it’s fair to say the show was a little…different…to how it usually goes. Not chocolate ice-cream vs. vanilla ice-cream different, not even iPhone vs. Android different, but more like John Belushi vs. Jim Belushi different. This is about as different as different gets.
First off, I have no great love for the Spike VGAs, but I at least appreciate what they were trying to do. For a decade or so they are have been a glitzed-up event trying to make games look cool, fun, and interesting to people who may not really know what the gaming world is like. Samuel L. Jackson, host of the event in 2005-07 and again in 2012, at least tried to have a good time and roll with it, rather than just crapping over his audience (which I will get to in a moment). Previous VGAs almost became the Oscars of the videogame industry, a big event to show off the brightest and best of the previous year’s games, and to look forward to what is to come over the next few months. I couldn’t say I watched every moment of every show, but I caught bits and pieces here and there, and in general it seemed like a fun time was had by most people.
And then we have 2013’s train-wreck.
Gone was Samuel L. Jackson; gone was the live audience (although we did have a fake audience for some reason). Instead we had a small studio with a handful of people in it, several embarrassing interviews that either lasted way too long or should never even have happened in the first place, and new host Joel McHale. I like Joel McHale, he’s funny on Community and The Soup, but one thing I have never thought to myself is “Joel McHale really should host an awards show” and it turns out I was absolutely right. I enjoy his brand of humour, but I don’t think it lends itself particularly well to an awards show, and particularly not an awards show about videogames. He really didn’t seem too thrilled to be there, so perhaps he’s on the lookout for a new agent already, but his quips and put-downs on games just did not seem to mesh at all. Despite gaming having made leaps and bounds toward mainstream acceptance these past few years, a lot of us are still sensitive to people calling us nerds or geeks, or generally just bashing us for what we like to do in our free time. Joel McHale is not the first, second, or even the tenth person I would think of if I were coming up with a list of people to host a show such as this. Geoff Keighley as co-host at least helped a little, but not enough.
The entire show really felt like a YouTube video that was dragging on for too long; from the sets to the interviews to the put-downs, it was almost like Spike were trying to find reasons to piss me off by poking a great deal of fun at something I enjoy doing. I like comedy and gaming-related comedy as much as the next person, but this wasn’t it. And to make matters worse, it didn’t even air on Spike TV this year, it was just livestreamed on the Internet instead. Watching it felt very reminiscent of E3 in 2007 and 2008, where the entire show was scaled down to a set of glorified press conferences at hotels, before returning to its normal in-your-face larger format in 2009.
I’m not someone who is against change and shaking up the format of things like that, but I seriously question how Spike went about it. If they wanted a new presenter then someone with at least a modicum of gaming credibility could have done a better job. Chris Hardwick, Aisha Tyler (Lanaaaaaaaa), even Wil Wheaton, any of these people could have taken on the mantle, and been able to poke some gentle fun at our favourite pastime without the hatchet job Joel McHale did. I also had some serious reservations with the winners they picked this year. GTA V for Game of the Year, over The Last Of Us and BioShock Infinite? Assassin’s Creed IV as Best Action Adventure Game, over Tomb Raider or The Last Of Us? (again!) Come on now…I realise winners are going to be a subjective opinion, but still this did not feel right to me at all.
The biggest question for me is, where do they go from here? Will they double-down and keep this new format for next year, or return to the VGAs of old, or even come up with some other re-tooling? I suspect that, not only will I not be alone in my opinion of these new “VGXs”, but that Spike is going to have their work cut out for them trying to get people interested in 2014’s event, and they will have only themselves to blame.