Tales of a Gaming Awards Virgin: Golden Joysticks 2010
It’s tempting not to take the Golden Joysticks too seriously.
For starters, they’re called something that my husband thought was a celebration of female self-love. Personally, I can’t hear the term golden joystick without recalling a misspent youth watching Dominik Diamond mock small, video-gaming children with palpable and – let’s face it – malevolent glee. Man, I wanted one of those awards! Does anyone have one? If you do, could you send me a picture so I can swoon and covet one some more? Can I buy one on eBay, do you think?
Am I digressing?
Listening to the radio as I drive to the train station the morning of the awards, I endure the stale and regrettably lopsided reporting that we’re all sadly used to now; surprise at the fiscal generation of video games, disgust that ‘violent’ games are included in the nominations, and the gentle but undeniable mocking that an award ceremony such as this even exists. That said, it’s hard to begrudge the report given that mainstream press gives so little positive coverage to gaming anyway. As I sat there, driving a little too fast in order not to miss my train, it was just good to know that the BBC garnered the Joysticks significant enough to inform the non-gaming public of its existence at all.
For they do exist. The oldest video game awards in the world, the Golden Joysticks have existed for nearly three decades now, celebrating the very best the industry has to offer. And as clichéd as it sounds, these awards actually mean something. These are not nominations cast as mutual industry ego-strokes. These are not the Eurovision votes of the gaming world. These votes are cast by us – the public – because let’s face it: we’re the ones that know. We’re the ones who bought the games. We’re the ones that sweated all that money, sweat and tears. We’re the ones who invested days of our lives to hoover up those few outstanding achievements in Mass Effect 2 and lost days of our lives to CoD: MW2. Seriously – who’s better placed than us to tell the industry what rocks and what doesn’t? NO-ONE. THAT’S WHO.
I get to London. I get to the Plaza. It’s a beautiful, shiny new building a stone’s throw from the London Eye, and I feel excited and just a little smug as I’m handed my press pass. I’m led to the Digital Media Room. OMFGZ THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE WITH BEWBS HERE. It’s clearly not the same space as the ‘real’ press but it’s easy enough to paper over the pangs of disappointment when Edge’s James Binns, CVG.co.uk Editor-in-Chief John Houlihan, a representative from Future’s Official Nintendo portfolio, Official Xbox 360 Magazine’s Jon Hicks, and Official PlayStation Magazine’s Tim Clark join us for a chat. We’re assured that these awards are about awarding quality indie developers as well as the resource-rich big boys. We’re teased – again – by the news that, one day, GamesMaster might come back to our TV screens (so my dream of owning a Golden Joystick of my own may still come true!). We have a brief but surprisingly intense discussion about what the definition of a gamer actually is, and ponder why it is the term is so hotly debated given that few people bother to define themselves as a TV watcher or a newspaper reader. The panel attempt to define a hardcore gamer as someone who buys a couple of games a month but . . . well, I do that, but if you’ve ever played L4D2 or Reach with me then you already know that I am as far from my own definition of hardcore as it gets.
Wait. I’m digressing again.
We get a few live demos: Def Jam Rapstar, Big Match Striker and Deus Ex. I’m pretty sure that the Deus Ex one is pre-recorded from Eurogamer. Aliens Stole My Console present to us. They provide custom paint and decal jobs for consoles – think Pimp my Ride for affluent gamers – and the pictures they show us are impressive. They then circulate a custom-sprayed PS3 and it’s this that truly demonstrates the quality of the work in a way that the photographs just don’t. I daydream of pimping my 360 with the GGS Gamer logo and then get distracted by the assertion that guys need to get their consoles prettied-up because “the missus doesn’t like the console in the living room”. Uh, what? Think equality, ASmC! My husband hates the “arcade” in our living room every bit as much as ‘the missuses’ of this world. TRUST ME I KNOW.
We break for a bit. I’m getting a little excited now. There’s a swell of conversation further down the hall, and a mass of people running about in dinner suits and evening dresses, which – as an awards ceremony virgin – I’m finding kind of strange given it’s barely lunchtime. I stalk a Spartan. They’re beyond awesome. I regret not having a hotel room and wonder if I can take one home with me instead but – bollocks! – it’s too late: off to the ceremony we go. I leave Spartanless but with my marriage intact.
I walk into the room and the air is heavy with expectation, excitement and excess booze. It’s hard not to feel like I’m intruding; this is a private space, a space for those in the industry, for names I’m chiefly used to seeing on credit rolls and my Twitter feed. We’re ushered to the back of the room and as I settle down, it is impossible to miss the crackle of electricity shoot up my spine. I’m here, in this private space, and something awesome is about to happen. I voted for these games. I care about who wins. And given 1.5 million people voted alongside with me, I know I’m not the only one.
The awards themselves are like nothing I’ve ever seen before and I’m reminded of how much I love the gaming world. Peter Dickson (the X-FACTOR GUUUUUY! to you and I) announces the nominees. Host Rich Hall is filthy, sarcastic, lowbrow and hilarious – the perfect accompaniment to the day. He apologises on behalf of America for Kraft stealing Cadbury and I laugh until I cry. The atmosphere is intense. I do something stupid and embarrassing: like a breathing cliche, I pinch myself to ensure that I really am here.
Shortlist recaps? Soft-focus VT? Lengthy acceptance speeches? Not here, my friends. The ceremony itself – you know, the thing we’re all gathered for – is over inside of an hour, making this the fastest and most time-thrifty award ceremony I have seen in my entire life. At 2.10pm I tweet This ceremony is mental – seriously, let’s pause for BREATH people! Why so fast?! There’s no fawning, no ass-kissing, no anything besides a brief list that details third and second place, and then a moment or two to applaud each category winner before we’re on to the next. It’s a good thing I can type like a MFer – the live tweeting is hurting my hands, and I concentrate so hard on reporting that I forget where I am. Do I have a little pang that it’s suddenly over? Yeah, I think so. A brief video recapping the shortlist would’ve been welcomed, or even an acceptance speech or two to break the monotony and give a splash of personality to the proceedings. The show feels hurried if not quite rushed, and I wonder just how much booze is waiting in the After-Show Party to warrant such unmitigated speed.
Fast-forward. Mass Effect 2 takes home Ultimate Game of the Year. I try to be impartial but squee and squirm around in my seat just a teeny bit. Bioware is undoubtedly a worthy winner, albeit a surprise one given it beat off Modern Warfare 2 to take the prize. The room boos when Infinity Ward’s finest is announced as runner-up, and I have no idea if it’s because people are pissed it didn’t win, or pissed at the very game itself.
I don’t like the booing. It feels cheap and unnecessary to me.
The rest of the results? They’re remarkably unsurprisingly. Did the public get it right? Mostly, yeah. I might not have agreed with everything – Brutal Legend didn’t win best soundtrack? SERIOUSLY?! – but in all, I think the awards did indeed mirror the tides and tastes of the game-buying public. People are smiling. The throng thins out and we digital media crew stand about, commenting on the results. If there’s a reporter present who thinks that MW2 should’ve won ultimate game award, I don’t meet them.
We go to the After-Show Party. I sit in the corner, cowering, as though I’d MELT if a hair on my head touches another living soul. I feel intrusive, proud and delighted to be included whilst simultaneously horrified that I’m gatecrashing a party not meant for the likes of me. A beer or two later I unclench, but it still feels . . . weird. I won’t network. Not here. It’s not fair, is it? People are defenseless when they’re drunk, and I won’t take advantage of that: I am not the sexual predator of the amateur game site world. (There are guys sitting in a Microsoft building in the States right now still regretting what they said to me one drunken evening at Gamescom this year. True story). I have my integrity, dammit – even if that means I have fewer industry business cards as a result.
DJ Hero 2 hosts the evening. It rocks. The dancing witnessed tonight is EPIC – I hit the dance floor and I’m not even drunk. The air zings with contentment and when it’s time to leave a few hours late, I leave an industry drunk not only on wine, but also on the passion for what they do and the pride of their achievements.
And rightly so.