On the videogames Baftas

A piece written after attending the 2010 videogames Baftas, first published on First Drafts, March 2010

I was lucky enough to be at the videogames Baftas this Friday night and, through the drying glaze of my hangover, have a few thoughts on a fascinating evening. Game of the night was very much Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which picked up four awards. If you’re not a gamer, all you really need to know about Uncharted 2 is that it’s the title gamers most want to show you, just so that they can say, look: videogames these days are really pretty incredible artefacts. Try it and you may even believe them. It’s not the most original game around (and it didn’t win the game of the year award, which went to the superb Batman: Arkham Asylum). But Uncharted 2 is a terrific ambassador for its medium: big, beautiful, lovingly executed, and an enormous amount of fun.

Uncharted 2 will also, I think, be largely irrelevant and unplayed in ten years’ time. Sitting there on Friday, chatting to my guest and watching the big display screens fill with digital action of a kind that was simply inconceivable a decade ago, we realised that it was equally impossible to imagine what would be playing on those screens in ten years’ time. This is a dizzying, energising thing, with a hint of panic thrown in. Even the greatest play-mechanics constantly require new sets of clothes.

Temporal compression cuts both ways in the gaming world. I spend more time sunk in books than in any other medium, but I can’t go back and meet Gutenberg for a chat about moveable type any more than I can arrange an interview with the inventor of the television set or telephone. I can, however, share a room with the people who invented gaming and its greatest works. And perhaps the biggest hero of them all was there on Friday to receive an academy fellowship: Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of Mario and godfather of about 50 per cent of the best things in the modern gaming world. There are no other creative media where pretty much all the giants are still walking, and it’s a humbling thing to be among them.

In fact, “humble” is a word that applies to much of the games industry. The Baftas had plenty of glamour, but the typical acceptance speech tended more towards the inaudible than the tearful. It was all rather endearing; the Uncharted 2 guys had four goes on stage, and didn’t manage to rise above charming whispers once. It’s also, though, something that goes hand-in-hand with a very particular kind of passion. I’ve been to a number of books award ceremonies in my time, and I’d be willing to bet that most members of those audiences had read, at best, one or two of the titles under nomination; and that many had read none at all. On Friday, I found it difficult to find anyone who hadn’t played at least half of the games under nomination. I’m hardly a full-time gamer, and I’d only missed out on a couple of titles. It’s something that made for the kind of sincerity that only comes with deep experience: when these people talk about games, they’re talking about titles they’ve lived. The best writing about games has more in common with reportage than reviewing, and the best conversations are the same.

So: a wonderful evening, and no apologies for sounding like a fan-boy. I love games. I love what, at their best, they can do and be. It’s because of this that I accept and embrace the fact that 95 per cent of them aren’t great, and that even the best can become better. That’s why we need award ceremonies: to feed excellence, and to declare ourselves permanently frustrated by second best. And, of course, to drink a certain number of complimentary beverages.