Sun. Feb 5th, 2023
Finally... I've destroyed any other type of game that might get in my way.

Finally… I’ve destroyed any other type of game that might get in my way.

LAS VEGAS—During the Academy Awards season, the term “Oscar ace” has evolved as a somewhat derogatory term for the kind of overwrought period dramas that seem tailor-made to take home a Best Picture statuette. After attending last night’s DICE Awards ceremony in Las Vegas (hosted by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences for 19 years now), I’m starting to think we should start referring to some type of open-ended role-playing game in the same way. world and adventure game as “DICE Ace.”

Fallout 4‘s Game of the Year win last night (and the strong performance of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in other categories) confirms the open-world single-player RPG as the genre to beat at the DICE Awards. Four of the last seven DICE Game of the Year recipients fit the same broad gameplay mold: Dragon Age: Inquisition in 2014, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in 2011, and Mass effect 2 in 2010. All four games also won in the Best Role-playing Game category, and these games also tended to clear in the less specific categories focused on general art and design.

If you expand the definition of DICE bait slightly to include more linear (but equally cinematic and character-driven) adventure games, you’ll find two more recent DICE Game of the Year winners: Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2 in 2009 and The last of us in 2013. It’s not just limited to DICE either; top picks at ceremonies like the Game Developers Choice Awards and The Game Awards show a similar preference for only a few genres.

I’m not here to argue that any of these games are undeserving on their own. The kind of games that work as DICE bait are all technically excellent games with well-realized worlds that routinely lure players in for dozens or even hundreds of hours. It’s hard to argue that one of them shouldn’t be at least on a short list of games that are eligible for industry accolades.

But focusing on a small subset of gaming year after year as representing the best in the industry makes the pricing predictable and a bit restrictive for a highly varied medium. Consistently opting for an open-world RPG or immersive adventure while Game of the Year ignores large swathes of the industry. Everything from competitive online e-sports to cleverly designed puzzle games to family-friendly titles to original indie games might as well not even hope for the top prize most years.

That may not matter much to many players who continue to buy and love all kinds of games regardless of what price pickers say. But it reflects what the industry considers the best of its output, and that could reveal what direction the industry largely wants to take itself in the future.

The heyday of action games in the past

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Enlarge / When did that Fallout 4 image get hotter than this?

To be fair, the top gaming academy prize used to be even more predictable. After a four-year initial run featuring a variety of game styles in DICE’s Game of the Year winners (Goldeneye, Ocarina of Time, The Simsand Diablo II), action games have absolutely taken over the category. From 2001 to 2007, the top honor at what was then called the AIAS Awards ceremony always went to a game that also won the Action Game of the Year category (or the subcategories dedicated to computer and console “first-person action” games , some years). If your game wasn’t primarily about shooting or slashing people for seven years, you could forget about winning one of the highest honors in the industry.

The gaming industry as a whole has since become much richer and more varied. And to be fair, the rest of this year’s DICE Awards reflected that pretty well. Rocket League (my personal choice for Game of the Year) won a number of awards for its instantly immersive combination of football and remote-controlled cars. The 2D Ori and the Blind Forest took some surprising victories in the artistic categories amid a highly polished 3D competition. Innovative titles such as Her story and Undertale also garnered quite a few nominations, even if they didn’t take home any awards.

And the academy’s more than 22,000 voting members have proven themselves capable of some surprising Game of the Year picks over the years. Small big planet in 2008 and trip in 2012, both broke the usual Game of the Year mold, winning based on entirely new gameplay ideas rather than just a solid execution of familiar open-world action or tropes. They’re also the only two games to have won the top prize despite an E-for-all rating from the ESRB, battling a predilection for “mature” blood-soaked storytelling within the usual DICE bait.

Still, the DICE awards Game of the Year spot is getting almost as tired and staid as the Oscars. There, the odds-on favorite for best picture is usually a garish period drama, one that is often valued by the film industry itself. Gaming’s Academy Awards could do better. As the industry continues to evolve and expand, I would urge voting members of the academy and members of the public to look past the usual genre suspects and broaden their minds on what the best game of the year might look like.

By akfire1

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