A Hugo for games?

This is an aside on to the rambling series on what purpose the Hugo Awards may have and an elevated comment from File 770.

Among the new ways that SF/F is experienced by people as a form of entertainment are video games. Calling it ‘new’ may seem absurd when video games aren’t a lot younger than the Hugo Awards themselves. Video games were children of the seventies and while there is much talk of the Millennial generation being digital natives, the aging legion of affected apathy that is Generation X grew up with video games.

The difference now is that video games have established themselves as a substantial form of entertainment with their own fandoms, conventions, cosplay and ties to other media. People relate to a science fiction game franchises like Halo in the same way they do with film franchises like Star Wars. Additionally games are an important competitor for people’s time and money, while also being an important co-promoter of genre fiction. Games inspire their own tie-in novels, animations and films and while the movie tie-in game may be a genre of disappointment, it demonstrates how multiple forms of media work together.

Having said that I don’t see much point in awarding a Hugo for a game in general. Central to a good video game is effective game play and there are multiple criteria against which a game can be judged that are best dealt with by game specific awards. Some games, for example Minecraft, are so open that it is hard to judge them for their narrative or fictional qualities. Minecraft deserves many, many awards but I don’t think it deserves a Hugo.

Other games though arguably do. Portal was a brilliantly innovative game that took some of the conventions of a first-person shooter style game and turned them into a brilliant puzzle. However the puzzles have existed in many forms (as have games, as have role-playing games) without video games. The Hugo Awards have not been used to reward the quality of puzzles.

Yet Portal (and more so Portal 2) was not just a clever set of puzzles. It had a back story (which was complex and only partly revealed). It had a plot. Characters developed over time (Glados over both games and Wheatley in Portal 2). There was dialog, cut scenes, and foreshadowing, and side plots and important SF themes around identity, surveillance, psychological experimentation and artificial intelligence. These elements are all things that we find in the novel category, the shorter fiction categories and the best dramatic presentation categories.

So what a game should be awarded a Hugo for is those same elements we would expect to see in other fictional works: effective world building, plot, characters, science fiction/fantasy themes effectively explored. Yes, the game should be well executed but the quality of game play shouldn’t be as big a consideration (it isn’t going to be a non-consideration because people will clearly nominate games they like playing if there were a game category). As with the other categories one of more of those elements may be more dominant.

So a video game category would be for the purpose of judging a game as a work of SF/F. Can that be done without playing the game? A nominated game could provide the following (assuming they wanted to):

  1.  A synopsis of the setting and story background of the game. For something like Dragon Age games that is fairly substantial. The Witcher can point at the books it is related too.
  2. A description of some of the characters that are central to the game. Sometimes the player’s character is a cypher or what the players makes of it but not always.
  3. A somewhat description of the plot(s) of the game (will contain spoilers)
  4. Video clips of the game play, key cut scenes, dialog.
  5. A description of how the player is involved with the above

Assuming that other aspects of quality have been handled by the nomination process (i.e. people wouldn’t have nominated it if it was genuinely awful to play) then people who haven’t played the game or people who don’t play the kinds of games that would get nominated.
Of course a non-player could find those things on the ‘net anyway but I think people might feel a bit fraudulent voting for a game they haven’t played. Providing something like the above would make it overt that the vote was about the aspects of the game are the SF/F qualities.