Despite the innumerable hardships which arose in 2020, some of us found solace and an escape from the world around us in the spectacular video games that were released last year. For me, those games were Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons, in which you get to design your own island full of adorable animal villagers to interact with, and game developer Supergiant’s Hades, a role-playing game where you are Zagreus, the son of the Greek god Hades, trying to escape the Underworld. The 2020 Game Awards—an awards ceremony for achievements in the video game industry—recognized some of the year’s best titles on Dec. 10. With these awards came pride and celebration for game developers and studios, but not without some considerable contention from gaming audiences.
Founded by Geoff Keighly, a journalist, host, and producer of video game programming, the Game Awards recognize and celebrate the most notable names and achievements in the video game industry. Nominees are chosen by a “jury” of 95 global influencers and media outlets with histories of critical evaluation of video games. Winners are then determined by a blended vote from the jury and public fan voting.
One of the titles that received the most fanfare was Among Us, an online social deduction game in which users play as either a crewmate or an imposter. It was awarded Best Multiplayer Game, beating out other fan favorites like the online first-person shooter games, Call of Duty: Warzone and Valorant.
Alex Boush, a political science major at the University of California, San Diego who grew up playing video games, thinks Among Us winning best multiplayer game was a triumph for the industry. “Among Us winning best multiplayer reminds us once again that a small development team of four people can outshine the likes of Fortnite and Call of Duty,” Boush said. For perspective, Call of Duty is created by a corporate team of more than 20 different development studios and a staff of over 400 people.
However, some USF gamers believe that not all of the titles recognized by the Game Awards were as deserving of their awards as Among Us. This brought up a debate of what a video game is really supposed to be, which most prominently revolved around the Game of the Year (GOTY) winner, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II (TLOU2), an action-adventure game that follows two main protagonists, Ellie and Abby, as they make their way through a post-apocalyptic world. Game of the Year is given to the game that provides the best overall experience across all creative and technical fields.
TLOU2 has been praised for its queer representation and gripping story, featuring a protagonist who is a lesbian and supporting characters such as Dina, a bisexual woman, and Lev, a transgender teenage boy. In total, the game won eight awards, including GOTY, Best Narrative, and Most Anticipated Game.
However, of all the video game enthusiasts I spoke with, a majority expressed the opinion that other nominees were more deserving of the GOTY title—and many players in various online video game forums agree. It seems that the experience of TLOU2 did not provide the kind of gameplay that some players expect from a GOTY title, which traditionally boast high levels of player influence in shaping the game’s story through their own actions, influence which players argue means it requires more skill to achieve desirable narrative outcomes.
Peter Lassalle-Klein, a senior history major at USF, said when discussing TLOU2, “Most people’s complaints with [TLOU2] have ridden along the lines of the game’s lack of player agency and choice-making with forced cutscenes, the moving away from combat, the death of beloved characters from the previous games, and the disappointing ending.”
A-list video games are expected to present players with a truly interactive and immersive experience, in which their choices satisfyingly influence the way the story plays out. Afterall, without player agency, there is not much separating the modern video game from a movie.
On whether TLOU2 can still be qualified as a game, Lassalle-Klein said, “It is not a game at all, it is a story, albeit an extremely good story. However, experiencing a predetermined story does not allow for choice, and therefore infringes on the basis of what a game is.”
Adrian Abeleda-Corpus, a USF accounting major and gamer on Twitch, the live video streaming service, shares the opinion that TLOU2 should not have won Game of The Year. “I enjoyed The Last of Us Part II[,] but I think Ghost of Tsushima should have won Game of The Year.”
Abeleda-Corpus’ choice, Ghost of Tsushima, is an open world action-adventure game in which the player controls Jin Sakai, a samurai whose goal is to protect Tsushima Island during the first Mongol invasion of Japan. The game won the award for Best Art Direction, and was nominated for Game of the Year, but didn’t snag the win. Abeleda-Corpus’ opinion echoes that of self-proclaimed gamers and USF students Tyler Raaymakers and Qhathim Latiff, who also thought that, although LOU2 was a good game, it was not as deserving of the GOTY distinction as games like Ghost of Tsushima or Hades.
“The Last of Us Part II had a jarring story and the gameplay got repetitive after a while, and comparing it to the first game [in the series], it just isn’t at the same level,” Raaymakers said. “I do think Ghost of Tsushima should have won Game of the Year; Ghost was just an absolutely stunning game, visually and gameplay-wise. Hades is also a fantastic game, which did a beautiful job of mixing replayability with an overarching story which I have only scratched the surface of.”
Reviews for TLOU2 were not all negative, however. Many players were pleased by the narrative and the representation within the game.
“I do think that games like Ghost of Tsushima got slept on,” Latiff said, “but with TLOU2’s main characters being representative of the LGBTQ community, having them win was a middle finger to bigots boycotting the game for political reasons.”
Overall, the year in gaming provided many lovable titles, but also some disappointment. Due to the pandemic, several developers experienced delays in game releases, an action that can sometimes kill a game’s hype. In other cases, developers simply did not spend enough time refining their games before releasing them because of COVID-induced complications, so certain titles did not live up to expectations.
“I think this year in gaming was defined by overhype and delays,” Boush said, “many games like Hollow Knight 2 and Cyberpunk 77 either missed the deadline or came out before they were ready.”
Despite the grievances gamers had about the previous year, many are looking forward to what the video game industry has to offer in 2021. The industry is constantly expanding, providing new, creative content each year. Highly-anticipated launches this year include games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 and Halo Infinite. Fans will be wary of repeating the controversy surrounding the 2020 Game Awards and can only cross their fingers that these new titles will earn the recognition they deserve while also living up to the lofty expectations of gamers.
To check out the full list of the Game Awards’ 2020 winners, go to their website, the gameawards.com.