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10.12.03

The VGAs . . . Game Over

It's that time of the year, folks. Time to give thanks, appreciation, and bestow gifts . . . upon ourselves. Yes, it's awards season. Time for Hollywood to line up and compact every movie worth seeing (and many that aren't) into a two-month period and elongate everyone's future Netflix, Tivo, and video lists for years to come. For those who pride themselves as moviegoers, it's a very challenging time, if you don't have hundreds of free hours and dollars to spare while Miramax tries to convince you that you're missing the next "English Patient," "Shakespeare in Love," or "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" (hey, it had Helen Mirren . . .).

The starting gun has been fired as we wait with bated breath to see our favorite stars open their gifts. The accolades are plenty as critical lauds elbow for attention between the Blockbusters, AFI, Screen Actors Guild, New York Film Critics Circle, National Board of Review, the Golden Globes, MTV, People's Choice, and, of course, The Raspberries. So much so, that the Oscars has decided to move its telecast to February in an effort to declare checkmate. So with all the shuffling about, many of you may have had the blessed opportunity to miss the VGAs (Video Game Awards) this past Thursday night. For those of you graced with a life on Thursday nights, let me illuminate you on this "must see" event that was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

One might wonder why anyone with a mind or heartbeat would bother watching something titled "The VGAs" (which bears closer resemblance to the Porn Awards), let alone write a review. Certainly, this was the producer's "thinking" from the outset when they designed this abomination. I'm sure the network pitch sounded similar to, "We don't want this to look like an awards show . . . we want you to forget you're watching an awards show, we want you to forget you're watching television, to forget you're watching something about video games, to forget . . . um, that . . . well, just to forget." If only I could.

The answer is simple but not obvious. A little known fact is that video games (or "interactive media," if you're over thirty) grossed more than all movies and video titles last year. That's right. So while Harvey and Bob are gesturing over here with their screener controversy and release dates, in their other sleeve is a billion dollar industry that has been known up to now as toys for tots. It's no coincidence that in the last few years we have seen an unprecedented number of celebrity crossovers for game (er, um, media) platforms with their Hollywood namesakes. Sir Ian McKellan, the Oscar-nominated British thesp, and the rest of his Fellowship have all loaned their voices for both "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King" games. David Duchovny is voicing the protagonist in "XIII" while the "Grand Theft Auto" series boasts the talents of Joe Pantoliano, Michael Madsen, Michael Rappaport, and Ray Liotta, to name just a few. That's not to mention the multiple sports icons, who would normally spend their off-season playing golf, who are now suiting up in motion capture suits on sound stages to create virtual interpretations of their moves, gestures, and occasional on-field tantrums for such games as EA's "NHL" series or Microsoft's "Topspin" (my two personal favorites).

Yet, if one was to watch this telecast on Spike TV you would have to make the assumption that this cash-cow industry is completely financed by thirteen-year-old boys. While I assume that demographic plays a large part in its sales (one wonders what they are paying for mall jobs these days?), it can't account for its single-handed dominance of an industry. It felt as if Spike TV was too cool to air an awards show . . . as if from the start it was apologizing for its very existence. From its pre-show warm-up (yes, a countdown of thirty minutes) of Steve-O falling off ladders and attempting to hurt himself to various shots of porn stars and models saying quips, including such key words as "joystick" and, um, "games." Even the selling out, er, um, hiring of David Spade who made it clear on his entrance that he had better places to be. Yes, apparently even David Spade has standards and was too cool to be there that night.

There is an expression from The Red Hot Chili Peppers in the late eighties made popular by MTV that goes, "If it's too loud, you're too old." Well, according to the VGAs, once you have a driver's liscense you are too old to appreciate video games. The contention isn't with the broadcast's approach necessarily (who doesn't like hot chicks and bad music?), but with its condescension towards its demographic. What these producers and marketing slobs fail to realize is that an entire generation raised with Nintendo, Atari, and the reliable Vic 20 have grown into a high-income revenue possibility. That the very generation that made sci-fi and fantasy popular are now in their thirties and forties and no longer see gaming as strictly for children.

While I am sure the parading of various porn stars (i.e., Jenna Jameson, Pamela Anderson, etc.) and the DJ blathering on before cutting to constant commercials were enough to hook certain adolescent attentions for most of the broadcast, I'm still skeptical that this crass approach actually worked. For one brief moment during the noise-assaulted hour (or more?), as the camera careened about wildly from table to table and cheerleaders swarmed the tables of designers with champagne and confetti in an attempt to make things look "fun" (the effect was quite the opposite), there was a brief glimpse of honesty. Upon being acknowledged for their game design, the lens caught two skinny, white, bespectacled young designers at the table ACTUALLY PLAYING their own video game. Insane.

Why would two young men amid loud music, screaming disaffected models, and a cynical host not partake of all the glory?

It's simple . . . they like playing video games. Which is a point this show had lost in its entirety. It was the only point in the evening where one actually saw any reverence for a game's design, the games being played, or of a real gamer's interest in them. In no short order, Mr. Spade let them know what losers they were and that they would never get "laid" and let me tell you . . . these guys didn't bat an eye. They were lost in the game. A place these producers have probably never been.

In the past year there have been various articles published about what games celebrities like to play. Julia Roberts is a self-professed "Halo" addict. Tiger Woods plays his own game. Robin Williams named one of his daughters after a character in the "Zelda" series. A friend told me he attended a "Medal of Honor" party where Drew Carrey linked 12 computers together with fellow actors and producers on a Friday night. I even had a friend at CAA (Creative Artists Agency, one of, if not THE most prestigious talent agency) try to meet me on a Friday night when he was roped into an enormous "Halo" tournament in THE LOBBY with fellow agents. If all these entertainment power-hitters are playing video games, why does the VGAs insist on chasing gaming back to the eighties? If this show had its way it would shame gamers into hiding their versions of "Mario Cart" down in their porn vaults . . . where I guarantee these people spend most of their time.

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