Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect 2 and God of War 3 were big winners at Saturday’s Spike Video Game Awards. Neil Patrick Harris, who hosted the ceremony, won Best Human Performance (Male) for his vocal work as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Red Dead Redemption–an open world Western from Rockstar Games (Grand Theft Auto) prickly with provocative themes that evoke Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven–won Game of the Year and three other awards. Mass Effect 2–a role playing game with a deep, rich sci-fi world–bagged three awards including Studio of the Year for BioWare. God of War 3–the latest chapter in Kratos’ war of vengeance against the Greek gods–won in the Best PlayStation 3 Game and Best Graphics categories.
Other notable winners included actress Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica), who won Best Human Performance (Female) for her vocal work in Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, which also won for Best PC Game. Super Mario Galaxy 2 won for Best Wii Game; Call of Duty: Black Ops won two awards including Best Character (Sgt. Frank Woods); and Halo: Reach won for Best Multi-Player Game. [Full disclosure: I served as a judge for this year’s Spike Video Game Awards. My responsibilities included voting for candidates and then casting a vote in each category once the finalists were determined. A full list of winners–which I did not know in advance–can be found at Spike’s site.]
The show itself reminded me of some videogames I’ve played: visually spectacular (thanks to a Tron-meets-Soul Train production design, enhanced by 3-D virtual set extensions that only TV viewers could see), emotionally empty, and occasionally marked by bad taste, most of which Neil Patrick Harris was forced to facilitate. The opener was a fake-out that played to Harris’ awards show-hosting rep. You expected him to come out and sing a kudosfest-spoofing tune. Instead, he took the stage looking Barry Stinson debonaire and radiating macho cool… and packing heat, which he used to fake-slaughter a troupe of dancers, their white tuxes blooming with fake red blood. It was an obvious joke that fell totally flat, and worse, it played to another image–a cultural view of videogames as a genre of entertainment largely defined by those games that are gratuitously violent. I’m surprised that something designed to celebrate the “art” of the medium would promote that cliche.
I would have killed to have been a fly on the wall of Harris’ brain as he gamely (and regretfully?) soldiered through the show. One of the ceremony’s edgier moments came when the host accepted his award with mock-surprise and bantered with a giant Spider-Man head projected on a screen. In the span of a minute, the bit went from really amusing to wrong by making its wall-crawler work lewd, crude and blue. (Although the moment where Spidey blasted Julie Taymor’s troubled Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark musical as “sh—y” took some admirable chutzpah.) Harris ended the bit, as designed, by asking the producers to “cut the feed.” I felt the same way–many times during the show. Harris (and Spider-Man) deserved better. But at least the actor finally got an award out of it. Memo to NPH: Don’t feel obligated to host every awards show that asks you to do so.
The show served not only to congratulate the videogame industry, but serve as a marketing platform to preview and promote a number of 2011 games that could afford the product placement showcases within the telecast. Naughty Dog, the studio behind the Uncharted franchise, aired a promo during the telecast to announce that the third installment in the series, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, will be released on November 1, 2011–or 11/1/11. If you missed our scoop on the game, and you want more info on the plot and the kind of gameplay to expect, click here. The promo for Batman: Arkham City was riveting, and the tease for Mass Effect 3 gave me sci-fi-destructporn goosebumps. Monolithic robotic Reapers laying waste to London like War of the Worlds tripods on steroids? I’m in. But does that mean the game will be set on Earth? Or was the promo merely intended to be a capture-the-imagination vignette designed to dramatize what’s at stake in the game? Can’t wait until next year to find out. There were promos for other games, too, including Resistance 3 and Elder Scroll: Skyrim. Gamers, were you pleased by the winners? And what promos looked most promising to you?
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Neil Patrick Harris on hosting the Video Game Awards