We’re well into GOTY season now, with The Game Awards nominees revealed and everyone pencilling in their lists while noting down a couple of ones they still need to play to see if they make the cut. Personally, I have nine I’m pretty settled on then three possibles for tenth place that I just don’t feel strongly enough about. I’m hoping Cocoon or Dave the Diver, the next two I have to check out, can make enough of a case for themselves that I don’t have to choose. But it’s an important season to remember that you don’t have to like a game for it to be GOTY-worthy.
Your own list, however you make it, should be entirely subjective. These things are always subjective to a degree, of course, and for my own list I will be grading primarily on personal enjoyment first and foremost. Of course, my own enjoyment is ignited by several factors. The general fun of play is important, but if a game connects with me, if it surprises me, if it does something unique or explores topics deeper than most, then I’m likely to enjoy that too. But in the bigger picture, my own enjoyment is not central to the equation – and neither is yours.
For example, there is no chance Tears of the Kingdom will be in my top ten. I like some Zelda games enough, but the serene emptiness of BOTW and TOTK’s Hyrule has not won me over. But I recognise that it is a spectacular feat of game design, and deserves to be a front runner at The Game Awards.
Likewise, two of those games vying for tenth at the moment are Super Mario Bros. Wonder and Alan Wake 2. I haven’t quite finished either – I’m finding Mario enjoyable enough but haven’t found many of the abilities in the trailer that made it seem so vibrant, and knowing they’re there is keeping me going. Meanwhile, Alan Wake is rubbish to play, from the combat to the stumbling around in search of a fuse over and over again. But the story hooks, the frights, and the bravery of presentation (We Sing is an instant all-time great level), move me enough to persist.
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Why bother saying any of this at all? I’m going to write my list and it’ll have the ten games I pick on it, with no Zelda in sight. It will almost certainly make TheGamer’s overall list, although at the start of the year I had it a shoe-in for number one. After the year we’ve had, and with Baldur’s Gate 3 lurking at the top of my list, it might have to settle for lower down the podium. But even though I don’t get it and feel the game gets away with a lot – despite several thousand promises, there were no riots at the lack of playable Zelda – it fully deserves its nomination for GOTY, and the several awards it will win.
That’s what gamers still need to understand about award season. It does not exist to crown the best selling or most popular game, just as the Oscars don’t go to Marvel movies. These awards are supposed to recognise outstanding quality, something The Game Awards’ oversized jury often overlooks as interesting indies are eaten in the triple-A crush. Tears of the Kingdom does things no other game can do, taking existing mechanics or worldbuilding tropes and injecting them with new features only possible with supreme confidence in your genius manipulation of video game physics.
It’s not just for the biggest awards. Hi-Fi Rush was another game that couldn’t hook me, but even with Resident Evil 4 Remake and Spider-Man 2 up against it, the Audio Design TGA has to go to Hi-Fi. It’s more than ‘I like this game, so I hope it wins’, it’s ‘this game is outstanding at this feature on a technical level’. We need to get past every game being either trash or a masterpiece. You can not like a game and still recognise that it is award-worthy. In fact, to truly appreciate games, you must.
The Game Awards continues to grow in prestige and importance, as well as likely continuing its year on year viewership growth in 2023. Far more established award ceremonies, whether they be similarly populist (the Grammys) or far more particular (the Oscars) face similar cries of bias and fixes and the nominees being trash while the snubs, who just so happen to be my personal favourite, are masterpieces who deserve all the awards. It’s biased to vote for all the ones I don’t like, and fair and correct to vote for the ones I do.
Obviously there’s some crossover. We tend to like things we think are good, and not like things we don’t think are good. If you adore a game and it feels like the best thing you ever played, you’re probably surprised it’s not up for Game of the Year. But there’s probably a reason for that, some reason why your ‘well I had fun’ didn’t reach others. Tears of the Kingdom is a confident strut of game design. Mario has new ideas in a very stale genre. Baldur’s Gate has mind-blowing depth. You don’t need to like them to see that they’re good. If all a game has is being fun, then if it’s not fun, it’s no good. It might just be a pretty fun but dated interpretation of the books you loved as a kid, and in 2023, that just won’t cut it.
Next: So Many Great Performances Have Been Overlooked At The Game Awards This Year