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Messy Thoughts About Awards

deep breath

Okay. I need to say something about awards.

I’ve got some messy thoughts about these award show things: how people get nominated, who gets to pick the winners, the impact these awards have on careers and creators, and who inevitably gets left out.

Strap in.

Award shows celebrate a handful of (usually well-resourced) projects that are almost always already popular within the space. Yeah, none of us are DnD, but within the indie space there are games and designers that already have reputation and reach, and maybe don’t need the help.

Like, none of us small creators are making Capital B Bank or quitting our survival jobs because games are paying so well. But some of us are certainly doing better than others, and it’s not bc our games are categorically better than everyone else’s. Award shows widen the gap.

Because, real talk, there’s no such thing as “categorically better”. But the award series says “Of all the games that were made this year, these are the good ones.” Cool. 500 games just got left out in the cold so that a few already successful people could take a victory lap.

And it’s not even that their games aren’t great! They are! But what do these awards do for us, as a creative and professional space? It seems to me like it makes a few dozen people feel really good, and it makes a few hundred people feel like their work didn’t amount to anything.

It seems to me like in a space that’s full of people who are talented and skilled at carefully designing experiences, you’d think we could come up with a system of recognition that doesn’t leave hundreds of us wondering if all our work is worth it.

It seems to me like in a space that’s full of people who want to make games more accessible, who want to break down barriers and smash gates, you’d think we’d have more resistance to anything that calls out “winners” with the implication that there must also be “losers”.

We need a better paradigm. One that doesn’t include award shows and Judge Spotlights and Nominees and Red Carpets. One that actually allows all of us to thrive, that encourages all of us to work together and not just those at the top of our little mound.

Because the other thing award shows do is create an environment of competition. You and me, we’re both making games, but yours wins awards, so now I feel like I’m not allowed to make my games anymore. The system says one of us is great and the other doesn’t exist.

There’s also like…Like I’m just gonna say it, there’s def a trend when it comes to big hierarchies of quality, where white people tend to find ourselves higher up on the pile in general.

We want a better space. We want to be successful. We want to survive and thrive. But we keep clinging to these systems that are explicitly designed to lift up some while leaving others behind.

It’s not enough to, say, bring in a diverse panel of judges, if at the end of the day the judges are still there picking favorites from a collection of pieces of art.

We deserve better, we can do better, we owe it to ourselves to demand better than this.