[This guest post proposes adding a category to the Hugo Awards.]
By Ira Alexandre: Thirteen years ago, in 2006, there was a trial attempt at a “Best Interactive Video Game” Hugo category. Then, as now, hundreds of WSFS members were also creating and playing analog games, telling stories by touch and by chance, by word and by wit. These experiences were excluded from this award entirely. Since then, we have entered the age of Steam, YouTube, and Twitch, mobile games and the indie explosion. The tools to breathe life into the branching paths of an interactive novel have never been more accessible and sophisticated. We need an award that recognizes the proliferation of games, platforms, creators, and users in the thirteen years since the video game award was last trialed.
It is time for all types of games and interactive media to be recognized in our community. It is time for an inclusive games Hugo Award.
I know we’ve tried this before, but a lot has changed – including what is actually being proposed. In addition to the 2006 trial category attempt, there was also a petition in 2015 to get MidAmeriCon II to run a Best Video Game category. There’s two major ways my proposal is different: it’s not just for video games, and it addresses the issue of modifications (DLC, expansions, fan mods, etc.).
Here’s what I’m proposing, and I’ve put together roughly 100 pages of data, arguments, and case by case analysis to back it up:
3.3.X: Best Game or Interactive Experience.
Any work or substantial modification of a work (such as a game or interactive narrative, demonstration, or installation) first released to the public in the previous calendar year in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects in any medium where player/user choice, interaction, or participation significantly impacts the narrative, pacing, play, or experience of the work.
With this proposed definition, I want to:
- Name games specifically. Let’s keep it grounded, translatable, and accessible to international audiences.
- Leave room for all the other amazing things that can be achieved with interactivity.
- Acknowledge and engage with the uniquely modification-heavy nature of games. We’re taking advantage of the concept of “substantially modified,” already present in the Best Related Work Category.
This approach opens up the category to a ton of content that WSFS members are demonstrably interested in, judging by the amount of Worldcon programming that’s devoted to games. My proposal includes a Proof of Interest section covering the growth in games programming since 2006 as well as showing WSFS members writing about, playing, and creating games. Between WorldCon 64 — the year of the 2006 attempt — and WorldCon 76 last year, there have been 353 gaming panels, presentations, scheduled gaming sessions, and other gaming-related program items at WorldCons. The percentage of Worldcon programming that’s devoted to games has tripled since 2006, with some cons having as much as 6-9% of their entire program devoted to games, up from less than 1% when the category was last trialled.
Not only has interest grown, but games as a medium have changed and matured immensely. Indie and mobile games have taken off and now form the majority of the market, and the distribution platform of Steam has made gaming more accessible than ever. There’s plenty of games – not just good but great games – to nominate every year, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot to nominate and vote. It’s not a solid wall of expensive AAAs and even more expensive consoles. Analog games are often collectively owned, with one playable set shared among several people. Prose interactive fiction is often low-cost or even free. Indie games, playable on run-of-the-mill PCs and phones, are doing a ton of the heavy lifting in terms of quality and interesting SFF work, and they cost about as much as a hardcover novel or even an ebook novella. For those who can’t or don’t want to play the games, guided game tours like Let’s Plays or “movie versions” of games abound on YouTube and Twitch (I moderated a panel on this very thing at WisCon). Existing WSFS gamers already own or buy the platform and materials in numbers large enough to nominate, and becoming an informed voter ranges from cheap to free.
But aside from the growing interest and accessibility, games are also just not well served by the current category structure. Games simply do not fit in Best Dramatic Presentation or Best Related Work, where they’re currently eligible. In the BDP categories, not only are games competing with big budget films and TV series, but they also have to be sorted by runtime, which most games don’t even have. More importantly, putting them in either category ignores the unique nature of interactive storytelling that blends narrative and play.
It doesn’t matter if it’s audiovisual, analog, immersive, or prose. If it’s interactive, it’s made differently, it’s crafted differently. We approach the work in a different way; we shape it even as it shapes our experience. This unifying element of all interactive experiences – of this utterly unique way to convey a story, a world, an idea – deserves to be recognized.
The sort of speculative fiction storytelling that games can do is absolutely unique. There is no substitute for imagined planets you can actually explore, for time travel stories where you pick where and when to go, for being given the tools to make your own stories with your friends. Games are uniquely suited to push the limits of interactive worldbuilding (Microscope, Dragon Age, Dwarf Fortress), expand the ways we can tell stories (GRIS, Return of the Obra Dinn, Heaven’s Vault), and interrogate the natures of narrative and play themselves (BioShock, Braid, The Stanley Parable, Pandemic Legacy). There is simply nothing like this medium. There is SFF work only games can do.
WSFS members play games, write about games, make games, and are inspired by games. We have always been here. We have always gamed.
And as gamers, we understand that mods, analog or digital, pro or fan, are part of the game. Expansions, rereleases, editions, bundles. DLC, handmade cards, patches, fan mods, house rules. Part of the magic of games is that you can make them your own. Changes to the game can be experienced directly as part of it – not alongside, but during, the play. A truly inclusive game award must acknowledge game modifications. Including a substantial modifications clause in the award definition not only acknowledges the culture and reality of the gaming world, but also takes the burden off Hugo administrators during the nominations phase.
With a substantial modification clause, Hugo admins don’t have to legislate the common cases of expansive expansions, meaty DLC, and top-to-bottom remakes. These are part of modern gaming craft, and when they make a difference, they deserve to be acknowledged. And fans can tell what truly makes a difference. We are simply less likely to nominate mods that don’t have meaning when there’s so much fresh content to consider. By acknowledging this aspect of gaming culture, we honour the speculative fiction and fannish work being done without creating an undue burden on Hugo admins.
Whether you’re a gamer or not, this proposal is about you. It’s about what the speculative fiction work we as WSFS members choose to honour.
If you’re interested, please take this interest survey – it does use Google sign-ins to enforce a single-vote policy. If you don’t have a Google account, please feel free to join the mailing list, tweet about it using #GamesHugo, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or talk to me in person at Worldcon, where I will be at the Business Meeting. I’ve made www.gameshugo.com as a central hub for this campaign.
If you’re not convinced, I invite you to read the full proposal, where I put forward full, detailed arguments, reams of data, and a dozen test cases: A Hugo Award for “Best Game or Interactive Experience”. There’s about 60 pages of arguments, examples, and narrative, about 40 pages of appendices, and a spreadsheet of hundreds of games, panels, and panelists. I’d love to hear feedback!
Thanks for your time!
— Ira Alexandre, (WSFS Member and Contributing Editor at Lady Business)