Potential Video Game Hugo Nominees

Last month’s conversation about a videogame category for the Hugos is still on Andrew Plotkin’s mind —

There was a bunch of good discussion there, mostly skeptical of the idea. Which is fine, but I was bugged by one commonly-raised objection — that there isn’t a “deep bench” of 25-ish plausible best-game nominees in a given year.

I disagreed. I still disagree. I finally sat down and put together a list — covering only short, indie, and amateur interactive fiction titles. That’s a subset of the field, but it gets at titles that non-gaming fandom probably wouldn’t have heard of otherwise.

For “Videogame Hugo: 2015 potentials” on The Gameshelf, Plotkin came up with over 30 works. He expects to add more when the results of IFComp 2015 and the Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction are known.

Plotkin concludes, “I hope we can at least say ‘There are a whole lot of narrative and story-oriented SF games out there.’”

22 thoughts on “Potential Video Game Hugo Nominees

  1. I would’ve like to have seen a reason for why he felt the individual games had award worthy narratives, or what made them award worthy period. Like any list I have a problem with people just putting a bunch of names without explaining what it is they think is special about the titles. I play a lot of video games and I’d only heard of a couple of these. Of those 40 Days was released in 2014 not 2015. It seems heavily biased in favor if indie game jams.

    Reading the list didn’t make me feel any more informed as to why these games are worthy of a Hugo, or any other, award.

  2. Matt Y: Reading the list didn’t make me feel any more informed as to why these games are worthy of a Hugo, or any other, award.

    Not to mention that he’s not bothered to address the myriad other reasons why a Videogame Hugo would be problematic: are new platform versions of games already released on other platforms still eligible? What constitutes an expansion sufficient to be considered eligible again as a new entry? How would people judge games if they don’t own/have access to the specific platform? How are people going to judge games requiring many, many hours of play to access various levels? Should games be judged on storyline? graphics quality? excitement?

  3. Pulling this bit out from Plotkin’s post:

    I’m not saying that all of these games are, in fact, Hugo-worthy. I haven’t played most of them!

    Okay then. Well, what no-one was saying was that there aren’t enough sfnal games. What people were saying is that there’s a question mark over whether there are enough Hugo-worthy games (and what exactly would make a game Hugo-worthy). This list apparently doesn’t address that in any meaningful way.

  4. Well, in a way it does address the question. It’s a rule of thumb that there need to be at least fifteen viable candidates in a given year; otherwise, the phrase “it’s an honor to be shortlisted” is meaningless. Whether there are Hugo-worthy candidates in that long list is more of a subjective decision. I surely wouldn’t know where to start, but then again, I don’t play a lot of video games these days, and those that I do are more train related like Empire Builder.

  5. I love Andrew Plotkin, who’s one of the masters of Interactive Fiction games. (No, seriously, go play Spider and Web, right now. PLEASE.)

    And I love IF games. They’re fantastic, and people have been doing fantastic things with them for a long time now. But they’re niche, so most people – even genre fans, even people who’d get a real kick out of some, and love the hell out of others – just aren’t aware they exist.

    I’d never thought of plumping them for the Hugos, though, and now that Andrew’s brought it up, I’m wondering why not. I’ve definitely seen work that IMHO is Hugo-level – quite a bit, even. I think mostly, it just isn’t well-known enough. And here’s what I think is both problematic and wonderful with Andrew’s suggestion that IF games give us a strong base for a Video Game Hugo – I think most people just don’t think of IF when they think of video games. That could mean one of two things: that a Video Game Hugo would be a unique treatment of the field, with interest in indie games and IF games more than triple-A blockbusters, or, that there’s not enough interest in the Hugo-worthy stuff and all of Plotkin’s list is nice and all but won’t be used in practice.

    Really it depends entirely on the initial core of support; on what will be nominated by the people actually interested in nominating for the category. I don’t know if there’s any way to get an early sense of that, except with online discussion and maybe a trial run at some point.

    The other question, for me, is this: if IF is our “primary” source for potential Hugo-worthy videogames, than is a Hugo award for videogames actually giving value, beyond what we already have from IFComp and other existing IF attention?

  6. My concern with a video game Hugo category is that just one category would seem to be a bit too granular. There are several different categories for magazines, which hardly anyone even reads anymore, but just one for a medium that runs the gamut from text adventure to fully-immersive VR?

  7. Standback: I tried Spider and Web. I really did. But I couldn’t get past the first obstacle.

  8. Standback: I’d never thought of plumping them for the Hugos, though, and now that Andrew’s brought it up, I’m wondering why not.

    For perspective on the “why”s of that, I recommend a thorough reading of the past discussion threads here on File770 (there are probably others, but these are what I could find). There are a lot more issues than just coming up with a list of 25 games every year, including the fact that there was actually a videogame Hugo category in 2006, which did not go well.

    The Left Paw of Darkness 5/16

    The Scarlet Litter 6/21

    Petition Started for Video Game Hugo

  9. Cally: the first two principles of enjoying IF are “explore” and “don’t get frustrated. ” I confess, it’s a learning curve. But it’s a fun one 🙂

  10. Just as a hypothetical, what would people think of a category for JUST Interactive Fiction games?
    That might help me sort out my feelings about a category for all types of games, justified by a primary potential population of IF games.

  11. Just as a hypothetical, what would people think of a category for JUST Interactive Fiction games?

    How would that work in practice? Who decides that “no, this game doesn’t count as Interactive Fiction”? On what criteria?

    In one sense it’s a good idea. In another sense it hightlights one of my main objection to a Hugo for storytelling in games: It requires the voters to be disciplined enough to vote according to the storytelling angle, and not just pick “best video game” according to their own criteria.

  12. JJ: I feel your pain. Moderately.

    Johan: Even before getting to questions of enforcing scope and definition, I’m wondering if such a category is desirable. If we want a category, we can try to address how we’d adminster it; if we don’t, administration and edge cases are irrelevant.

    It’s my feeling that IF can be Hugo-worthy, but I also don’t think we can or should be opening categories for any medium where great work is being produced. There’s a cutoff which I don’t have a precise definition for, but it’s to do with interest at large. I don’t think IF could squeeze by on its own. Whereas video games could, but might not have the field depth for it. Plotkin’s post seems to be trying to solve that, but I’m not sure that giving IF’s field depth for video games’ popularity is a good solution.

  13. I think the debate here is definitely worth having – but for me it’s not about whether videogames should have their own niche category, it’s whether the definitions of the categories themselves are any longer fit for purpose given that the traditional print media approach to presenting fiction is no longer the sole presentational form, combined with the issue that the two “dramatic presentation” categories are woefully unsuited to dealing with videogame narratives (and, indeed, with some of the work that they already try to cover!)

    And that’s quite apart from the absurdity of trying to classify all videogames as being one homogeneous category anyway – whilst it would be terrific to try and pick a winner from The Witcher 3, Pillars of Eternity, Volume and Sunless Sea (to pick four titles that I think would easily qualify for a 2015 list on the basis of their storytelling), it would be like trying to pick between Seveneves, Star Wars, Felicia Day and The Sculptor for a single category; they belong in entirely different categories based on their presentational style and their content and need to be judged appropriately. (And that’s without going near the “traditional” IF arena that prompted the original debate.)

  14. @David Brain

    I’d like to hear more about what your ideas are for what would be a better option? 🙂

  15. @meredith: to be honest, so would I. 🙂 But I do genuinely think that there is an issue here – and that even current issues like “YA” and “series” are actually just symptoms of the same problem, of which the general non-appearance of the videogame is another symptom.

    Fundamentally, there’s already a recognition that the arbitrary length divisors for printed fiction that were established during the magazine era are, if not inappropriate, then nowhere near flexible enough to deal with a world where 100-word (or even 140 character!) stories and The Wheel of Time exist. For a genre that has always been about challenging boundaries, the Hugos do a very good job of policing existing ones.

    But what can you do about it? To be honest, my own feeling is that something ridiculous is called for. So, off the top of my head, here’s a “modest proposal”: How about having just two categories: Long Form and Short Form; then giving Hugos to the top ten in each category, but with a deliberate ceiling of saying that no more than X% of the winners can come from one particular media? (This is perhaps inspired by the current debate about improving the representation of women in parliament – the Irish solution is to impose a ceiling on the number of one gender who can be elected rather than artificially requiring a minimum number of women, which has always been contentious.)

    OK, so I’m not suggesting this as a serious proposal given all its flaws (although to be honest, the more I think about it, the more I think it may have some merits…) but you did ask!

  16. “Reading the list didn’t make me feel any more informed as to why these games are worthy of a Hugo, or any other, award.” (Matt Y)

    The list is pulled from a variety of sources, but I picked games that were well-reviewed or highly-rated in those sources. So, e.g., ShuffleComp had 17 entries but I listed the six that were “commended” according to the web site (popular vote among the players). Emily Short is a prominent critic so I looked through her posts about notable IF of the year.

    To be sure, Emily is a friend; I know the people who run most of the IF competitions; none of this can remotely be described as “unbiased”.

    When this subject came up last month, there was a lot of talk about whether one could list 25-plus games. There were a couple of lists of five lauded games, but no bigger list. Okay — now there is. That was the entirety of my aim.

    “if IF is our “primary” source for potential Hugo-worthy videogames, than is a Hugo award for videogames actually giving value?” (Standback)

    I don’t think IF would be the primary source. There are other sorts of SFnal games that come out, but they are (on average) bigger-budget and better promoted, so it’s easier to make those lists. I didn’t tackle that, though.

    I am *not* arguing for a “Best Interactive Fiction Game” category. The definition of IF is in flux these days anyhow.

    I go back and forth over whether it should be “Best Game” or “Best Narrative Game”. I’m interested in the Hugo electorate’s opinion of storytelling in games, not in what FPS they think has the best shooting action or best graphics of the year. On the other hand, the existing Hugo categories aren’t about “Best Storytelling in Novel/Movie/etc”, and Jay Maynard’s proposal (in Black Gate last month) didn’t do much to sell me on the concept. So I sort of want to back away and see what everybody else thinks. (I know, that’s an argument for the status quo, which is that there is no game category at all.)

  17. The different games on different platforms is the biggest practical issue. With the categories now, everyone uses the same technology (eyeballs and ears) to read the books and watch the TV/movies/videos. You can get them from your library, borrow them from your friends, or arrrrrrrrr. But how many people have a PS, Xbox, Wii, iOS, Android, and PC ready to play? That’s a LOT of money to invest in hardware (And another $60 for each game from a big studio).

    And then a game is going to take 20-60 hours to play if you’re good at it. If you’re bad at games, you’re going to quit before the cool stuff happens, and think “Huh, I could read all of ASoIaF AND WoT faster than I could finish this.”

    Not to mention the problems it would cause for people with vision impairment or a lack of twitch reflexes. Blind people can listen to a lot of material, either through audiobooks, podcasts, or the robot screen reader. Not so much with the video games.

  18. Mm, I’m a gamer, but I pick my games very carefully and interrogate people on the control systems first. Diablo III is a game I love and have been playing since it was released, off and on, but I haven’t finished the story campaign yet because playing it is destructive to my hands. I can only play it when I have a good day and no pressing need to do anything for the days following – and then the most I play it for is an hour. Including breaks.

    Able Gamers, an excellent charity, do reviews of games to look at customisation of control systems (can it be adapted?), subtitling and visual rather than sound cues for things, zooming in/large type, colourblindness mode, etc.. Accessibility is complicated.

    There’s a guy, an ex-soldier, who was blinded in combat and raids in World of Warcraft by having a ‘guide dog’ player he co-ordinates with to navigate obstacles, using macros and suchlike. Very few games allow for that kind of customisable experience. (But damn, he’s awesome. I have guildies who can’t stay out of the fire they can see in the entry-level raids and he raids hard modes. Hats off!)

  19. Weirdly enough, I’m currently in the “revised outline” phase of an interactive fiction game I’m developing for a game company that pays SFWA-qualifing rates, and it now has a non-zero chance of being approved (how much above non-zero, I couldn’t say). It has copious amounts of sci-fi, and if it does get approved and published, I’d really like it to be eligible for a Hugo.

    This is not really an argument in favor… I just wanted to throw it out there.

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