Soapbox: Nintendo's Appearance at VGX Underwhelmed, But the Show Itself Was Far Worse

Tom Whitehead cringed for three painful hours

I'll start this with a confession — I'd never bothered watching the VGA awards until this year's rebranded VGX event. I'd pre-judged it based on its own marketing message and what others had said, which isn't actually the best way to approach it; nevertheless life is short and, frankly, I was always happy to catch up with the world première trailers (of which it's so proud) at my leisure in days that followed. Nintendo's absence wasn't the reason as I play plenty of non-Nintendo games, it just struck me as something I could live without.

This year Nintendo was breaking with convention and joining the circus, and as was the norm speculation started to do its work; let's start with that. The general consensus seemed to be that a Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze reveal was likely but woudn't blow many minds; for my part I was — I thought realistically — hoping for a new trailer for Mario Kart 8 or even Super Smash Bros., both of which have been off the radar (in terms of official footage) since E3. There were some unrealistic expectations going around too, including very optimistic projections from some that the new Zelda Wii U game would be shown, which didn't seem on the cards at any point. I'd say it wasn't unreasonable to expect something exciting from Reggie Fils-Aime, however, as the simple logic went along the lines of "if Nintendo isn't going to wow us, why change the habit of recent years and appear at VGX?"

What we got, in the end, was footage of the already leaked Cranky Kong with his DuckTales-inspired Cane Bounce. It looked fun, and I have high hopes that, like its Wii predecessor, this will be a fantastic 2D platformer; yet to be frank, it seemed like something for a two minute Nintendo Direct segment, not on a show that aims to grab our attention with exciting, brand new reveals. It was a nice reveal on the wrong platform, I'd suggest, and if Nintendo of America wanted to attract gamers currently not in the Wii U camp, great footage of MK8 or Smash Bros. would have gone further, maybe even with an updated, detailed montage that threw in the likes of Monolith Soft's X, too.

But still, some of the disappointment reflected more on the inflated web-driven expectations than Nintendo getting it wrong, perhaps best shown by Reggie's slightly frustrated "what more do you want" comments as co-host Geoff Keighley pushed for extras. In the end it was an appearance that would look good on paper in a marketing planning meeting, but failed to satisfy the hungry appetites of slightly starved Wii U and Nintendo fans.

So there's that, and as you can tell I have a moderate stance towards Reggie's appearance — neither inclined to condemn or praise.

As for the VGX 'Awards', I have a much clearer opinion. It was a car crash of a show, and seemed to forget it was an awards show at all — quite a few were missed out entirely despite the generous three-hour ad-free runtime, and were belatedly updated on the official webpage. I was disappointed for one simple reason; the rebranding to VGX was, according to the organisers beforehand, supposed to represent a step-away from celebrity bravura and revert back to an intimate environment more focused on the games themselves. In fairness it did focus on games and include interviews with various developers — the best segment featured Hello Games, which showed the face of a four-man team that was exhausted but grateful for the spotlight. In fact, the developers did their level best to be interesting, it was just a shame they were doing so in the worst possible environment.

While Geoff Keighley gamely tried to focus on his enthusiasm for all things gaming — which I think he did admirably — his co-host Joel McHale weighed in with a "I'm drunk and can't be bothered" schtick, which was humorous for around two minutes before it became old, fast. He also got downright offensive at points, though I suspect I missed some of his worst lines due to the fact I started to switch off in the latter half; his act seemed to have the goal of being an "edgy" comedian, though in this case he was often coming across as crass and far from funny. They weren't so much co-hosts but rather two opposites constantly wrestling to set the tone — Keighley the inoffensive and affable gamer, and McHale the cynical, disinterested and often inappropriate comedian; it was only when he was half-interested in the game in question that he adopted a professional approach to presenting the show.

And then there were the GTA V music segments. Initially the show cut to half a dozen guys yelling a lot as build up, confusing me and — by the looks of it — quite a few members of the crowd. These cut-aways gave the sensation of being rick-rolled, and the 30-40 minute concert that eventually happened — it was too long — was full of bare-knuckle rap that was packed with expletives. That's fine, if you're not tuning in for a games awards show.

VGX, and Keighley in the show itself, said that the rebranding and change of formula had been to meet fan expectations and desires; they were apparently listening to gamers. If that was what the VGA/VGX audience wants, then count me out for next year — unless my bosses ask me to live text it again, which I'll do while reminding them they owe me a favour in return. I volunteered this year — it was 11pm-2am for me — because I'd seen the promise of an environment focused on games and expected something enjoyable and maybe even fascinating. What we had instead, largely thanks to McHale, the awful GTA V concert and ultimately whoever masterminded the whole thing, was the biggest dose of dude-bro macho nonsense I'd seen in a while, with a few segments aside. And as for the "Viral" YouTube segments, they weren't up my alley because they were either daft, amateurish or more dude-bro macho nonsense.

Sometimes gamers, including me, get defensive of the video game industry. We say it's not an immature, sexist, homophobic cesspit of inanity but actually the scene of incredibly talented developers delivering impressive experiences to a diverse, intelligent audience. I still believe that, but like any industry — books, film, TV are the same — there's plenty of evidence that can be picked out to suggest otherwise. VGX played up to the worst stereotypes, mistaking offensive idiocy for humour and wasting the time of talented developers trying to explain why they're proud of their games. I would have preferred Keighley hosting on his own and playing it straight — as he seemed intent on doing — actually getting through all of the awards, not just a handful, and engaging in conversation with game makers.

But hey, maybe that's boring, maybe games are all about casually insulting people, bumping fists with other 'bros' and representing the "Best Soundtrack" with obnoxious rappers drowning out a talented band — the best bit of the concert was the instrumental section, ultimately. Maybe I'm wrong to hope that we'd move beyond an immature teenage mentality and take pride in games, whether Indie efforts, platformers or big-budget FPS titles, and actually behave like grown ups. It's possible to be a gamer — of any age, because the age-spectrum in gaming is now widening, which is wonderful — and be mature, passionate and coherent.

That's what I think, anyway. If the VGX awards are what most gamers want from these events — I truly hope not — then consider me to be in the minority.