Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Hugo Awards 2021 - Best Video Game category thoughts

This isn't a category I recall seeing in previous Hugo years. I think it's a first for this year, but it seems slightly overdue, as there have been some truly great stories being told in video games for a great many years.

The big problem for voters comes from having to figure out how to judge these games, many of which they haven't played and may not even be able to play. Of the six finalists - for example - I do not have the hardware to play three of them. So instead of first-hand experience with the games, which is by far the best way to judge, they will have to rely on promotion material or video playthroughs. And I'm guessing a lot of Hugo voters are going to be completely unfamiliar with video playthroughs. I know I am a relatively recent admirer of Twitch and YouTube video gamers, and some Hugo voters are certainly a little older or less techie than me.

For myself, I'll be playing three of the six. I requested Hugo copies of the two finalists that offered it, and one of the games is a browser-based game that is free to play online. To help other voters who may not be familiar enough with games, I'm going to list the six finalists with a link to their main website, if any, and a link to their category on Twitch:

If you click on the Twitch link for each game, it will take you to a page of people currently playing the game online. There are some options, including a video tab, that allow you to look at past playthroughs or even clips of people playing the game. This isn't going to point you to the best playthroughs, but you ought to be able to get a sense of how the fans are reacting to the game and what they think of it by watching some clips or videos, or you can pop in on someone actually playing the game live and ask questions. Just don't be rude.

I have already received my codes for both Spiritfarer and Hades, and I have downloaded and installed each game. I'm debating whether or not to run a stream with each game, since I do stream on Twitch. If I do, I'll save the videos and link to them in a future blog post. Blaseball seems to be a little... odd... and perhaps not very streamable. I haven't dug far into it yet, but it appears to be a baseball simulator with additions. We'll just have to see how that one works.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons seems to be pretty well-known outside of gaming circles as anyone with a Nintendo Switch was playing it at the beginning of the pandemic, and many people used it as a substitute for their outside social life. People even held graduation ceremonies in it. I have seen parts of playthroughs already, but I'll be watching a bit more to try to get a better sense of the game.

Final Fantasy VII Remake seems to be nothing at all like the Final Fantasy MMO I was already trying out - but the franchise seems to be huge and the lore all over the place. So I'll have to learn a bit about the storyline and watch some folks play it to get an idea of what's going on there. I will note that I've always sort of avoided games where characters carry those ridiculously oversized swords because I feel like they are silly and wouldn't appeal to me - so I'm going to have to eat my prejudices here and judge the game on the game and not on the utterly unrealistic weapon choice of the designers.

The Last of Us has a special place in my heart. The original, not the one I'm voting on. When I was in the hospital being poked and prodded and going through a whole lot of pain, I used a playlist on my phone to keep me from going insane and to keep me calm when the pain got too much. Sometimes I just let one song play over and over. And when I couldn't play the music, that melody was my mantra and it went through my head constantly. Instead of the pain, I would concentrate on remembering how the sounds fit together and feel the next note instead of the needle in my arm. The song that got me through that tough time was the theme song to The Last of Us, by Gustavo Santaolalla. Another friend, a streamer, had played the original game on his stream and I'd caught just enough parts of his playthrough to hear the song, and liked it so much I bought a digital copy for my phone's playlist. And it was the song that got me through my time in the hospital.

I've never played the original game, though, nor have I watched a full playthrough. But I still feel a fondness for the game that might affect my voting. I don't know. I'll have to watch some videos and the various materials provided to make a decision. I will note, however, that any game that takes the time to put this scene into it deserves at least a closer look.