The DICE Award winners, and why it matters

The DICE Awards is one of the game industry's annual get-togethers, in which the best games of the year are celebrated in front of an audience of about 600 people, mostly game developers and publishers.

Earlier tonight, the winners were announced with The Last of Us sweeping multiple awards (full list below) including Game of the Year and Best Direction. The winners and losers were debated, furiously, on social media. The event, slightly ramshackle at times, managed to capture the off-the-cuff spirit of gaming, with entertaining appearances from the likes of Mike Capps and Palmer Luckey.

These awards are organized by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. The winners are voted on by its 22,000 members. There are other awards that are honored and valued, like the GDC Choice Awards and the BAFTAs. But this is where the game industry honors its own. The trophies are handed out by established game developers.

Tonight, making a rare public appearance, Sam and Dan Houser as well as Leslie Menzies were ushered into the AIAS Hall of Fame appearing on stage with a mob of fellow Rockstar staff. "It's a tremendous honor to have Rockstar's work to be recognized in this way," said Dan Houser. "To be honest we normally turn this sort of stuff down but they wouldn't let us this year. And we turn it down because focusing on an individual or individuals at Rockstar just feels wrong. The nice people at DICE at least agreed to let there be the three of us but really there should be several hundred people standing here not just the ten or so of us."

Gaming is an entertainment business and so, of course it has a glitzy awards ceremony. There is even a red carpet for the most honored attendees. But gaming is not about glamor or fashion or the flash of paparazzi. It's about something else.

"It's not a People Magazine kind of business," said Martin Rae, president of the AIAS, speaking to Polygon earlier this week. "This event is important from the perspective of the gamers who have played the games and respect the people who make the games. Our job is to put those guys on the stage and honor them and their work."

It's definitely not like a music or film or fashion awards ceremony. Carter Reese is president of Hatch, which has been staging the show for the past eight years. He stages such events all year round. "There's nothing rehearsed about the reactions of the games people who win," he said, interviewed at a pre-show rehearsal. "They don't just come up here and thank their agent and thank God. It's pure emotion. They are really feeling it."

"When they win and go up and accept, we want people to speak their mind and their heart, to show their emotions in a real way, to show that it means a lot to them," added executive producer Terrence Myers.

Games awards ceremonies have been plagued, down the years, by either a pervading formal dullness or an entirely inappropriate host, prancing before a bemused audience and sounding all the wrong notes.

This year's event was co-hosted by Felicia Day and Freddie Wong, both of whom are connected with gaming culture via hit YouTube shows, and both of whom command enormous numbers of social media followers. The DICE Awards are a social media event.

Their script toyed playfully with gaming culture and, in Day's description was "about having fun, not making fun." But she came into the show aware that the events of the evening might not be to everyone's liking. Not every game can win, and game fans are rarely shy about sharing their opinions. "People consider a criticism of a game that they love to be a criticism of themselves," she said, in an interview prior to the event. "Gaming is an art form that you project yourself into it. You are the star. This is where a lot of the defensiveness and hyper critical discourse comes in."

But Wong and Day were not afraid of ruffling a few feathers, with a scattering of well placed gags, such as congratulating Gearbox for "almost finishing" Aliens: Colonial Marines.

"An approach of trying to please the audience is impossible," said Wong. "The audience is too diverse and too closely involved in these games that there is no absolutely perfect way of keeping everyone happy. And as soon as you inject personality into it there will be some people who just don't like that personality."

"We love all kinds of games," said Day. "We are just trying to have fun while honoring the people who make the games."

"Gamers on the internet are a tough audience," said Rae. "They like what they like and they don't like what they don't like and it's immediate."

There is one peculiar aspect to the DICE Awards. Nominated members are invited to contribute to the show's costs. This sounds like a shake-down, but according to the AIAS, the organization is funded by its own members, and this is just a way to pay for the event.

"The Academy is a non-profit organization that is member funded and supported," explained Rae. "The Academy could not exist without the contribution and support of its membership. All member and awards submission fees go back into the awards."

Anyone who visits a game company will, sooner or later, find themselves in a reception area facing a glass cabinet that includes some DICE trophies. They are odd-looking things, a circle within a pair of waves. Or something. They may be greatly valued by their owners but they lack the visual impact of, say, an Oscar.

Rae said that kind of aura just takes time. "People wanted to ditch the oscar statue for 15 or 20 years. They thought it was weird and obscene, but it became something iconic and meaningful." So will the current design ever change? "I think it works. If it's on your shelf it's a great feeling," he said.

THE WINNERS

ADVENTURE GAME: The Last of Us
DOWNLOADABLE: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
MOBILE: Plants vs Zombies 2
HANDHELD: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
ANIMATION: The Last of Us
ART DIRECTION: The Last of Us
VISUAL ENGINEERING: The Last of Us
GAMEPLAY ENGINEERING: Grand Theft Auto 5
HALL OF FAME: Rockstar Games
CASUAL: Plants vs Zombies 2
FAMILY: Super Mario 3D World
ROLE-PLAYING AND MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER: Diablo 3
STRATEGY SIMULATION: XCOM: Enemy Within
OUTSTANDING INNOVATION: The Last of Us
SOUND DESIGN: The Last of Us
STORY: The Last of Us
CHARACTER PERFORMANCE: Ellie, The Last of Us
PIONEER: Eugene Jarvis
ONLINE GAME: World of Tanks
SPORTS: FIFA 14
DRIVING: Forza Motorsport 5
FIGHTING: Injustice: Gods Among Us
ACTION: Bioshock Infinite
DIRECTION: The Last of Us
GAME OF THE YEAR: The Last of Us

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