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Only You Can Prevent The Game Awards Hype Cycle

Geoff Keighley is one voice among many

3:32 PM EST on November 13, 2023

Video games’ most exhausting night, the Game Awards, will soon be upon us. I remarked to my Aftermath colleagues last night that Geoff Keighley already looks tired. I’m already tired too. 

As a journalist, Geoff Keighley’s shows are very long nights where not much news happens (well, usually) but it might happen, and so you have to stay pinned to your seat for more hours than an event could possibly demand, on the chance something gets teased or announced or released that your readers might want to know. Those bits of news are mostly animated versions of press releases, announcements of things people will one day be able to buy. 

They’re often exciting! But they’re also the kind of thing a journalist struggles to write articles about because, well, there isn’t much to say besides “Death Stranding 2 Will Exist Someday” or “Here’s What The Mario Bros Movie Looks Like.” I’m sure being nominated for or winning a Game Award is legitimately exciting for developers–it is nice to be recognized for your work–but the awards themselves are mostly background noise, the excuse the show needs to run the commercials that are, for better or worse, what journalists and viewers tune in for. 

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But as the video games industry is rocked by layoffs, labor conflicts, and sexual harassment scandals, The Game Awards and other events in the Extended Keighley Announcements Universe can feel tone-deaf and out-of touch. The Game Awards nominations have already stumbled into this territory, with Destiny 2 receiving a nomination for Best Community Support on the heels of layoffs to its community team.

Keighley’s 2021 attempt to be topical fell flat when he fumbled to address abuse and misconduct during his speech, making a strong condemnation without actually condemning anyone. His shows can feel like they don’t represent the true diversity of the games industry. People on Twitter are already wondering if Keighley’s upcoming show will address the layoffs sweeping the field. Even when it seems like Keighley wants something better, he can’t get out from the weight of the hype juggernaut he created.  

Keighley is not solely responsible for the unholy beast that games has become, where hype fuels its own side industry of influencers and where announcements of announcements make news. You could put the blame for that on–spoilers–capitalism, and in particular ad dollars. Keighley’s shows can’t address gaming’s biggest crises and issues because that kind of thing scares away advertisers, and he–like many journalists too–needs those ad dollars to run his shows and pay himself and the people who make them. It’s the same system that caused our colleagues at feminist news outlet Jezebel to be shuttered last week. Everyone who profits or survives off an industry fueled by selling things has to kiss the asses of the people who control the money spigot.

To truly do better, the games industry needs alternate events and news coverage that don’t have to placate the people doling out goodies from their big sack with a dollar sign on it. But all of us who tune into Keighley’s shows can also refuse to let his narrative be the dominant one. We can talk about the darker parts of a medium we love; we can support indie games and developers who don’t get to share Keighley’s stage; we can make our own games studios and media outlets (cough, cough) that reflect the values we want to live by. We can remember that Keighley is one voice among many. The size of the games industry isn’t just a big number to trot out to prove its legitimacy; it’s a reminder that millions of people make this scene up, and one guy doesn’t get to be the face of it just because he has the most production dollars behind him.

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