In 1998, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts changed their membership criteria to include what was to become the biggest snowballing industry in recent memory – interactive entertainment. The so-called BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Awards celebrated innovation in all things interactive, though the focus wasn’t yet on the gaming industry. In these seminal award shows, websites, interactive tours, and multimedia exploits were rewarded for being the forerunners of the digital age. Though it wasn’t without some argument from the classicists of the film and television sectors. David Puttnam, a British film producer, is said to be the driving force behind the inclusion, citing the second major change in the BAFTA roster to be akin to the first: the inclusion of television into the awards in 1958.
It seems the academy knew where interactivity was ultimately leading however, and in 2003 they separated the award into the Interactive Awards (dealing with categories such as “Enhancement of Linear Media”, “Entertainment Website”, and “News”) and the Games Awards. Before the Interactive Awards suffered a quiet death, however, they did award the first ever BAFTA “Interactive New Talent Award” to the female, yes female, Paulina Bozek for her work in the production of SingStar for PS2. The BAFTAs as a whole was celebrated for recognising the burgeoning female presence in the previously boys club arena of gaming and technology.
On close inspection of the evolution of categories that the BAFTA Games awards have included, it becomes obvious that they read as a family tree of the industry itself. Indeed, the academy has consistently prided itself on remaining current with the trends of the industry, and this is well reflected as we see the emergence of new forms of media, and older forms slipping from memory.
The 2005 BAFTA Games ceremony introduced the category of Art Direction to take over from Design. We see recognition of the appreciation for the aesthetic itself in game design, and celebration specifically of the artistic intent behind a game’s environments and creation. The ‘Multiplayer’ category becomes ‘Online Multiplayer’ as the internet takes off as a user controlled medium, with broadband and unprecedented levels of connectivity available. The advent of the ‘Originality’ category sees the academy begin to feel confident in its video games as art stance, for which it had previously been slammed by the television and filmmakers it once solely existed for.
The year after, however, saw a major change in the way the academy was to process its judgement of each game that has lasted until today. Broader categories are introduced, and genre specific categories slowly begin to fade out. We instead see awards for ‘Gameplay’, ‘Innovation’, and ‘Screenplay’. There’s now a conversation around the specific elements that make a game, and more mature criteria are being applied to video game criticism. 2006 feels like the year a game that excels in one area can be appreciated for that. It’s been a longstanding conviction of mine that one game cannot be judged by another’s rule book, and it seems that this would be problematic in the years preceding the 2006 BAFTA Games Awards.
2007 recognised the impending explosion of new talent on the scene after the successful releases of the PS3 and Xbox 360 with the ‘BAFTA Ones To Watch’ category that celebrated newbies to the scene making promising strides in their field. 2010 introduces the ‘Family and Social’ category as the Nintendo Wii reaches its peak and families are gathering round gaming consoles in ways never before seen by the industry. The end of 2009 saw FarmVille quietly creep into our social media. By 2011, the ‘Social Network Game’ category had formed, though a little late to the party.
Skipping to 2013, however, the ‘Best British’ category proved problematic to the academy. Judging games against each other based on their only shared asset being their British developers felt slightly contrived. Questions relating on what made ‘British-ness’ a thing in a game were raised, as well as how you can judge a group of games across a span of different genres, each serving different purposes under one umbrella. However, despite this it seems that even the controversial ‘Best British’ category can tell us something about the state of the industry. The very fact that so many media outlets questioned the category shows the maturity and scholarship that is being brought into video game criticism and conversation.
2015 saw the final nail in the coffin for genre-based awards, ridding the ceremony of the ‘Action / Adventure’ and ‘Strategy’ categories. The mounting force of the DLC, and the growing trend of developers releasing updates and patches, called for a ‘Persistent Game’ category, which celebrated these ongoing efforts by developers.
Throughout the history of the BAFTA Game Awards, we see a recognition of games as more than past-times, but also as cultural products that can be approached in erudite discussion and artistic appreciation.