Iowa is, in all reality, a symbolic rather than a real contest. Call it the preamble to the race proper; it’s the shuffling of the Poke-deck, if you will, rather than the playing of the first card (and comparing this to Pokémon is indeed appropriate, given Herman Cain’s penchant for doing so during critically important campaign speeches).
In fact, the press, chatting heads, and blogging minions of the political sphere– and they are legion– want to describe the caucus more as a “winnowing of the field” rather than as a selection of a presidential nominee. That last bit is more the place of the quickly-following New Hampshire primary, which is why, after all, candidate Jon Huntsman offered the instantly (in)famous words, “They pick corn in Iowa; they pick presidents in New Hampshire.” (Perhaps not the most effective way of garnering votes for the highest-stakes contest in the world. It’s, y’know, kind of like Sony literally doubling the price of its console and then bragging that the dollar amount should inspire its consumers to simply go out and work harder.)
But symbolism has a way with one’s loyalties as a voter and his perceptions as a human being. Tim Pawlenty became the first candidate to drop out of the 2012 primary race because he finished third– third!– in Iowa’s Ames straw poll, which has done little, historically speaking, of predicting who would become the Republican nominee but is seen, to quote the always-quotable news media, as “a test of organizational strength and popularity.” Pawlenty showed no traction, as they say in the biz, in the symbolic vote of the larger symbolic election.
The Spike Video Game Awards? I’d rather not.
All of this is, if not perfectly understandable, something I perfectly understand. But, for the life of me, I still cannot wrap my head around the gaming equivalent of Iowans’ dear clutching at straws: the “game of the year” awards.
Even calling them awards seems, well, to be something of a stretch. Yes, various publications honor one particular title above all others in the too-crowded marketplace of the previous twelve months, awarding it and its creators’ due commitment to quality and craftsmanship, respectively. And if it were left simply at that, the term “award” would absolutely be appropriate… but the sheer amount of predicting and pontificating and gnashing of teeth and deluge of hate mail that attends this time of year makes one approach the word “award” in the same way that football fans cannot simply describe the Super Bowl as “a football game.” It’s so much more than that, so much larger than life. It’s… mythological.
Which makes our culture’s spinning of mythology a vast source of concern (who needs Zeus when you have Ben Roethlisberger, or Baldur when you have Michele Bachmann [well, no one has Michele Bachmann now, which makes me sigh a great big sigh of relief not seen since the ending of the Exodus]?), but a concern that nonetheless must be put aside for a later time. There is such a sense of anticipation that plays out amongst the media for their “GOTY” reveals, manufactured in the utmost sense of self-aggrandizement and profit maximization that journalists start talking about what could possibly be their nominees as early as February or March. To quote Tobias Fünke, “That just makes me want to puke all over your head, sir.”
At least with the Oscars, there’s a very real business desire for nabbing the awards– an Academy Award win, or even just a nomination, results in theatrical re-issues and substantial bumps in box office receipts and home video sales– although the corollary to such an economic reality is the huge amount of money spent in attempting to influence the judges (making Hollywood, ironically, not unlike Washington, D.C.). The only thing that game of the year contests seem to do for the video game industry is stoke the fire and fuel the ire of fanboys all across the net– more than usual, that is.
I freely admit: I just don’t get it. Iowans may be standing around for hours on end to, essentially, vote for the guy they don’t want in office, and the candidates may empty their wallets to help them do so (Rick Perry spent $4.5 million to come in second-to-last place last week), but at least they’re helping to shape, in whatever infinitesimal way, what the next administration will be. Whether we’ll pull out of Afghanistan, whether financial institutions will be forced to behave somewhat more civilly, whether we’ll even pay our debts– these are the issues that will be addressed.
Whether IGN endorses Uncharted 3 or Gamasutra votes for Portal 2…? Meh.
Marc N. Kleinhenz has covered gaming for over a dozen publications, including Gamasutra, IGN, and TotalPlayStation, where he was features editor. He also likes mittens.