And The Loser is ...

By Gordon Aplin (February, 2005)
The 8th annual AIAS (Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences) Awards have just taken place. Similar to the Academy Awards for motion pictures, these are the game 'industry' awards judged by the game industry, developers, designers, producers and their peers.

In the running for best PC game of the year (2004) were:
    Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
    Half-Life 2
    Halo 2
    Katamari Damacy
    World of Warcraft
And the winner was Half Life 2

Of course, I was more interested in the sub-category awards, particularly in the best adventure game of the year. But sadly there is no such award or category. For the AIAS awards adventure games are considered under the category Action/Adventures. The nominees for this category for the 2005 awards(Games released in 2004) were:

    Full Spectrum Warrior
    Myst IV Revelation
    The Suffering
    Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

And the winner was Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow.

I haven't played Splinter Cell so I can't comment on its performance as opposed to Myst IV: Revelation but I do, however, have some comments to make on this general category of Action/Adventure Games. It is just one of 10 Awards for the PC and it is pointedly an amalgamation of both action and adventure games rather than adventure games and the sub-genre of action-adventures. The other PC awards are for:

    Computer Children's Game of the Year
    Computer Downloadable Game of the Year
    Computer Family Game of the Year
    Computer First Person Action Game of the Year
    Computer Role Playing Game of the Year
    Computer Simulation Game of the Year
    Computer Sports Game of the Year
    Computer Strategy Game of the Year
    Massively Multiplayer / Persistent World Game of the Year

Yes, all the major types of computer games are represented by an award category except adventure games. The Action/Adventure Games Awards seems to be a 'catch-all' category or the miscellaneous category for games that don't merit a category of their own. In the light of this I thought a peek into the history of the awards might be interesting because adventure games did stand tall once upon a time. So as an exercise I looked at the finalists and nominees for the previous years. In the first two years of the awards 1998 and 1999 adventure games had their own category:

1998 Computer Adventure Game of the Year
    Blade Runner (winner)
    Realms of the Haunting
    Riven: The Sequel to Myst
    Tex Murphy: Overseer
    The Curse of Monkey Island
    The Journeyman Project 3: Legacy of Time

1999 Computer Adventure Game of the Year
    Dark Side of the Moon
    Douglas Adam's Starship Titanic
    Grim Fandango (winner)
    King's Quest: Mask of Eternity
    The X-Files Game

Here Adventure games were being judged against their peers and the comparisons were reasonable. Then in 2000 the adventure category disappeared and adventures were lumped together with Role Playing games:

2000 Computer Adventure/Role Playing Game of the Year
    Asheron's Call (winner)
    Gabriel Knight 3
    Planescape: Torment
    Ultima IX: Ascension

Here Gabriel Knight 3 was up against three RPGs and (arguably) an action game. In the previous years RPGs also had their own category and they reverted to this in 2001 and subsequent years. Clearly, the 'industry' decided that adventure and RPGs didn't mix and that RPGs needed a category of their own. Just as other genres have maintained (or earned) their own category such as Sports, Strategy, Simulation and First Person Action (shooters). Adventures haven't been so lucky. From 2001 onwards they have been bracketed with general action games:

2001 PC Action/Adventure Game of the Year
    Crimson Skies
    Deus Ex (winner)
    Escape from Monkey Island
    No One Lives Forever
    Star Trek Voyager: Elite Forces

2002 PC Action/Adventure Game of the Year
    Aliens vs. Predator 2
    Myst III Exile
    Return to Castle Wolfenstein (winner)

2003 PC Action/Adventure Game of the Year
    Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
    Grand Theft Auto III (winner)
    The Thing

2004 Computer Action/Adventure Game of the Year
    Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
    Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
    Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
    Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (winner)
    Uru: Ages Beyond Myst

In all the years that adventures have been lumped together with other types of games we can see a couple of trends. Firstly, only one adventure game a year has been nominated compared to three or four action games. Secondly, no adventure game has ever won that mixed category.

Clearly adventure games are a 'problematic' category for the industry. But is the AIAS 'solution' of lumping adventures with other genres fair? Can you imagine the motion picture academy (Oscars) with a best acton/romantic comedy category? The nominees would look something like this:

    Terminator 2
    When Harry Met Sally
    Star Wars: Episode 1, The Phantom Menace

It would be hard to see this happening at the Oscars. So I wonder why it happens at the AIAS? Just as When Harry Met Sally is a completely different genre to Terminator 2, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst is completely different to Grand Theft Auto, with hardly any basis for comparison as a sub-category.

Leaving aside children's games which are a special item, if there were another discrete category for adventure games then along with family games there would be two categories to represent games that don't involve the player in combat or confrontation of some kind. Along with the categories for console games the vast majority highlight action games where fighting is paramount. With the computer game industry already tagged as violent and a danger to society, might it not be a good idea to allow an adventure game to get just a little bit of the spotlight? Not only might this help to establish the diversity of computer games and, perhaps, be a step towards legitimising them in the eyes of the general public, but it might also encourage a wider age group to join in the fun of computer game playing.

The changes to the categories over the years show that AIAS have tried to be accommodating by changing things around, RPGs are a case in point. Role-playing games were recognised as a game type that was deserving of its own category and there has been no move to lump them together with general action games. Adventure games too have their own unique style of gameplay and their own audience. So wouldn't it be great to see adventure games endorsed by AIAS with a category of their own once again?

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2005. All rights reserved.