Saturday 24 August 2019

Game Over

Last month, Forbes magazine published an article titled “The Best Science Fiction Books of All Time.” Given the superlative and sweeping absolutism of the title, and the narrow scope of his selections, the article was subject to much (deserved) ridicule on Twitter.
We loved Leviathan Wakes,
but is it really better than
The Dispossessed, Foundation
 Gateway or Babel-17?
(Image via Amazon)

Paul Tassi, the article’s author, normally covers video games for Forbes. A quick scan of his work in this area indicates a wealth of knowledge … about video games and the gaming industry. The nuance he brings to reporting on video games is absent in his list of Best Science Fiction Books. 

What Tassi’s poorly-researched listicle shows is that knowledge of one geeky subject matter (video games) does not confer expertise in another (science fiction literature).

This brings us to our main point: Worldcon is not a media convention, it is not a comic book convention, and it is definitely not a gaming convention. Worldcon is a literature-focused science fiction and fantasy convention, and the voters who select each year’s Hugo Awards reflect that. 

The knowledge of one geeky subject matter (science fiction and fantasy literature) does not confer expertise in another (games). It is for this reason that we do not support proposals to add a category for “Best Game Or Interactive Experience.”

Since 1969, scope creep has doubled the number of Hugo Award categories from 10 to 20 (including the two “technically not a Hugo” categories that are voted on and awarded with the rest). Some additions have obviously strengthened the award slate, while we would argue that other more recently-created Hugos are of dubious merit.

Ira Alexandre, who has been the driving force in arguing for a Best Game Hugo, has done their research. They looked at the amount of gaming content at Worldcons, examined the burgeoning field of interactive works, and made some significant arguments in favour of the suggested award.

But none of their work addresses the fact that gaming has never been a primary focus of Worldcon. Alexandre’s number-crunching even showed that the amount of gaming-related programming has never exceeded nine per cent of the convention — and is usually much smaller. We would suggest that the majority of Hugo voters are unlikely to have played a wide-enough and diverse-enough range of games and interactive experiences to make adequate nominations in a category dedicated to gaming. 

It’s already difficult enough for Hugo voters to get through a voting package with six works on the shortlist in 15 categories. Games and Interactive Works individually take up to 150 hours to play through - with a short time between the announcement of the shortlist and the voting deadline, it would be difficult to play through, and be able to adequately assess, even one such game.
Independent game Return of the Obra
Dinn deserves recognition, but are
the Hugos the right place for games?
(Image via

Science fiction is well-represented in games and interactive experiences — and while there are many awards in gaming, some excellent examples of science fiction get overlooked by the existing gaming awards. We do not believe, however, that such recognition should come from the Hugo Awards.

In their thorough and well-researched 100-page document arguing for the creation of a Hugo Award for Gaming, Alexandre correctly points out the vibrancy of science fiction within the modern independent game industry. However, given the tendency of the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) category to recognize only those works with the highest budgets, we are unconvinced by Alexandre’s suggestion that independent games would win out over high-profile works with big advertising budgets. If Hugo voters shortlisted a blockbuster like Avengers: Endgame ahead of an independent film like Prospect, why should we believe they would select an independent game like Return of the Obra Dinn ahead of of a blockbuster like God Of War?

We must also ask what this Hugo Award would add to the overall cultural conversation about games and gaming. Again, Alexandre has done the legwork to look at other gaming-related awards: this is a field in which there are numerous high-profile awards that already recognize achievement in the field. From the perspective of those outside of the Worldcon bubble, a Hugo for Best Game or Interactive might appear to be a third-rate and irrelevant award: a Golden Satellite, rather than an Oscar.
The coveted Golden
Satellite award.
(image via

There are already an excessive number of categories at the Hugo Awards that receive little attention from those being honoured. Last year, only one of the shortlisted Graphic Story authors was in attendance and only one shortlisted Dramatic Presentation (short or long form) was represented by a director. The movie industry doesn’t seem to care about the Hugo Award — we are dubious that the gaming industry would either. 

The push to add a new category to the Hugo Awards in order to recognize games and gaming is one that we fundamentally respect. Proponents of the move are clearly working towards reasonable aims, and are providing some sound arguments in favour of their proposal. The proposal has been tabled for further study and will be discussed further at next year's WSFS business meeting. 

Fundamentally though, we do not believe that the addition of this category would produce the hoped for results, nor would it add to the legitimacy of the overall Hugo Awards process — instead it’s more likely that the Hugos would suffer the same ridicule as Paul Tassi.


  1. I'm a regular Hugo voter who's been open to this new category, but I really appreciate your arguments here - they're very respectful of the other side, but they also make some excellent points. A lot to think about. :-)

    Can I point out one place where you may have made a mistake? I followed your links at the top of the post, and the one from "(deserved)" goes to a tweet (and ultimately a post) by someone criticizing a piece by Forbes, but not Tassi's list. If it connects to Tassi, anyway, I didn't see the connection. :-)

  2. Thank you for the heads-up. That link has been fixed.

    And thank you again for the kind words.

  3. And is gaming specifically computer games? Not Terraforming Mars or the new Call of Cthulhu campaign setting?

    1. The proposal for the gaming award specifically includes board games and the like. But many (most) of the examples cited in Ira Alexandre's document are video games.