Interactive Media Hugo Award
At Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon in Spokane, WA, the subject of "Why isn't there a Best Video Game Hugo?" came up multiple times. It's something that's been coming up for several years- and it usually gets shot down on the basis of Not Real Writing or They Have Their Own Awards. I think this is wrong on multiple levels, so I'm compiling my own thoughts on the subject here.
I do not propose a Best Video Game Hugo. I think that name limits the potential of the award, and artificially sets it up for failure by triggering people's assumptions about video games. It also artificially excludes several areas of identifiable SF/F writing.
Instead I propose Best Interactive Media. That is, SF/F media that requires player interaction and input to view and progress through the story. This way we can cover video games, ARGs, interactive fiction, etc. All those things where a good story is enhanced by the consumer/player being an active agent in the story.
Why an Interactive Media Hugo?
Modern storytelling takes on many forms, expanding well past just the printed word, and the Hugo awards have grown in response; recognizing excellence in storytelling in television, movies & podcasts. It is time for the Hugos to expand again, and acknowledge the creativity and skill of writers of Interactive Media.
What Is Interactive Media?
Entertainment media that requires active interaction and participation by the consumer to progress the story. Consumers have varying levels of agency in determining the nature and outcome of the storyline. (For comparison, most books, movies and television shows are 'passive' entertainment- the consumer is not a participant and/or has no agency in what is happening)
What Are Some Forms of Interactive Media?
Software simulating and describing an environment, where players use text commands to control and influence that environment, explore the world, and progress through the narrative.
Notable examples include the classic Zork(1979); Amnesia (1987), by Hugo and Nebula winner Thomas M. Disch; The Dreamhold (2004) & 80 Days (2014)
Choose Your Own Adventure style gamebooks, where readers navigate through different iterations of the story by answering prompts, are considered by some to be the 'dead tree' version of Interactive Fiction
Alternate/Augmented Reality Games:
Narratives that take place in the real world, often in real time, where consumers are engaged in, and can influence or change the narrative- primarily through Transmedia Storytelling: "The technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies". ARGs have used phones, printed materials, 'drops' of information, visual puzzles, emails and a host of other media to engage participants. A hallmark of ARGs is "This Is Not A Game"- players actively encourage the illusion of not participating in a game.
ARGs may have a ongoing open-ended story, an overarching story arc with smaller internal 'chapers', or be contained in a specific arc with a clear end point.
Notable examples include Majestic (1999); The Beast (2001), Perplex City (2005), & Ingress (2012)
While the currently popular "Pokemon GO" is considered an Augmented Reality Game, it would not be eligible, because there is no self contained, progressing storyline contained in the game, that is impacted by player action.
Puzzle/Treasure Hunt Books:
Books that contain hidden puzzles or clues within the imagry and/or text of the story that, when solved, reward the solver with real-world prizes.
Notable examples include The Merlin Mystery (1998), A Treasure's Trove(2004) & Endgame(2015)
Digital media in which consumers take on the role of a character in the story through active gameplay. Stories may be self contained single player story arcs or large ongoing multiplayer story. The level of player agency in progressing the story arc varies from game to game.
Notable examples include Myst(1994), Halo(2001), Dear Esther(2012) & Obduction (2016)
It is important to note that, while there are multiple recognized awards for video games, very few of those awards have categories for storytelling or writing. Most of the awards are for technical quality & overall gameplay. The writers, who create a story backbone for those technical and gameplay feats, go largely unrecognized within their own industry. (They are often unrecognized even within their own companies... imagine a book publisher, or a TV/movie producer who didn't value the work the writers did- there'd be chaos.)
Evaluating Interactive Media for Nomination and Voting
To be written.
Ongoing Story Arcs
Rebuttals to common arguments
The argument that "They have their own awards!" is, frankly, a load of BS. If they have their own awards was grounds for not having a Hugo award, then there wouldn't be Hugos for movies or TV shows. Heck, you could make that argument for books, because there's plenty of other awards for SF/F books- the Nebulas, the Locus awards, etcetc...
Really, that argument is almost solely based in NIMBYism by people who look down on video games as a lower form of entertainment, and not something that can have complex story. And yes, there are games that have all the trappings of SF/F, and not an ounce of real plot or story; but there's plenty of SF/F books and movies that have crap for story, too. The medium a well-written story is presented in, should not preclude it from being recognized as a good story.
But the NIMBY people will be the biggest hurdle to this. Even on a panel at Sasquan, which had "How can Worldcon and fandom recognize good SF/F in games?" in the description, one of the panelists immediately shut down discussion on the subject with "We can't. They have their own awards, we don't need to." and then continued to shut down the concept through the whole panel. It was disappointing (and frankly, unprofessional and rude).
The argument that "It is too much to ask voters to play a video game. You can't put a video game in the voters packet!" has a bit more merit, but not much more. The VP doesn't include movies or tv shows, and voters do just fine with those. It doesn't always include full copies of books, and voters manage with snippets. No one expect the voters to read through every single issue of a fanzine or listen to every podcast, or know every single book an Editor had edited, and those get voted on without issue. I think there are ways clear summaries, or even small demos, of Interactive Media could be included in the VP, while accurately representing the overall work.
The other argument I've seen is "There's too many Hugos". I'm not even sure where to go with that one. To many compared to what? What makes it "too many"? (If it's the length of the awards show, the problem is the filler, not the awards themselves). Who decided the right number of awards? Are you just making that argument because you don't want this award?
Yes, video games and other interactive media could currently be nominated in the "Best Related Work" category, but really, that category is so obviously the "This is cool but we don't know where else to put it" spot, the variety and number of potential works to be nominated makes it difficult to decide what actually should be nominated there. It is best left for singular works that can not be easily collected under a single umbrella.
What Comes Next
Creating a new Hugo category is a long and complex process. It will take numbers and, frankly, popularity to move forward. While I am on the SMOF list, I am not a wildly active participant, nor am I at all well known as an active member of fandom. And the odds of me being able to attend Worldcon in the future is slim (maybe San Jose). So, I may not be the best person to step up to the line on this, but I'm doing it, so there (nyaah). Hopefully someone with status will pick up the banner I'm making, and run with it.