NYT: Making video game history

January 03, 2022

German Lopez, The New York Times:

Hades is the first video game in history to win a Hugo Award, the prize for science fiction and fantasy that has historically honored books, graphic novels and other written works.

The game, from the developer Supergiant Games, follows the story of Zagreus — son of the game’s eponymous god — as he tries to escape the Underworld. Along the way, he fights all sorts of hellish creatures and meets a wide array of characters, including the gods up on Olympus. He also uncovers family secrets and gains perspective on why his dad has made seemingly unsavory decisions.

The Hugo Awards’ inclusion of video games, which organizers are considering making permanent, speaks to how far the medium has come. In the early days of Pong in the 1970s or the original Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda in the 1980s, technology limited how much text a game could include. Today, a game’s storytelling can be its primary selling point, whether it’s a high-budget science-fiction epic like the Mass Effect trilogy or an indie game made by a small team like Celeste.

This news broke last December, but I was tickled to see it included in today’s NYT morning newsletter. Not only is winning a Hugo award a tremendous achievement for Supergiant Games and the medium as a whole, mentions of specific titles large and small — from Mass Effect to Celeste — by a publication as massive as the New York Times is particularly noteworthy.

One of the reasons I started Zero Counts in 2013 was to gather and (hopefully) elevate video game industry coverage from major publications. I felt the medium had every right to be taken as seriously as art, big business, and cultural touchstones and should be covered as such by the largest publications in the world. At the time, it was only happening in fits and starts, typically prompted by the latest console craze or ”Nintendo’s white Playstation 4“.

Coverage has changed a great deal since then, putting a spotlight on scandal, working conditions, earnings, and acquisitions. What’s more is that most major outlets have now hired staff focused on the video game industry — NYT’s Kellen Browning, Washington Post’s Gene Park and Teddy Amenabar, Axios’ Stephen Totilo and Megan Farokhmanesh, and The Guardian’s Keza MacDonald to name a few. Coverage of specific games still feels spotty, but short of a consumer warning, reviews may be becoming less critical. So when specific games are highlighted — namely indies — it magnifies the growing recognition of the industry and the importance and impact of the medium.

On that note, I think I need to give the Underworld one more run.