Video games have become far more than mindless entertainment

By The Newsroom
Friday, 13 April, 2018, 12:47

If there was any doubt that video games are capable of tackling difficult, mature and thought-provoking subject matter with increasing confidence, last night's BAFTA Games Awards surely dispelled it.

Mario, Call Of Duty and other bombastic household names may have been in the running. But it was some of the previous 12 months' most hard-hitting and emotional experiences that pipped them to the biggest prizes.

Hosted by comedian Dara O’Briain in London, the 2018 ceremony reserved top honours for What Remains of Edith Finch, a powerful narrative adventure about the many personal tragedies of an eccentric American family, and Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, which explores its protagonist's battle with mental health issues.

Edith Finch took the BAFTA for Best Game, while Hellblade won five awards including Artistic Achievement, British Game, and Performer for actress Melina Juergens.

Both titles have been commercial hits as well as critical ones, underlining the increasing prominence and importance of virtual experiences that go far beyond mere surface level thrills.

'Difficult and important subjects'

Those following the growing trend for hard-hitting, emotional and story-driven games will know that the medium has long been coming of age when it comes to thematic maturity.

But it has, perhaps, been a watershed year for such titles.

Hellblade, self-published by developers Ninja Theory but boasting Triple A blockbuster credentials (the studio's previous projects include Heavenly Sword and DMC: Devil May Cry), applied a deep, raw thematic punch to a third person hack and slash formula. This was a major action release, but not as we knew it.

Hellblade has been widely praised for its approach to mental illness, with its main character dealing with the trauma of her past.

Many gamers have spoken of its power in communicating and exploring the mental health struggles that people go through.

"We started to get emails from people who suffer," explained chief creative director Tameem Antoniades. "They felt like just having something out there that they could look at from the outside in was a cathartic experience. And they used the game as a way to explain to loved ones, partners...to give them an idea of what they're going through."

Melina Juergens, who won the Performance award for her portrayal of Senua, spoke after the ceremony about tackling a "difficult and important subject".

"I tried to think of my own real-life situations that I've been through and try to get out these emotions...when I'm crying in Hellblade I'm actually crying."

Death, grief and the power of stories

Giant Sparrow's Best Game winner Edith Finch also deals with mental illness, from the heartbreaking tale of a lonely shut-away, to an astonishing segment in a cannery, where a character escapes into a fantasy world to escape his day to day drudgery. Putting the player in the shoes of these individuals drives empathy and understanding. It would be an understatement to say the pay off is profound.

In addition, Edith Finch explores death, grief and the power of stories in a saga that takes in spellbinding dream sequences and the most haunting (yet contrastingly joyful) child's bathtime imaginable, imbuing its assorted tales with a real sense of pathos.

Night In The Woods is a wonderful, charming insight into a host of societal issues

Elsewhere, charming 2D adventure Night In The Woods - which won the Narrative award - taps into a well of small town stagnation and youthful angst; its gorgeous art-style and witty humour marrying with an all too relevant commentary on recession, alienation and being bound by the past. It perfectly nails what it feels like as a young person to return to your familiar yet stifling hometown, several years after leaving.

Life Is Strange: Before The Storm, Tacoma and The Sexy Brutale (underneath its quirky murder mystery puzzling) are all fellow BAFTA nominees to plough complicated territory and themes.

Even Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus deals with some challenging subjects and deep emotions, despite being - on paper - a brash, visceral and somewhat ludicrous first-person shooter. It was also nominated in the Narrative category.

No longer on the margins

It's telling that BAFTA felt the need to introduce a category called 'Game Beyond Entertainment' this year, in order to cater to a growing swell of games that go far beyond 'mindless' fun and spectacle.

As they explained in October 2017, this is largely a response to the likes of dystopian border check simulator Papers Please, teen mystery-drama Life Is Strange and the unbelievably hard-hitting That Dragon, Cancer.

But perhaps such clarification and distinction is unnecessary.

Not niche: Hellblade combined exhilarating action with a thoughtful story (Photo: Ninja Theory)

Hellblade, which also claimed the 'Game Beyond Entertainment' title as it happens, demonstrated games can be thought-provoking and powerful while still boasting thrilling, exhilarating action. Edith Finch showed they can be deeply poignant and sorrowful, while also being spellbinding, charming and sometimes funny (the Halloween segment, anyone?).

The lines between mainstream entertainment games and alternative, arthouse games are blurring. Games that explore the complex and the challenging are now popular as well as acclaimed.

As Hellblade's director Tameem Antoniades put it: "We thought we were making something very niche. But it turns out it's not niche."

This years BAFTA Game winners (and nominees) in full:

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FELLOWSHIPTIM SCHAFER

ARTISTIC ACHIEVEMENT

CUPHEAD Development Team - StudioMDHR Entertainment Inc./StudioMDHR Entertainment Inc.GOROGOA Development Team - Jason Roberts, Buried Signal/Annapurna Interactive HELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE Development Team - Ninja Theory Ltd/ Ninja Theory LtdHORIZON ZERO DAWN Development Team – Guerrilla/Sony Interactive Entertainment EuropeTHE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD Development Team - Nintendo EPD/NintendoUNCHARTED: THE LOST LEGACY Development Team - Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe

AUDIO ACHIEVEMENT

CALL OF DUTY: WORLD WAR II Development Team - Sledgehammer Games/ActivisionDESTINY 2 Development Team – Bungie/ActivisionHELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE David Garcia Diaz - Ninja Theory Ltd/ Ninja Theory LtdHORIZON ZERO DAWN Development Team – Guerrilla/Sony Interactive Entertainment EuropeSTAR WARS BATTLEFRONT II Development Team – DICE/Electronic ArtsUNCHARTED: THE LOST LEGACY Development Team - Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe

BEST GAME

ASSASSIN’S CREED ORIGINS Development Team - Ubisoft Montreal/ UbisoftHELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE Development Team - Ninja Theory Ltd/ Ninja Theory LtdHORIZON ZERO DAWN Development Team – Guerrilla/Sony Interactive Entertainment EuropeTHE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD Development Team - Nintendo EPD/NintendoSUPER MARIO ODYSSEY Development Team - Nintendo EPD/Nintendo WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH Development Team - Giant Sparrow/Annapurna Interactive

BRITISH GAME

HELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE Development Team - Ninja Theory Ltd/ Ninja Theory LtdMONUMENT VALLEY 2 Development Team - ustwo games/ustwo gamesREIGNS: HER MAJESTY Leigh Alexander, François Alliot, Arnaud De Bock - Nerial Ltd/ Devolver DigitalTHE SEXY BRUTALE Charles Griffiths, James Griffiths, Tom Lansdale - Cavalier Game Studios and Tequila Works/ Tequila WorksSNIPER ELITE 4 Development Team – Rebellion/ RebellionTOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER II Development Team - Creative Assembly/ SEGA

DEBUT GAME

CUPHEAD Development Team - StudioMDHR Entertainment Inc./StudioMDHR Entertainment Inc. GOROGOA Development Team - Jason Roberts, Buried Signal/Annapurna InteractiveHOLLOW KNIGHT Development Team - Team Cherry/Team CherryNIGHT IN THE WOODS Scott Benson, Alec Holowka, Bethany Hockenberry – InfiniteFall/FinjiTHE SEXY BRUTALE Charles Griffiths, James Griffiths, Tom Lansdale - Cavalier Game Studios and Tequila Works/Tequila WorksSLIME RANCHER Development Team - Monomi Park/Monomi Park

EVOLVING GAME

CLASH ROYALE Development Team – Supercell/ SupercellFINAL FANTASY XV Hajime Tabata – Square Enix/ Square EnixFORTNITE Development Team – Epic Games/ Epic Games OVERWATCH Development Team – Blizzard Entertainment/ Blizzard EntertainmentPLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS Development Team - PUBG Corp/ Bluehole, Inc.TOM CLANCY’S RAINBOW SIX SIEGE Development Team - Ubisoft Montreal/ Ubisoft

FAMILY

JUST DANCE 2018 Development Team - Ubisoft Paris/ UbisoftLEGO WORLDS Development Team - TT Games/ WB GamesMARIO + RABBIDS KINGDOM BATTLE Development Team – Ubisoft/ UbisoftMONUMENT VALLEY 2 Development Team - ustwo games/ustwo gamesSNIPPERCLIPS Development Team - SFB Games/ Nintendo SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY Development Team - Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

GAME BEYOND ENTERTAINMENT

BURY ME, MY LOVE Development Team - The Pixel Hunt & Fig/ ARTE & Playdius HELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE Development Team - Ninja Theory Ltd/ Ninja Theory LtdLAST DAY OF JUNE Massimo Guarini, Elia Randon, Andrew Thompson – Ovosonico/505 GamesLIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM Development Team - Deck Nine Games, Square Enix/Square EnixNIGHT IN THE WOODS Scott Benson, Alec Holowka, Bethany Hockenberry – InfiniteFall/ FinjiSEA HERO QUEST VR Matthew Hyde, Max Scott-Slade, Hugo Scott-Slade – Glitchers/ Glitchers

GAME DESIGN

ASSASSIN’S CREED ORIGINS Development Team - Ubisoft Montreal/ UbisoftHORIZON ZERO DAWN Development Team – Guerrilla/Sony Interactive Entertainment EuropeTHE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD Development Team - Nintendo EPD/NintendoNIER: AUTOMATA Development Team - Platinum Games, Square Enix/ Square Enix SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY Development Team - Nintendo EPD/NintendoWHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH Development Team - Giant Sparrow/Annapurna Interactive

GAME INNOVATION

GOROGOA Development Team - Jason Roberts, Buried Signal/Annapurna InteractiveHELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE Development Team - Ninja Theory Ltd/ Ninja Theory Ltd THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD Development Team - Nintendo EPD/NintendoNIER AUTOMATA Development Team - Platinum Games, Square Enix/Square EnixSNIPPERCLIPS Development Team - SFB Games/NintendoWHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH Development Team - Giant Sparrow/Annapurna Interactive

MOBILE GAME

BURY ME, MY LOVE Development Team - The Pixel Hunt & Fig/ ARTE & Playdius GOLF CLASH Paul Gouge, Alex Rigby, Gareth Jones – Playdemic/PlaydemicGOROGOA Development Team - Jason Roberts, Buried Signal/Annapurna InteractiveKAMI 2 Development Team - State of Play/State of PlayMONUMENT VALLEY 2 Development Team - ustwo games/ustwo gamesSTRANGER THINGS: THE GAME Development Team - BonusXP, Inc./BonusXP, Inc.

MULTIPLAYER

DIVINITY: ORIGINAL SIN 2 Development Team - Larian Studios/ Larian Studios GamesFORTNITE Development Team – Epic Games/ Epic GamesGANG BEASTS Development Team – Boneloaf/ Double Fine ProductionsPLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS Development Team - PUBG Corp/ Bluehole, Inc.SPLATOON 2 Development Team - Nintendo EPD/NintendoSTAR TREK: BRIDGE CREW Development Team - Red Storm Entertainment/ Ubisoft

MUSIC

CUPHEAD Development Team - StudioMDHR Entertainment Inc./StudioMDHR Entertainment Inc.GET EVEN Development Team – The Farm 51/ Bandai Namco Entertainment EuropeHELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE David Garcia Diaz, Andy LaPlegua - Ninja Theory Ltd/ Ninja Theory LtdHORIZON ZERO DAWN Development Team – Guerrilla/Sony Interactive Entertainment EuropeTHE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD Development Team - Nintendo EPD/NintendoWHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH Jeff Russo - Giant Sparrow/Annapurna Interactive

NARRATIVE

HELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE Tameem Antoniades - Ninja Theory Ltd/ Ninja Theory LtdHORIZON ZERO DAWN Development Team – Guerrilla/Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe NIGHT IN THE WOODS Scott Benson, Alec Holowka, Bethany Hockenberry – InfiniteFall/ FinjiTACOMA Steve Gaynor, Karla Zimonja – Fullbright/ FullbrightWHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH Development Team - Giant Sparrow/Annapurna InteractiveWOLFENSTEIN II: THE NEW COLOSSUS Jens Matthies, Tommy Tordsson Björk, Tom Keegan - Machine Games/ Bethesda

ORIGINAL PROPERTY

CUPHEAD Chad Moldenhauer, Jared Moldenhauer - StudioMDHR Entertainment Inc./StudioMDHR Entertainment Inc.GOROGOA Development Team - Jason Roberts, Buried Signal/Annapurna Interactive HORIZON ZERO DAWN Development Team – Guerrilla/Sony Interactive Entertainment EuropeNIGHT IN THE WOODS Scott Benson, Alec Holowka, Bethany Hockenberry – InfiniteFall/ FinjiPLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS Development Team - PUBG Corp/ Bluehole, Inc.WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH Development Team - Giant Sparrow/Annapurna Interactive

PERFORMER

ABUBAKAR SALIM as Bayek in Assassin’s Creed OriginsASHLY BURCH as Aloy in Horizon Zero DawnCLAUDIA BLACK as Chloe Frazer in Uncharted: The Lost LegacyLAURA BAILEY as Nadine Ross in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy MELINA JUERGENS as Senua in Hellblade: Senua’s SacrificeVALERIE ROSE LOHMAN as Edith Finch in What Remains of Edith Finch