Activision And Geoff Keighley Working Together On Last Year’s The Game Awards Message Is Vulgar

I was in the audience of The Game Awards last year. I spoke to the protestors outside with signs about Activision Blizzard's rampant abuse and union busting, and wore the Raven pin one of the protestors gave me in support of their efforts to unionise. In truth, I felt a little conflicted. It was my first time at The Game Awards, and my first gaming event in a long time thanks to the pandemic. I was fully vaxxed, fully masked, and I'd paid for my own flights and accommodation, so I felt relatively in the clear. I knew it was an advertising showcase with a few customary awards handed out to justify its own existence, but it was nice to feel connected to the industry in a tangible way beyond a computer screen. When Keighley announced that Activision Blizzard had been pulled from the show and would only appear in categories they were nominated for (so no ads), any residual guilt lifted. When Keighley made his opening speech about the state of the industry, I clapped along with the rest of the crowd. We did it, Reddit. Abuse in the games industry no longer existed. What a fool I was.

Geoff Keighley recently gave an interview to the Epic Games Store's official website. Given that the EGS is a store (clue's in the name) rather than an actual journalistic outlet, that should give you some hint to the scrutiny TGA is looking for as it gears up for its most watched adverts yet. However, the interview was conducted by Brian Crecente, a journalist I greatly respect, so I gave it a shot. Crecente, despite what were likely rather tight constraints, got an answer out of Keighley.

When asked about Activision Blizzard's future involvement, and their removal last year, Keighley was surprisingly open about the whole affair, which itself is a damning indictment of how little this all matters to the cavalcade of gamers tuning in each year. “The Activision thing last year, that was kind of a joint decision between Activision and us about sort of how to approach it,” Keighley said. “We don't ban companies from the show.”

A joint decision. It was the smallest of stands to take, and The Game Awards couldn't even take it. In fact, not only was it less than the weakest stand available, it was a choreographed piece of damage control from the perpetrators. When Summer Game Fest rolled around, Keighley's second biggest showcase of the year, Activision Blizzard was back amongst the chief partners. I wrote at the time about how meaningless it rendered the opening statement from The Game Awards as hypocrisy – my invitation to be on this year's jury was lost in the post.

I knew Keighley never really meant it. Maybe I knew it even knew it as my palms slapped together and I nodded along in the plush seats of the Microsoft Theatre, cushions in the pandemic-enforced empty chairs either side of me bouncing to the rhythm of the whole crowd clapping along too. But I never imagined that Bobby Kotick had told him to say it. That's a completely different stratosphere of disregard for the workers.

Of course, that's not how Keighley sees it. In that same interview, he explained his reasoning. “What I always come back to is that we want to be a place of celebration of all the amazing work that developers do in the industry. They're amazing games made across the industry by great creators, and sometimes business and other forces affect that, but we really want to focus on the games.”

The focus is on the work, not the workers. It doesn't really matter about crunch or workplace abuses, because at the end we get video games and video games are nice. TGA staff crunched through the Thanksgiving weekend to get the December 8 showcase ready, and while one long weekend of work is not comparable to crunch or the many ordeals of the Activision staff, it's part of a wider pattern of constantly pushing the little guy to do more more more, always more more more, because the product is bigger than your lives. It was already vulgar that Activision could waltz back into the spotlight with no questions asked at SGF, but it's even more disgusting that the removal of Activision was not a meagre defence of workers’ rights when Keighley's hand was finally forced, but yet another piece of paid advertising on gaming's biggest stage.

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