If I asked you to name a video game awards show, you would probably mention The Game Awards, The BAFTA Games Awards, or Playcrafting's The Bit Awards. Little did I know that the New York Videogame Critics Circle has had their own awards show going on for eight years—soon to be nine—and that the New York Game Awards would be honoring the best and brightest this very week.
The New York Videogame Critics Circle is, in a way, a fusion of older and newer gaming media. Founded by veteran journalist and author Harold Goldberg, the organization's name shows its more ancient roots in a sense. You or I would likely say "video game," but at the time of its founding, "videogame" was more popular in some circles, and the name stuck.
I had a quick chat over email with Goldberg about the New York Videogame Critics Circle, the New York Game Awards, and their upcoming ninth show that's set to come to Manhattan on Jan. 21.
A Circle of Critics
Unionization and collaboration are two of the bigger issues cropping up in modern game development and game journalism, but the New York Videogame Critics Circle has been working to help the community for some time now.
"The idea for The Circle began after I got more attention [than] expected for a book I wrote called All Your Base Are Belong to Us: How 50 Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture," Goldberg said. "There were offers to work on games and some film inquiries. I thought, what would really be cool is to have a group in New York that advocates for its members, not only with editors, but with the game industry.
"We were being given short shrift because of our distance from the west coast. We met that goal and a few years later, after an emotional day mentoring a student who felt like an outcast at the DreamYard Prep School in the Bronx, I suggested to the group that we use our resources to help those who were underserved. Now, we're a nonprofit with a variety of equally important missions."
The Circle lists just over 40 members from publications of all sizes, up to and including larger outlets like Kotaku, CNBC, Time, and Polygon. Even ESPN has its representatives, likely owing to the network's drive for esports content and coverage.
Membership into the New York Videogame Critics Circle is tightly controlled and focused on giving back to the community, a laudable goal. According to Goldberg, they also ensure a firm firewall between game journalists and game publishers as a condition of membership.
"[New York Videogame Critics Circle members] have to write well about games, have a fine working knowledge of journalism and how the industry works," he said. "And they have to want to give back to the community as well. If they haven't written about games during the year, they're not allowed to vote that year. They absolutely cannot consult for game companies.
"[It's] difficult, sometimes lonely, but ultimately thrilling. We have a great, understanding team, though, all Critics Circle members. The one person I can truly commiserate about putting on the New York Game Awards is Geoff Keighley from the Game Awards. It's not easy. It shouldn't be easy."
The Man Behind The Show
It would be wrong to say that this is a one-man effort — Goldberg made a point of emphasizing that many people help out with all of the constituent parts of an awards show. It also would not be wrong, however, to say that this organization (and its awards show) wouldn't have existed without his efforts. I asked what it takes to get something like this off the ground year after year.
"Many long days and nights combined with fretting, worry[,] and nightmares," Harold said. "Last night, I dreamed that the live streams didn't work during the show. And it's fun, ultimately, to see the New York community come together."
Putting even the simplest show together can be a monumental task, and the New York Game Awards is no different. Work on this year's show, in fact, began all the way back in the first quarter of last year.
"We begin planning in February and work very seriously after Labor Day. The planning includes meetings with our host from The Daily Show, Devin Delliquanti, about game news worthy of parody. We work with musicians from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert like the brilliant guitarist Maddie Rice. Circle member John Azzilonna from Time does all of our [brilliant] artwork. Sherri Smith from Laptop Magazine helps us mentor and helps to show run with Tom's Guide's Mike Andronico. Helen Pfeffer, our senior editor, listens to me complain and works with our young, paid interns. The list goes on and on. I couldn't do this without them, not at all."
Goldberg, for his part, has just as impressive of a writing history under his belt. With work for respected publications like The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone along with newer media like Kotaku, Polygon, and Game Informer, he's certainly no stranger to gaming.
He also isn't involved only with gaming. Our industry certainly has its fair share of notable personalities, like PC Gamer's energetic newsman Andy Chalk or Kotaku's investigative guru Jason Schreier, but many (if not most) stay largely within the industry. Goldberg, conversely, bucks the trend and dabbles in a little bit of everything.
"I don't want to be bored. It's corny to say, but we don't live life forever. So it's important to do what needs to be done. That's not to say there's not an odd kind of comic pain in trying to be varied," he said. "Every writer deals with a heavy cloud of uncertainty. And it's easier for an agent or book company to sell something if you're focused on writing about one thing. So the key is, while it doesn't always work, to stick up for yourself and try as hard as possible to do what you need to do. And, in the process, be genuinely nice about it."
The experience of such a wide array of fields and subjects is in no way a hedging of one's bets. Rather, Goldberg has a genuine enthusiasm for gaming and recognizes the medium for its potential.
"I had been a music critic and then a film and TV writer. When I got into writing about games, I saw the possibility of the best of all other media within," he said. "It took time to shine, though. It took until Bioshock, Uncharted and Grand Theft Auto III for the narrative to become well-written, but it was worth the wait."
The New York Game Awards 2020
Nearly a decade after its inception, the New York Game Awards has shown respectable growth. What started as a livestream that barely managed 300 views has since ballooned into 400,000 views for last year's show.
This year, too, will likely see some healthy growth. It may, in fact, be a little better than healthy with the awards show being concurrently webcast on the game-focused streaming site Mixer. All for a show that's named after an iconic place rather than a theme or some abstract idea—a notion that I was quite curious about and that Goldberg was all too happy to explain.
"New York is so iconic, it has it own complex, neurotic, oversized personality," he said. "All of our awards are named after famous New York folk and places—everything from Herman Melville to Coney Island's Dreamland. Our themes often surround the idea of giving back to the community."
This year's show has a heck of a nominees list with some pretty tough choices. The Resident Evil 2 remake, for example, is facing off against The Outer Worlds, Death Stranding, and six other excellent games for the Big Apple Award for Best Game of the Year. Each and every one of the thirteen categories for the New York Game Awards has similarly-tough competition.
[The] main point is to spread the word that we give back to underserved young people by teaching them game narrative and journalism. We all should give back whenever possible.
Though the New York Game Awards is certainly one of the highlights of the year for the New York Videogame Critics Circle, it's far from the only thing that they do. This organization is truly focused on giving back, mentoring students, teaching classes, and bringing in notable speakers to benefit the young people interested in the industry.
They're clearly doing something right considering the company they keep: retired Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aime joined as one of the board members, and he too contributes towards this most noble mission.
The Critics Circle also keeps the multicultural, vibrant nature of New York City at the forefront of their mission.
"Almost 10 years ago, Evan Narcisse, Andrew Yoon, Tracey John, Russ Frushtick and I began the Circle with the idea that this should be a multicultural organization. The group needs to continue to reflect diversity, as do all Awards shows, as does the game industry," he said. "What's right? You get to see people you respect receive awards for the brilliant work they've done."
Each of the members does their part in some way, and Goldberg is just as busy as any of them. And that's on top of all of the other work he does in his very busy life.
"The Circle will be present at a number of New York City community street fairs. We'll have panels at the New York Public Library and the American Museum of Natural History. We'll mentor older adults with VR," he said. "I'll probably speak at Games for Change about the success of micromentoring.
"[We're] doing good work and have good ideas."
This year's show is coming quite soon—Tuesday, Jan. 21, in fact—but Goldberg already has his eyes on the future. The tenth New York Game Awards is aiming to be a spectacular celebration of everything the New York Videogame Critics Circle has accomplished.
For something that takes a lot of planning, Goldberg describes his plans rather succinctly and in a strikingly honest fashion from a man who has seen a little bit of everything in a long and illustrious career.
"It'll be a big one with some focus on our Awards history and the history of our nonprofit. It should have a lot of cool guests. I have too many ideas. A lot of them are crap. Some are good."
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