The Game Awards began and ended with an unwanted guest on stage. At the show’s finale, it was an interloper who somehow managed to linger on stage during Hidetaka Miyazaki’s acceptance speech for Elden Ring’s Game of the Year win, before being allowed to approach the mic and ranting about his “rabbi Bill Clinton”. At the start of the evening though, it was Christopher Judge who was made to feel unwanted during his acceptance speech for Best Performance, and we all owe him a lot more respect.
We know The Game Awards is not truly about the awards. Several are given out during a whistle-stop tour during the preshow, and further awards are rushed through by Keighley reading the noms and winner out to camera throughout the main event – often with his back to the audience. With the exception of a couple of awards in the preshow where the winner is told ahead of time and lingers just off camera, these rushed awards feature no applause, no award collection on stage, and no speeches. Best Performance is different.
The show opened with Best Performance, giving it a sense of prestige, and it was presented by surprise guest Al Pacino. Even for an award show that’s not really an award show, Best Performance is given reverence. As TheGamer watched the show live for our rolling coverage, many on the team thought Judge was a lock. I was not so sure – Sunny Suljic, who plays Atreus opposite Judge’s Kratos, is given more to work with in God of War Ragnarok. Meanwhile, Manon Gage performed three whole movies in Immortality, with the addition of a fourth and arguably fifth character when you consider she also played the actress behind the scenes and her transformation. It was a tight race, and Judge was a worthy winner.
Judge literally broke his back for Kratos, recovering so he could continue to play the role he made his own in 2018, and has always been a force of passion in the industry. He exudes positivity, but with a grounded sense of quiet dignity rather than the fake and forced enthusiasm we see too often. He won the award, sure, but The Game Industry (and the media at large) gave him zero respect. I felt ashamed of us watching Judge’s speech.
There was a curious moment as Judge walked to the podium. He reached into his inside pocket, as if to pull out a speech, then decided against it. The speech he gave instead was ad-libbed and heartfelt, and better than the ceremony deserved. Of course, it was also quite long.
Judge’s speech went on for eight minutes, which is a dang long time for an award speech. At somewhere like The Oscars, they play you off after around two minutes, but Judge highlighted all the ways The Game Awards is a thoroughly unprepared award show. There is no one waiting to play you off nor to play music during your walk to the stage – cheaper to simply pipe it in. There’s only five speeches a night, why do anything else?
Eventually music did pipe in, but Judge simply spoke over it. He was smelling his roses, and no music (nor a hugely ill-advised flashing sign saying ‘Please Wrap It Up’ flashing all around the theatre just off camera) was going to stop him. And frankly, why should it? I had to stay up until 4AM to cover the show, so I’ve got good reason to want to keep it sipping along, and I can think of 17 things I’d cut ahead of Judge’s speech.
As well as random skits like Keegan Michael Key, one of the funniest and most charismatic men in the world, being forced to read out what felt like an anti-joke about Toad’s hat, there were several advert breaks during the show. It’s no secret that The Game Awards is really The Games Trailers, but even away from the World Premieres, we had generic adverts for the likes of Mario Strikers: Battle League and Grub Hub. Advert breaks in an advert showcase. And what was that waffle about vaping?
The point is, in a usual award show, yes, Judge’s speech might have been a little long. Everyone deserves their moment, and you don’t want to eat into someone else’s time. But this is not a usual award show. It live-streams and runs until it runs, there’s no TV time slot to fill (making those advert breaks even more disrespectful to the viewers), and very few winners get a speech anyway. Judge was not up there trolling on the mic. He wasn’t doing an unfunny skit or arrogantly talking about how great he is and selfishly hugging the spotlight. He was treating the award with a reverence it frankly has not earned. The man was deeply honoured and humbled to be up there, and nobody gave a fuck. It’s just so sad and cruel.
Keighley made no less than three Judge barbs across the rest of the ceremony, and this is a man who avoids any sort of controversy and never goes off script. Three times he broke away from that to say ‘hey that guy who cares he won one of our biggest awards sure is stupid’. Let’s assume speeches should be two minutes long. Christopher Judge therefore took an extra six minutes in a three-hour long showcase stuffed with advert breaks with no justification beyond profit, and in which we had a joke about Toad that didn’t land, the Muppet Animal talking about how he would make a game called Animal Crossing (Animal rules, that skit sucked), and in which Troy Baker stopped during his award presentation to say he’s seen The Last of Us TV show and y’know it’s kinda good I guess.
Six minutes. For his once in a lifetime moment where he showed how humbled he was by our appreciation of him, how much Kratos means to him, and treated a TGA statue not as a paperweight nor a sales gimmick to slap on a trailer, but as an honour that moved his soul. Six minutes. Less than the total running time of the ad breaks. And we couldn’t let him have it.
I’ve often been troubled by the journalistic reaction to The Game Awards. The jury is made up of journalists, but far too many approach the event as enthusiasts, desperate to see what new shiny trailers are revealed and dismissively voting for whatever big games they’ve heard of. Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope in Best Family Game? Give me a break. And our reaction to Judge’s win was telling too – memes about how long he took popped up throughout the show as a means to vent our collective frustration that they weren’t getting to the good trailers fast enough. Judge deserves our love, and he got it – we picked him. But when he accepted that love humbly and with warmth, we turned him into a joke.
The treatment of Judge and the cloud it left, both through Keighley’s zingers and the constant jokes and commentary from press who act like fans rather than critics far too often in an industry that desperately needs to get held to account more, soured the night. The Game Awards’ rejection of its own name over chasing viewership figures and profit already gives me pause, but our inability to imagine that someone actually cares about being up on stage is completely disillusioning. Christopher Judge might have deserved Best Performance, but we do not deserve Christopher Judge.
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