It was a busy night at this year's Spike Video Game Awards, with no fewer than a dozen highly-anticipated world exclusive trailers and reveals. From Mass Effect 3 to Uncharted 3, and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to SSX, there was something for everybody. While the impressive graphics of the trailer for Batman: Arkham City and the unveiling of a few more seconds of Nathan Drake at the beach may be what people take away from the event, there was one moment in the show which stood apart from the crowd.
One moment when video game fans around the world got a real taste of seeing their passion acknowledged as more than a hobby: when Jose Gonzalez took to the stage to perform his song "Far Away," featured prominently in the Game of The Year, Red Dead Redemption.
Those of you who have played the game most likely don't need to be told how unique and poignant the song's inclusion in the game was, and for many the song will forever be linked with their time spent in the boots of John Marston.
We can only guess just how many players immediately took to the internet to find out the name of the song in their cowboy-shooter, only to discover an artist and genre of music they had never seen or heard of before. Video game scores are certainly an overlooked portion of the industry, and Rockstar San Diego's decision to go with a completely separate vocal number at a key point in their game was a bold one.
For those unfamiliar with Red Dead Redemption, the song requires a little context. As John Marston, the player is placed into the role of a former outlaw who has retired from a life of crime, and wishes only to live quietly with his wife, and finally be a father to his teenage son. Before that can be done, his family is taken by Federal Marshals who demand that Marston hunt down his former partners in crime. Only then will they let him live without restraint.
After having spent several hours roaming across the southern United States, John makes his passage across the Rio Grande into Mexico. A fierce shootout ensues, but upon arriving on the shore the player mounts a horse, and rides up revealing a rich Mexican landscape of vast canyons and sandy mesas. It is at this point that Jose Gonzalez's "Far Away" begins to play:
Players expect to hear musical shifts or swells when arriving in a new territory, but nothing like this. The same tactic was used later in the game for a similar effect, but nothing could match the performance and placement of "Far Away." Even serious gamers who cared less about music and more about shooting had to take notice of the track, if only for how much of a departure it was from previous titles under the Rockstar banner.
Red Dead Redemption had no trouble bumping into a few different genres and artistic styles on its way to monumental sales numbers, and as a result the face of the game came to help define an entire decade of gaming. Even though some of the production team was let go upon completion, the game's praise is a testament to their skill.
The musical choice is a good indication of how much thought went into many details of Red Dead Redemption, so it's no surprise that it was named the best game of 2010. The game may have been filled with shootouts, executions, and even buffalo-hunting, but even a casual viewer would acknowledge the moment as an artistic one. Not just for a video game, but in any medium. If you have yet to play through the scenes in question, then we've provided a video to make sure the magic of the moment can be fully appreciated.
If you've already played through it, then prepare to get goosebumps all over again:
The "Far Away" sequence will undoubtedly stand the test of time, if only remembered as the most unexpected display of an artistic flourish. We'll leave that judgment to history, but there are few other examples of both music and gameplay being used to create such a strongly evocative experience.
Video games have received a bad rap when it comes to a form of art, and it wouldn't have been a surprise to hear people voicing the opinion that "it was a terrific song that happened to be in a game." But the performance of the song alongside footage, action, and dialogue from the game showed that the game and the song fit together in a very intentional way.
The message then was clear: one of these forms of expression isn't superior to the other, but linked to form something greater than they could be alone. That is the purest expression of art, and thanks to Jose Gonzalez and Spike, video games were given a stage to prove they could be included.
Our hats are off to both Spike and Gonzalez for putting the performance together, and airing at least one section of the show that can likely be exempted from criticism. People can feel however they like about the show itself, but combining Academy Award-like introductions to nominated games with rambling drug jokes stuck out like a sore thumb at times.
In a show that was filled with highs and lows, and host Neil Patrick Harris doing his best to bring some sincerity to various game plots, it's easy to criticize the night as a whole. But in an evening that didn't seem to know what to make of itself, and eventually became more focused on announcements than actually honoring developers, the completely respectful presentation of the performance by Gonzalez stood as an undeniable tribute to the best game of the year.
We hope that next year's VGAs continue the trend of using the night to celebrate not just games to get excited about next year, but games to remember and praise. Given the dual nature of the show itself, it's unclear whether next year's show will mature into the serious discussion of video games as art, as it did at times, or fall back into the haze of Dorito bags and Red Bull cans of its origins.
For the sake of the show, game developers, the awards, and gaming in general, we can only hope that Jose Gonzalez's performance is just the first sign that hard work by talented artists is beginning to be recognized in any medium, even video games.
Who knows, perhaps we'll look back on the Spike Video Game Awards 2010 as the first step into a whole new age of the recognition of video game as art.