The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

And the Winner is…

It can't have escaped anyone's notice that we're now well into the film awards season with dickie bows and sparkly frocks being dusted down for red carpet appearances both sides of the pond. But you might not be aware that the UK games industry has its fair share of razzle dazzle too. The BAFTA 2014 Games Awards nominations have been announced and a total of 17 golden masks will be awarded on March 14th.

Marc Goodchild reports...

It's a decade since BAFTA first established a dedicated Games awards as a distinct category and things have changed a lot in those ten years which is certainly apparent in this year's list of nominated titles. 

Firstly, it's clear that that games producers aren't just making shoot-em ups for spotty teenagers confined to their bedrooms anymore. Where guns and explosions were once all that mattered, studios now also talk about character development and storyline, just like their film and TV counterparts. In fact, the overall nominee slate feels like the sector has come of age, with top titles now vying for craft awards like Best Original Music, Best Performer and Best Story along side Best Game Design and Best Strategy and Simulation.

As you'd expect, last year's big blockbusters are all on the nominations list somewhere - Grand Theft Auto V, Assassin's Creed 4 and Bioshock Infinite should all get a mention, as well as the resurrected Tomb Raider that helped spawn the original UK indie community. But there are also many newbie entrants that have managed to buck the dominance of the massive franchises.

These smaller titles are definitely inclined to be a bit more experimental, in a bid to avoid the lip-synching, weapon swinging, hyper-real 3D character cliches you often get with Triple-A games. And for many of them, the app space provides a much quicker route to market at a fraction of the cost.

To pick out just a couple, the Swedish app title Year Walk has a distinctive look and game mechanic that you just wouldn't get in a traditional console game. And Finnish-made Badland proves that the side-scroller adventure games can be deeply atmospheric, and even cinematographic in parts. Two others that buck the conventional games' look and feel are Device 6 and Paper's Please. Both mix retro-chic with innovative game play.  
But when you go through the list, what does hit you is the extent to which this year's nominations appear to be older-skewing. Very few have a PEGI rating that suggest they're appropriate for those yet to hit puberty, and even one of the properties in the Family category carries a 'Teenage' warning label about Violence, Blood and Crude Humour! The back-room gamer geeks may have transformed into mature gaming grown-ups but they've yet to embrace the whole family.
So if you're after genuinely wholesome gameplay that under 13s can play (without having to be watch over them 24-7) then there are only half a dozen titles out of the fifty-strong nomination list that warrant your attention. It's hard to determine if this is indicative of a scarcity of games for this demographic, or that the economics mean younger-skewing games just don't get the oxygen they deserve. But it does feel un-naturally loaded towards the more 'mature' themed genres.
The good news is amongst the short shortlist of child-friendly titles there are a number of UK developed breakthrough properties alongside stalwarts like Rayman and SuperMario. Notably, Lego's Marvel Super Heroes is the latest brick-buster from TT Games (now owned by Warner Bros) and Tearaway is the ultimate papery adventure from Media Molecule in Guildford, who are the people behind LittleBigPlanet. Both have combined great gameplay with age-appropriate stories and mechanics and made it onto the Best British Game category nominee list. All they have to do now is see off that other UK games giant - Grand Theft Auto V.

For more information on the Games Awards, visit the BAFTA website.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)