To create a new Hugo Award category, a formal proposal must be submitted to the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) Business Meeting, where it can be be voted on by any Worldcon members who attend. If the proposed category passes, it must be ratified at the next Worldcon's Business Meeting the following year. Below is the proposal submitted to the Dublin Worldcon Business Meeting in 2019. The proposal can soon be seen in its formal form on the Dublin Worldcon site in the Business Meeting agenda.
Short Title: Best Game or Interactive Experience
Moved, to amend the WSFS Constitution for the purpose of creating a new Hugo Award category for Best Game or Interactive Experience by inserting a new subsection after existing Section 3.3.9 and revising sections 3.2.6, 3.3.7, 3.3.8, and 3.3.9 as follows:
[underlined text indicates proposed additions to the WSFS Constitution]
3.2.6: The categories of Best Novel, Novella, Novelette, and Short Story shall be open to non-interactive works in which the text is the primary form of communication, regardless of the publication medium, including but not limited to physical print, audiobook, and ebook.
3.3.7: Best Graphic Story. Any non-interactive science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form appearing for the first time in the previous calendar year.
3.3.8: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. Any non-interactive theatrical feature or other production, with a complete running time of more than 90 minutes, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year.
3.3.9: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. Any non-interactive television program or other production, with a complete running time of 90 minutes or less, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year.
3.3.10: Best Game or Interactive Experience. Any work or substantial modification of a work (such as a game or interactive narrative, demonstration, or installation) first released to the public in the previous calendar year in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects in any medium where player/user choice, interaction, or participation significantly impacts the narrative, pacing, play, or experience of the work.
Provided that unless this amendment is re-ratified by the 2023 Business Meeting, this Section shall be repealed; and
Provided further that the question of re-ratification shall automatically be placed on the agenda of the 2023 Business Meeting
Proposed by: Ira Alexandre (Attending Member), Claire Rousseau (Attending Member), Jason Stevan Hill (Attending Member), Rebecca Slitt (Attending Member), Travis Ricker (Attending Member), Lauren Scott (Attending Member), Anna Blumstein (Supporting Member), Renay Williams (Supporting Member)
Commentary by Ira Alexandre: Games have always been part of WSFS culture. WSFS members play games, write about games, and make games. We have entered the age of Steam, YouTube, and Twitch; mobile games and the indie explosion. Hundreds of WSFS members create and play analog games, telling stories by touch and by chance, by word and by wit. The tools to breathe life into the branching paths of an interactive novel have never been more accessible and sophisticated.
We need an award that recognizes the proliferation of all types of games and interactive media, of all types of creators and players in the WSFS community. It is time for an inclusive games Hugo Award.
Thirteen years ago, in 2006, there was a trial attempt at a "Best Interactive Video Game" category, and there have been calls for games categories since then, even as the gaming scene has evolved greatly. This proposal differs from past attempts: It's not just for video games and it addresses the issue of modifications — such as DLC and expansions — using the concept of "substantially modified" already present in the Best Related Work category. The proposed definition names games specifically while leaving room for other qualifying media, preserving both translatability and breadth.
A full report with 60 pages of arguments and case studies is available at report.gameshugo.com
Games do serious speculative fiction work in ways that set them apart from works in the Best Dramatic Presentation and Best Related Work categories. While games are currently eligible there, they simply do not fit. Aside from competing with big budget films and TV series, games would also have to be sorted by runtime, which is not a reasonable metric for most interactive media. More importantly, putting games in any of these categories ignores the unique nature of interactive storytelling that blends narrative and play. Games are uniquely suited to push the limits of interactive worldbuilding, expand the ways we can tell stories, and interrogate the nature of narrative and play. There is SFF work only games can do.
It doesn't matter if it's audiovisual, analog, immersive, or prose. If it's interactive, it's made differently, it's crafted differently, it's consumed differently. We approach the work in a different way; we shape it even as it shapes our experience. This unifying element of all interactive experiences deserves to be recognized.
Interest in games has grown substantially since the 2006 attempt, as demonstrated by writing by WSFS members and games programming at Worldcons. There have been multiple calls for a games category, and many prominent WSFS members write about or create games. Between 2006 and 2018 there have been 353 gaming-related program items at Worldcons, and the percentage of games-related programming relative to all other programming has tripled. Games programming has accounted for 6-9% of all programming at some of these Worldcons, up from less than 1% at the 2006 Worldcon where the Best Interactive Video Game category was trialed.
Games as a medium have also changed and matured in both content and accessibility. There are dozens of worthy games to nominate each year. Rather than being dominated by expensive AAA titles, the medium is saturated with shorter indie and mobile games that cost the same as a hardback novel or even ebook novella, and mobile distribution platforms such as Steam have made gaming more accessible than ever. Interactive fiction ranges from inexpensive to free, and analog games are often either communally owned or accessible on platforms like Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator, sometimes for free. For those who can't or don't want to play the games, "guided tour" videos like Let’s Plays or "movie versions" of games abound on YouTube and Twitch. Becoming an informed voter does not have to cost a lot or take a long time.
Moreover, there's a fair degree of consensus every year on what the "best games" of the year are. Nominations will cluster to a sufficient degree to make a strong longlist. The chart below shows the "Game of the Year" finalists and winners across the four general video game awards. Of the 8 finalists below, 4 are indie titles. And even within this broad consensus, there will be a much greater chance for analog and interactive prose games to shine -- rather than being too broad, the category uses the common element of interactivity to recognize great SFF work.
Finally, the substantial modifications clause lifts a burden off the Hugo administrators. Modifications are part of gaming craft and culture, whether digital or analog, and can be experienced directly as part of the work. A truly inclusive game award must acknowledge the speculative fiction and fannish work being done here. With this clause, Hugo administrators don't have to legislate common cases like large expansions and top-to-bottom remakes. Less substantial modifications are simply less likely to be nominated: gamers can tell the difference.
WSFS members play games, write about games, make games, and are inspired by games. We have always been here. We have always gamed.