It's that time of the year when the Game Awards roll around to try and provide the industry with a glossy video game alternative to the Oscars, but what you might not know is that it wasn't the first attempt to combine video games with a big-budget televisual award format.
No, that honour instead goes to TBS and the Interactive Academy of Arts & Science's Cybermania '94, an event that took place on November 5th, 1994 at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles.
Today, the award show makes for an awkward and interesting watch. Not only because of the bizarre cast of celebrities that were booked to appear at the event (everyone from Leslie Nielsen to the Barbarian Brothers and Jonathan Taylor Thomas) but because of the baffling comedy segments that appeared in between the awards themselves and the often bewildering choice of winners.
The best sports game at the event, for instance, was given to Caesar’s World of Boxing that year, while the best comedy game category saw the Wacky World of Miniature Golf take home the award. In the immediate aftermath, games publications like Computer Player criticized the event, suggesting that because multi-media companies had to pay to enter their games, awards weren't given out based on merit but on how much publishers were willing to pay to see their games on Turner Broadcasting.
Influential video game journalist Bill Kunkel, meanwhile, wrote of the event in Electronic Games:
"I’ve performed many valiant acts in my time as a game journalist […] but never have I had to endure anything like TBS’ horrendous Cybermania ’94, the first televised attempt to integrate electronic games and the tired TV award show format."
The event didn't just shock and surprise game journalists. Multiple award winners speaking to Time Extension told us that they didn't realize it was going to be a televised event until they turned up on the night. Dan Feinstein (also known as Danny Ray) was a producer at Acclaim at the time and recalls:
"Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam, they were both up for Game of the Year that year — I didn’t even know that there was a thing before that — but the producer Asif Chaudhry and I were sent off to LA to pick up an award. And because there hadn’t been any awards before, we thought we were just picking it up at somebody’s office and shaking their hand, and taking it back home.
"We were directed to go to Universal Studios — and this was overnight. So they flew us out and we went to Universal Studios and we were dressed in t-shirts and torn-up jeans and they direct us into this big theatre with I don’t know how many hundreds and hundreds of people in monkey suits and women in gowns. It was like people in the movie industry and anyone who owned a game company.
"I was like, ‘Well, I don’t think we’ll have to go up there, what are the chances of us actually winning anything?’ We won Game of the Year.
"We had to go up in our ripped-up jeans and t-shirts and accept the award from Leslie Nielsen [and Jonathan Taylor Thomas from Home Improvement]. Beautiful spokesmodels brought us onto the stage and off and we had to say something off the top of our heads. We had no idea we were walking into an event like that.
"Anyway, they threw us off of the stage into a tent behind the building and cameras are going off and people are sticking video cameras in our face, asking ‘What do you think of violence in video games?’ I said, ‘I’m all for it’."
If you fancy watching the award ceremony in full, thanks to the YouTuber Learn To Counter, you can watch it over on YouTube. You'll also recognize a familiar name in the credits: the future Game Awards founder Geoff Keighley as an interactive product specialist.