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Spotlight feature: 20 years of BAFTA Games


The BAFTA Games Awards celebrates its 20th anniversary next year. Ahead of the first ever public announcement of the awards longlist on Thursday, we spoke to three members – Tara Saunders, Charu Desodt and Sam Hughes – about BAFTA’s journey through games, how its initiatives benefit the development community, and how games have evolved as a narrative medium to tell meaningful stories in unique ways.  

On Thursday this week, the results of the first stage of member voting for the upcoming 20th BAFTA Games Awards will be made public for the very first time.  

The publication of the longlist is a fitting way to close out a year that has provided compelling evidence of the remarkable creativity and breadth of the video game industry, and to mark two decades of the BAFTA Games Awards ahead of the ceremony on 11 April next year.  

Entries have already been open for several months, which BAFTA’s games committee chair, Tara Saunders, says was designed to allow more members – almost 1,200 from across the industry – to play a wider selection of titles. Showcasing the longlist, meanwhile, “allows a lot of people to get involved and for BAFTA to be in the conversation around the top games of the year,” Saunders adds. 

It’s an opportunity, she says, for BAFTA to become more deeply involved in the end-of-year award debates, as well as “to get the membership excited about award season as well, because then they’ve got more exposure to what is in that final jury stage.”

The reality is, whether it’s film, TV or games, we’re all storytellers

The move demonstrates how BAFTA’s work in games has consistently striven to evolve over the past two decades, reflecting an industry that is itself in perpetual motion. Certainly, both the BAFTA Games Awards and the wider industry have come a long way since the very first ceremony, from more platform-centric categories to awards that represent the distinct crafts that go into the more diverse and sophisticated interactive experiences being made today.  

Recognising the specialisms involved in contemporary video games is vital, she says, highlighting 2020’s introduction of the Animation award as one of the ways the Awards is adapting to changes in the medium. “To elevate and give that a platform helps to highlight the very specific craft areas behind the scenes of making games.” 

Today, the Awards has separate awards for Performer In A Leading Role and Performer In A Supporting Role. It’s not only a recognition of the increasing numbers of outstanding performances being delivered by actors specialising in the medium, but also emblematic of an increasing convergence between games and other media, as seen in interactive films such as 2018’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch – as well as the video game work of Sam Barlow, who last year won the Narrative award for Immortality, a dark mystery requiring players to sift through footage from three fictional movies. 

As an organisation that spans several entertainment industries, BAFTA is uniquely positioned to take advantage of that kind of cross-pollination, Saunders says. “The reality is, whether it’s film, TV or games, we’re all storytellers. And quite often the skillsets that we use for that are similar. We have seen animators that have transferred between sectors – that have done films and then come back to games.” Indeed, with the film industry increasingly reliant on real-time technology, with Epic’s Unreal Engine used in everything from previs to VFX, it’s only likely to become more commonplace.   

We’ve hired people directly from the film industry ... because we wanted to get their unique perspective

That’s a sentiment echoed by Charu Desodt, studio head at INTERIOR/NIGHT, developer of interactive drama As Dusk Falls – itself an example of how “the boundaries between the industries are becoming blurred”, as she puts it.  

Named as a Breakthrough Brit in 2014 – 15 years after first entering the industry as a programmer on popular karaoke game Singstar, for which she created its pitch detection technology – Desodt says the award provided her with both confidence-boosting validation and an incentive to be more ambitious, as she seeks to challenge industry norms through her work. 

As Dusk Falls, for instance, draws influence from the storytelling language of prestige TV dramas, or films like Dog Day Afternoon – “where you put characters in pressure-cooker situations and ask players to live with the decisions that they’ve made,” Desodt says. “We don’t shy away from controversial themes.”  

It reflects the maturation of a medium in which creators are increasingly tackling challenging subject matter – a development BAFTA acknowledged with the introduction of the Game Beyond Entertainment category in 2018, designed to spotlight titles with a social purpose. “Rather than those games being seen as niche and not mainstream, BAFTA [provides] those games with a kite mark of excellence,” Saunders adds. 

Desodt says that BAFTA’s networking events allowed her to benefit from the expertise of other entertainment industries – and, later, to recruit from them. “We’ve hired people directly from the film industry and taught them the skills and trade of being cinematic artists within As Dusk Falls, because we wanted to get their unique perspective,” she says. “BAFTA gives us the opportunity to have these conversations, where we can make each of the industries more accessible to each other and demystify exactly what goes on – from budgets to the type of skillsets needed, the types of technology that are employed or shared.”  

BAFTA being a convener is really important

Indeed, after a period of reduced activity resulting from the pandemic, the past year has seen BAFTA Games ramp up its event schedule, from online workshops to in-person sessions and masterclasses, as well as networking and socialising events, at both its headquarters in London and expanding further around the UK and beyond. 

“For the first time, BAFTA has gone on the road, going to where the industry is rather than [vice versa],” Saunders says, in a year at which the organisation has had an increased presence at Develop:Brighton and Gamescom. It’s all in service, she adds, of fostering a more engaged community, which has extended into the BAFTA Games Discord channel – in turn encouraging a wider conversation around games as members surface personal discoveries. 

The channel, too, has helped those unable to get to events feel more involved in ongoing conversations around them. “It keeps the discussion alive between the events, and connects people in very different locations,” Saunders adds.  

As well as making a concerted effort to bring its membership community together after an enforced period apart, BAFTA has sought to shine a spotlight on the most important issues faced by the industry. This year saw BAFTA collaborate with Safe In Our World for the inaugural Games Mental Health Summit, while chose to host its first HR Summit at BAFTA’s headquarters at 195 Piccadilly in London. “These events help promote fairness, equity and excellence in the industry,” Saunders explains. “They encourage industry best practise and help facilitate conversations around how the industry should be, to conquer some of the challenges it’s faced in the past. BAFTA being a convener [for this] is really important.” 

[The scholarship] reignited my passion to stay in games and work in the industry

Alongside these, BAFTA Games continues to offer routes into the industry for budding designers and supporting emerging talent. Scholarships and bursaries are helping to provide entry points for a broader array of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, while the pioneering Young Game Designers initiative is now into its 14th year. 

The importance of these initiatives is outlined by one of its beneficiaries. Sam Hughes, voice actor and audio lead at Metacore, says his BAFTA Scholarship back in 2013 was a pivotal moment for his career, setting him on the path to where he is today. 

Having deferred an application to do a Masters in sound design at the University of York because he couldn’t afford the tuition fee, Hughes found himself unexpectedly out of work when he applied again. “I got an email, saying the course was now eligible for [BAFTA’s] Prince William scholarship, threw my name in the ring, did some interviews and I was one of the first three to get the scholarship,” Hughes says, adding that it “reignited my passion to stay in games and work in the industry.”

Ten years later, having been invited by Metacore to build his own recording studio from the ground up (“that’s an opportunity you don’t turn down”) he’s keen to pay forward the kindness he was shown. “I volunteer to be a mentor wherever possible, to give back to the community that kind of gave to me. BAFTA tends to be very active with these mentorships and the initiatives they have, which is really nice.”  

Games are becoming very influential in our cultural choices and our habits

All of these events and activities serve a further purpose. The BAFTA brand, Desodt says, helps to legitimise and destigmatise an art form that is not yet fully recognised, or even misunderstood or maligned by the mainstream media. 

“There’s a huge diversity in the themes of games that are being made right now,” Desodt adds. “The types of people that we want to be attracting, and audience sophistication is changing as well. And games themselves are becoming very influential in our cultural choices and our habits. We all have a gaming device in our pocket all day long,” she says.  

“We have a huge breadth in games now,” Saunders agrees. “And I think why the BAFTA Games Awards are so great is that they really surface those.” Alluding to last year’s Best Game winner, she adds, “I love that an indie game like Vampire Survivors can go head-to-head against a [blockbuster] console game in any of our categories. And I love the surprises as well.” 

There are sure to be a few of those when the BAFTA Games Awards longlists are revealed on 14 December, after what has been a triumphant year for BAFTA Games and the creativity of the industry at large. 



BAFTA – the British Academy of Film and Television Arts - is a world-leading independent arts charity that brings the very best work in film, games and television to public attention and supports the growth of creative talent in the UK and internationally. Through its Awards ceremonies and year-round programme of learning events and initiatives – which includes workshops, masterclasses, scholarships, lectures and mentoring schemes in the UK, USA and Asia – BAFTA identifies and celebrates excellence, discovers, inspires and nurtures new talent, and enables learning and creative collaboration. For more, visit BAFTA is a registered charity (no. 216726).

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