By the time you read this, you’ll probably know what or who has won the 2013 Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming. I know already, in fact I’ve known for a few weeks because I’m the guy who counts the votes. And while I’m not going to give anything away in case someone sneaks a last-minute bet with some gullible friend, I will say that there were only a couple of votes between the winner and second-place; and the DJA has a long track record of not giving the award to the favourite.
I think this year’s DJA shortlist is one of the strongest we’ve ever had. It’s marvellously diverse—a small-press RPG that tackles some serious subjects, a genre-creating card-game, a history of the game that created the RPG hobby, a unique convention for games designers and enthusiasts, and a web-video series that has brought tabletop gaming to a whole new audience—and this is exactly the kind of diversity that the DJA was created to celebrate. I had a very hard time deciding how to cast my ballot (we use the Single Transferable Vote system, as the original bespoke voting system proved too easy to game, which is a bad idea when games designers are present).
There is one Diana Jones Award awarded each year, and we give it to the single best thing we can find in gaming. Some years it’s like chasing a needle in a haystack. Other years, like this one, you can’t see the hay for the needles. Back in 2000 I set up the Diana Jones Award because I was fed up of the Origins Awards, which at the time was the major award for the games industry but had become a relentless, myopic, product-driven popularity contest. There were no surprises: winning was as simple as motivating your company’s fans to stuff the ballot boxes in sufficient quantities. I felt there was room for an award that championed what was great about gaming, wherever it came from, and whether it sold five hundred copies or five million.
Setting up an award, it turns out, is ridiculously easy. Work out what the award is for and how it’s going to operate, ask a few friends to help out, get some kind of logo or trophy that looks neat, send out a press release and you’re away. The administration infrastructure of the DJA boils down to an invitation-only mailing list, a website, and an annual party the night before Gen Con opens. The inestimable Matt Forbeck has organised all the parties since the very first on a sticky evening in Milwaukee, and has arranged the sponsorship for them too. That is pretty much the full extent of the organisation. The biggest problem we have each year is me remembering when to ask people to send in their nominations.
This is the fourteenth year that we’ve presented the Diana Jones Award. The original ‘we’ in the year 2000 was a substantially different group of people to the ‘we’ of 2013: there’s a hardcore of members but others have come and gone, and we periodically invite new folk to our group of what I once described as ‘games industry alumni and illuminati’. I can’t tell you who is on the committee because we agree to keep each other’s identities secret, but it is a pleasure to share a mailing list with them, and occasionally I look at the list of other DJA members and wonder what the hell I’m doing among these amazing and talented people.
And of all the things I’ve done in the games industry, the Diana Jones Award is the one I’m proudest of. Creating a business model that allowed British and European RPG publishers to compete with Americans for the first time, creating the story-games genre by accident, giving a first break to now-famous artists and writers—that’s all well and good. But I think the Diana Jones Award has made a difference in gaming, by setting a notional high-water mark and encouraging people to aim for it. Whatever you do in this industry or this hobby, the DJA says, if you do it well enough then you will be recognised for that.
How much of a difference the DJA has made, I really don’t know. But I’ve had lovely messages from people who were shortlisted, telling me how important this recognition was to them, and how much of a spur to their ambition it has been. Really, winning the DJA boils down to getting to have a silly trophy on your mantelpiece for a year, and knowing that a bunch of people whose identities you don’t know think you do awesome stuff. But in a few hours Matt Forbeck will pick up a microphone and tell someone who has worked incredibly hard to produce something truly excellent in gaming that their effort has been recognised by their peers, and that’s enough reason to justify the award’s existence.
I won’t be at the award ceremony. I’ve not been to Gen Con for over ten years. But I’ll be there in spirit. I think it’ll be a good one.