There's always a loud, dead thud. At times, it's a scream. Sometimes it's both. The scream – in Wilhelm and other, less famous but no-less panicked tones – tells you that something mind-rendingly awful has happened, is happening, the sort of scream which can only happen when snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Boris from GoldenEye 'I-Am-Invincible' scream, as we'll come to know it, chilling in its shriek precisely because it is wholly out of the control of the person uttering it, like some primeval early warning system. The thud – accompanied, always, by a flash of black and gold – is, despite its dramatic nature, ultimately prosaic. It tells you that, once again, someone has fallen off the stage at the BAFTAs, which seems to occur with such depressing regularity that you're shocked when it doesn't happen.
Now, this is my nightmare. Falling over is both proof of our fallibility as humans, and also that evil – true, unflinching evil – not only exists but is built into the human condition, like Alex Kidd being built into the Master System II. All it takes to prove that in all of us there is pure, unquenchable blackness is the simple act of watching someone fall over, and the natural reaction to it: laughter. Joy, in many cases. Like witnessing people getting hit in the head or groin with a football, the conscious brain detaches, adrift of its social moorings, the lizard-brain behind the curtain exposes itself, and there people are, laughing at the person that fell over, no matter how painful it sounded or awful it all looked.
As I watched yet another fall at the 2016 BAFTA Games Awards, having been not three feet away from the stage last year when two people went off of it, horribly, in their moment of triumph, I sat there mouth agape, hands over face, one solitary eye peeking at the wreckage. Then, suddenly, there it was, from somewhere in the crowd: The Laugh. The Laugh is never quiet, of course. It is loud and lucid and fucking horrible. But it is expected, because this is what the video game BAFTAs, in my limited experience, seem to be about. Falling off stuff.
Admittedly, I've only actually been to two of the things, and in the years prior to 2015 maybe it really was all about celebrating the incredible developments seen in the games industry, a grand clap-fest where the great and the good and the scum were free to mingle together, forgetting everyone's names and unironically dancing in tuxedos and ballgowns to Rage Against the Machine. But the recent batting average for People Not Falling Off the Stage Hideously is not great. Three in two years is obviously three too many, and you have to wonder if it's all intentional, some sort of sick game, a punishment, perhaps, for liking video games in the first place.
The more you think about it, the more obvious it all seems. Let's look at the evidence. Firstly, despite two people shattering their legs last year in a manner wholly better suited, in terms of carnage and grimly exciting spectacle, to American Football or Stephen King novels, this year BAFTA still decided to stick with the raised stage. Now, it's not very high off the floor, this stage, which is actually more like a runway. Maybe three feet. But it's a long way down, especially if you've just hit what is probably your professional peak.
But still, BAFTA refuses to square off the corners, for reasons unknown. Perhaps there's a carpenter's strike, I don't know, but surely any sane person would look at two men (now three) careering off stage violently and think, 'you know, we should probably change that.' Then there's the booze angle: as you may know, the nominees and other attendees have a lovely champagne reception before things get started. A simple bit of pageantry, or perhaps something more sinister? Yes, yes, the classic booze pratfall. That will teach them for not only liking games, but making them. My word, if Sam Barlow fell from the stage last night he'd have killed the entire front row with shrapnel. It's like the Manchurian Candidate.
Looked at like this, it all starts to make sense. Sadly there is, of course, no overarching conspiracy: BAFTA is not responsible for anything more terrible than awarding the Best Game award to Fallout 4 and, last year, Destiny. Heinous crimes, surely, but not quite premeditated murder. And so we're left with the realisation that these people fell off the stage, were cut down in their highest moment, for literally no reason at all, which seems somehow worse. And The Laugh rides on triumphant, devouring more victims, until the 2020 games BAFTAs when, invariably, a sickeningly young game developer will fall from the stage, killing Kojima in the process. And The Laugh rides on.