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Vampire Survivors absolutely deserved to win Best Game at the BAFTAs

It achieves more with a handful of sprites and some clever psychology than most AAAs do with infinite budgets.

^Stay tuned for Jim's video essay on the genius of Vampire Survivors.

Teasing around the edge of the mob, moving in concentric circles so as to maximise the surface area of your garlic aura's damage zone. An instinctive, brushing motion. Methodically scrubbing arcane horrors from the world as you would coffee stains from tooth enamel. Since the mobile release, both rituals conducted at once, either side of bed time. The life of a Vampire Survivors Enjoyer is, in essence, spiritual.

For those of us who have experienced its euphoria, it makes absolute sense that it can hold its own in a prestigious awards ceremony against the big-hitters of the day. Winning the gongs for Game Design and the coveted Best Game crown, it has seen off competition from shoe-ins like God of War: Ragnarok and Elden Ring, as well as Playstation favourite Horizon Forbidden West, the mobile juggernaut that is Marvel Snap, and other indie darlings like Cult of the Lamb and Stray.

Vampire Survivors' win came as a shock to many, not least the development team, who seemed genuinely surprised to be on stage.

To put it lightly, this has baffled many. There are tweets aplenty questioning the decision, from people who liked Vampire Survivors as well as people who are currently dismissing it as a derivative slot-machine. The thinking generally goes something like this: Vampire Survivors is a cheap, basic, throwaway game, whereas God of War/Elden Ring/Horizon (delete as appropriate) is a proper game that I paid £60 for, therefore this decision is wrong and possibly corrupt.

There is an impulse within this hobby, I believe, that does arbitrarily distinguish between ‘proper’ games and ‘throwaway’ games, and it usually – perhaps unwittingly – goes down budgetary lines. It’s hard to accept that Vampire Survivors might possibly be considered the best game next to God of War, fundamentally, because Vampire Survivors doesn’t have Chris Judge from Stargate in it: instead it has a garlic bulb that looks like a tiny willy and balls.

Chris Judge is a beautiful man who deserves all the praise he gets, but there's plenty of room to celebrate other works too. Image credit: BAFTA

It’s understandable. For a long time I would make excuses for Vampire Survivors when discussing it, caveating my appreciation for it with phrases like “it’s a great distraction”, “a palate cleanser”, “a good coffee break game”. And I’m not the only one: its Steam reviews and recommendations are awash with such reduction. But you wouldn’t caveat your love of God of War: Ragnarok by adding “it’s good if you want to spend six hours on a couch”, or “I like to put it on as a treat once I’ve taken the bins out”.

Vampire Survivors is timeless in both directions. It could have been an Amiga game (it frankly would have been the best Amiga game by some distance). And yet, there’s something intrinsic about it that belongs to the 2020s – an audacity, perhaps. Some combination of its goofy horror, disaffected writing, and being a spiritual embodiment of the meme about wanting shorter games, with worse graphics, made by people who are well compensated for their time (one hopes).

When Vampire Survivors starts looking less like a video game and more like an MPEG glitch, that's when it's getting really good.

It does so much with so little, that it almost makes big games, with enormous budgets, teams in the thousands, and development creeping toward measurement by decades instead of years – games that I absolutely love, just to be clear – seem kind of… silly? Folly? An unnecessary amount of fuss? Because the inescapable truth is that, for all the time and money that’s been leathered into rendering Kratos down to individual skin follicles, or recreating the entirety of Ptolemaic Egypt as an elaborate playground for stabbing men, or whatever absurd technological marvel you can think of that a AAA studio has lavished untold toil and treasure on, those games rarely have moments that feel as good as getting a five-item chest in this daft little roguelike doesn’t even have an attack button.

For someone, like myself, who adores those big, spectacular games, obsesses over them, considers them the jewels of the medium almost, Vampire Survivors is a mockery. An affront. A thumbed nose and raspberry at a very high percentage of the things I love. And, for someone who is middle-aged, and starting now to properly grapple with the idea of ceasing to be, Vampire Survivors is abruptly on the nose about the inevitability of Him coming to take you away. How you can make all the right choices, and have the luckiest run possible, yet still, in the end, succumb to the void.

Time is the fire in which we burn, a fact that Vampire Survivors forces you to reckon with.

It may just be the greatest game of all time. It certainly deserves to win armfuls of prestigious awards, especially against such esteemed competition. Sometimes, the best works of art are just simple ideas executed with confident perfection. That simplicity leaves nowhere to hide: with no dazzling mocap acting or technological wizardry in play to elevate the work beyond its basic structures, the core experience must be absolutely flawless, utterly pristine, in order to connect with people on a profound level.

Many games expend hundreds of millions of dollars, and shocking amounts of human lifespan, on achieving significantly less than Vampire Survivors. That is why it deserves to be celebrated.

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