Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Diana Jones Award nominees - dubious recognition

A Wil Wheaton tweet called my attention to the nomination of the YouTube Geek and Sundry show Table Top for the 2013 Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming.

The what?

I must admit I had not heard of this award.  But of the five nominees this year, I am well acquainted with another of them, Love Letter (designer Seiji Kanai, artists Andrew Hepworth and Jeffrey Himmelman, publisher Alderac Entertainment Group).  So I thought it appropriate to investigate past winners of The Diana Jones Award, which has been around for 13 years now:

  • 2001  Peter Adkison, founder of Wizards of the Coast
  • 2002  Ron Edwards and his role-playing game (RPG) Sorcerer
  • 2003  both the RPG Noblis, Second Edition, and
    Jordan Weisman, one of the founders of FASA and FASA Interactive
Now that I see the list of winners, I'm not surprised that I'd never heard of this award before.  Fully seven of the twelve previous award winners were RPGs, their designers, or books on the subject.  The fact that Ticket to Ride and Dominion won this award would have been lost amid all the other acclaim that those two blockbuster games received since their inception.  

A little more investigation reveals something about why the award is so obscure to those of us outside the RPG community:

What is the Diana Jones Award trophy?
The Diana Jones trophy was originally created by the UK office of TSR Hobbies in the mid-1980s, to commemorate the expiration of that company's licence to publish the Indiana Jones Role-Playing Game and the subsequent destruction of all unsold copies of the game. It was liberated from TSR Hobbies by forces unnamed and subsequently came into the custody of a member of the Diana Jones committee.
The fact that this award traces its history to TSR Hobbies sheds some light on its RPG focus.  The  narrow span of winners relative to the game industry and community as a whole evinces an RPG bias of the award committee.
Who is Diana Jones? 
Nobody. The only visible part of the Indiana Jones logo within the trophy has been burnt away so that it reads Diana Jones, and the award takes its name from that.
Okay, so it would appear that the Diana Jones award is an exercise in fun by a small but enthusiastic cadre that seeks to recognize someone in the game community each year in a lighthearted but meaningful way.  It would probably be a mistake to dwell too heavily on the significance of the award in the greater context of gaming as a whole.  I won't worry too much about who wins it this year, or who is nominated next year.  

[Edited for tone:  The last paragraph as originally posted was rather disrespectful and condescending, as indicated by the comment from James Wallis, below, one of the principals on the Diana Jones Award committee.  I re-wrote this paragraph entirely, and deleted some other unnecessary text elsewhere in the article, to convey my criticism in a more respectful way.  I hope that James and the DJA committee will accept my apology.]


  1. I saw this too and was wondering what the deal was. Shame on me for being lazy and not looking into it, but thanks for your sleuthing.

  2. Thanks for your kind comment about the Diana Jones Award shortlist at my website—rather different from your tone here. I apologise that thirteen years ago I didn't come and ask you personally what you wanted to see in a jury-led games award, I apologise for trying to make the games hobby a more interesting place where RPGers pay attention to board-games and vice versa, and I suggest that if you want an award that's more focused on board-games then you should do what I did and start one. It is very cheap and ridiculously good fun to do, except for the rare occasions where people take umbrage where there's none to be taken.

    1. James, thanks for commenting. First of all, I should be the one to apologize. I went back and read my post, and I realize I got a little condescending in my tone. Your committee doesn't deserve that kind of attitude from an external observer.

      For your part, there's no need to apologize for doing something fun and attempting to contribute to the gaming community by setting up an awards committee. But don't expect everybody to comment favorably on it when you do it the way you want to do it.

      Different people approach the hobby with different expectations and preferences. I suppose you might have preferred that I not criticize it and just keep my opinion to myself, but I think a public award deserves public scrutiny, and I hope you appreciate that perspective.

      I commented favorably on your site because your committee had picked some genuinely good nominees this year. That's my opinion, and that's what I voiced.

      I expressed disappointment in the DJA generally here because I don't think it lives up to the charter that is expressed on its website. Again, that's my opinion, and that's what I voiced here.

      A list of mostly RPGs doesn't (in my opinion) live up to the standard of advancing the hobby as a whole or having the greatest positive effect on gaming. It simply indicates a preference for RPGs. And that's fine; RPGs are great, they're hugely popular, and they are rich in imagination and creativity. But they're only one segment of a broader gaming community, and the DJA, in my mind, extends considerably less attention to the rest of the hobby.

      For me, a game award constitutes an endorsement of a game that should stand out among the hundreds that are released each year. It serves to indicate special recognition and invites acknowledgement of its unique contribution or outstanding quality.

      So I stand by my criticism that the DJA isn't all that it cracks itself up to be. I understand (and Wil Wheaton made clear) that the DJA is a big deal to those who are familiar with it. It just isn't what I look for in a game award.