By Darren Franich
Updated November 17, 2011 at 05:31 PM EST
Batman Arkham City

Spike’s Video Game Awards don’t exactly have the cachet of the Oscars, the Emmys, the Video Music Awards, or your town’s annual hot dog-eating contest. But videogames are an important part of our cultural landscape, and there’s a lot to appreciate in the just-released list of VGA nominations. The five games select for Game of the Year might not be “original” in the classical sense — there are two sequels, a threequel, a fivequel, and a hexakaidecaquel — but taken together, they form a rather inspiring panorama of the current videogame moment. Portal 2 is a brain-teasing puzzle, while Uncharted 3 was a better-than-Hollywood action spectacle, but both games share a sly sense of humor. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword represent two polaric spheres of the RPG genre — the former a maximalist go-anywhere romp, the latter a minimalist architectural poem. (I’m in hour 16 of Skyward Sword now — expect a review this weekend.) And Batman: Arkham City was a relentless revelation, absorbing decades of pop mythology into one vivid open-world experience.

That’s a hell of a list — I’d take two hours of those games over The King’s Speech any day. The rest of the VGA nominations are a mixed bag. There’s lots of VMA-ish overlap, since categories include Best PS3 Game, Best XBox Game, and Best Wii game. And there’s a lot of padding: I can’t believe that anyone at Spike actually played Lost in Shadow. (Heck, I can’t believe I played Lost in Shadow.)

Still, if you’re looking for some inspiration, check out the nominations for Best Independent Game and Best Downloadable Game. The retro-funky Bastion is the clear favorite to win both awards — it should probably also win Best Original Score — but with names like Minecraft, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, and The Binding of Isaac, those categories show a potentially fascinating vision of the future of videogames. Maybe the industry won’t always be making sequels. Or maybe they will. But hell, I’ll take these sequels over Transformers 4 any day.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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