It’s that time of the year again. The Game Awards, an awards show that’s ostensibly about giving awards to the biggest games of the year, has come and gone. A continuation of the Spike Video Game Awards from years past, The Game Awards is peppered with occasional celebrity guest talent and reveals for hot new games. It’s more of a spectacle than an actual awards show.
I really don’t enjoy watching these shows. Especially during the Spike era, which was peak “dudebro TV” where one year they literally had models body painted to look like the games being awarded. I wrote about some of the more “notable” moments of the awards show back in 2012 – updated in 2019 – that you can read about here if you wanna see how I felt about them, and how I feel about The Game Awards now.
So instead, I’m gonna head back into the past. To look into the days when video games were just considered a technical marvel and not quite a billion-dollar industry done to shill sneak previews like it’s a mini-E3. An awards show that was only attempted once, yet is quite the embodiment of the 1990s: Cybermania ‘94.
Airing on TBS in late 1994 (natch) and filmed at Universal Studios Hollywood, this award show was the prototype to the future Spike VGAs and Game Awards. In 1994, video games were starting to gain more traction in the United States, especially in the era of 3D graphics and full motion video. The show was made during the peak of the multimedia trend of the mid 1990s, and it shows throughout the whole event.
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Our hosts for this event are actors Leslie Nielsen and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. A rather bizarre combo to be sure, which was probably bolstered primarily by the difference of age between the two actors. Both of them were still fairly popular – Nielsen had recently starred in The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, and JTT was on one of the biggest sitcoms of the ‘90s, Home Improvement – but the two couldn’t be a worse fit. Nielsen’s age means he’s clumsily talking about future technology as if he’s impersonating Phil Donahue like in The Naked Gun 33 1/3, and Taylor Thomas has the problem of just being awkward and inexperienced next to Nielsen. Granted, it’s probably better than the later game awards where we got David Spade or Joel McHale, but not by much.
We start Cybermania ‘94 with The Gate to the Mind’s Eye, the third in a series of computer-generated videos that were fairly popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Afterwards, the show starts in earnest with Nielsen and Taylor Thomas standing in front of a computer as a Hillary Clinton impersonator tries to turn it on, Nielsen realizing it’s not plugged in, plugging in the power and having the computer explode in front of the “first lady of the United States,” giving her a cartoonish explosive face before walking offstage. This introductory segment is a strong indicator of what the show is going to offer.
In-between the award segments, there’s a handful of moments throughout the special called “Cyberstories” that highlight future technology that was being featured in everything from video games to television to film. This seems a bit out of place, considering Cybermania is structured to be a video game awards show.
Cutting away to interviews about the computer graphics for The Mask seem a bit out of place here. It’s like the producer for Cybermania ’94 wanted this event to be about all the technology, even if it didn’t fit in context with the rest of the show being mostly about video games.
This is more apparent in one of the later Cyberstories, as one of the segments talks about hacker culture, where a bunch of hacker dudes under online pseudonyms such as “Emmanuel Goldstein” and “Dr. Who” talk a bit about the whole hacker scene, which seems rather out of place compared to the rest of the show. This is probably the low point of the whole broadcast, and not surprisingly, it’s at the halfway point.
Throughout Cybermania ‘94, there’s occasional bits to where they cut to a place on location and have fairly lesser-known celebrity stars talk about stuff tangentially related to video games with bystanders either playing games or mugging towards the camera. The first one of these had actor Shawn Thompson of the short-lived sketch comedy show The Newz talking with random kids about Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam while occasionally giving out cheat codes, like how to unlock Akuma in Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Another on location segment involved a SimCity LAN match between one-year Santa Barbara mayor Hal Conklin and noted child prodigy Michael Kearney. The last major on location segment had Andie Karvalis ask random kids what they thought who would win this year’s Best Game.
One of the bigger surprises was seeing a relatively unknown Will Arnett among a bunch of gamers in Paramus, NJ as he shouted out hot tips for Double Dragon V, the forgotten and pretty bad fighting game in the series. I doubt Will made a huge mistake appearing on this, but he must’ve had some connections to land an appearance here, because Arnett was pretty much a nobody by the time this special aired. At least he had more claims to fame compared to Andie Karvalis.
Speaking of celebrity talent, there’s a relative who’s-who of ‘90s stars here: Hilary Swank, Matthew Perry, Lark Voorhies, Rene Auberjonois. Shelley Duvall appears to give “special achievement” awards for edutainment titles. At one point, they have wrestlers William Regal (here as “Lord Steven Regal”) and Brian Pillman do a brief versus match with WCW Superbrawl on the SNES before getting into an actual fight on stage.
Even Charles Fleischer, the voice of Roger Rabbit, presents an award. And naturally, he’s doing a really bad comedy routine about dirty jokes in binary before presenting Best Comedy Game. I expected there would be some amount of star power with this event, but who they did get is rather impressive.
The rest of the event is fairly straightforward: It often starts with a gag with either Nielsen or Taylor Thomas, an award with guests from your favorite 1990s TV shows and movies, and either remote segments giving random cheat codes or the aforementioned Cyberstories.
Since the show was taped at Universal Studios Hollywood, they naturally get in a few references to Universal properties throughout, such as a segment where Nielsen basically turns into Frank Drebin from The Naked Gun, investigates a car alarm going off on his DeLorean as meets a guy dressed like Doc Brown from Back to the Future Part II, and eventually concludes into a gunfight on the now-defunct Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show, all set to a spy theme that’s supposed to sound like the theme to The Naked Gun.
It’s a bit out of place, and really stops the show dead in its tracks, especially since Jonathan Taylor Thomas then randomly gives cheat codes to Mortal Kombat II on the SNES before Nielsen reappears, acting as if he was unaware of what happened. It’s just completely awkward all around.
As for the awards themselves, well.. they’re a bit all over the place. The first category for “Best action-adventure” has some of the notable games you’d expect like Doom and Super Metroid, yet oddly there’s FMV games in the category like Critical Path and, even stranger, Super Street Fighter II.
There’s a lot of particularly unusual games nominated for these awards, and it just seems strange throughout. There’s an award for “Best Handheld Game,” but footage from their console versions are used instead. Indeed, some of the awards combine educational multimedia programs with actual games, which doesn’t really make sense to me. It’s kinda hard to take your award show seriously when you can’t keep things like that straight, y’know.
Since this was made in the early days of the internet, naturally Cybermania ‘94 talks about the internet multiple times, and one of the awards could be voted on if you had Prodigy, one of the biggest ISPs of the time. If you didn’t, you could spend a few bucks voting on them via 1-900 numbers instead.
But it didn’t just end at voting. There was even moments where some of the celebrity guests could talk on Prodigy during the event, which was pretty neat. As someone who had Prodigy for about a month before switching to America Online, I remember these kind of live chats while a show was airing live and thinking they were pretty neat. Though nowadays, we’d just do this all through Twitch.
Naturally, it isn’t an award show without a musical number, and we get an electronic tune from Herbie Hancock, complete with a lot of ’90s video effects. Naturally he presents the Best Musical Game award alongside other notable keyboardist and musician Thomas Dolby, which features a lot of ‘90s interactive games featuring from artists like Peter Gabriel and Prince. Honestly, those games deserve to be talked about more, there’s not enough coverage of that weird multimedia FMV boom of the mid ‘90s.
Cybermania ‘94 as a whole just screams early-to-mid ‘90s in terms of its production. Dutch angles, frequent color changes, occasional video effects like dithering, slow motion, and delay effects; to even random out-of-context clips from movies peppered in for flavor.
As someone who grew up during this period, seeing this gives me a blast of nostalgia that I didn’t know I even wanted. I’m honestly amazed this didn’t make a comeback in the past decade, it just seems like a good time as any to go back to those days of ridiculous, superfluous video production.
After the results of the SimCity match are revealed, we finally get the award for Best Overall Game as voted by Prodigy members and 1-900 callers. A final speech by the winners, and a bunch of thank yous for watching, roll credits.
Oh, and this event was sponsored by the Double Dragon movie, which I heard is pretty bad. I mean, unless you wanna see Robert Patrick in something that’s not Terminator 2, or see a pre-Iron Chef America Mark Decascos kick butt. Heard it was not one of the better video game adaptations.
That’s Cybermania ‘94: Lots of sketches that don’t really land, awards that don’t make a lot of sense, unnecessary cheat codes, and random stuff about technology while gawking at computer-generated movies.
Yet despite some of the bad sketches and questionable awards, I found Cybermania ‘94 to be a nice blast from the past. It’s a dumb little show that I’m glad that it existed. Certainly more enjoyable than the pageantry of the current Game Awards, that’s for certain.
If you wanna watch the thing yourself, the entirety of Cybermania ‘94 is up on YouTube for the time being, recorded from a repeat broadcast from later that evening. It’s definitely worth watching, just to see how unabashedly ‘90s it all is. I know it’s the 2020s and nostalgia cycles usually go back about two decades, but I want the ‘90s video aesthetic of weird angles and oddball video effects to make a comeback, damn it.
As far as I know, despite them proudly saying this is their “first year,” I’m pretty sure there was no Cybermania ‘95, at least of what I could find online. It wouldn’t be until the Spike VGAs and Gfouria a few years later did video game award shows appear on TV again regularly.
While it’s not an amazing awards show, Cybermania has a charm that the current game award shows just don’t have to me. I’ll take 100 Cybermania events over another Game Awards where Josef Fares embarrasses himself again, honestly. At least Geoff Keighley didn’t have his hands on this o-
Oh wait, he did. God damn it, is Geoff Keighley involved in every god damn video game awards show?!
Since Cybermania doesn’t have a Wikipedia article, here’s a list of the awards and their respective winners if you’re curious. Otherwise, you can it watch the show yourself if you wanna find out without spoilers. I’m not gonna stop you either way. Winners are in bold.
- Return to Zork
- Jump Raven
- Critical Path
- Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers
- Tomcat Alley
- Super Metroid
Best CD-ROM Game
- The 7th Guest
- Return to Zork
- Escape from Cyber City
Best Portable Game
- Disney’s Aladdin
- Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
- Home Alone
- Donkey Kong ‘94
- The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
(Note: For Aladdin and Home Alone, they used footage of the SNES versions, rather than the Game Boy/Game Gear versions. Members of Sega go up to accept the award, despite the footage came from the SNES version, which was developed by Capcom. This was more of a mess than the narrator confusing Wario with Mario in his description of Wario Land.)
Best Comedy Game
- I’m Your Man
- Dennis Miller: That’s News To Me
- The Wacky World of Miniature Golf
- Bugs Bunny in Rabbit Rampage
- Dating & Mating
Best Art and Graphics In An Interactive Product
- Oceanlife II and III
- Space: A Visual History
- Macworld Interactive, Volume I and II
Governor’s Award for Best Achievement In Virtual Reality
- Iwerks Entertainment
- XPLORA1 (presented as “Peter Gabriel’s Explorer”)
- Video Jam
- Prince Interactive
- Freakshow: The Residence
- Uptown Blues
Best Strategy/Simulation Game
- SimCity Enhanced
- Dune II
- Microsoft Flight Simulator 5
- Castles II: Siege & Conquest
- Forever Growing Garden
Special Achievement in Education
- Ruff’s Bone, Living Books
Special Achievement in Individual Growth and Development
- Addiction and Its Processes, American Institute of Learning
Best Sports Game
- NBA Jam
- FIFA International Soccer
- NHL ‘94
- Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball
- Caesars World of Boxing
- Sports Illustrated 1994 Multimedia Almanac
- A Great Day at the Races!!
Best Actor, Female
- Grace Zabriskie, Voyeur
- Eileen Weisinger, Critical Path
- Tonia Keyser, Man Enough
- Virginia Caper, Gabriel Knight
(Note: Voyeur co-star Robert Culp presented the award.)
Best Actor, Male
- Robert Culp, Voyeur
- Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek 25th Anniversary
- Tim Curry, Gabriel Knight
- Christian Erickson, Megarace
- Mickey Rooney, A Great Day at the Races!!
Best Overall Game (as voted by members of Prodigy)
- Mortal Kombat
- NBA Jam
- Super Street Fighter II