How to Become a Juror

Monday, 13. June 2016

You can't apply to be a 'Spiel des Jahres' juror. The position isn't advertised, you can't send in your CV.

You are called up to the jury. Or, to be a little less pompous, you get asked by the other jurors if you'd like to join. Realistically it's not for everyone; being a juror takes up a lot of your time.

The day the jury contacted me was in June 2007. The phone rang and the chair of 'Spiel des Jahres' was on the line. He told me he was the chair of 'Spiel des Jahres'. And he suggested that we meet. It's a little like a job interview in a way: the two of you meet and discuss your own ideas about the post.

But there are no discussions about salary; the post of juror is an honorary post. And as everyone knows: alongside all the honour, honorary posts often involve a lot of work. The candidate needs to be made aware of this. And I was indeed made totally aware of this; I was told explicitly.

Die Jury Spiel des Jahres 2009
The 'Spiel des Jahres' Jury 2009

The jurors don't just meet on a particular day and choose the 'Spiel des Jahres' winner. Over the course of several months jurors exchange thoughts, experiences, and analysis in a private internet forum. And, if you are to believe what your fellow jury members tell you, you spend a lot of time playing games: as a juror you simply can't do this enough!

Most importantly, you need to play with people outside your immediate circle and not only in groups with the same tastes and interests. If you want to be a juror, you need to be prepared to put games at the forefront of your life, or at least your free time.

But of course that's not all. 'Spiel des Jahres' is an association, albeit a very small association which currently has just 16 members. This association arranges award ceremonies, publishes a brochure, has an internet presence, appears at trade fairs, awards grants and so on. This all has to be organised and carried out. The administrative staff takes on a part of this work but another part has to be taken on by the association's members.

A member of the association has to bring lots of time and lots of dedication, they have to play a lot and be prepared to discuss their games. The most important factor, however, is: you need to be a games critic! This is because the 'Spiel des Jahres'  jury is a critics jury.

Die Jury Spiel des Jahres 2012
The 'Spiel des Jahres' Jury 2012

How to become a games critic?

First of all: what is a games critic anyway? I often meet people who don't know, since the concept of games criticism isn't as widespread as some players would like. So: a games critic isn't someone who designs games. And a games critic isn't someone who works for a publisher and playtests games ready for their eventual relase. A games critic does what a music critic, a theatre critic, a film critic or a book critic does, only with games.

So a games critic plays games and then publishes his or her opinion of them. Their target audience is consumers, for instance radio listeners; newspaper, magazine or blog readers; video channel subscribers and so on.

And so it follows that to become a games critic, you need a medium in which to publish your games criticism. When I began writing reviews in the late 90s, this still meant finding a newspaper that would publish my articles. Today's game critics, on the other hand, can easily find an audience online.

The type of publication is nevertheless crucial: the 'Spiel des Jahres' award is aimed primarily at a less-informed audience. Critics specialising in games for experts don't usually recommend themselves as jurors. This is even less true of those who are fans rather than critics and who don't have sufficient distance from the objects of their reviews.

Also required are consistency and experience. And – very importantly – independence. 'Spiel des Jahres' is an independent critics' award. No-one who designs, develops or sells games, or works at a games publisher, can become a juror.

One more thing: someone who writes reports on games isnít automatically a critic. Criticism involves analysis, evaluation, comparison. To be a critic, you need background knowledge. You need to be a die-hard gamer and the longer you've been one the better.

Die Jury Spiel des Jahres 2016
The 'Spiel des Jahres' Jury 2016

So how do you become a gamer?

My theory is: you don't become a gamer, you just are one. People play games from birth. Gaming is a vital way of finding your place in the world. It is human nature to play games, just some of us stop at some point along the way.

For some of us, life is entirely taken up by work and family. Others lack anyone to play with. Yet others have simply lost the joy of playing games. But equally, many people stick with it or rediscover games as an adult.

A special passion for games can spring from oneís own personal tastes, by one's living conditions, circle of friends, social life or job. It's an individual thing and doesn't need to be discussed further here. Here it's enough to say: a gamer is someone who plays games.

And if you want to rediscover the joy in gaming or play something different, you could try the games recommended by the 'Spiel des Jahres' jury. Because this is precisely why we make these recommendations: to promote and spread the joy of gaming; to help as many people as possible to play.