2013 has been a year of consistent turmoil and change for the industry we love. Most visibly, we’ve seen the clash of new consoles and the foundations for a new generation of in home play; and, online play. Less advertised, are the changes those like myself are most excited for. In that, I mean the changes to how representation, communication and feedback should be handled on the internet. In the combined efforts of marginalized individuals within the industry to oppose and illuminate the industry’s own oppressive atmosphere; in the growing demand for comment and feedback sections that were not a minefield for that very marginalization; and within the games themselves, whether they be pleading for change and recognition or representing the very thing being fought against - change was the talk of the year. For the first time since its inception, games are being challenged to mature; and, it is the start of something wonderful. For now, though, I’ve got a list of games that I loved throughout this crazy year.
Favorite Game Released Before 2013, Played in 2013: Papo y Yo
Had I played Papo y Yo last year, it would quite possibly have taken Thomas Was Alone’s first place spot. Put plainly, Papo y yo invoked my first catharsis through game playing. It challenged more wholly the notion that games can not be something therapeutic, for both players and developers, than any I’d yet seen. More tangibly, though, it was the closest I had felt to a creator’s vision; and, changed entirely the types of games that I wanted to play.
Papo y Yo is a beautifully realized adventure tale full of progression and reprise surrounding the cooperation and endurance of the very thing you wish to relinquish. While I related very personally to the designed abusive father figure, Papo could easily relate to anyone who has ever had to let go of a loved one. There are plenty articles floating around that lend better, more cohesive thought on this title; all I can do is highly recommend it.
5. Risk of Rain
It took me a while after FTL to catch onto another rogue-like that I enjoyed as much; and it seems that I just require something space themed. That aside, Risk of Rain is incredibly fun. The game’s gorgeous pixel art figures, detailed backdrops and varied species inhabiting each world provided great spectacle for the fun combat mechanics. Risk of Rain was the first rogue-like that compelled me enough to unlock each playable character.
Risk of Rain is most fun with friends, flat out. That said, the games largest disappointment was its online play; as local play was limited to two players, one via game pad and one via keyboard (which is just uncomfortable). The vast majority of my online interactions with the game simply failed out of the gate, but when they did connect I had a blast.
4. Castles in the Sky
I did not read many children’s stories, or have my parents sit by my bedside reciting lines until I dozed off. My dad read me Daredevil and Batman; for which, I am entirely grateful. I could not imagine a better nightly ritual to spend with a son or daughter than Castles in the Sky. As I said before, this year has been one of exploration within video games as a space; and the idea of presenting a lullaby with a simple, easily understood and accomplished platforming hook without a fail state is sheer brilliance.
The game is poetry, and thus, presentation is everything. Castles in the Sky, from start to finish, took me roughly five minutes. That said, the game felt no need to rush itself; spacing each stanza precisely as players leap from cloud to cloud chasing the lullaby carried by balloons and beautiful music. Those five minutes were some of the best I could have spent on anything, this year.
Creation, the most simple way to describe art of any form. To sculpt something, from nothing, and realize it to the fullest potential you imagine; yet, leave room enough for others to fill. Proteus not only epitomizes this ideal, but inspired me to attempt the same. I’d never played a game that made me want to make one more than Proteus, and that feeling grows with each visit to that world.
If visiting beautiful, vibrantly colored worlds teeming with life and self discovery; you owe it to yourself to play Proteus.
2. Depression Quest
While not the first on my list, Depression Quest stands tall as the most important game of this year. It was a game I’d been afraid, for reasons easily inferred by any who frequents my work, to play. If anyone has been to group therapy - whether it be a poetry reading, narcotics anonymous, alcoholics anonymous, or a depression or mourning relief group - would understand the power behind the words “You are not alone”. Depression Quest waves those words proudly, for all to see. A beacon to those needing to hear it, and an incredibly informative tool for those who have never experienced it.
“Depression Quest is a game that deals with living with depression in a very literal way. This game is not meant to be a fun or lighthearted experience. If you are currently suffering from the illness and are easily triggered, please be aware that this game uses stark depictions of people in very dark places. If you are suicidal, please stop playing this game and visit this link to talk to someone.” - Depression Quest, Introduction page.
1. Gone Home
The common theme of my personal list, are games that evoke strong, lasting emotion. I’ve felt a lot of ways about games, as I’m sure many people have. Scurrying around the quaint home, checking out punk rock mix tapes and reading JFK sci-fi books, I was reminded of familiar emotions. The mistrust of a mother stuck between a possibly failing marriage and possibly unfaithful relationship with a colleague. The fear and disgust for an abusive great-uncle, attempting to pay repentance for his foul deeds; and, understanding for a father who endured that abuse, and influenced much of his life. The sting of parents pushing their own fears, worries, prejudices and pain headlong into their children’s lives; bringing pain and misgiving out caring, fearful intentions. I had seen these, whether in games or my own life, or both. I’d never played a game that made me want to fall in love.
As I stalked the lonely manor, understanding how each closed door symbolized a separation between family members; how a father’s den and regular area were filled with things long since finished, just unable to find closure; how a mother’s passion for plants and cultivating life only found a home in an unfinished, secluded part of the house and away from what she cared for most; and how, through all of this segmented, buried, pain there was love. In Sam existed the determination to lay to rest her father’s demons, escape her mother’s inability to be honest and earnest with her own feelings, and just love and be loved. I am genuinely beside myself with happiness for this game’s existence, and recommend it entirely.
Honorable Mentions: Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, Gunpoint, Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten, But That Was Yesterday (Browser)