Judging 2016: The Lists, Volume 3, “The Game Edition”

Playing video games is something I always wish I had more time to do, but because it requires significant mental energy and engagement, after long days of reading, writing and talking in class, I tend to opt for curling up with hot tea and a TV episode or book. Nevertheless, there were some great gaming moments from last year!

1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

As a kid, I used to sit on my mom’s lap and play video games like the King’s Quest series with her and my brothers. Now I’m all grown up, but I still love the collaborative experience of playing video games with family. That family happens to be just Josh for now, but playing games together constitutes some of our favorite date nights. This game, in particular, was a total blast. It was a fantastic end to the full Uncharted series (and yes we did also go back and re-experience the series through the awesome remastered Nathan Drake Collection that was released right before). The story was strong, and the gameplay was the best of the series yet. My only regret was how little time we got with Elena on this chapter.

2. The Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey

This is the one game on my list that wasn’t released in 2016. I stumbled across it during a Steam sale and completely fell in love. (It’s quite long so I’m still steadily working through it.) In the game you switch between two parallel (I think?) worlds: one is a cyberpunk hyper-modernist future, where totalitarian governments sedate their populace through “Dream Machines”, and the other is a fantasy-inspired realm whose human occupants are trying to eradicate any magic folks. The game is actually a sequel to two other Dreamfall games, which I haven’t played, so I’m not entirely sure how the two worlds connect, but I do know that the female protoganist, Zoe, has recently awoken from a coma and in her coma she advocated for those trapped in the dream world (due to the Dream Machines). The dream world touches both the cyberpunk and fantasy realms. However, now that Zoe has woken from her coma, she has no memory of what she saw and learned in the dream world. Kian, the male protagonist, lives in the “fantasy realm” and is a recent traitor of his fellow humans. He is now advocating for the magic people of the realm. So, the story is extremely rich and the characters are complex and nuanced. The narrative also does some really interesting critique of modernist assumptions about progress and reason through extending such ideas to their logical, dystopian outcome. So basically Dreamfall Chapters is everything I love in a game: great female characters, awesome story, good graphics, fun puzzles to solve, and some intellectual nerdiness. The only sad thing is that I have to play it on a Mac, which trips up the gameplay at times.

3. Rise of the Tomb Raider

After a long wait, the latest Tomb Raider was finally released for PS4. Josh and I played this one together as well, and it was a lot of fun though not as satisfying as Uncharted 4. The animation and world-building has advanced significantly since the last iteration of Tomb Raider, and Lara now has a better wardrobe of practical clothing. I really love her as a character, and it’s fun playing as a tough, ambitious female, but the narrative and character development was still not as advanced as it could have been. The ending was also quite anti-climatic. Nevertheless, it was still a lot of fun!

4. Lifeline

Thanks to John D. for telling me about this game. Lifeline is an iOS text-based adventure game that requires the player to make different decisions to see how the story will unfold–like a choose your own adventure. Mechanically, the game functions as a text conversation between you and the main character, Taylor, who has accidentally crashed on a strange planet and needs advice and guidance in order to survive. As such, time factors into the developments–you have to wait for Taylor to respond to your texts so several days pass as you play. The game is surprisingly addictive and immersive. I was quite fixated on keeping Taylor alive, and I was increasingly fascinated by the mysteries that this weird planet holds. Plus it was fun to play simultaneously with a number of my friends; we were all texting each other about our progress (or failures) so it felt somewhat communal.

5. Pokemon Go

And finally I can’t leave without acknowledging that I too got caught up in the frenzy that was Pokemon Go. I loved Pokemon as a kid, so running around in real life to capture charmanders and pikachus was pretty fantastic, even if the excitement was short-lived. Go Team Red!

Special Notes:
I want to acknowledge a couple of games from last year that I’m still dying to play but haven’t had a chance to yet. First, there is Firewatch about a lone park ranger in the Wyoming wilderness who stumbles into a mystery. (Which I know nothing about since I haven’t played the game yet.) This story reminds me one of my favorite Jack Kerouac narratives from his novel Lonesome Traveler about spending a summer alone in the Cascade mountains just reading and enjoying the solitude while watching for fires. Mmm lovely. Firewatch sounds a little more dangerous than that though.

And then there is the latest Witcher 3 which got great reviews. Josh played it but I didn’t have the time to play it myself…so eventually I’ll get there.
Finally, That Dragon, Cancer also came out last year. It’s an indie game that immerses you in the lives of a family whose youngest son was born with cancer. Apparently the game is life-changing and extremely profound not just from a narrative perspective but also from the perspective of the mechanics, which challenge your standard video game expectations about control and action as a player. To be honest, I haven’t had the guts to play this one since I know it’s pretty emotionally devastating…one day.

Any other good games from last year? I’d love to hear what you enjoyed playing.

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