Games of 2017, or: I Cried A Lot

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This started out as a bit of a top ten list and then… spiraled? A lot of these don’t feel comparable to me and a list feels impossible, but 2017 has still been a year of good games and experiences, so… here we go, finally dusting off the blog I’ve been meaning to post to for over a year now. It’s a good reason to get back into poking at writing.

I have not played many games this year. Instead I found myself returning to the same titles over many months, both wishing I could disentangle from them and experience something new (maybe read a book for fun?) and enjoying their worlds and the people I was exploring them with. Destiny 2 and Overwatch are both here for that reason. Overwatch isn’t even a 2017 game, but I’m gonna claim it went through enough dramatic changes this year that it’s like a whole new game compared to Overwatch 2016. Mostly because I ended up a Moira main.

Then there were the months-long back-to-back playthroughs of Breath of the Wild, first on the WiiU and then on the Switch. Or the games I know are probably great, but which I never got around to finishing — Edith Finch, Horizon Zero Dawn, Nier: Automata… Maybe in 2018, which is exactly what I said to myself about my unfinished good games of 2016 when the new year rolled around. (I will come back to you, Oxenfree.)

The games I did play and remember, though? Holy shit, what a fantastic year. I have a blog post half-written about how Breath of the Wild got me through one of the more severe bouts of depression I’ve experienced in a long time, and how I never thought I’d experience that sensation of being lost in a wide world full of things to discover again. Overwatch for many months became a social touchstone for me, with weekly friend nights where we’d all show up and catch up, and I continue to play it with friends on a regular basis.

Destiny 2 brought my fireteam and friends together and I had enough confidence for the first time in my life to feel like I could try raiding without sitting on mute and worrying the whole time. I have some thoughts about that entire start-from-scratch narrative they tried but, again, that’s probably a blog post in the wings. (Spoiler: they’re mixed, but follow-up spoiler: I loved a lot of it. The best writing is still in the lore and flavour texts.)

Way that was? Come again never. But stick together? Could be better!

I spent a lot of time in the late summer playing Flame in the Flood, too. The Switch release, so still totally a 2017 game for me. That game did a lot to remind me of what I like about games, too, and how surprising and satisfying games that end can be. (Yeah, there’s another blog post sketched out there, but mostly about dogs and utopia and hope and… Disney World.) That game felt like a partner for a good few weeks, too, and I fell hard for the soundtrack and the world design. It struck a balance between “oh god fucking damnit” and panic, and the relief of getting out of some situation I’d gotten myself stuck in by the skin of my teeth. If I didn’t make it then hey, at least the dog always did.

Dream Daddy happened and I spent my downtime on a trip to Michigan trying to balance the outward and blatant homophobia and intolerance I was experiencing in person with the characters in the game and being reminded what it was like to look at something and not feel immediately rejected, or like I was trespassing. (Michigan was great, on the whole, but it was a hell of a contrast). It’s not often I feel like a game isn’t just fucking with me when it includes queer men more like me than not.

In a similar vein, Night in the Woods made me cry because I have never in my life been faced with a character like Mae, who reminded me so much of me that I didn’t think I could handle it. A friend insisted I keep at it, and I’m glad I did. I’m still trying to sort out my reaction to that game and what I think about it, and waiting on a second playthrough. This is the first time I’ve written even that much down and not just sat and mulled it over. The meandering, the friendships, the town, the people, the derealization, the shapes, the anger, the depression, the forgetting. Spending your college classes locked in the dorm and unable or afraid to leave and having to move back home. You know. Those things. I’m gonna save my thoughts until after I make it through Weird Autumn but Mae gets the really special shoutout for character of my year.

2017 has been a weird year for me (I mean, for everyone, it’s sounded like). It started in January and didn’t relent. I moved to a new city. I started a new job, while trying to keep up with my old one and keep chipping away at a PhD I’m still not sure I can finish. My health had spiraled to shit last year, and 2017 has been a lot of peaks and valleys in recovering, and slowly pulling myself out of that pit with a lot of help from my friends especially. And some more minor help from my cat. And maybe a doctor. I’m trying, bit by bit, to be more confident about writing shit, and publishing shit, and even just talking shit without putting it behind a locked door, and for all of those the year’s now been a roaring success. But that’s a route I can trace parallel to the games I played this year in a way I really can’t say about any other time in my life, from Overwatch nights in the beginning, to Breath of the Wild in the spring, to the run-a-lot-of-strikes send-off my fireteam and I gave Destiny just before D2 dropped.

A lot of my research concerns things like hope and the future, and ways games open pathways to being able to imagine better alternatives, or at least allegorize it and hold space open for difference. Night in the Woods, Breath of the Wild, and Flame in the Flood all circle around things like hope and change in very different ways but I think part of the reason they hit me so hard this year especially was because they each found a way in their own worlds to craft space for hope, and a sense of a future, and I should stop now before this turns into a much longer post.

Other honorable mentions for 2017, if I’d actually managed a list: Pyre, which I’m still getting through but which is amazing and surprising in ways I didn’t know to expect; Cook Serve Delicious 2 for smoothing out what I wanted from the first CSD and letting me decorate my restaurant as horrendously as I want; Animal Crossing Pocket Camp, for rekindling the sense of absolute joy and escapism I pine for from the days of Stardew Valley and New Leaf, even if it is really not the same thing to me.