Thursday, May 30, 2013

How to not hate Anita Sarkeesian

Feminist writer and media critic Anita Sarkeesian has a well-known name in gaming circles. She was less known before she launched a Kickstarter to raise money to make a series of videos examining tropes and women in videogame culture. She aimed to raise six grand and got $158,000 instead. She also got harassment of every type via every venue, including a game called "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian" where you clicked the screen to punch her face until she appeared bruised and bleeding.

It's important to note that this uproar took place before Sarkeesian even started talking. This was the reaction to her saying she was planning to discuss these topics.

Her second video just came out in the series that her Kickstarter funded, and even though she chose to disable the comments on the video, it was pulled from YouTube for "violating community guidelines." It has since been restored.

Anita is not perfect. Her arguments are not flawless. Sometimes, certain approaches she takes are not the same as the approaches I would take. I'm less concerned about Anita as a role model and more about what it is she is trying to do. Shining a light on something ugly and frightening is something humans characteristically avoid in all things, not just in cases involving women's issues. But revealing those things, and drumming up the courage to look at them and potentially make a decision to alter our actions to do something about them, is essential for any kind of growth.

In a thread on my Facebook today, Sarkeesian was called "A shrill woman who keeps harping on the same topics." These words made me instantly envision a young boy whose mother was asking him to do something he didn't want to do. Then the voice doing the talking becomes "shrill" and discussion becomes "harping."It's easy to see how simple it would be to become angry and sarcastic in response to words like that -- they are critical and meant to hurt feelings.

So perhaps you hate Anita, or what she's saying, or both. But somewhere in you, there is some twinge, some tiny feeling that maybe you are missing out on something. Or maybe you don't want to fight back, but you don't know what else to do. And you sit in front of your computer feeling not so sure about any of it anymore.

This is the ideal time to try a different approach.

Separate the words from the person.

Let's just say, for a moment, that instead of watching Anita's video series, you're reading the same ideas in a book (and there are dozens on the subject of feminism, and a handful on women's role in games as well). Are you still angry about them? You may be. If so, you can focus your hatred on the author of that book, or any of the other books. But notice how you feel when you're angry: insulated, seething, closed. If that feels bad, consider that there are other options, and other ways to react.

Be aware that anger means you are no longer listening.

Anger has an effect on us, as described above -- it limits our ability to process information, makes us say things we shouldn't, and physically alters the body by raising our blood pressure. Be aware that when you are angry, your ability to discuss an issue mindfully has significantly dropped.

Ask yourself what is triggering you.

If you get angry when you watch Anita's videos, what about her approach triggers you? If you're like "She's a bitch!," there's a reason why you think that (and see above). Try writing it down. If your reaction is "She is wrong because..." write that down too. If you're angry, there's another feeling behind the anger. If you're feeling brave, you could take a look and try to see what that feeling actually is. Do you feel that she is talking to you when she talks about men? Do you feel offended that you are being generalized? Knowing your real stance is a foundation you can stand on. Lashing out wildly is not a solid foundation.

Know the history.

"Why are all these women so mad?"Start here. Still interested? Try here. Want to know how it feels to have lived in this culture your entire life? Open an OK Cupid account, use a photo of a pretty woman as your profile pic, and read your inbox. Sit by a construction site and watch women get catcalled. Pretend that woman is your sister or your mother. By the way, it's happened to both of them hundreds of times already and you just didn't know about it. Rinse. Repeat.

Consider the source.

Anita holds a Master's Degree with credentials in Social and Political Thought and a Bachelor's in Communication. What that means to me is that she has a more structured approach to those topics than I do, since I have never been educated in those topics. That does not mean her every word is gold, but it does mean if I am open minded, I may learn some things from her that I did not know. Some of them may help me to form more of my own ideas.

This rule also goes for the commenters, the "haters," and even the men that made the game where you beat her. Before you react to any of them, consider them. Who are they? What are their backgrounds? Do they have the ability to participate in discussions with rational discourse? If not, why are you engaging with them?

Be kind to each other.

You can, even on the internet, be kind. To others, even when they get angry, by choosing not to respond or to gently end the dialogue if both or all participants are not open. If you need to block someone, that can be a kindness too -- it's how you protect yourself when a situation has gone too far. But if you can abide in a difficult situation or discussion, stay in it, learn something from it, by all means, you should. Putting aside anger and listening can cultivate compassion and make you realize you really don't know everything. And that's a wonderful state to be in. It makes you open.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why I won't buy the Xbox One

The Xbox One certainly looks like a major technical achievement when it comes to home entertainment. In fact, it does so much stuff it really has no right to call itself a gaming console at all -- and that was very much on purpose, as was evidenced by how little gaming actually figured into Microsoft's presentation today. We were shown a console that doesn't even need a remote control to shift between options. Instead, we speak to it, and it reacts to our commands in less than a second.

In addition to playing games, it also allows us to watch television, access movies, split our screens and Skype someone while we watch or play something on the side, buy digital content, and wirelessly sync itself with all of our other devices. It promises a life that flows so easily, we never need to strain or make any effort. Everything we might want will be fed to us.

In other words, Microsoft will make it easier than ever for us to divide our attention between multiple forms of entertainment, meaning that for each time we do so, our ability to be present lessens just a bit more.

As I watched this device's introduction, which seemed like a bit of "Minority Report" dropped into my world as I know it, I divided my own attention between the presentation and my Twitter account. I work in news, which means I usually am plugged in to no less than three chat clients, two email inboxes and five to ten websites at a time, so when I've only got two things going on, it feels as if I am actually paying a decent amount of attention to both of them. Or so I tell myself.

My friends and colleagues were blowing up Twitter with the kind of feedback that you can only relish if you've participated in the game industry for a period of time. Some were fairly straightforward about their take on Microsoft's announcment.
Some journalists felt that Microsoft was taking a step in the wrong direction.
And then, there was the financial reaction, which might be more telling than anyone's opinions.
As impressive as the Xbox One is, I doubt I'll buy one. Even as I type that, I laugh a little -- who wouldn't want such an intuitive, impressive device to be the heart of their entertainment space? I'm not shutting myself down to that, not one bit. In fact, I'm really not even put off by the idea that the console is "always listening," as The Verge pointed out. My cell phone can already track where I am at any given time. You can either throw away all your modern devices and live in a cave or accept that this is a part of our society and enjoy what it has for us.

The main reason I decided I wouldn't want the Xbox One had nothing to do with today's presentation. It only served as a reminder that Microsoft are still, and have always been, uninterested in women. Men buy their consoles and  devs design men's games for them. It's a thriving market, and much bigger than the percentage of women who are interested in gaming. They can't be blamed for doing it. But there's some part of me that feels like the efforts towards making television programming is the best they can do at including women in their demographic. Cause hey, chicks like TV.

The other reason I don't want the Xbox One is that, quite simply, it offers too much at one time. That sounds like the opposite of a problem, but I've had rising concerns about distraction in my gaming life lately (and in fact, in my life in general). Personally, I find myself less drawn to the big budget fanfare and more to quiet, smaller productions that are telling stories in a way that is unconcerned with meeting a quota. Kentucky Route Zero perfectly embodied that, and I'm sure other titles will do the same. What felt the best playing that game was that it had my absolute attention. I didn't check Twitter or run to Facebook in the middle of my play time because I was bored or distracted. It held me rapt, and for that few hours I played episode one, I was completely focused on having one pure experience.

Will Sony offer something similar in a few months when the PS4 is unveiled? They might. But I am sure that whatever they offer, it will likely include a wider demographic in its sights. And thats why I'll remain a Sony fan. I appreciate being considered.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sugar Crush! The Saga of Facebook Gaming

A few weeks ago I had started to notice that Facebook friends were playing an awful lot of some game called Candy Crush Saga. While I've played my share of Facebook games, very few hold my attention for long. In fact, I will even admit that I hold some silent, closely cloaked disdain for them that I rarely will admit to harboring (well, at least until this point, where I have admitted it aloud).

Modern peer pressure is a funny thing. In high school, people had to talk you into trying drugs or sneaking out past your curfew. In the Facebook age,  you don't even need people to urge you -- all you have to do is see enough people post about a thing before you end up clicking it, pure curiosity being enough to drive you to see what its all about. And even when I finally clicked the link to bring me to the Candy Crush Saga app, I was kind of grinding my teeth a bit. Gamers that respect themselves (and what THAT means I cannot tell you) don't play this drivel, I told myself. It's a match three game that tries to get you to spend money to buy power ups. It's so cheap. So COMMON.

I played the introductory levels, all the time waiting to be bit by this bug that had apparently infected so many of my friends and their friends. And I saw exactly what I expected to see: a preset path dotted with levels, a ranking system that allowed you to score more to achieve more stars per level and beat your friends' scores, and a whole lot of options to spend money on buffs. And of course, the blaring reminder each time you beat a friend, and the option to gloat to them about it via a post on their Facebook page. Nothing vastly innovative happening here.

Some days went by and I didn't feel any desire to go back to the game. I downloaded it on my phone too, but felt a bit dirty playing it and deleted it soon after. And then a friend played it on his phone in front of me for a while and I watched him play, never feeling particularly aware or interested to play it myself.

The next day, I played for hours.

As I played, I thought about a variety of things. One of them was my own take on "dead air" games, which means a title that takes little to no thought and or/effort to participate in. For me, most Facebook games fall into this category. They can be picked up at anytime, easily forgotten, and easily returned to. They don't require any of the normal cycle that a shelf (or even a downloadable) title may have to go through in order to catch a consumer's eye. They're free, and they're embedded right in the middle of the world's most-used social network.

I hate dead-air games. That's because I like to think. But I also recognize that there's a need for them. They have a calming (read: numbing) effect. They let people feel like they're concentrating without really concentrating. And they exercise puzzle-solving skills on the most basic level. Even when you hit a wall, it's like a rubber wall. You bounce off gently, dust yourself off, and try again without feeling too much like you fell down in the first place.

When I got stuck in Candy Crush Saga, I found myself clicking the plentiful banners to check out what the other Saga games were like. And I found out that there's a saga for just about every kind of game you can imagine, and those are all coming from one company called King. Not sure what kind of factory they're running over there in Sweden, but whatever it is, they've hit upon a formula that works well for them. As a result Candy Crush Saga is like the new Farmville -- just as addictive, and just as good at occupying your time.

One thing that King gets right with these titles -- and an integral part of why they work so well -- is that they cater to the needs of adults. There was a time when this sort of game was exclusively reserved for the forty-something female cubicle slave; any self-respecting gamer would have been ashamed to play it. That was probably eight years ago. Today, many of my friends are in their thirties and find they have a lot more to balance game time with than they did ten years earlier. I talked about the phenomenon when I wrote about the "Diablo Blues" -- its a result of having a hobby that must change in order to fit your needs. It makes more sense to play a game that's already on your computer at work and easy to access then it does to go home and ignore your family, the gym, and your need to eat dinner to fire up your gaming consoles.

Is there a value to these games? There is. Sure, they use a cheap approach I don't like when it comes to how they try to get you to spend money to buy power-ups. And how is that different from DLC packs for games I play on my PS3 or 360? Not much at all, really. But I think the most integral thing that games of this type provide is distraction - a way to shut your brain down and do something mindlessly. And I put a lot of focus on that word: mindless. That word has a terrible ring to it. I stopped playing because I didn't want to feel that feeling. But that's just for me. If you're loving every minute of it, more power to you.

The formula these games have built works, and the numbers prove it. King has pulled ahead of Zynga in the casual web games race, with 9.7 million people playing Candy Crush Saga as of January of 2013 . Despite all my reservations, I was one of those players (and as soon as Plants Vs. Zombies Adventures comes out, I'll be right there with it, clicking away again). But I notice that each time I played Candy Crush, I experienced a feeling of emptiness. I didn't take anything valuable away. That sense of vacancy points the way to a troubling idea: millions of other people are drawn to it in the exact same way, and have the same emotions I did. What does it say for us that we have such a deep craving to "waste" our time?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Kentucky Route Zero, hybrid genres and hounds in hats

I've been waiting to play Ni No Kuni since I wrote about it for Destructoid in 2008. It took a considerable amount of time for that game to finally be released in the US, but I waited patiently. I thought an RPG with graphics by Studio Ghibli would be the best thing of all time, and I was sure Level 5 could deliver the kind of magical gaming experience that I idly fantasize losing myself in from time to time.

The game was boring. Pretty, but boring. 

The letdown you feel after waiting for a release that long is pretty major, but it just lent more weight something I was already feeling: that I just haven't felt any real urge to play games at all lately.

This disturbs me every time it happens, and I never seem to remember that eventually it passes. Every time, the phase is disturbed by some game that I never even saw coming. In this case, I was looking halfheartedly at an issue of Game Informer that had been stuffed into a container of unread magazines when the screenshot you see above caught my attention. I downloaded it before I watched half of the trailer. When you know you're going to like a game, you just know.

Kentucky Route Zero has good looks and an intriguing title to match. Route Zero sounds like an ominous place to be in general, like some forgotten highway that could lead to any number of unmapped destinations. Fortunately, that's very close to what Kentucky Route Zero actually is. A five part episodic adventure, you play the role of Conway, a delivery driver trying to locate an elusive address. After a five minute encounter at a gas station, things become very strange indeed, and it's pretty obvious from the get go that you can pretty much leave any idea of normalcy you may have at the door. This is not going to be that kind of gig.

I often find that the best games defy description. It's tough to explain to someone who asks what kind of game Journey is, for example. I typically end up saying, "Well, it's kind of like this, but.." and then trailing off as it becomes evident that words don't really do the experience justice. Kentucky Route Zero is kind of an adventure game, kind of a point and click, kind of like Twin Peaks, and a little unlike anything I've ever played. But it does feel a great deal like some dreams I've had -- some very uncomfortable dreams.

Playing a game like this got me thinking that in order to succeed in this oversaturated industry, you need to tell a story that can literally pull you into an absolutely unique world. Jaded designers will tell you that everything has been done, and that may be true if you rely on the typical genres to define that statement. But hybrid genres seem to pique the most interest for me these days, and I really appreciate the courage that these developers are exhibiting by putting out titles that clearly don't give a fuck about shelf sales appeal. Of course, physical games on the whole feel a bit archaic. I can't recall the last time I entered an actual store to buy a game, and I like it that way just fine. My life has been been overwhelmed by downloadable culture, and I've happily followed suit.

I thought a lot about the dog in the hat, which accompanies Conway through the entirety of act one. The dog does not talk or do cute things. In fact, the game describes it as a sad looking hound -- "the hat and the dog have seen better days"). This heavy headed creature's plodding footsteps beside you as ou navigate unknown highways has more unspoken narrative texture than almost every character I met in a game in 2012. 

A dog in a hat.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Diablo Blues: When the Games Don't Change, But We Do

The word "Diablo" is magical to me. Before 2000, it was not. It just represented a Spanish word that I was largely unfamiliar with other than seeing it on bottles of hot sauce. Since I'm not one of those nutty Southerners that pours it into their Bloody Marys, I had no reason to want to get in touch with anything that looked so purposely unpleasant, no matter how beguiling those demon eyes looked as they gazed deeply into my own from those colorful labels.

That is, until Diablo II hit me so hard I didn't realize I had the bug until I couldn't go a day without playing. And yes, I didn't play the first game until after I had played countless hours of the sequel. I'm one of those guys, and you can call me out for being a late adopter now, if you please.

I wasn't panting on launch day like I was for the recent release of Diablo III.  Actually, the game came out and went largely unnoticed for a while. I had never played an MMO before and wouldn't be motivated to do so until Final Fantasy XI hit in 2002, and even then I had to be dragged there by an obsessive love of the Final Fantasy series.

Nothing about the MMO format appealed to me. I had been kindly passed over by the black death known as Everquest, allowed to keep my sanity intact. When I looked at these games, all I saw was a rat in a wheel: grinding, grinding, and more grinding, an endless race which had no real finish line. Being the type of gamer that was mainly motivated by stories with a beginning, middle, and an end, it made no sense to me to pour so much time and effort into something that essentially had no real finale.

Why Diablo II, then? I'm not sure. Truthfully, at first it was fun to play with friends, something I never did much of before as I was always more or a solo gamer. Afterwards, it became something I found myself drawn to so I could play alone, just to run through a familiar area or greet a miniboss (Hello, Rakanishu!). No matter how many times I played through the acts of Diablo II, I could always see myself going back again and again for more.

If you played Diablo competitively, there was reason to return over and over. Ladder characters were allowed access to ladder only items, and Hardcore meant losing your character to a permanent death was a chance you always risked when playing in that mode. The challenge was there. Except (and I admit this with some level of wistful shame), I never took it. Never being a competitive player to begin with meant that I could happily play Diablo II solo, just clicking through wave after wave of monsters and progressing on my merry way. I just never had the inclination to take it any further than that, and what's great is that you never had to. It provided plenty of options for every type of gamer.

The announcement of Diablo III was easily the most exciting game-related news of 2008 for me. We had discussed it on and off for years, and even though I periodically played the second game once or twice a year, I really did want a new one. I was even waiting with bated breath, because the rumors were wild right before it got announced.

Jump forward to May 2012, and here we are, only a few weeks into a brand new Diablo universe. I stayed up until 2 am the night of the release, watching the game slowly download onto my computer and feeling celebratory. After such a long wait! It was here! The joy of blissfully clicking my way through thousands of imps, demons and who knows what other kinds of hellions!

The first week of play was just like what I remembered, except with more social connectivity than ever before. Finding my friends was all too easy, and the complication of getting those group games together was gone. Within seconds, I could be in a full party, enjoying all the blissful memories of the past, and finding it all fit so well, like some garment you've had since college and furtively sleep in from time to time because of the comfort it provides. It knows you, because it's been with you for so long.

After that first week, something was plucking at my feelings I couldn't put my finger on. I still wanted to play. And it still felt addictive. The game was just as well made as one would expect, and really great fun to play. Yet I had mixed feelings about playing it as often as I had played Diablo II.

It wasn't until I was struggling to pencil time to play into my current schedule that it came clear to me: I never had to do that before. Because when Diablo II was in its heyday, I was in my early twenties ... and I had all the time in the world to play videogames.

I joke about being too busy writing about videogames to actually play videogames all the time, but this was the first time I actually realized that level of conflict. As much as I wanted to play, I also had a lot of other things I wanted to do. It wasn't just annoying, grown-up responsibility stuff like cooking dinner or taking the car in for a tune-up. I also had other things on the slate, like exercise, seeing friends, and things that include getting off the internet and going outside.

The first reaction to this realization is a moment of alarm: Does this mean that I'm not a gamer anymore? Or that I'm not truly dedicated to the medium anymore?

In a piece I wrote about the thatgamecompany title Journey, I talked about how well the game suited me -- and how its short length, themes, and overall presentation resonated with me in a way that many of today's titles do not, no matter how well made they may be or how much fun they are. Somewhere in the midst of my Diablo revelation, it came clear that the type of gaming we require to be entertained may change for each of us, just as a lot of things we need as we evolve change. There's nothing to be frightened of because we realize that something that once fit us like a glove doesn't fit quite as well.

Will I stop playing Diablo III? Absolutely not. Just because I can't spend ten hours a day playing it doesn't mean I don't still enjoy the game. It's great fun. It's also something that I need a time limit on, because unlike ten years ago when I could play it with no limits, now I find I can only click my way through an hour or two of determined demon slaughter before I find myself wanting to do something else.

There's some part of me that misses being the kid that played it without a care, of course. That was a golden era. But as I learn to enjoy Diablo III in a completely different kind of way, I get that while the way you play games may change, it's hard to lose a handle on them if you've ever become truly attached to the experience of playing them. That being said, a few hours in Hell from time to time might  just do me a bit of good.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Walking Into The Light With Journey

Have you ever had an experience with a film, a book, or even a song where when you watched the last frame, read the last paragraph or listened as the music faded away, you simply had to sit in silence for a while and just give yourself time to absorb it, feeling an energy thrumming in your chest and around your heart like a warm shimmering glow, but unable to speak or even move?

It happens from time to time, and it just happened to me. It's a lovely surprise every time it happens. I never know when its coming.

I expected a lot from Journey, the fourth game from seminal game studio Thatgamecompany. The "interactive parable to experience a person's life passage," as they describe it, looked like a stunning effort from the very beginning. I was enchanted with images of a sprawling desert, dotted only with a single figure in a billowing cape. I like isolation. Being a solo gamer for all of my life, I have no issue whatsoever with being on my own in a game, and I admit there was tremendous appeal in the idea of exploring a landscape that was completely empty.

As a child I often got so absorbed in games I forgot the world around me, and when I went back into it, I thought about the game world I had left behind and waited patiently until real life would allow me to go back there. As an adult, this feeling waned and eventually winked out, leaving me to enjoy games, but never to feel quite the same sense of wonder. While it sparked in moments here and there, that feeling of tumbling into a game's universe and leaving your own behind seemed to be a figment of my childhood.

Except Journey does just that. It commands your attention from the beginning, where you climb your first sand dune and see the mountain in the distance, glowing with a slice of light awaiting you at its peak. There's a goal in the distance, and it's calling you to move towards it. And you do.

The magic of the trip you take to reach the mountain is joyful and buoyant. Everything you've done in dreams becomes reality, as you twirl through the air and discover mysterious creatures waiting to guide you forward. You are shown visions. Your scarf grows longer, trailing behind you as you continue to move forward.

I can't talk about the ending of Journey because I don't want to spoil it (of course!), but also because I have no words for it. It's a metaphor for a real journey, of course, and we are all on it. It's open ended. It will mean nothing to some people. For others, it will mean everything. It's a language that some will know and others won't, but what is there has the ability to strike you to the core, and that's something games rarely have the wherewithal to do. A great story is one thing, but a story that is actually your own story is another entirely.

Journey is a game I believe I will play over and over. Perhaps it won't have quite the same magic it did that first time, and perhaps it will. Either way, I know I want to revisit what I saw there, if only to further understand how it made me feel.

For some, all they seek from gaming is entertainment. They want to shoot stuff and jump over things and rack up points, not probe their own souls. After twenty five years of gaming, I've had enough jumping and shooting to last me a lifetime, which is why I've been waiting a long time to play a game as transcendent and genre-defining as Journey. I needed something radically different to believe gaming could still move me, something that spoke to who I am as a adult and who I was as a child, and also who I will be in the future.

This was it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011: My Games of the Year

Reading so many lovely Game of the Year lists debates and lists had me thinking about the nature of GOTY roundups in general, why we do them, but also the inherent nature and how it alienates certain types of titles that may deserve recognition. Kotaku bravely discussed Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery as one of their top picks, and while anyone that played it may see the validity in that approach, an equal number of voices surely will be heard today saying, "An iOS game? What the fuck?"

The current state of games is in an exciting place -- that being that people are figuring out so many different ways to make them and platforms to distribute them on. While games look better than ever before, some longtime gamers also complain of feeling "less engaged," despite high end graphics and big budgets to create them.

I'm notorious for being a picky gamer, not the type to be satisfied with the average release. That being said, my GOTY picks rarely look anything like most lists, even though they can share common points. But, part of the excellence of appreciating games as a media art form is seeing how they affect people differently, and in the spirit of that, I'll share the games that meant the most to me this year.

This making the list is not mystery, as I'm a hardcore fan of the series and trumpet about it more or less any chance I get. Still, the Tengoku series has always been incredibly challenging, and to pull off a new title and make it not feel stale, the magic is in the music -- something that composer Tsunku has somehow managed to make work for three games in a row. Seeing Tengoku at its prettiest ever helps with the jump from portable console to the Wii, but its cartoonlike style also works really well on it. I don't tend to enjoy the Wii control scheme, but Minna no Rhythm Tengoku makes you forget about it entirely.

Called Rhythm Heaven Fever for its US release on February 13th, I expect this challenging rhythm title to capture some hearts with its catchy music and hilarious minigames. Tsunku's done it again -- and kudos to Nintendo for localizing this title and getting that there's an audience for it!

I love that one of the most affecting titles I played this year was on my iPhone. Obviously, the game is all the better on an iPad with more room to see, but even on the iPhone it made quite an impression. While S & S's aura of mystery was surely one of its most memorable attributes, what stuck out about the most for me was the distinct feeling that I was playing an unforgettable classic, something I wish I had realized when playing adventure games for the first time a decade ago. That emotion is difficult to invoke, so I applaud superbrothers for this one. I go into more detail about it in my review for GamesRadar, but this beautiful little gem was one of the most unique of the year and should not be missed.

I was worked up about Catherine long before the game's release -- all I needed was a trailer to send me flipping out and wailing all over the internet about how it would redefine how we perceived sexuality in games. In an editorial for Gamasutra, I sketched out a ton of ideas about what the game could symbolize, and a lot of them weren't quite spot on. While the initial trailers for Catherine made it look like a very sexy game, in the end, it was anything but.

Catherine was not always a pleasant game to play. If you dug deeply enough into it, however, you would see that pleasant gameplay would never fit this behemoth of a project -- it aimed to expose something even more uncomfortable than we originally speculated. On occasion it felt heavy handed, but the significance it placed on choices and their consequences was unforgettable. I'm not sure I will ever play Catherine again, but I can't name any other game this year that stuck its hand it my gut and twisted it so successfully. (My post-analysis of the game is here.)

Valve is king when it comes to a polished release, and the first Portal was so beloved it echoed through fan consciousness for years. I'm majorly wary of sequels, especially when I think the story has been already been told conclusively, and so it seemed with this series. At least, until I played Portal 2 and realized I had found the cure for the common sequel -- a story that introduced new characters that were completely compelling, writing that took an event that could be poor in lesser hands (GlaDOS' resurrection) and gave it reasoning and body, and added co-op that felt anything but tacked on. A model for what a sequel should be like, Portal 2 was nothing less than an absolute triumph.

To The Moon is the absolute opposite of a game like Portal 2 -- at least when it comes to budget and production. Portal 2 had a team to give it such shine, whereas To The Moon was created by one person ... and still shone with one of the brightest lights I've seen in some time. This clever RPG was a dream come true for a retro enthusiast, looking right at home alongside titles like Chrono Trigger.

However, To The Moon bravely plunged forward and did something that RPGs haven't done in all too long, too. Daring to tell a story that was emotional and sometimes painful, sketching characters that were memorable enough to truly care for, and accompanying it all with a score that's literally the most beautiful I've heard this year, To The Moon really did something special. It was worth it to borrow a PC to play this game, and I can only hope to see more games that dare to take such bold chances. My full analysis of To The Moon can be found here.

What games made your personal list? Why were they important to you?