Article of the Year: A Bizarre Annual Tradition

We’ve hit mid-December and thus the ‘X of the Year’ lists are starting to trickle out. It’s likely you’ve asked and/ or will be asked “What’s your favourite X of the year?”, and after some thought you’ll give a top three or so. Games in particular seem to be the medium of choice for these sorts of questions, or at least the most visible to me. At which point point things start to get a little weird, and in more ways than one. I understand why these lists are made: as December is when we remember January-August happened, and like to look back at that far away time fondly. However these lists are made hastily, premature, and marketed in an absurd fashion. It’s not so much that I have a problem with these lists, but more that they’re a curiosity to me.

I’ll be addressing games primarily in regards to best of lists because the games industry jerks off to these things than any other. Even when you consider the Academy Awards, which is essentially a five hour celebration of how awesome film is and how the people in them are even more so. Here’s the thing, the Academy Awards for 2014’s films will happen on February 22nd, 2015. The GOTY awards on gaming sites are either up already or being hinted at.

The year isn’t even done, and while it’s true that December is a slow month for games, my issue isn’t so much that these lists ignore what has yet to be released, it’s that there’s no time to appreciate those that have. Dragon Age: Inquisition is likely going to take the crown from may of the larger sites, but that monster of an RPG came out in mid-November. I’m 35 hours in, and am not even half-way through. It’s not my job to review and rank games, but I feel that there’s value in taking time to process and appreciate what made something great. Of course it’s worth honouring those games that hit hard and leave you wanting more, but they are massive experiences that require hours upon hours just to complete. The Academy Awards reviews films that are (approximately) two hours long on average, and they wait over a month before passing out their honours. I’m not saying that the Academy Awards are based purely on merit, or are infallible when it comes to passing judgement on their medium (they’re not, and I couldn’t care less about the ceremony), but games media covers games that take 10-80 hours and that’s a lot to process. Especially if a game means a lot to you, or resonates with you; your appreciations while valid, are still being forged and won’t cool for some time.

When people asked me what my favourite game of 2013 was I said it was Gone Home, hands down. Not for its plot, but the way the mechanics brought you into that world and let you hold things, explore, and feel the fear of a dark room before flipping on a light. Those mechanics wonderfully coupled with its faithful recreation of a mid-90’s household (where the only inaccuracy was that flipping a tape over and putting it back in a cassette-player played the same side). It was involving, interesting, I felt for the characters towards the end, and had an interesting interplay of mechanics and narrative. My favourite joke was when you picked up a journal entry by your sister, and the game timed it so you had just enough time to read the first sentences, to discover she’s describing her first sexual experience, before your character slams it back down. I still wonder if they focus tested how long most people took to grasp what it was about, without reading the whole thing. The joke became even better because it’s the only time your character refused your commands to pick something back up. The game was cleverly gated, gave me a few chills, and brought back some interesting memories. However…

This is the only thing on my living room's walls...

This is the only thing on my living room’s walls…

Bioshock Infinite was the best game released in 2013. A conclusion I didn’t come to until about March. The combat was shit, the garbage cans had money and bullets, and vigors made no sense in Colombia’s society, so from a ludonarrative perspective it wasn’t great- but the themes were interesting. Then I thought about those themes more, and really got into what this game was about. In brief: Bioshock Infinite is about one man torn apart by his role in a massacre (Wounded Knee, 1890) to the point where he comes up with an elaborate manifest destiny-inspired rationale for his actions, creating a new city in his denial’s image. Shortly thereafter a very violent man named Booker turns Colombia’s streets into rivers of blood to pay off gambling debts. There’s racist imagery (Comstock’s denial), the violence (Booker’s not a ‘let’s unpack our feelings’ kind of guy), the duality and binaries that crop up everywhere (which I love in general), the Lutece twins’ dynamic, and Elizabeth being the “best Disney princess ever” (seriously, that’s her arc and it’s amazing- and it gets even better in the DLC). All of that twists together for an ending that I respect the hell out of for being that dedicated to being that absurd (yet intriguing). That game has its flaws, but it’s great fun to talk about.

I wouldn’t say Bioshock Infinite changed my life, but I liked it enough to put it on my wall (though not my flesh). While I still consider Gone Home to be a standout example of pushing the medium forward, I find I appreciate Bioshock Infinite more as a topic of conversation, debate, and I just straight up enjoy most aspects of it, those that are not gameplay. I think that was the catch, Infinite suffered from some ‘ludonarrative dissonance’ (which does not include the level of violence) even if it stayed with me far longer than Gone Home did. If I had been given a few months to ponder my GOTY 2013 it wouldn’t have been Gone Home, and I feel that’s worth remembering moving forward.

An aside: If there’s any game worthy of Oculus Rift support it’s Infinite’s DLC Burial At Sea: Part Two. If only for two scenes. If you’ve played it, you know what those two are. If you haven’t, I want to sit and watch as you play through it while wearing an Oculus Rift. Even on a monitor one particular scene still made me pray for it to be over soon, while simultaneously appreciating they didn’t cut to black.

Another aside: I do not understand the rift between the AAA shooter and the indie experimental game. Well, I do… It’s just a stupid debate over what is a game and what isn’t. They both are, and you can enjoy both (or neither).

A third aside: That poster’s image should have been Infinite’s box art.

The game industry’s obsession with ‘Game of the Year’ titles is also problematic, but difficult to solve. While there are other award ceremonies for film, the Academy Awards is its de facto official seal of approval. The games industry on the other hand seems to invent a new kind of awards ceremony annually, and virtually every gaming blog (professional and amateur) has their own honours to bestow. It’s a free country, but as film has the Academy Awards, music has the Grammys, and literature has a Nobel Prize, I’m wondering if a standard needs to be set for games. This isn’t going to happen for some time, especially with social media giving absolutely everyone a voice, but I think if the medium wants mainstream approval it needs a class act like its media siblings.

Emphasis on class act. Gaming award shows are so tacky that they’ve often made me embarrassed for the medium. Not only should we have an award ceremony with weight, but it should also have a modicum of taste.

The scatter-shot nature of gaming awards means to so long as any publication gives your game a GOTY award, you can slap it on the re-release packaging. Hell, I’m certain you don’t even need that, it’s not like anyone regulates this. Case in point: Here is a list of games that have ‘Game of the Year’ editions. You will note that not only do multiple games share the same year of release, but also the same genre.

I honestly don’t view this as a huge deal, but it’s a strange distinction worthy of at least a small essay. GiantBomb does explain why these editions exist: they are a convenient excuse to re-release a game at a discount with all the DLC included. That’s actually a great idea, and GOTY Editions often offer tremendous value. I think here I simiply wish that the industry got more creative with distinguishing these versions. ‘Game of the Year’ doesn’t mean much anymore besides ‘Re-Release with DLC’. ‘Complete’ or ‘Ultimate’ edition accomplishes the same goal while feeling more genuine about the product.

So, I just wrote an essay on something that’s been bugging me, but isn’t a huge issue. Even if do I think we need an official dignified way of recognizing a year’s great titles (held in February). It would go a long way to mainstream acceptance. Hell, if the games industry managed to put together a lasting event like that it might be a sign they’ve achieved it.

If you take something away from this, know that some media hits hard at first then fades away, while others grab onto your ankle and don’t let go- not until you’ve recognized that you’re a lot happier with them in your life. I think that some things take time to process, and even just appreciate. I likely won’t finish Dragon Age: Inquisition until the new year, even if I think it’s pretty solid. I haven’t played Dreamfall Chapters: Episode One yet (although I think one should wait until all episodes are released before passing judgement). There might still be some surprises in store, but more so it’s worthwhile savouring the nuances of what has been released.

With that said:

Resonance Frequency’s 1st Annual Media of the Year Awards
Celebrating the most resonant media of 2014, on December 10th of the same year!

  • Game of the Year: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
    • “Simultaneously a genius character study, and a rambling disjointed mess, Lightning Returns is both great (genuinely great, not enjoyed ironically), and a complete wreck. I have never felt that ‘ambivalence’ applied so well to my feelings on something,” (From: Thematic Analysis) Since writing that, the phrase: “Brilliant and beautiful unmitigated clusterfuck” now comes to mind when I think of this game. Perfection is never beautiful, and this game’s got a marked, scarred, ugly kind of magnificence. I pray its combat system is implemented into future titles.
    • Likely Honourable Mention: Dragon Age: Inquisition
      • I’m 35 hours in and enjoying it thus far. It hasn’t really ‘impacted’ me, but it’s a solid RPG to sink your teeth into and it certainly has its moments. That said, Bioware now has a tradition of painfully awful endings, so we’ll see.
      • Update Dec 29: I finished it, I liked it, it’s solid, but I don’t feel any need to come here and write three rambling essays discussing it; LR still wins.
    • Yes, I have played Dark Souls II.
  • Television Show of the Year: Kill la Kill
    • Kill la Kill has this infectious joy which pervades even its darkest scenes. Surprisingly heart-warming and fun, the show knows that hot girls (and guys) doing magical girl transformations, in kinky outfits, before engaging in epic bloody physics-defying battles are fucking awesome. All this alongside many characters and situations that I [don’t want to spoil]. Kill la Kill’s sincerity allows for it to punctuate moments of joy, despair, love and loss, far better than ‘gritty and mature’/ ‘grimdark’ fare because it never pretends to be something it’s not, which shows a level of respect for its audience. It’s more engaging to watch something where the creators want to share what they love, rather than one where they merely show you what you love.” (From: Kill la Kill is Kinky as Hell)
    • I still listen to the soundtrack regularly.
    • Honourable Mention: The Legend of Korra
      • For reasons that I hope to outline in more detail soon. It is some of the best Young Adult television I have ever seen. Hell, it’s better than most ‘mature audiences’ material out there. Season 3 is some of the best television I’ve ever seen period. Nickelodeon should be ashamed of how they’ve handled this unique gem.
      • Loses to Kill la Kill because I’ve gotten really into that show, and it helped me out some. Korra has three episodes left to air, and is currently the best example of how these lists might change over the course of 2015’s first few months.
      • Update Dec 29: Saw the series finale, and while that was one of the tightest seasons finales I’ve ever seen (the whole thing was pretty strong, not just the last two minutes), ‘Kill la Kill’ remains the obsession. So no change in my decision. I know you were all waiting with bated breath for confirmation on this.
  • Movie of the Year: Guardians of the Galaxy
    • I haven’t seen a lot of movies this year, but this one is the best of what I have. While DC struggles to figure out how to put Wonder Woman in a movie, Marvel gave meaningful character arcs to a talking raccoon and tree in the midst of an action comedy.
  • Album of the Year: ‘Sacrificium’ by Xandria
  • Novel of Any Year (that I read this year): ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Brontë
    • I didn’t read any novels that were released this year, so I’m putting down the one I wouldn’t shut up about after reading. I even wrote an essay on it. I found it rather enrapturing and beautifully spoken, even if St. John’s parts dragged a bit. Tears were shed, gasps were given, cheers were had. It’s a goddamn classic, even if I want to know what Brontë was on when she wrote that cross-dressing gypsy chapter.
    • Honourable Mention: Anne of Green Gables
      • (I fell in love with literary fiction this year)
  • Blog of the Year: Resonance Frequency.net
    • For this article’s URL.
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