Better late than never! Thanks to an illness that’s recently come about, I haven’t been updating my site, let alone showing up on social media or doing my usual long-form games talk. These are my top video games released in 2015, across all platforms for all prices. Just like last year, these aren’t chosen because they’re the closest to flawless, or because they’re the most fun, but because I think they’re the most important games I’ve played, and they have stuck with me the longest. So, in no particular order:
I love just about everything that Life is Strange has to offer. Focusing on the life of Max (hey!) a new boarding school attendee returning to her hometown, Life is Strange presents a surface-layer story about time travel and teenage angst. On the deeper (and more coherent) level, the story is about relationships, self-harm, and making some pretty serious sacrifices. What’s most important about this game is how it dismantled the narrative game–since players can rewind time, they can see the outcomes of their choices before rewinding and choosing the outcome they desire. Whether people are taking a liking to it or not, the game has some pretty big implications for narrative, and that impact is not lost on me, either.
When Sam Barlow, a narrative designer whose most famous games credits are two Silent Hill games, released Her Story last year, it quickly became the most notable title in the recent renewal of FMV games. It deserves it, too. The core mechanic is a search engine! There’s hundreds of videos portraying actress Viva Seifert as the main character, and using this database, players literally piece together the narrative from fragments. It’s a gorgeous, adventurous, and risky title that has an extremely great payoff. It’s very hard to forget how much Her Story stands out this year on a background of sub-par AAA titles.
I can say without a second thought that Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is the single greatest gaming experience I’ve had in my adult life. It’s a shame that the gameplay doesn’t stay fresh, because I would be addicted to the dopamine rush this game releases. Keep Talking is an asymmetrical experience, with one person defusing a bomb while viewing it through an Oculus Rift and the other walking them through the defusal with a paper manual. It’s an extremely unique experience, and one that I will never forget, but it gets stale once you and your partner begin to remember the manual. Nevertheless, for that brief, fleeting first few games, it’s magical.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a “Games of 2015” list without Nintendo’s attempt at a squad shooter, Splatoon, listed near the top. Any new IP or series that Nintendo creates nowadays is subject to some serious scrutiny, and Splatoon had plenty of that during its lead-up to release. However, critics were proven wrong when the game actually released and brought a whole new concept to shooters: What if the target wasn’t the other players? It’s a daring act to defy something so deeply engrained in both developers and players of FPS games alike. If any company could do it, Nintendo can. They did an amazing job creating a new IP in a competitive genre and it stands as last year’s main proof that innovation pays off.
While it isn’t the best example in games history, Rocket League is the best example in 2015 of “Easy to learn, hard to master”. You’ll learn just about everything there is to learn in Rocket League in the first few months you play it, but everything after that is what really separates the amateurs from the pros. Combine that with some gorgeous looking cars & arenas, an air-tight physics engine, supportive and communicative developers that have updated the game heavily since launch, and you’ll end up with a clean, solid title that deserves its spot on this list.
Tonight, I’m publishing my #JamforLeelah game on itch.io. The game is titled To put it simply, and I hope you enjoy it.
To put it simply, is a Twine game I made over the course of a month for a game jam in honor of Leelah Alcorn, a young girl who committed suicide in late 2014 due to being unaccepted by society as a trans woman. Her death caused tons of outcry for transgender rights, and renewed the discussion about one of the most controversial “medical” practices, conversion therapy. You can read more about Leelah’s death and the reaction to it with a quick Google search, but I definitely recommend you play To put it simply, and read the story I put together.
I took the term “interactive fiction” that is applied to most Twine games and combined that genre with my passion for telling stories around events that have actually happened (no offense to fiction—I’m an avid IF reader). A big thing to keep in mind when you’re discussing issues in the LGBT community is that you should be very aware of personal experience, and know that someone’s personal experience is generally more important in context than what you think the experience is like, or what you have heard it’s like. I’ve had very little contact with trans people in my life, so I decided to tell the only story I thought had enough coverage and perspectives to be told fairly by someone who isn’t trans—Leelah’s. And to be honest, I don’t even tell it much. Most of what I did was arrange various news articles and postings online to tell the story in a non-linear fashion.
I did my best to respect the topic and treat it with the care it deserves, but I also made sure that everything included in To put it simply, is there to prove a point: Leelah’s death is a tragedy, and the fact that we still aren’t helping trans people in these types of situations is disgusting. I used various articles on the web, quotes from significant people related to this issue, experiences of the family and friends of Leelah’s that they’ve been quoted as saying in interviews…all of these sources contribute to the truth, the root of it all, and the call to action that we must spread in order to help trans people feel safe.
So, I hope you learn something from my game, and I hope you gain a better understand of what Leelah went through. If you have any feedback at all, please feel free to let me know on here or Twitter: @MaxPMallory.