I’m one of those unbearable people who will smugly tell you that my gaming tastes simply won’t align with whatever’s popular. In fact I did so for the top five games of 2019 on this very website. “I just can’t help it that my tastes are so out there,” my inner snob would sigh, utterly vindicated by a comment asking me to “stop it with the anime shit already”.
To my genuine surprise, I did enjoy a lot of immensely popular games this year, and their popularity genuinely added to my enjoyment – the best example of that being Final Fantasy 7 Remake. The story of FF7R is one of continually growing excitement, both within the fanbase and myself as we went from “oh my god, it’s a real thing” to “omg it’s a real thing that will be with us soon”. You’d think that by now we’d be used to the idea of full remakes, as rare as they are, but getting one of a formative, beloved game felt so special. I engaged in fan speculation and watched trailers frame by frame, and somehow still got a game that managed to surprise and delight, even just with how it managed to translate my memories to a modern format.
By contrast, I tried something completely new with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It was my first Animal Crossing game, and a bit daunting for that – I would read reviews containing a multitude of references I didn’t understand, but what I got were completely new, satisfying ways to interact with a game. I visited friend’s islands for conventions and picnics, got really into island tour videos, and got my inner fashion designer on. It truly felt like playing with others and even for others, sometimes. Each month I joined in the excitement of discovering new additions to the game, and I’m glad I took the plunge.
I also took the plunge with Hades, although I had my first taste two years ago. A rougelike? In this household? Not unimaginable, but highly irregular. For the longest time, getting people to play Hades was an uphill battle, even though I’d tell them that this was it, a roguelike for non-roguelike players, an early access game for early access sceptics. This early access period really felt like a journey, watching the game gestate and grow until it became the pearl it is now, with big fandom. I love fandom, warts and all, and seeing people engage with what makes them happy in creative ways is a large part of Hades’ appeal to me. Watching that fandom get better at the game as they share their art and fun bits of dialogue I half-grimly think to myself yeah, I told you so.
Luckily, sometimes it’s my job to tell you so, and 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was certainly a game I did tell you about, very loudly. I begrudge no one the comfort of well-known franchises. If you want to play Assassin’s Creed: Ashton-under-Lyne in 2087 while waiting for someone to unfreeze you from cryo, by all means go ahead. But 13 Sentinels completely bowled me over because a studio that had attained their own comfort zone taking a huge risk, and asked its player base to do the same. It resulted in some of my most cherished gaming memories of 2020 – friends texting me at 2am going “wait, what just happened”, followed by “actually, don’t tell me.”
If Found, the last game in my top 5 is representative for all the games that were recommended to me – wonderful games like Umurangi Generation or Paradise Killer that I would’ve missed otherwise. To me, this is my favourite way to share excitement about games, having someone think of me while they play something. To be fair, If Found is an easy win with me. It’s the kind of LGBTQ-positive story about interpersonal relationships I couldn’t have imagined in games only a few short years ago. It’s also the kind of surprise hit that makes me appreciate stories that come from the heart – with everything else that’s happened this year, that is the truly uplifting message I want to take away from the importance of gaming in 2020.