So, here it is. We've come to the end of my gaming year-in-review. Honestly, this one has been the hardest for me of the three years I've done this so far. I ended up having a lot more to say about these games than I thought. I can't believe I originally intended to review all of these games in one post!
Just to wrap up, here's the list of Games That Mattered to Me in 2018, with links to their full posts:
- God of War
- Darkness Rises
- Marvel's Spider-Man
- Laser League
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
But before we're done, I'd like to call out just few other games that I really enjoyed in 2018, but didn't have as much to say about. These are in no particular order:
- Rocket League still has no real direct competitor over 3 years later, and that just feels unbelievable to me in the current gaming market. It's a true testament to how perfectly Psyonix nailed it with that one. I came back this year and immediately remembered why I loved that game so much--and even placed higher in competitive ranking than I ever have before.
- Rhino Hero is a tabletop game meant for kids that is basically what would happen if you wanted to play Jenga, but all you had were Uno cards. It has an absolutely amazing ability to make anyone on the planet love it. Plus, it produced this photo, commemorating the first time my son ever beat me at a game:
- Slay the Spire is one of those games I've been waiting a long time for without even knowing it. It's a single-player deck-building dungeon crawler. It's the perfect game to scratch the tabletop itch without having to feel like a bunch of people are scratching my back by playing a card game with me. It's also the only rogue-like I've ever completed, I think.
- Dead Cells. Speaking of Rogue-likes, this one got me really excited for awhile, but then the learning curve went straight up for me and I kind of lost motivation. I don't think I ever even made it passed the second boss. But it was so fun for awhile, and I respect the game and all it accomplished.
What's a year retrospective without some predictions? Here's some quick thoughts about where I think gaming is headed for 2019:
- The PC Platform Wars Heat Up, Gamers Profit: This one's already happening but it's heating up fast. As distribution moves more toward digital, digital storefronts matter more and more. As digital storefronts matter more, big companies start pouring more into them. We've already hit a tipping point on this one on PC, as evidenced by the literally 30+ games I was gifted in 2018 by platform holders trying to make a play at my loyalty, especially Amazon (through Twitch), Humble Bundle, Discord, and Epic. Epic in particular seems like they're making a big play, with a couple very impressive wins already in 2019, and $3 billion in profit from last year to fund a very aggressive play indeed. At least in the short term, I feel like the net result of all this for gamers will be very positive. Platform holders will continue to try and entice gamers with free games and aggressive sales, and unlike console wars, PC platform wars mean everyone with a PC can enjoy every platform's benefits all at once. I predict that by the end of 2019, Valve and Steam will have unquestionably lost their monopoly on PC gaming distribution, as will be evidenced by people complaining about all the different game clients they have to juggle on their PC all of a sudden.
- Hardcore Mobile Arrives in Undeniable Force: This trend has already been happening, but 2019 will be a tipping point. The traditional divide between "core" gaming and mobile gaming will break down more than ever in 2019. Between huge established IP making its way to the platform (Diablo Immortal, Elder Scrolls Blades), and mobile developers finding new and exciting middle ground between the two audiences (Clash Royale, Vainglory, Arena of Valor, and the new but very promising Brawl Stars), not to mention the huge success of existing ports from traditionally "core" platforms (Hearthstone, Fortnite, PUBG), this is going to be the year where walls come down, and "core" gamers find themselves doing more and more on their phones. This won't necessarily represent a loss for any of the traditional platforms, though. So far, most mobile gaming time has come from time that was usually spent doing other, non-gaming activities.
- Streaming as a Platform to Play Games Gets Talk, But Doesn't Take Over...Yet: Google made waves near the end of 2018 with a beta of Project Stream, a service that would let you stream Assassin's Creed Odyssey to any PC as long as it had a fast enough internet connection, and promised (and delivered in most cases, from what I've read) an experience that felt just like you were playing the game natively on a high-end machine. Additionally, EA's CEO Andrew Wilson took time at E3 last year to bore gamers but please investors by saying the that streaming (combined with subscription) has been "The greatest disruption of the consumption of entertainment media over the last five years." (You see, you have to understand, while gamers listen to that and sarcastically say, "Oh, wow, take my money, Andrew...Where's the games???", investors are sitting there saying, "Yes, yes, Andrew! I missed Netflix's boom, but by Joe, I'll make my millions yet!") (Investors are old people who still say "by Joe.") My bet is that the idea of streaming gets a lot of talk in 2019, like VR did in 2016, but nothing really Earth-shattering happens quite yet. 2020, though, will be the year where gamers start to really make their decisions about jumping into streaming or sticking with hardware. What could be really interesting if 2020 is the year you have to pick between a PS5 and a Google Stream MegaGamerSuperPlus subscription. It'll be especially exciting if Google finds a way to land some exclusives on its platform and plays real ball. I have no idea what'll happen exactly, but I bet none of it really happens in 2019.
Conclusion: Why Games Matter
This is a topic that deserves a lot of words, but if you've read the rest of the posts in this series, you've read a lot of those words already. Because this post is all about bullet points, here's my bullet-point summary about why games matter, based on what I've learned while writing this series:
- Games are a zero-stakes way to learn how to push yourself to do hard things. I don't see people talking about this enough, but I think it's a humongous benefit of gaming. Games help you learn how to put yourself in the mindset that it's up to you to stay calm, stay focused, and find solutions. Like a lot of life, videogames will often not throw you a bone. A lot of videogames are really hard, and unapologetic about how hard they are. If you choose, you can use games to take the opportunity to train yourself to push through tough stuff without the risk of actually losing anything if you fail. If you use your gamer education right, you should be able to do better in school, at a job, or even exercising. You just have to be aware enough to turn on the same mindset that got you through the summit level of Celeste, or the Sigrún fight in God of War, when you're studying a particularly difficult new math concept or trying to land a big deal at your sales job. Jane McGonigal talks about how games create "hopeful individuals" by teaching them that they can find solutions, but I think on top of that hope is the value of grit. Games make grit-ful individuals who learn to push through when the going gets tough. If that mindset can click on in real-life situations, it can work miracles for gamers.
- Games can foster empathy in ways even literature and film cannot. Reading is unquestionably Good in Western culture, and one of the top aspects of its unquestionable Goodness is how a good story can help you "walk in someone else's shoes." Good games can take that to whole new levels. Celeste is one of the best examples of all time for this. Having a hard time understanding what it's like to live with depression and anxiety? Play Celeste and pay attention, and you just might have a breakthrough that helps you empathize in whole new ways with those suffering from these conditions. Never had someone judge you just for the color of your skin? You can feel just the tiniest bit of that in Assassin's Creed: Freedom Cry. The first time the police start chasing you down even though you didn't do anything wrong, that's not a bug. Make sure you take the time to think about it for a minute. It works the other way too, though. Never thought of yourself as an engineer or an interior designer or a marine biologist? Games can help you feel just a little bit what that might be like, too--maybe enough to help you decide if you want to really be one of those things after all.
- Games can make artistic, political, social, and philosophical statements just like any other creative medium, and in some ways that all the other mediums can't. Yes, games are most often made for entertainment, as are books or movies, but by their nature, games have many of the same tools as books or movies to make statements, and many tools that other mediums don't have. I've long fostered the theory that every major method of human communication has given rise to a major art form along with it. Spoken language brought about oral histories and oral poetry and storytelling. Written language brought about written stories and books. Printed language brought about serials and novels. Television brought about TV shows. Film brought about movies. What did the computer and the internet bring about? Yes, computers display and transmit all of the previous art forms, and provide new ways to create visual, animated, and written arts, but what wholly new and unique artistic form came from the computer? Videogames. That's the only one that is truly unique to this new method of communication. As such, it deserves the best artistic talent of our day to push its boundaries and discover its true potential. If art and expression have ever mattered, then videogames matter.
To everyone who's read this whole series--and even to those who just read this post--thank you so much for reading. I love writing about games, but I love it even more when someone reads it and responds. Your support means a ton to me. Thank you so much.