The Amazing & Astonishing RPS Advent Calendar: Day 23

By RPS on December 23rd, 2013 at 10:00 am.

Hello? Is anyone here? Hello? Where is everyone? Where have they all gone? Maybe they’re under all these ring binders?

It’s Gone Home!

Alec: Confession time: I sincerely doubt I’d be naming Gone Home as one of my games of the year if I wasn’t a games critic (particularly a PC games critic). If I wasn’t a games critic, it’s extremely doubtful I’d have played as many games I have, and as a result I’d likely feel a little less fatigued by shooting and stabbing-based games than I sometimes do. I’d perhaps have looked at GTA as the cathartic cartoon power trip it is for many, as opposed to the often obnoxious, frequently incoherent testosterone explosion it seemed as just another brick in my wall of virtual death-dealing. Hell, I’d probably even have taken COD Ghosts or Battlefield 4 as a noisy, cheerful indulgence rather than a symptom of the games industry’s sickness.

I’m too immersed in all of this, in a slightly unnatural way – I know that just as much as I know that such games are indeed problematic in many ways. So I often need a holiday from what to anyone else would be a holiday; I need to play games that make different parts of my brain light up, that give me new experiences and new things to say. That the games of 2013 I most praise (this, Spelunky, Proteus, AC4 Black Flag and one that must remain TBC for now) are primarily indie and offbeat has nothing to do with arch pretension or arty-fartiness: it’s simply that they’ve made more of an impression on me after having played so many hundreds of more action-focused games. If a man eats only Tikka Masala for a long time, finding a burrito on his plate is going to be a delightful change. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t still love Tikka Masala, of course.

This is not to undermine my praise and admiration for Gone Home. I’d have taken a lot from this well-paced, detail-filled gaze at metaphorical ghosts regardless, as it pokes a knowing finger at quite a few nerves, but perhaps it wouldn’t have achieved quite the same stature as it does to this me. It’s two hours that I haven’t ever replayed and never will, but that time stayed with me. I can close my eyes and be back in that house, and feel again how that house made me feel. I’ve never been in a house anything like that, let alone lived in one, but it’s the house of my youth.

I’ve already written about perhaps the foremost reason why Gone Home affected me particularly, and don’t intend to spill any more blood from these dry veins of mine, which leaves me trying to tackle the more nebulous praise of ‘atmosphere’ and ‘tone.’ Some of it’s the lights being off, and wondering what the darkness hides; some of it’s the sound of the rain outside and the static of television inside, and the spectral soundtrack; some of it’s the dawning, unprompted realisation that two pieces of information found far apart are related; some of it’s the sounds and imagery of what can only be the mid 1990s.

Much as there were moments of jubilation (some, admittedly, a little too earnest) in the main this was a game in which nothing happens and no-one ever appears that managed to keep me on edge throughout, so fearful for what I might discover. It wasn’t fear for myself, which is a rare and powerful thing for a videogame. It was fear for people I’d never met, never would and didn’t exist. They mattered to me.

Despite nominally being in the unseen shoes of a female, US college student, as opposed to an exhausted 34-year-old male Brit, I played as myself in Gone Home. I played with my sympathies and prejudices and wounds at the fore, raw and exposed and affected by what I read and heard and intuited and imagined about these people. Their house told me their story, far better than Sam’s spoken diaries did.

I close my eyes and I’m there. Egregious excess of ringbinders and all.

John: Gone Home hasn’t stuck with me as I thought it would. It was tremendous, and I so thoroughly enjoyed the experience of playing it, while being chilled by that which was chilling. I’d deliberately avoided finding out about the game before I reviewed it, and I genuinely had no idea in which genre it was eventually going to end up. Was this quasi-horror stuff going somewhere? What twist should I expect? Not knowing those answers made it all the more fun.

So enormous amounts have been written about much of what makes the game great, but I want to celebrate what was most banal about it. I think the game was at its weakest when the house felt unusual. Secret passages, peculiar notes in hidden stairways – that’s fun and all, but it detracted from what I appreciated most about Gone Home: the ordinariness. It was a house. Not a spaceship. It’s so strange quite how unusual that is in our silly medium. There are huge amounts to raise eyebrows at in the design, from the peculiarity of leaving unpacked boxes in the hallway of a house that’s been lived in for months, to the public displays of private, incriminating correspondence in chronological order on every desk and table in the place. But these contrivances forgiven, it was the a-house-like-I-live-in-a-house-ness of it that gripped me most. Not that I live in a house anything like that bloody great mansion, obviously. But it was familiarly home.

I think the game’s best conceit was that your character is experiencing the place for the first time too. It could have been a game about a person going about a house with which they were familiar, and you’d be slightly farther separated from the event. By it being strange and alien to her, while at the same time filled with the familiar and the familial, it so perfectly aligned her experience with your own. Unknown yet very recognisable. I loved those bland details, the trinkets of a family, the everyday objects of necessity, the utterly astonishing numbers of highlighter pens. Okay, perhaps not that.

But as I began, as I look back it hasn’t stuck with me. And I really thought it would. I know that for others there was a far greater and more affecting resonance, but for me it was of its moment. There for then, but not for now. And that’s just fine.

Graham: This year has been defined for me not by scripted, linear experience, but by a series of systemic games. Games where you create the stories yourself by tinkering with the mechanics, like Spelunky, Teleglitch, Europa Universalis, and so on.

Gone Home is one of two exceptions that I enjoyed this year, and I think it’s because it’s still a story you make for yourself. As you explore the mansion, picking up old cassette tapes, reading letters and private diaries, you construct the story in your mind. It doesn’t exist without you being there, deducing it.

That makes the story more powerful, relatable and rich than if it was just written down as a short story. It needs your participation. You need to play it.

Jim: I don’t want to say anything much about Gone Home, because I don’t think anything that would come from my observations would really do service to its importance, or articulate what it has meant to people. Its themes interested me, but distantly. Its significances and interests were not my own, and I am aware that my admiration is something colder and more technical than it is for others. During its development I played several builds, and it was fascinating to watch the Fullbright team craft something so meticulous. At one point project lead Steve Gaynor described it to me as a “Fabergé egg”, which is simultaneously utterly inappropriate – the Fabergé works of unmitigated ostentation have nothing in common with Fullbright’s careful and humble normality – and perfectly apt: the game is a fastidiously constructed, self-contained thing that is beautiful in its completeness, and brought to life by lavish use of intricate detail. It is this – the sheer achievement of the creation of that home, and the systems required to respectfully investigate it, that filled me with so much awe. Few games manage to identify a theme and then execute it so expertly, and for that alone, it has my deepest respect.

Nathan: Gone Home is one of the few games I plan to show my extended family when I, er, go home for the holidays. It’s a game I’d argue you don’t really have to like (or even really understand) traditional game-y games to enjoy, and that’s fine. Great, even. In that respect, it’s a truly universal work.

Gone Home’s perfect attention to mundane detail results in a locale you can practically touch and taste. The musty, stale air stirs with secrets and mystery (and also a faint hint of pine). An old pizza box on the table, a TV that nobody bothered to turn off, self-help books, newspapers, X-Files videotapes, one of gaming’s finest bathrooms. Fuck water temples and hyper-detailed, totally walled-off corridors. This is how you make a place.

But that’s only part of its beauty. The rest is in your head, a swirling rainstorm torrent of suspicion and speculation. Picking over the abandoned house reminded me of a more detailed version of my favorite bits of Bethesda’s Fallout games. Sleuthing, turning things over and over both physically and in my head – that’s Gone Home’s principle interaction. Some of its individual elements could easily be executed by other mediums, but the sum of its parts – the irresistible mystery of its mundanity – would fall apart if we couldn’t inhabit its world.

Its story exists in a similarly kaleidoscopic bubble: no matter what angle you view it from, no matter who you are, there’s something powerfully resonant to take away from it. Space marines, devil-may-care action heroes, tuft-bearded wizards – all that craziness – takes a very specific headspace to truly identify with. But we were all, at one point, kids growing up and trying to figure ourselves out. We were scared, we were confused, and we were certain that there was no one else dealing with the same stuff as us. Gone Home is a story about people. It’s about life, living, and how regular little changes in and around a sleepy old house can be the most frightening, difficult things in the world. There is no element of videogame “challenge” to Gone Home, but that’s kind of the point: real life isn’t a videogame.

But while Gone Home’s characters are undeniably human, they’re the sorts that rarely take center stage in media. And that’s part of the reason I want to show Gone Home to my family. I do not think the story is perfect, nor do I think that the means of its telling (a frankly preposterous number of correspondences just kind of lying about) is ideal, but these characters’ belongings and stories paint a powerfully authentic picture. Once again, the sum of the game’s parts makes it much easier to ignore some of its structural deficiencies. My family, meanwhile, largely lives in northern Texas. They’re not necessarily prejudiced or bigoted, but it’s much easier for them to treat people unlike themselves – outside the sphere of their day-to-day experiences – as abstract concepts. Ideas and demands without faces or names. Much of my family is from a different generation, and it’s a walled garden effect.

But that’s one of great fiction’s most important powers: it allows us to embody mindsets and lifestyles we might otherwise never seek out. We can temporarily slip into someone else’s skin. We can understand. I don’t think Gone Home will blow my family’s mind or change their lives fundamentally, but it’s a simple yet affecting reminder that everyone’s human. In this day and age, it’s incredibly easy to lose sight of that. To tear down and dehumanize. To me, there are few more laudable goals than creating something that blots away that toxicity, even if you have to do it drop by drop.

Back to the Calendar!

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145 Comments »

  1. Noodlemonk says:

    There’s a game on this list Adam hasn’t got an opinion on?! I miss Adam’s opinion… We had some good laughs.

  2. quietone says:

    When I tried this, I though I was going to play a game.

    The game played with my emotions, instead.

    A truly masterpiece.

  3. FunnyB says:

    Calling it now, Shadow Warrior is RPS game of the year.

    • GameCat says:

      No, it will be that baby caring game, trust me.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Battlefield 4.

      *runs*

    • CmdrCrunchy says:

      Im rooting for Antichamber myself, even though it was released way waaaaay back in January, it counts right?

      • CmdrCrunchy says:

        Actually a quick browse over the calendar and comments tells me that Antichamber is surprisingly absent, at least surprising perhaps from my perspective. Perhaps the amount of time since release has faded memories away a bit, or (no doubt more likely) It has been beaten out of the calendar by a good fistful of other indie darlings, which mostly all deserve their placings.

        • AngelTear says:

          Actually, I was very excited when i first bought Antichamber, but I have not enjoyed it as much as I thought I would, and I uninstalled it before ever finishing it.
          Don’t get me wrong, the first puzzles are great, they require lateral thinking and creativity and they were like something I had never seen. I loved the first hour or 2 with Antichamber. Then, you get your first gun and it becomes a puzzle game about blocks. And not a great one at that.

          • almostDead says:

            I feel very similarly about Antichamber. I never finished it and lost interest. The puzzles changed like you say.

          • SuicideKing says:

            Pretty much the same, though i haven’t given up on it yet. Might have to restart the thing, it’s become a bit too tied up at present, for me.

          • norfolk says:

            You’re right. I hadn’t realized that was true, but it is.

            The first 30 minutes of Antichamber are brilliant. The rest are something of a chore.

          • derbefrier says:

            Yup antichamber kinda sucked

          • CmdrCrunchy says:

            A read around makes me think ‘Dang, I didn’t realise how many people plain hated the middle section of the game’.

            I cant disagree that the mid section of the game fell down a little in comparison to the beginning, which seems to have turned a lot of people off. A shame, I feel, because the last quarter for me was a brilliant mix of everything the game had given you before, and I personally couldn’t get enough of the secret rooms and their showing you the way the game evolved. At the time, it resonated with me in a way no other FPS puzzle game, including Portal, ever has, and it has me begging for more games of its ilk to be made.

            I don’t think I could ever replay it though. Magic lost now and all that.

          • WedgeJAntilles says:

            Couldn’t agree more. Antichamber was brilliant right up until the block puzzles, then it was shit.

          • Emeraude says:

            When I feel like being polemic, I like to describe Antichamber as “Portal if it had been a game”.

            Polemical intent notwithstanding, I do think Portal mostly played like the over-extended tutorial to a game that was never made, and whose main saving grace happens to be its presentation, while at least Antichamber felt like a full game that presented you with a limited palette of verbs and interactions, let you devise the extent of what you could do with them, then presented you with situations in which you had to *figure* proper use of what you had already learned.

            I do thin there is a divide into game-playing profiles and expectations as far as those otherwise similar on many respects two games are concerned.

          • The Random One says:

            If Antichamber is Portal if it was a game, then I’m glad Portal isn’t a game, because the moment Antechamber leaves the ‘tutorial’ part is when it starts to go to shit.

          • Emeraude says:

            @The Random One:

            Good that the market has reached a point where we can both be presented with a game that satisfies each of our particular set of demands then.

    • Jigowatt says:

      Considering Adam’s glowing Wot I Think (“I can’t think of a first-person shooter I’ve enjoyed more this year”), I’m quite surprised Shadow Warrior hasn’t been on the calendar so far. It’s definitely in my top 3 games of this year, and in my opinion one of the most fresh and enjoyable shooters in years. Somehow can’t see it being RPS GOTY though (but I hope I’m wrong).

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I think I’d choose it as my 2013 goty winner, haven’t seen many other games that enticed me so.

    • NR says:

      Rayman: Legumes?

    • Juan Carlo says:

      Shadow Warrior would be a great surprise and I’d totally take back everything awful I’ve said about RPS’ advent calender choices in previous years. But no doubt they will pick some shit console port like Bioshock Infinite. They always end up picking an AAA game in the end.

  4. Yachmenev says:

    Now I’m a bit afraid that RPS will dissapoint me with their GOTY.

    But I’m glad that they wrote this much about this great game. Gone Home is fantastic.

    • caff says:

      Superb game/experience, I’m glad to see it so near the top of the list.

      It’s got to be the only title where I went back and found every audio log, then went and walked through in “developer mode”.

  5. aldo_14 says:

    peculiarity of leaving unpacked boxes in the hallway of a house that’s been lived in for month

    To be fair, I’ve had that in my flat for years. Except we eventually moved them into a cupboard.

    • phuzz says:

      I had a box that I’d originally packed stuff into at university. Four house moves later I finally got around to unpacking it (and throwing a lot of the contents away).

    • malkav11 says:

      Yeah, that’s not peculiar, that’s normal. We had packed boxes still lying around for the entire time we were living in some of the houses I’ve lived in.

  6. eQuality_Ninja says:

    Please please please please let Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons be on the Calendar. It may not have been a ‘purebred’ PC game, but as far as games go, it was unparalleled in its sheer magnificence. What other game has taken a simple thing like you pressing a button, making you weep, while the button pressing causes more weeping? Interactivity as an actual thing – only Brothers got this right. Without a single word said.

    • Yachmenev says:

      Day 6th.

    • AngelTear says:

      Brothers was in the calendar under number 6, you must have missed it =)

    • Pemptus says:

      Do you feel the need for a site to validate your taste in games? Why? That’s boring.

      • P7uen says:

        Maybe they would just like a game they enjoy to get a bit more publicity and have more people share the experience they had. Nothing wrong with that. Merry Christmas!

        • eQuality_Ninja says:

          What P7Uen said. I wonder if Pemptus has played it?

        • Darth Gangrel says:

          I never need anyone’s “approval” when playing a game, but I like to see the games I like get the acknowledgement I think they deserve.

          I’d like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons to get acknowledgement, but that’s mostly because it’s Swedish and I like that it’s also a collaboration between Swedish film director Josef Fares and Starbreeze. Such a collaboration doesn’t always go successfully and is quite rare as far as I know. The only other kind of project like this is Guillermo del Toro’s game InSane, which is TBA/development hell.

      • mouton says:

        We are herd animals. Seeking validation by our illustrious peers is only natural.

      • BooleanBob says:

        I am prepared to be honest & say that I fucking love having my opinions and tastes validated.

    • eQuality_Ninja says:

      Aha! I was just being a numpty then. Thanks for the heads up peoples.

  7. RedViv says:

    Since there is only one other game which quite wrecked me like Gone Home and Brothers did this year, it is good to see there is still hope for tomorrow to be badger babies.

  8. daphne says:

    Wow, what the fuck? I genuinely expected this to be GOTY.

    Maybe… maybe KRZ truly is Game 24…

    Seriously, I’m now at a loss as to what RPS has chosen this year. Am I missing something obvious (for some reason I have discounted Bioshock entirely, so except that one)?

    • AngelTear says:

      Well, I remember the majority of people commenting under the calendar thought KRZ was in fact going to be the GOTY, so I guess that’s it. I highly doubt it’s Bioshock.

    • karthink says:

      What’s KRZ?

    • ThTa says:

      It’s obviously going to be Rocksmith 2014 Edition, which is currently the highest rated PC game on Metacritic from the last 90 days. Alternatively, Battleduty 10: Fieldghosts, FIFA [Insert Year] and the latest Sims 3(?) expansion. (Combined)

      • The Random One says:

        You forgot Foot-to-Ball Shout-at-People 2013.

        …I now want to write a post-apocalyptic story in which people have tribal names and the main character is a footballer turned coach called Foot-to-Ball Shout-at-People.

    • caff says:

      KRZ is awesome, but it’s not a complete game yet (until all the parts come out).

      I wish I’d waited for the rest of it before starting it, as now I’ll have to refresh my memory for each part they deliver.

      • GameCat says:

        KRZ isn’t finished yet, but it already shows signs of straightforward brilliance and it have things that couldn’t exist outside a videogame.

        Also it have room full of bears.

    • Turkey says:

      They gushed about the story and characters even after the WIT was done. I’m pretty sure they picked Infinite.

  9. AngelTear says:

    Well, I was hoping for this to be the GOTY, now I’m a bit at a loss as far as predictions go.

    Nevertheless, it is my GOTY, without a doubt, and one of my favorite games ever. And it stuck with me as only the best stories do, I continually find its ghost in real life and think back to that most alive of empty mansions.

    I know praising this game utterly scares some people, cause they think they will not have their story-less action shooters anymore; I don’t want to obliterate other genres of gaming when I say this, but I do wish this kind of games develops further and offers more choice. Right now, besides visual novels, I can only think of Dear Esther, To The Moon, the Tale of Tales games (Sometimes even excessively cryptic) and maybe the last Amnesia. The Stanley Parable is in the same style, but it’s comedy instead of tragedy (and that will most likely appeal to a wider range of gamers).

    So, yeah. More of this please.

    • almostDead says:

      Yes, that’s exactly why this game has critics, because people think that this and titles like it, will destroy e-sports, end the yearly COD cycle, and ban bacon.

      Do you really believe what you write.

      • AngelTear says:

        It is in fact a reasonable assumption as to why many people like to call these games “non-games”, in order to discredit them and exclude them from their medium so that games are not “polluted”
        Here are more thoughts on this, with which I mostly agree with (except the “where do you place the limit” objection, which I think is a fallacy): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgu76ql6FSo

        I’m not saying all criticism of First person walkers comes exclusively from that, but that many people hate them because of it.

        • LionsPhil says:

          That’s not “in fact”. That’s “in opinion”.

          • AngelTear says:

            I also used the word “assumption”, about 2 words after “in fact”.

          • LionsPhil says:

            If the assumption is reasonable or not remains an opinion.

          • nindustrial says:

            That concluding the assumption is reasonable or not remains an opinion is an opinion. At least until you have given me an exhaustive run-down on your chosen views within the field of epistemology and we have determined whether you are correct (or can we ever?! Horace save us!)

          • The Random One says:

            No. An assumption is reasonable if it adequately follows premises which are, themselves, reasonable. It is a fact that AngelTear’s assumption is reasonable; it may be your opinion that it is wrong-headed, and it may be a fact that it is outright wrong.

            SEMANTICS

        • almostDead says:

          In this age of kickstarter, where publishers of manshoots can be obviated, and lots and lots of exposure from sites like this, you have nothing to fear that you aren’t going to get your wish of ‘more of this please’.

          You are ensuring it by buying. I think you fear the dreaded gaming horde for no reason.

          I think most of the reason that these games get critics, is that they bore the fucking shit out of people who don’t appreciate this kind of work. It’s not for everyone, but it doesn’t need to be any more.

          • soldant says:

            I didn’t like Gone Home not because of its project type (I firmly refuse to call it a game) but because it’s a cliched love story told in a ham-fisted fashion that gets rammed down your throat. It’s all the more frustrating when they did manage to deliver a much more interesting sub-plot with a lot more subtlety, but chose instead to run with the teenage love drama with shitty storytelling.

            That’s why I hate Gone Home.

        • kwyjibo says:

          Calling not-games not-games does not discredit them. If they’re not games, they’re art. Games have striven so long to be labelled art, yet when art finally comes along, they write opinion pieces in Edge magazine about how games is the correct pigeonhole. http://www.edge-online.com/features/the-increasing-breadth-and-diversity-in-games-is-wonderful-why-is-difference-such-a-threatening-concept/

          Video art uses the medium of film and the language of cinema. Yet we don’t refer to them as movies. To critique video art through the lens of film criticism misses the point. This is what happens when we critique interactive art, which Dear Esther unambiguously is, through the lens of games criticism.

          —-

          I think Gone Home is a game-game, there’s a system there to be challenged, a puzzle to be solved. But if refer to a toy as a toy, it’s because it deserves to be appraised by it’s toy-ness, not because I want to discredit it.

          • GameCat says:

            “If they’re not games, they’re art.”
            Uhm, what? So, Beethoven music isn’t music, because it’s art? Andriei Tarkowski’s movies aren’t movies, because they’re art? What the… O_O

          • AngelTear says:

            I think that’s a terrible distinction to make, and it just becomes an argument over names rather than the things we’re actually talking about. (You’re misrepresenting the argument in the article you linked to) As modernist art has tried to show, what counts as art very much depends on the context in which it is presented as well as the perspective of the viewer/critic when approaching it.

            Plus, it’d be just plain weird to say that art films are art but they’re not films. Or that some books are books while some others are art but not books. There is indeed a distinction, even if not always clear, between a product that is art-oriented (strives to be artistic) and one that is entertainment-oriented (strives to be fun, commercially successful) but that doesn’t mean each of these categories don’t share in the other. (Braid is an art game, but it also tries to be fun in the way that “entertainment-oriented” puzzle games do; And any game becomes pure entertainment as long as you skip the story. Art doesn’t have to be boorish, or rather, enjoyable by pure chance, to be art; It just shouldn’t compromise its artiness for the sake of commercial success; on the other hand, Dickens wrote primarily for commercial success, because he was poor and lived off of his stories, but that doesn’t mean his books aren’t art). Also, there is no critical instrument shared across all arts, to decode art you need specific knowledge of the medium through which it is conveyed. The medium does matter.

            In every medium, I think the distinction is simply between “pure entertainment/fun for the sake of fun” and “artiness”, but they’re not opposite poles on a linear scale, there’s something qualitative; they’re also not I/O discrete states (either it’s art or it’s not).

            On the other hand, within the context of gaming culture among gamers, calling a game “not a game” does (attempt to) discredit them just as much as calling someone Emo discredits them in the Goth culture (thanks, South Park) and it is used in order to push them away from “their” medium. It is stupid, insofar as there are many things that are not games and they’re still enjoyable (books! food! sex!), but it’s not just an argument about words, it tries to limit what gaming can be, equalling it to what some hardcore gamers want it to be. (which seems to me to be pretty much the point of the article you linked, a.k.a.: diversity is good, but some people feel threatened by it)

          • Synesthesia says:

            @gamecat
            Yeah, that struck me the exact same way. What the hell?

          • Shieldmaiden says:

            I think people are looking at the whole game/not-game thing in the wrong light. The fact that we’re having these debates with increasing frequency means that people are creating new and exciting things that are passing beyond the boundaries of our existing definitions of games and staking out new territory. I’m not arguing for or against the gameness of this or any other particular title, that way lies madness and neckbeards, but I do think our vocabulary needs to evolve. The alternative is to broaden the definition of the word game until it’s meaningless.

            It’s already happening. Interactive fiction is very much it’s own thing, with dedicated media coverage and a fairly solid common understanding of what it is. I think that we’re going to see it happen more and more. The whole “walking around a locale and absorbing story/atmosphere/whatever from the environment, but not doing much in the way of traditional game activities” genre is becoming quite established and I can see that maturing into it’s own thing.

            We only need to look at BIoshock Infinite to see a shining example of a title being hamstrung by a need to be a game. It’s a common viewpoint that there’s an interesting story in a wonderfully crafted world that is ill-served by all the shooting. It’s not even that it’s bad shooting, it’s even quite innovative in a number of ways, it just doesn’t fit right and the overall experience suffers as a result.

            In the future, I think we’ll see a cornucopia of different creative forms under one umbrella heading, the same way that literature covers novels, poetry, plays etc. At the moment, however, we’re arguing that poems are novels because they both consist of words written on paper.

          • WedgeJAntilles says:

            I would agree with your assessment, but my question is this: what’s wrong with using “game” as the umbrella term? Outside of video gaming, “game” has always been used for a wide variety of things — tag , for example, has no real winstate; candyland has no decisions whatsoever and is essentially a complex coin toss. Yet if you ask anyone whether or not these things are “games” they’ll say they are. Sure, it’d be useful to have some convenient term to cover these first-person walkabout games by themselves, but that doesn’t mean it’s good or useful to say “they’re not games, they’re something else.” I think doing so only serves to segregate and delegitimize these games because they don’t fit into the mold of what previous games have done.

          • kwyjibo says:

            You understand what video art actually is. I’m not talking about art house films or indie films.

            But video art, such as works from Bruce Nauman or Tacita Dean. Even looking at Steve McQueen’s work, there is a clear distinction between his earlier art pieces, such as Bear, and his cinema work such as Shame. The background necessary for appraising art works comes from art criticism, it comes with understanding the history of art.

            You don’t approach a piece of video art talking about the plot twists and the character arcs. Art critics did not give a shit about Dear Esther. The only critics that did give a shit are those with a background in Quake level design. That does not speak well of the work. Maybe because it’s stuck in a “games” pigeonhole.

            —-

            “If they’re not games, they’re art.”
            Uhm, what? So, Beethoven music isn’t music.

            No, that’s not my argument, that’s not how logic works. I’m not arguing that Beethoven’s music is not music. I’m not arguing that Beethoven’s music is not art. I’m not arguing that video games are not art.

            I am arguing that some art is “exclusively” art, and that by judging it by other terms does it a disservice. I think works like 4 minutes 33 seconds are best appraised as a piece of conceptual and performance art, and not through the lens of melody and harmony of general music criticism.

          • AngelTear says:

            I still don’t agree. I think maybe you’re underestimating what criticism actually is, in the case of video art you define it as “I understand “normal” films”. That’s like saying that a literary critic can’t understand poetry because s/he mostly reviews novels. Either you’re not a good critic, or you understand your medium more deeply than that. Maybe what you’re trying to say is that one needs to be cultured to understand what is going on, but a critic is supposed to be cultured, know the history of his/her medium and its relationship with other media. Say, with the silent music piece, you need to understand its relationship to other music, what it is doing “differently”, what it is saying about “normal” music, otherwise it’s meaningless.

            If you’re a film critic, you’re supposed to understand how visual communication works, so you’ll also be able to understand plotless “video art” as you call it. Gone Home is enjoyable in itself, but it acquires much of its complexity by understanding what it is doing differently from all other games, what is its place among other games (game art?); and if it wasn’t really considered in the world of arts at large it’s also because they probably don’t know much about the past history of gaming, or the peculiar language of the medium, and without that it’s art only insofar as its plot is art, and that is simply ok, but not fantastic. There’s no such thing as generic “art criticism”, there’s just engaging with something, but that requires understanding the medium first, and being cultured enough to understand its place and what it is doing.

          • Shieldmaiden says:

            @WedgeJAntilles

            Games already have a history going back thousands of years and a good couple of centuries of serious academic study. People who are far smarter than me have come up with some very good definitions of the term that somehow encapsulate the wide variety of activities we call games while still being fairly concise.

            My point is, we have a pretty good idea of what a game is already and these notgames don’t fit. Yes, they have a lot in common with video games, but going for a walk in the woods has a lot in common with football, but no-one is suggesting that going for a walk is a game. I’d argue that, for example, Proteus is to Battlefield what going for a walk is to football. Obviously Proteus and Battlefield share a medium, however as an activity it’s closer to going for a walk. I’d also like to point out that I’d much rather spend time with Proteus or walking in the woods than I would playing Battlefield or football.

            Accepting the notgames as games would mean slapping an addendum on to our existing idea of what games are that reads “Oh, and any kind of interactive creative endeavour on a computer.” It just strikes me as sloppy and imprecise, and somehow disrespectful, like we’re giving all the other games and the people who play them the finger and saying “Screw you, this is our word now!”

            And yes, I’m an academically-inclined nerd who enjoys discussing this stuff for shits and giggles. ;)

          • The Random One says:

            Shieldmaiden, what you people don’t understand is that your mind system of games isn’t as universal as you believe. You believe that computer games are a form of media in which you are presented with a system you must ultimately master and win. Because for the last twenty years or so all games fit these criteria, you believed that was everyone’s definition. However, I, personally, do not engage games as systems to be understood and won, but rather as systems to be appreciated and observed. Sometimes this appreciation and observation results in a mastery that allows me to win the game; rather often when I reach the point in which I reach the point of the game that’s labeled an ending I say that I ‘beat’ the game and walk away because I know nothing new will be introduced in the system so I already have as deep an understanding as I’ll get. For you, to add “notgames” to your category of games will dilute the meaning of the word; for me, to remove them will cause an enourmous amount of grey area. (Sim City doesn’t have a winning condition, is it a game? MMO’s never end, are they games? Does Just Cause 2′s multiplayer mod turn it into a notgame? Is GTAV a game but GTAV Online not?) Furthermore, since I’ve never played games to win, just to enjoy them, you are essentially telling me I’ve been looking at them wrong all my life! You’re telling me that I’ve never, at least deliberately, played a game!

            So you make a sports analogy, and it fits. However, were I to make that analogy, games aren’t sport, they’re physical activity. So what I hear you saying is “Walking is not a physical activity, because there is no score and no victors.” And to me, that makes no sense.

            To sum up: you are correct as long as your own definition of game is universally accepted, which you assume because it was historically mostly accurate. Your definition of game is not universally accepted, and I can personally attest to that because mine is different. These new games are games because they fit my concept of games and the old games you think of as “real” games also fit my concept of games, therefore they were working on my concept which is valid. I use a lot more adverbs than I should.

          • Shieldmaiden says:

            You make some awfully large and incorrect assumptions there. I don’t believe games have to be mastered and won. They can be (for a given definition of “winning.” It’s often cited as a defining feature of traditional games in these discussions, but isn’t an essential component by any standard I know) but I certainly don’t play that way. For me it’s the experience first and my interest in game systems second.

            You’re also assuming value judgement, which I understand, given the common desire of many to somehow discredit notgames by denying them game status. I don’t believe that there’s a right or wrong way to play games (other than by following the rules. That’s kind of essential) so I wouldn’t ever say that there was anything wrong with the way you choose to play them.

            What you’re suggesting is that changing the way you think about or approach an activity changes what it is. Even if we do assume that there is a right way and a wrong way to play a game, someone doing it wrong doesn’t stop it from being a game, it just means that they aren’t playing the game. If I sit down with a chess set and start telling stories about the king and queen, it doesn’t mean that chess isn’t a game, it just means that I’m not playing chess. Just as chopping up a newspaper to make ransom notes doesn’t stop it from being a newspaper, it just means that I should probably be worried that this was the first non-game analogy to pop into my head.

            You’re arguing that my definition of a game is wrong because it doesn’t match your definition. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, language is a fluid and fickle beast, however my definition is based on thousands of years of general consensus and decades of academic rigour. That still doesn’t make mine right, but it makes it more likely to be accepted as right. Even among academics, there are plenty of debates being had (for example, games are usually defined as being without external purpose. So if you get paid to play a game, is it still a game?)

            It may be the case that absolutely any kind of interactive entertainment on a computer becomes an accepted definition of the word game. However, this makes very little sense based on existing definitions and the history of games these definition are based on.

        • Runs With Foxes says:

          It’s not hatred, it’s a statement of someone’s enjoyment or lack of it. Calling something a game or not is a description of its design. A game as opposed to a puzzle as opposed to a simulation, and so on. Saying something isn’t a game is shorthand for “I find this boring because it lacks interesting decisions/systemic interactions/challenge/whatever”.

          Maybe some people are dismissive of Gone Home etc, but I think the problem stems from the limited terminology. I doubt the problem will go away (since the whole medium is now referred to as the videogame instead of, say, cybertext or something), but maybe if critics and scholars weren’t so insistent that Everything Can Be Everything it might help.

          • Emeraude says:

            The thing is that in that particular case: *everything* can be a game.

            A game is not a category of activity, but a quality that can be imbued to any activity.

          • taristo says:

            But they are not-games, some of them even take pride in being not-games: http://notgames.org/blog/2010/03/19/not-a-manifesto/
            It is even more so ironic that in turn they win the “Game of the Year” award, when they are clearly not.

            Would you call a Benchmark a “game”, despite sometimes being able to move on around it? An Architectural Visualization, a Disaster Simulation, an Interactive Movie which lets you push a few buttons or any number of things that are rendered using computer graphics and even slightly interactive?

            To top it off, it isn’t even a very good or impressive “not-game”, Dear Esther was a lot more impressive in the way it managed to convey the landscape and nature part and there was a lot of technological and artistic prowess behind it. What has happened here is that someone put together half or a quarter of a Bioshock 2 level, removing all the gameplay and decorated it slightly different and added one of the laziest story-telling/narrative mechanics you could employ in a game (conversely also used mostly in shooters like Bioshock, Doom or Aliens vs. Predator that don’t have time for an elaborate story-arch/exposition and plot development and need a cheap way out) by just placing audio tapes around the landscape, some of which in most of those examples also sometimes end with “AHHHH, it’s heading right for me… KHRTZRZRZR”.

            It is the cheapest way possible for exposition (both in an artistically bankrupt kind of way and monetarily) and possibly the worst way to tell a story. Show, or even better make people experience the story and narration through gameplay itself, don’t just disrupt gameplay and tell by dumping it on them.

            And even on top of that, I doubt it would have garnered any recognition at all, if not for the subject matter it touches, there are even parodies of it making the rounds: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/28073528/GoHo/GoHo.html

            This year (and next) are literally filled with actual First Person Adventure and Puzzle ”walking around games” of a similar kind that employ actual gameplay and seemingly had a lot more effort put behind them. Take for instance Kairo, Montague’s Mount or Dream, none of which got anywhere near the attention that this did, or upcoming ones like Ether One, Homesick, Cradle, XING and various others that have gotten possibly a single article to say “hey, so by the way, this thing exists.” and not much more.

        • belgand says:

          It’s not because I want to discredit them or because I’m a COD fanboy or such. It’s because I honestly don’t think they’re games. I’m glad people are enjoying them and I’m not saying people should stop making them, but they are not games in the same way that a haunted house is not a play.

    • dskzero says:

      I don’t think anyone’s scared of people praising this game. It’s just irritating that people tried to shove it into everyone’s faces.

  10. Freud says:

    Hard to figure what’s the GOTY. Fez, Dota 2 and Bioshock Infinite are possibilities.

    • Jac says:

      Was fez really this year on pc?! Seems like an age away. Gets my vote.

    • Ernesto25 says:

      I’d hate it to be fez due to the state i found the game in and i didn’t find it impressive perspective did its gimmick better. Dota 2 would be a strange one as its one of these games that i feel has been released forever and i reckon bio shock will be tomorrows pick.

    • The Godzilla Hunter says:

      I doubt Dota 2 will be on the calender just because this year wasn’t it’s “true release” in that beta invites were very, very easy to get earlier in the year.

      See: Frozen Synapse, which I think was left out of the calender just because the Hivemind felt it was more of a previous-year-game.

      • LionsPhil says:

        This is only going to get fuzzier with Early Access games piling onto the already vague blur of Episodics.

        Is Starbound a candidate? People have paid money for it and are playing it this year. It’s hard to spin that as “not released” just because the developer hasn’t stamped a “Version 1.0″ on it yet.

        • Darth Gangrel says:

          With all of these different modes of completion/advancement, I feel very old fashioned for wanting a game where I get everything in one package. I don’t want an unfinished game and I don’t want to pay to experience more of the main game. Updates are great, but unless they’re free additions or feel like large expansions on top of a finished game, then I don’t want them.

          • Harlander says:

            All these early access/beta/whatever games will have an eventual release, though, just wait for that. In many ways you’ll be better off doing so.

      • kwyjibo says:

        Dota 2 had a bonus Cara feature last advent on Christmas day itself – http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/12/25/magnificent-important-advent-calendar-bonus-door/

        Which means it’s the second coming of Christ, and not some trivial “game” of the “year”.

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      BioShock. And deservedly so, for all the reasons you’ll no doubt read tomorrow.

  11. kwyjibo says:

    Yes, I knew it! Sir, You Are Being Hunted is Game Of The Year!

    Well done RPS.

  12. Blackcompany says:

    Still say GOTY is XCOM: EW, on a technicality. But KRZ would not surprise me, either, and I mean that in a pleasant way.

  13. Prolar Bear says:

    I think RPS is going to throw some curveball with multiple GOTY candidates. That, or KRZ, or Fez since it wasn’t in the 2012 list.

  14. GameCat says:

    I think this game is somewhat overrated.
    Or maybe not, because I’m struggling to write a bad word about it.
    Anyway, it didn’t struck me emotionally as strong as Proteus, Brothers, The Wolf Among Us or The Walking Dead Season 2. It doesn’t even have any innovation in gameplay (maybe except “put item back on the shelf/table/etc” mechanics which I loved), I’ve seen all these in many other games.
    And if you want some really good ‘normal life’ games I think you should check some visual novels or IF games.

  15. Carra says:

    Rayman lemons for goty.

    And now I’ll have to play gone home.

  16. Turkey says:

    Really weird list this year. I can’t believe Gunpoint and Rayman didn’t make the cut.

  17. sith1144 says:

    Hoping for eu4

  18. Laurentius says:

    This year as usual my most playing time was spent on strategy games but unlike 2012 where it was clear cut case of CK2 being my GOTY, this year I will remember by two games Gunpoint and FEZ ( and probably being late to SpaceChem ).

  19. DrollRemark says:

    I only just played this yesterday, after getting it in the last Steam sale, and I’m so glad I caught up. Properly brilliant.

  20. d00d3n says:

    Gone Home is an understandable choice, but the inclusion of Brothers way down the list made me doubt its chances to be placed this high. While the deceitful indications of horror/threat made GH a very suspenseful adventure game, it is still by and large a traditional adventure game. In my opinion, the interest for the story and the characters hinges very heavily on the horror gimmick, i.e the writing is comparable to other high quality adventure games, not especially original, and would not stand out without the gimmick. Brothers is really in a different league compared with GH. It has a novel control mechanism, it uses the process of learning the controls to enhance its story (including the brilliant final moment) and it is perfectly paced around the time needed to master the controls. Additionally, the visual design of some of the areas/levels was truly stunning and bound to leave a lasting impression (on the level of seeing the 3d world in mario 64 for the first time, or seeing the expansive jungles in Far Cry, or the shader enhanced reality in Escape from Butcher Bay, or the physics simulation in Crysis, or the striking use of color in Mirror’s Edge). The only reason I can think of to place GH above Brothers on a GOTY list of PC games (except the abusive use of the rights to state a personal opinion … :) is that GH is a more PC centric experience.

    Well, it has been an interesting list this year. I would be shocked to see any other game than Metro: Last Light (a very intelligent choice imo) win GOTY. I really thought that gunpoint would receive some praise on the RPS list, but it seems unlikely that it would get GOTY.

    • Ernesto25 says:

      I can’t help but think of the Simpsons virtual reality gardening sketch when seeing gone home, gong to give it a go though as looks more interesting than dear esther

    • Nogo says:

      Brother’s isn’t way down the list, because the list isn’t really ordered.

      The first 20 or so games are interchangeable. And the last group or all interchangeable as well, excluding the last day which is GOTY. You’re reading into something that’s not there.

      Also, Brother’s has some issues with it’s lack of subtlety and gamey moments, which are poorly designed and executed. It’s not nearly as unique as Gone Home.

      • colossalstrikepackage says:

        I’d rate Brothers over Gone Home any day. I think the emotional payoff and interactivity of it remains unsurpassed.

  21. SanguineAngel says:

    I am not a games critic but I have to say I am way beyond fatigued with shooty and stabby games.

    • Ernesto25 says:

      Me too (kinda ) but mainly games which didn’t need to be that shooty or stabby *cough* bioshock infinite *cough*

    • colossalstrikepackage says:

      Bang on. Nonviolence is such a precious commodity as story too often takes a back seat. Here is to hoping for more such games.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      This year’s list is making me nostalgic for shooty/stabby games.

      Part of me wants to believe that was the point of the whole thing. I’ll just wait over here until the “games don’t have to be fun” fad is over.

    • fish99 says:

      I guess RPS weren’t so fatigued with shooty-stabby games last christmas.

  22. Revolving Ocelot says:

    I was expecting Rogue Legacy to be Goatee, so that shows how much I know.

    Bioshock Infinite seems likely. I know several months on everyone hates it, but there was so much discussion and talk about it in the month after it was released.
    KRZ is still 2 episodes out of 5, I don’t think that will take top spot.
    Gunpoint… quite surprised it wasn’t on the list. It’s good fun, but it’s not quite top spot worthy. Could probably swap it in instead of Amnesia AMFP, from what I’ve heard about it. (not played that yet and will do at some point, though)
    Shadow Warrior? Nah, don’t see that taking a spot over Bioshock.
    FEZ? Lolno. (Personally I liked it, but dear god some things reeked of pretentiousness)

    Dark horse outliers for fun and giggles: Tomb Raider, Metro LL, Rayman Lemons.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      Since this is the year where DLC makes the Advent List, I believe the GOTY will be…Saints Row IV: Enter the Dominatrix!

      Or Shadow Warrior. Or Need for Speed: Rivals, which I have been playing the hell out of. Here’s how: I pop up a challenge list and I turn off the game music and play one of the Hype Machine music blog playlists on Spotify in the background. It makes me remember when I was young and all I had to do was drive around in my beater car with a decent stereo and listen to underground and college FM radio stations where I’d hear new music and old music and if it snowed, I’d do donuts in the parking lot at the forest preserve. It was less about “cruising” than it was about hearing new music and favorite music and occasionally horrible music that made me jump to the channel change button.

      The only difference is that in NFS:Rivals, I’m doing it in a McLaren P1 and occasionally running from the police and jumping off bridges. And I’m drinking coffee instead of smoking weed. It’s not Burnout:Paradise, but it’s not bad. Of course it’s not the game of the year because it doesn’t give game critics the chance to use words like “ludic” and mention Herbert Dreyfus, but it was money well spent (and I bought the digital deluxe edition, $60).

      Also, Saints Row IV because it was funny and had heart. Not that many games have heart, and I prefer it to head. Wait, I didn’t say that right. I like head as much as the next guy, but heart, now that’s something you don’t get a lot of when you’re having a blast throwing aliens against skyscrapers.

      • The Random One says:

        How the Saints Saved Christmas is better than Enter the Dominatrix.

        Head is the Call of Duty of sexual intercourse.

  23. derbefrier says:

    Maybe goty will be path of exile. It won gamespot’s pc goty which was a surprise. Its definately should be a contender at the least.

    Meh gone home to each his own I guess.. These type of games never really do anything for me anyway though.

    I don’t know if guacamelee came out this year but that game deserves an award of some kind. I just bought it over the weekend and it is excellent.

  24. almostDead says:

    If I were a betting man: GODUS

    For me, personally, I’ve just discovered NEO Scavenger and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I only discovered it due to these comments sections being the best I have found anywhere. So I’m going to pass it on.

    (Godus isn’t serious, it just makes me laugh out loud whenever I think of it)

  25. dskzero says:

    I always find it hillarious how people truly believe this to be the GOTY. It’s an important step up in the right direction for new themes to take over games, but it’s also a pretty mediocre game., which is what I look for in a game, quality of gameplay, not a “progressive” plot. Fun fact: two of the best games I played in this game were Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and The Stanley Parable, both in the same genre but done much better.

    Critics hyped this game so much and turned out pretty sad, and the gamers voted with their dollars.

    • The Random One says:

      Gamers voted with their dollars by buying Gone Home a lot so the studio is financially secure? Your post seems to imply otherwise but I’ve not read anything about Fullbright firing employees so they can kill and eat them or anything.

      • dskzero says:

        Yes. I am referring to the vast difference in units sold between this and the Stanley Parable, specifically, two games mechanically very similar.

        The game sold 50K in two months, while TSP sold twice that ammount in two days (and I’ve read A Machine for Pigs sold 200K+ in a month or so). No reason to say it was a failure, but it certainly wasn’t the most successful game ever as people expected it to be for some reason.

  26. PopeRatzo says:

    I sincerely doubt I’d be naming Gone Home as one of my games of the year if I wasn’t a games critic

    I could kiss you for saying that.

  27. ain says:

    Not really the “game” for me.

  28. PopeRatzo says:

    It’s going to be Lego: Marvel Superheroes.

  29. Syra says:

    Just don’t be bioshock ffs. Mechanically the most tedious and dull game I played all year just for the hype and the story which was okay if a little pretentious and meaningless.

  30. bill says:

    A lot of commenters on game blogs appear to play a lot more games that games journalists. I always wonder where they get the time and money.

  31. Shadrach says:

    I thought this was about Stanley Parable when I read the intro, what with ring binders and all… I guess it’s tomorrow then.

  32. Jason Moyer says:

    Clearly, GOTY is going to be Blood Dragon.

  33. Spider Jerusalem says:

    gunpoint :(

  34. Well27 says:

    Dust: An Elysian Tail is going to be the GOTY, obviously.

    OK… maybe not. But I happened to love it, cringeworthy moments nonwithstanding.

    I’m also saddened by the absence of Gunpoint in the calendar.

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  36. Gargenville says:

    This game really tore open the old wound of realizing, somewhere around 2001, that Shenmue was not in fact the vanguard of a whole new generation of game worlds so vividly detailed and brilliantly realized you could smell them.

  37. antnioferreiramelo says:

    my classmate’s sister makes $67 hourly on the laptop. She has been without a job for 10 months but last month her check was $20187 just working on the laptop for a few hours.

    why not try this out…. http://23jobs.com

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