2014 wasn’t a great year on a personal level, although it was also an epochal one on a personal level – I bought a (very small) house, I saw my daughter grow from ever-wailing baby to mostly-smiling toddler, and I finally accepted that I should just take my increasingly dusty Rock Band kit to the charity shop (there’s a certain satisfaction in accepting that your party glory days are behind you).
But 2014 was the year in which I barely had an unbroken night’s sleep (which takes a severe toll on both memory and emotional state), played far fewer games than in any year since around 2006, for a second consecutive year was let down by collaborators and thus failed to get my own project (a strategy game about cats, since you ask) off the ground, saw a ‘community’ I thought I shared a hobby with attempt to destroy my livelihood and the lives of people I care about and/or deeply respect, and to add insult to injury the new Civilization game was kind of lousy. Get out of here, 2014.
The logical side of me tells me not to associate the change of a digit on the calendar with real change. Time is a continuum, not a series of sealed boxes, each distinct from the last. The emotional side of me tells me that January 1 necessarily draws a line under a bad year, and that 2015 can only be different. Logic be damned, I want to go with the emotional side because hope is the best cure for the blues. I’m going to need help, though. One form of that is finding a game to attach to, something that really gets its hooks into me, something that makes me burn to tell other people about it. I want to froth, I want my prose to turn as purple as a tin of Quality Streets, I want to spend my every waking moment wanting to play more of whatever it is. I want, at the end of the year, to be able to say [ENTER GAME NAME HERE] WAS MY GAME OF THE YEAR AND SCREW ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE.
That didn’t happen last year, but I don’t know if that’s down to the baby-limited time I had in which to play games, or to 2014’s crop not containing whatever it is I needed. Where was my King’s Bounty, my Risen, my Gone Home, my Kentucky Route Zero? (Ironically, there were games from most of those lineages last year, but the surprise factor was gone).
I have a strong suspicion I spent too much time with too many games which use the Assassin’s Creed structure – the map full of icons, each pinpointing exactly where the next known quantity was, each one closing the door on having an experience which felt in any way personal. It’s a simulacrum of freedom – really, you’re in a theme park, repeating a sanitised and mechanical experience. You know exactly what’s where, exactly what’s going to happen, exactly how it’s going to feel.
The time passes pleasantly, maybe even thrillingly at times, but it means nothing, there’s no sense of achievement other than Achievements. Maybe it’s more compulsive masturbation than Disneyland (or maybe Disneyland is masturbation? Discuss) – make the itch go away, risk a faint sense of guilt and self-disgust afterwards, then do it again anyway.
I’m perfectly happy for these things to exist, and even to spend some time with them myself, but I worry a) that this model is taking over, that the hollowness of Farmville is creeping into games on an intrinsic level and b) that I’m too lazy to resist playing them. I don’t want to miss out, and once I start playing I struggle to stop until most of those icons go away, because some reptile voice at the back of my skull tells me that cleaning up the map is essential to my wellbeing. That’s not what I want for myself.
So right now, I’m casting about, looking at this and that, in search of something to inspire me. I was wracked by jealously when Adam excitedly declared a couple of days ago that a game (Depths of Tolagal) he was looking for a quick news story had stolen his affections enough that he was going to write a feature about it instead. The lucky sod, to find it so fast. That’s what I want! Something that, for a brief moment, feels like it’s been made just for me. Something that isn’t what I expected it to be. Gimme.
I won’t fail to find it this year, this I resolve. It’s out there, somewhere. What’s it going to be? It’s in this big fat list somewhere I’m sure. Hopefully later this year I’ll be hopping from foot-to-foot, burning to tell you about it. Hopefully I’ll also finally manage to make something, or at least contribute to something. It’s only a digit change, but maybe that’s enough to make the world seem full of adventures rather than threats. Hello, 2015, what have you got for me?
This article was originally published as part of, and thanks to, the RPS Supporter Program.