Games this year

I'm not sure what's compelling me to write this. Perhaps it's a mixture of boredom and having just wrapped a session of reading Edge Magazine's 30th anniversary edition in my kitchen. Sipping a flat white with oat milk made painstakingly by yours truly in my kitchen while the kids bludgeon each other in the living room, flicking through a magazine that is part informative to me and part ritualistic.

Edge is celebrating 30 years of words printed on dead trees. Half Life is celebrating 25 years since being shipped. A marquee title for me because it awoke my PC-gaming sensitivities. And I'm older than both of these things.

Which makes me consider where I am today, in 2023, as a 38 year old man with young kids who'll very likely get sucked into the gaming universe like I once did. It'll be my job to shepherd them to avoid a minefield of garbage and disapprove of anything that's via subscriptions from Netflix or similar. They'll also inherit an unnervingly large Steam library (as long as Valve doesn't shift business model or cease to exist) and a wonderfully curated archive of 16-bit era ROMs.

What's fascinating about the industry to me is that I've absorbed so much of it for so long. And yet, other than a few months' stint as a QA tester on Call of Duty 4 (where I was unceremoniously shifted out of the building for publicly calling Soldier of Fortune shite), I've never worked in the industry. I don't think I ever will, because I get to see it with rose-tinted glasses. Sure, friends and colleagues work or have worked in the industry. And almost no one has anything good to say. Yet I still pursue the intellectual pursuit of understanding what makes it tick. A bit like how my partner does the same in the film industry; except she's actually in that industry.

And in 2023 I think about what I've played. And while, sure, AAA behemoths have captured my imagination. Namely Cyberpunk's pristine DLC from an embattled and point-to-prove studio CDPR, or the first-party Sony offering with Horizon: Zero Dawn's DLC. I'm currently slowly making my way through the impressive and fun Spider-Man 2. I've enjoyed Street Fighter 6. But most of my year has been revisiting prior years' offerings, even if those years are very recent (Cult of the Lamb, etc.).

My medium has shifted, too. Said children who have now shifted to running loops around the halls of my house occupy my living room TV more than I can. So playing the PS5 is a bit of a negotiation. And my PC sits in the attic so tends to get very little love save for the very rare occasion where I'm left to my own devices and feel like being in awe of some graphics in Starfield or, let's be honest, just want to spelunk into some CS2. No, my medium of choice this year is twofold: Analogue Pocket or Steam Deck. Both of which have been gifts to my mental health, frankly.

I spend an inordinate amount of time organising my Pocket for the event of my untimely death, so no one feels embarrassed about my folder structure or choice of ROM packs. But other than that, I've spent so much time enjoying my Steam Deck that I've gone ahead and bought the upgrade for 2023, the OLED edition. These handhelds are direct ancestors of the PS Vita, in my opinion. They capture what the Vita did. Sony dropped the ball on getting titles on their brilliant package. But the package itself was gorgeous.

I fear 2024, and 2025 will be much of the same from my perspective. Good AAA offerings piggy-backing on prior ones that offer a sense of dystopian story resonance alongside familiarity with some past offering. All while I spend enormous time on weird, RPG-ish cartoony indies on my Deck and dig into 16-bit fun times on planes. Let's be real, I'll keep on the indies for a long time but then wind up exclusively playing EA FC, F1 and GTA for the next 2-3 years. Christ, it's grim.

But hey, in aggregate, playing a bad game tends to be a more rewarding experience than watching a bad movie.