The Mythical Year of Too Many Good Games
It has been a year of anxiety, exhaustion, and struggle. Thankfully, it's also been a year of great games.
Header by Sunless Design
If there has been a common refrain for 2017, it was "Fuck this year." Which, to be fair, was also the common refrain for last year—and for many before it, too. But what set 2017 apart from past disaster years was the cadence. On some scale, every year brings political losses, environmental disaster, mass violence, economic precarity, and, yes, beloved celebrity death. But no year in my life has offered up fresh crisis with such speed and regularity.
Scandals that would once dominate an entire week's news cycle were barely fodder for an afternoon. Terrible natural disasters were immediately followed by different terrible natural disasters. We woke up to—or stayed up watching—social media feeds and news reports about violence, sometimes political, sometimes personal, sometimes seemingly random.
It was exhausting, and with so much to worry about, the organic down time that we normally find to recharge our batteries was also put under threat. In 2017, it was harder than ever to work up the strength to confront problems directly.
Somehow, though, the world of gaming was determined to maintain its own whirlwind pace in 2017. By the end of February, we were even complaining (as is our wont) that there were too many games worth playing. To be fair, by the end of February, we'd already played (or were in the middle of playing) Gravity Rush 2, Let It Die, Resident Evil 7, Horizon Zero Dawn, Nioh, Fire Emblem Heroes, Night in the Woods, Yakuza 0, Super Mario Run, and two different Telltale series. I was even a few hours into Breath of the Wild.
As the year went on, events in the world only got more frustrating and the games continued to impress.
It was hard to keep up, and the deluge of great games has led to a lot of chatter this year about the crowding of platforms, the increase in microtransactions, the possibility of (yet another?) "indie apocalypse," and the seemingly inescapable gravity of the marketplace. Game developers, of course, didn't pause and wait for us to have these debates. They just kept shipping incredible games.
As the year went on, events in the world only got more frustrating and the games continued to impress. And as good as the games were, the dissonance was hard to swallow.
On the day Trump's first immigration ban order was announced, Patrick and I were busy writing about class struggle in Gravity Rush 2. On the weekend that Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, I was trying to figure out what I thought about Agents of Mayhem. Sometimes, the discrepancy was too great for us: In the wake of the country's worst mass shooting this past October, we stepped away from streaming PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.
In 2017, games needed to be more than distractions. They had heavy lifting to do.
But games were also the way we got through the hardest weeks. In March I wrote that "Breath of the Wild Is the Zelda Adventure I Always Wanted," but it was also the game I needed to make it through the year. Collecting korok seeds and solving shrine puzzles could not be more trivial an activity, but when I needed something to lift me out of the deepest slumps, or something to pull me away from Twitter and into bed at 3AM, there they were.
By March, I was trying to work through how those two things fit together, causing me to write a little about the intersection of video games and self-care. It wasn't the first time, either. Back in my 2014 (2014!) Game of the Year list for Giant Bomb, I wrote about the tension between needing to recover during hard times and needing to remain engaged:
This year we’ve been forced to face hard truths about our community and our country, and this has put the need for self-care and the need for social improvement in conflict over and over, again and again. Do you spend the night engaging with the rando on Twitter who seems to be coming from an honest place, or do you take the night off and just watch some shit? Do you correct your racist uncle at the holiday dinner, or just roll your eyes and rub your temples? Do you put on your heavy coat and walk down to the protest, or just hit RT from the comfort of your bed?
My takeaway then was that it was a hard line to walk, but it was one we had to do, and one that games could help us with. In 2017, I understand that better than I ever could've then.
In the lead up to our big end of year coverage, I honestly wasn't sure what we were going to do. Last year, we concocted Waypoint High, an alternate universe where our favorite characters of 2016 were awarded Senior Superlatives, danced together at the prom, and snuck out of class to get high in the tennis courts. It was fun. 2017 was not fun. And, frankly, it just didn't feel right. In 2017, games needed to be more than distractions. They had heavy lifting to do.
So, when Waypoint's managing editor, Danielle Riendeau, suggested that we should build a pantheon to play off of the "godly" year of games, everything clicked into place.
Whether about Athena, Agni, Anansi, or Amaterasu, myths did work for the people and the cultures who told their stories. As Paul Veyne argues in Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths?, these stories were not "simply" held as fact, but used as tools for thinking through daily problems, civic responsibilities, and the most philosophical of inquiries. For cultures around the world, the stories of gods and goddesses allowed humans to conceptualize justice, demonstrate the folly of arrogance, and make sense of unexplained phenomenon. And, you know, they also made for great entertainment.
I leaned on games in 2017. When all I could do was think about death, What Remains of Edith Finch offered to think along with me. When I felt burnt out from political action, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus demanded I consider the costs of selfish inaction. When, on my lowest nights, I wondered if there was any chance that humanity could bridge its differences, Nier: Automata gave me tools to both wallow and hope, in turn.
So, for the next five days, Waypoint will be constructing its own loose mythology of gods and goddesses, avatars and heroines, twisting labyrinths and dark passageways to the underworld. We'll be running articles about our favorite games, writing about some of the year's most memorable characters, and analyzing major industry trends. And yes, we are of course bringing back fanfiction again this year—how could we not ask some of our favorite writers to add their own myths to the collection?
Oh, and, because want to entertain you ourselves, too, each day will bring its own podcast and pre-recorded livestream, too. For the streams, just follow us over on Twitch, and for the podcasts, subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher (or add this RSS link to whatever platform you'd like.)
It's all bound to be a lot of fun, a little contradictory, and hopefully pretty thoughtful, too. Just like the myths that inspired us.
Here's to the end of 2017, may it rot in hell.