Natalie Watson's Top 10 Games of 2017
2017 was a year of playing games for—and with—other people.
Header design by Janine Hawkins
Welcome to Waypoint's Pantheon of Games, a celebration of our favorite games, a re-imagining of the year's best characters, and an exploration of the 2017's most significant trends.
No doubt by now, we can all agree that 2017 was one of the most garbage years in recent history—I can say for sure that it was one of the worst I’ve experienced. However, as if by some divine grace, 2017 gave us some of the greatest games in recent history…most of which I did not play.
As some of you may know, I am in my last year of undergrad pursuing an individualized degree titled “Subjectivity in Gamespace,” combining my two passions: critical theory and video games. Many of the games I played this year were for class, and often, they were games I enjoyed playing, but not because they were “good,” but because they made me think critically about what I expect from games. And so, the games that made it onto this list from my syllabi are the ones that made me think the most.
Without further ado, here’s my list of my games of 2017.
(Honorable mentions include: Dungeons & Dragons (5th Ed), Golf Story, and Thief 2.)
I would be remiss to not talk about one of the strangest cultural phenomena of the year, HQ. While it was no doubt unsettling to be sitting in a bar and see handfuls of people pull out their phones—one-by-one, right at the strike of 9PM ET—and I do have to credit chat for spoiling Star Wars: The Last Jedi for me, the absolute thrill and devastation it evoked so effortlessly within me deserves acknowledgement. HQ was certainly my (phone) game of the year, even if it did expose this reality as just one long episode of Black Mirror.
I should say that it’s been a few months since I last played Overwatch, long enough that I’ve never played as Doomfist, nor Moira, but Overwatch was the introduction to online shooters that would lead me to take a chance on a lot of other games this year, two of which made it closer to the top of my list (stay tuned).
Overwatch was the first time I became excited by sharing my gameplay with others. It was the very first game I made designated “game time” with my friends for. Playing Overwatch was the first time I ever used a microphone to chat with my teammates. The game has held a lot of firsts for me, for which I will be forever grateful. Though it’s been awhile since I’ve played, it will always hold a special place in my heart—you know, where all those good firsts go.
8. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
When the Nintendo Switch first came out, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was an easy pick-up. I figured it would be my go-to game to play with my “non-gamer” friends who “heard I had that new Nintendo thing.”
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe became much more, and even became a mainstay in my weekends. Tournaments emerged, strategy and skill became necessary, and any sense of “casual play” quickly dissipated. Whereas before my go-to character was Toad—because, I am always Toad—my Mii was my champion, if only because it was extremely important for it to be my likeness passing by my competitors.
One by one, each map engrained itself in my muscle-memory, and drifting through the twists and turns of the game developed a comforting rhythm for me. Naturally, I became my own competitor, and the ability to shave milliseconds off my personal bests was the only thing that mattered (beating my friends was no problem). I imagine Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the closest I’ll ever get a speedrunner-like sense of competition, but I can definitely feel the pull.
7. Toontown Rewritten
Now this one may be the first to require a bit of explanation. Toontown, the greatest MMORPG to have ever existed (you can quote me on that) was, along with MapleStory (tied for greatest), the most important thing in eight-year-old Natalie’s life.
Of those two things, one made a re-entrance into twenty-two year old Natalie’s life: Toontown Rewritten. A passion project headed up by volunteers, Toontown Rewritten is a true-to-the-original revival, and a good one at that (despite some of its players’ adamant determination for breaking the game, as pictured above)
Though I will admit, Toontown Rewritten’s place on my list is mostly fueled by nostalgia, it was the game’s ability to replicate that nostalgia so genuinely that makes it special. The feeling of logging into an online community that only exists in that world is unrivaled. These weren’t friends of friends, or people I knew through Discords—no, these were completely random people, some returning just like me, others experiencing the game for the first time—and I formed relationships that could exist and thrive entirely in that online space.
I knew I could always count on Captain Wiggletuff* to join me for a five-story building, no matter if it was Bossbots or Lawbots we were battling. Yet sometimes, Captain Wiggletuff wouldn’t be online, and I would have tasks to fulfill—important tasks, crucial for the sake of Toons everywhere. And so, I would roam the streets of Donald’s Dreamland, searching for my new Captain Wiggletuff.
Toontown Rewritten forced me to revisit making online friends the old way, yelling into the void until someone answered—and I loved every minute.
*Name changed to protect player’s anonymity.
6. Absolute Obedience
Now, Absolute Obedience is one of those that came from my syllabi. I won’t talk much about the game itself here, it has a lot of problems. However, its reason for being on this list is what matters, and that is its influence on my academic concentrations.
Throughout my past four years or so of studying critical theory and philosophy, I have never been able to pin down one school of thought I wanted to hone in on for my post-undergrad career. Everything was interesting, everything held weight in today’s politics, and I couldn’t find a focus.
Absolute Obedience doesn’t do much well. In fact, it does a lot of things extremely poorly—such as, actually rewarding the player for maintaining dominant positions in the (often non-consensual) sexual relationships you engage in. However, what the game did for me as a critic and thinker was invaluable. Absolute Obedience pushed me to confront sexual politics in a way I hadn’t before, and led me to pursue queer theory as an academic focus.
Absolute Obedience was assigned to me alongside Andrea Wood’s “’Straight’ Women, Queer Texts: Boy-Love Manga and the Rise of a Global Counterpublic.” The coupling of this text and Absolute Obedience clicked for me, and on a larger scale, thinking about queer politics and games clicked for me.
So thanks to Absolute Obedience, through its arbitrary ranking system and intensely problematic bastardization of sub-dom relationships, I found my passion for queer theory.
5. Minecraft (Switch)
I never expected going into 2017 that Minecraft would make its way into my life. I grew up just after the Minecraft on iPad craze that every kid I babysat in high school apparently went through, and when my generation was playing it, I was, I don’t know, playing anything else.
So imagine my surprise when Minecraft became my game of the summer.
Minecraft was another of those “games with friends” games, because I never played it alone. I don’t think I even had my own server, I would just log onto my friend’s, even going so far as asking him to leave it on for me while he was at work. And it’s not like I would even do much. I just wanted to dig as far as I possibly could. My greatest accomplishment was my chest room, where I kept all of our materials meticulously organized. It was intensely rewarding for my OCD, and gave me the satisfaction of repeatedly completing tasks.
For the first time since the summer, today I asked my friend to boot up the old server so I could take this screenshot of our creation, and that craving to dig came rushing back. Perhaps I’ll ask him to leave it on for me, you know, for old time’s sake.
4. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
So, I didn’t actually play all that much of the infamous PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, but oh how I enjoyed watching it. When I started at Waypoint (only true Waypoint fans will remember), Breakfast & Battlegrounds was our almost daily stream. And so, for three days a week, half the summer, I watched as Austin and Patrick played this strange, strange game. I had heard about it of course, but I had no idea how good it actually was until one fateful night.
It was late, everyone had gone home, and I was still in the studio, running some stream tests for the next morning. I had to play something to make sure we were keeping up with framerate, so I thought to myself, “Eh, why not give PUBG a try?”
And I tasted it. I tasted that sweet taste of murder on my very first go.
It was a stand-off, just me and my enemy. Armed with a pistol, my aim trained from all those months of Overwatch, I shot. And I won.
Not a chicken dinner of course, but I won that stand-off. And it was all I needed to hit the ground running on my own experiences with PUBG.
*Disclosure: Screenshot has been doctored in Photoshop to show my immediate reaction to getting the kill, since I wasn’t actually on camera the moment it happened.
3. Call of Duty: World War II – Nazi Zombies
Now, if you would have told me—even a year ago—that a Call of Duty game would be on my game of the year list, I would have laughed in your face until the cows came home.
And yet here we are.
Call of Duty: World War II was given to me by a friend, simply because I had a PS4 and he didn’t. The first night I had it in my possession, I popped it into the disk drive and gave the campaign a whirl. After 30 or so minutes, I shut it off and wrote it off as something that would be perfect for collecting dust on my shelf.
I had played the Zombies mode once or twice before, years ago. I think JFK was there too. I also remember an extremely large robot whose foot you had to enter. Vague memories, and I don’t even think I was the one playing.
So color me surprised when a week later a (different) friend came over, told me how much he loved the Zombies mode, and two hours later I was begging him to go another round with me. I was hooked.
I can’t really justly compare this specific Zombies mode to any of the previous ones because I clearly didn’t play any of those to the extent I’ve played this one, but wow this game is good. You don’t really feel like you’re being pulled around, but you don’t feel completely lost either. The “Easter egg” is an actual plotline, and there’s a real narrative embedded in the environment that I wanted to figure out. Nothing felt arbitrary, as previous iterations had tended to feel before. Without the rebuilding windows/doors feature, the game feels less “survival” and more “save the fate of mankind.”
This game probably would have been even higher if not for its severe network crashing issues. But hey, it’s 2017. We’re not going to count that much against a game for being buggy, right?
2. System Shock
Another one from the syllabi, System Shock was assigned to me a couple of months ago. The course was structured around the history and evolution of the “narrative immersive sim”—an illusive phrase in of itself, and my classmates and I often struggled to define this nebulous thing that made up a “narrative immersive sim.” But System Shock was, to me, that thing exactly.
When it came time for me to give my thoughts on the game, I struggled with articulating myself. I knew how the game made me feel, I just didn’t know how to put it into words. It was a deep attachment to the environment, one that didn’t feel superficial like arbitrary sonnets strewn across a continent, but pertinent and important.
It also had Shodan.
My interactions with Shodan became a sort of obsession for me. Shodan was completely intangible, yet I felt her influence all around me. I could feel my relationship with Shodan shifting, developing. I would get close to her, and Shodan would remind me just how vulnerable I was. Any progress I made was made essentially with Shodan’s blessing.
And yet, I wasn’t terrified. The game’s soundtrack was upbeat, egging me along. I felt like boxer in a ring, bouncing around the space station, making quick jabs at my impregnable opponent, and with one swing, she would send me straight to the ground. But I kept getting back up, getting better, getting smarter, and I would bounce around again to face Shodan once more.
1. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
My number one spot goes to the only game to make me cry this year, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
From that very first scene of Link running out to the cliffside, overlooking all of Hyrule, I was enraptured with Breath of the Wild. This moment, set within the first ten minutes of the game, was the moment that brought me to tears. It felt like a homecoming, a world somehow familiar though I had never set foot inside it.
I spent hours on the Great Plateau, in the desire to soak up every square inch of the world I possibly could. I wanted to see it all, experience it all, be in it all. When playing BOTW, I wasn’t Natalie, I was Link. I was a hero, awakening in a world that I had once known but had seen a lifetime of terror since I had last traversed its grassy knolls, treacherous mountaintops, and rushing waters.
I’ve actually stepped away from BOTW since my first forty or so hours (that’s right, I haven’t finished it). I think the dissonance between my enchantment with Hyrule and the pain of reality was a little too much to bear. For the rest of the year, I distracted myself with games I justified for my studies and games I shared with others.
But when sifting through my screen captures from this game for this list, my eyes grew bleary with a fond remembrance for the adventures I had once had in Hyrule. I remembered the genuine wonder for a world, not a story, I had once felt.
After completing this list, Breath of the Wild is the one game I want to go back to. It’s the one game I’m not really sure what I would do if someone said I could never play it again. It’s the one game that has deeply impacted who I am and how I think. Breath of the Wild was the one game this year that was wholly and entirely for me, and that is why it is my game of the year.