Upon reflection, I can safely say that 2020 is the worst year of my life. Unlike prior contenders for the worst year of my life, I couldn’t mitigate the bad shit by making fun memories with my friends. This year was mostly spent alone, in front of a screen, trying my best to navigate multiple internal and external crises.
So yeah, not terribly fun.
My apologies for opening with such a downer, but come on now. You lived through this year; you know how hard this shit has been. I know for me it would’ve been a lot harder if I didn’t have my good old reliable anti-drug: weed. Also, video games.
This time of year is usually filled with best and worst of lists but this has been anything but a usual year. This list isn’t structured by which game I loved most or any arbitrary ranking system. It’s simply the games that helped me get through what has been the perpetual shit show that has been 2020.
So enough preamble, let’s talk about some video games.
I have to give a big shout out to Animal Crossing: New Horizons for holding it down during the early days of the pandemic. Shit was scary, we didn’t know how long this was going to last (remember thinking we’d be through the worst of it by June?), and we all just needed some small slice of comfort. I know for myself and a lot of folks, New Horizons was that comfort. It’s a game built around routine and normality, which was much needed as we all had our routines completely shattered.
It was fun trading tips, recipes, and fruit with the homies. Visiting the islands my friends built is honestly the closest I’ve come to going over to any of the houses in the last nine months. While I don’t return to my island as frequently as I did over the spring and summer, I cannot deny that Animal Crossing was a balm during my time spent with it.
Call of Duty: Warzone may very well be my game of the year simply because it provided a place for me and my friends to hang out in a year where we couldn’t physically do so. We all got into this game by sheer chance, to be honest. It was one of the few games with crossplay capabilities we were all interested in, and it was free-to-play, which meant that even if we didn’t dig it, there was very little risk in trying it out.
We’ve been trying to get my friend Andy to play video games for almost a decade now. Lo and behold, all it took was a pandemic, Call of Duty, and being furloughed from his job to get him to pick up the sticks. (He has a job now, don’t worry.) Not only did he pick up the game, he got good at it, becoming one of our star players.
Warzone is one of my favorites this year in large part because it got one of my friends into gaming and it helped keep us close. A good chunk of our matches are spent seriously pursuing a W, but oftentime we’re just cracking jokes, giving each other life updates, and using the game more as a social space than anything else.
When I began to shed involuntary tears at Final Fantasy VII: Remake’s incredible recreation of the intro cutscene from Final Fantasy VII I knew I was in trouble. I can’t lie, I went into this game with an incredible amount of apprehension. I knew there was going to be tweaks to the story, the battle system, and the fact that they were making a 40-hour game out of the first section of Final Fantasy VII was just bizarre to me.
Yet, upon booting up the game I could instantly feel the love that the creative team had for this world. The battle system finally feels like Tetsuya Nomura fulfilling his long-held desire of making RPG action look like this. The story changes aren’t egregious and it feels like an adaptation of Final Fantasy VII more than a remake, which just further makes it one of the more interesting games in recent memory. (If you have three hours, Tim Rogers does a great job breaking down the strange space Final Fantasy VII: Remake occupies as a video game.)
This was a flat-out thrill and was probably the most fun I had playing a game this year. Beyond the nostalgia pop, the simple feeling of exploring this incredibly built world was a joy. Every second of it, even the goofier shit, just feels cool. We didn’t really get summer blockbusters this year but Final Fantasy VII: Remake ably filled that role for me. The action is great, the humor is silly, and when the plot beats hit, they hit.
Ghost of Tsushima is basically just an Assassin’s Creed game wrapped in a samurai package. You could also boil down Batman: Arkham City to that description, but that doesn’t make it any less of a banger. Ghost of Tsushima is on my list for two reasons. The first is that it just, fucking, bangs. Graphically, this game is beautiful. The fictional island of Tsushima is brought to vivid life and just makes you feel like you’re starring in your own samurai movie. Getting into a duel with another samurai as the wind rips through a field of chrysanthemums is just inherently dope. I found protagonist Jin Sakai’s struggle to honor the code he was raised on while doing what needs to be done to save his home compelling. The combat and stealth mechanics feel like a throwback to Onimusha and Tenchu, games I fucked with heavy as a kid.
The more personal reason for the game being on this list is that it was the game that got me through the hardest part of my year. Summer was, to put it bluntly, fucking rough. My personal life was in shambles, everything I had planned for my future kind of fell apart, I was feeling creatively unmotivated, and all of this was happening while I was still in the early months of being full-time at The Root. It was a lot to process all at once and it was the lowest I felt this year. It sounds dumb, but having a world I could escape in while everything else was on fire was such a needed respite.
Games have always been there when I needed them, they’ve been an essential part of my self-care process for as long as I can remember. When I needed it most, I had Ghost of Tsushima. There were no themes or ideas in it that resonated with my current situation, it was just a good ass game. Sometimes, that’s all you really need.
On a personal level, I’m feeling more like myself again which is nice. I’m hoping that this time next year that A) I’m still employed here and B) I can talk about video games just being good as fuck and not how they got me through one of the most traumatic periods of my adult life. While this year was pure basura, I’m hoping 2021 winds up being at least moderately better for everyone and that there are a litany of good games to boot.
So to ring in the new year, wear that mask, wash those hands, and play as many damn video games as your heart desires. You made it through 2020, you earned it.