Existential crises, Pokemon guilt, and deadly summer camps

Things I loved in 2022

Existential crises, Pokemon guilt, and deadly summer camps

This year has been a bit of a weird one, hasn't it? We've been burning through Prime Ministers and monarchs at the speed of light, I'm spending a shocking amount of money on electricity, and I can't find a normal packet of cream crackers at the supermarket.

You know what? I don't want to talk about it.

Let's talk about the good stuff. Tons of things have brought me joy, mostly normal life stuff, and I feel grateful for all of it.

And I've lost myself in games this year. I've learned a lot about the games industry, particularly the journalism side. I've been embraced by a lovely community of writers, editors, and content creators, all sharing a love of the medium and all wanting to see newcomers thrive. I've been given advice by some incredible people. And I’m so grateful.

This means I’ve had an excuse to buy new games, too. I never usually want to join in with the whole GOTY thing: I don't usually have the money to buy games when they first come out, so I tend to wait for offers. This means I end up being the idiot going on about how great Horizon: Zero Dawn is about a million years after everyone else has realised it.

But screw it! It’s my Substack. Here are the games, books, and magazines that have brought me joy in this topsy-turvy year (whether they’re new or not).

Fall Guys. Is that a weird one to start with? I want to discuss Fall Guys and its relation to my faith deconstruction in more detail at some point, but to give you the TLDR: having an existential crisis is a very long process, and it involves a lot of talking. Talking helps me to get my head around what I do (or don't) believe. Sometimes I don't want to do this. It's tiring and frustrating. Other times, I can't shut up about it. But I can't just sit there and talk about it. I need to be doing something at the same time.

Enter Fall Guys. I've played approximately 1000% (totally non-scientific guesstimate) more Fall Guys since it came out on the Switch. And I have spent several evenings discussing theology, faith, and matters of life and death, all while trying to steer my little bean man to the finish line. There's something completely soothing about it, and it seems to focus my mind enough to be able to articulate what I'm feeling.

I'm not sure that's what the developers had in mind, but you know, whatever works.

Disco Elysium arrived in my life at a moment where I felt incredibly stressed. Deadlines for both uni and work were looming, I had sobbed my way through my latest Zoom tutorial, and I felt like I was dropping plates all over the place, unable to work and study and be a parent and do everything that was expected of me.

And then along came Disco Elysium. I only really got into it when I had a rare day off. I was soaking wet from the school run, and I had terrible cramps. I had an assignment that needed to be written. I got into my pyjamas, crawled into bed, and curled up with the Switch instead. There was no turning back from that moment: I was lost in Revachol, mysteries, dark humour, and unlikely friendships.

I finished Disco Elysium eventually. I cried through the ending. I wrote the assignment. I got my work done. I came away from this game energized and refocused; I knew, with 100% certainty, that I absolutely want to write about video games and that I absolutely want to spend my life trying to create beauty and meaning with words, even when it feels impossible.

Smooshy bit over. Time for a palette cleanse: fuck me, Immortality is amazing. It had a huge impact on me, although it was a bit of a slow burn. I kept thinking about it after I finished it, and the more I read and watched other people trying to piece the story together, the more I appreciated it. A stunning piece of work, summed up really nicely by this Jacob Geller video (which is massively spoilery, so please avoid it if you haven't played the game yet. But definitely watch it if you have).

Also, I really like the fact that Manon Gage has started a Twitch channel. She seems to gravitate towards the games I like to play.

Can we talk about The Quarry quickly? Because I have some thoughts on this. It was right up my alley: I watched the RKG playthrough of Until Dawn and loved it, so I had a feeling I'd like The Quarry too. I was a teenager in the early noughties, after all. Going to the cinema to see the latest stupid teen slasher was our favourite activity (other than drinking Smirnoff Ice in inappropriate places) so the concept of steering silly characters through a murderous summer camp appealed to my past self.

The Quarry wasn't perfect. The performance on our PS4 was ropey at times, and while I can see how technically impressive the motion capture is, there's just something off about the mouth region. After all this time, there's still something off about the mouth region. Why is this? Is it the teeth? I don't get it.

But the performances were great. I liked the stupid deaths (sorry Abi, I panicked), and I fell in love with Ted Raimi a little bit. More importantly, it was something me and Chris looked forward to playing together.

Having said that, if someone could explain to me exactly why the Hacketts thought it was appropriate to run a summer camp for small children given their circumstances, I would very much appreciate it.

Talking about flawed games I loved: Pokemon Legends: Arceus and Pokemon Scarlet & Violet have been controversial this year.

I loved them both. Sorry.

I spent a large amount of time in the nineties sitting on my front doorstep, staring out into my cul-de-sac and imagining what it would be like to ride on a Ponyta. Arceus allowed me to actually interact with Pokemon in a way that I hadn't been able to, and I love the fact that they've continued that with Scarlet and Violet.

I am part of the problem. I pre-ordered Violet, and I played it for hours and hours despite the fact that it was massively underwhelming in terms of graphical performance. I know that people like me give Game Freak absolutely no impetus to make changes; they can sell zillions of copies of their games even if they're objectively a bit shit because people like me will lap them up regardless, and I kind of hate myself for that.

But look! I caught a big Snorlax.

I played some brilliant indies this year. I got to review Cursed to Golf, a golfing roguelike with the most amazing pixel art. (I also got to interview Liam Edwards, the director of Cursed to Golf, for Issue 8 of Ninty Fresh, which was really interesting.)

I Was a Teenage Exocolonist is a narrative RPG I loved: gorgeous watercolour visuals, a surprisingly dramatic and heartbreaking story, and soothing gameplay. It's a world I happily lost myself in for a while.

I also got to test out Riley & Rochelle by Tim Sheinman shortly before it was released. It had excellent visuals, great voice acting, and interesting puzzles that are just difficult enough to make you feel really smart. It's also set in the nineties and has a banging soundtrack.

Finally, a shoutout to Ministry of Broadcast, a puzzle platformer with an interesting (and brutal) storyline. It's one of the most stylish games I've played this year. (It's also on sale quite often on the Switch, so you know. Keep an eye on it.)

Finally, I want to shout out the three games I finally got round to playing this year: The Stanley Parable, Life Is Strange, and Stardew Valley. I'm sorry I was so late to the party, and I love you all very much.

This email is getting way too long, but before I head off, here are some books I've loved this year.

  • Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, about a time-travelling coffee booth, which broke my heart into a million pieces;
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins-Reed, the story of a mysterious former Hollywood starlet which I was so obsessed with that I read it while cooking, in the bath, wandering around the house, etc;
  • The Incomplete Tim Key by (unsurprisingly) Tim Key, which I re-read and loved all over again this year;
  • Blood On The Tracks Volumes 1 & 2 by Shuzo Oshimi, an extremely unnerving series of graphic novels that I want to talk about properly on another Substack;
  • Beartown by Fredrik Backman, an emotional, slow-burning book about sexual abuse and the hero-worship of teenage athletes in a small town;
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, a collection of writings by Ephron that had me laughing one minute and crying the next;
  • The Opposite of Butterfly Hunting by Evanna Lynch, a surprisingly honest and witty account of fame, growing up, and eating disorders;
  • My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix, an almost absurdly gross, terrifying, Carrie-esque audiobook that made me scared to get up and go for a wee at night; and
  • I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O'Farrell, the most beautifully written memoir I have ever read, which gave me shivers and made me appreciate the fact that life is, in fact, a gift.

Last thing before I go and leave you to your Christmas leftovers. A shoutout to print media outlets: Ninty Fresh (obviously), Switch Player, Wireframe, Lock-On, and A Profound Waste of Time. Thanks for keeping me occupied. Thanks for pouring your heart and soul into a frustratingly difficult industry. Thanks for showing me the work of incredible writers and artists this year. And thanks for looking so pretty on my bookshelf.

I'm going now, I promise. Stick with my Substack! Next year I hope to explore all sorts of questions: was there ever a Lion King video game helpline? What happens when you realise the book you're named after is actually quite creepy? If you could go back in time and stop someone dying, would you do it? And why hasn't anyone made a really excellent Buffy game?

It'll be thrilling!

See you in the new year <3