My Favorite Games of the 7th Generation (Part 2)

After accidentally deleting all my notes and getting really frustrated, I finally completed part 2 of my personal favorite games of the 7th Console Generation, the first of which you can read here. Sparing the need for a lengthy introduction, let’s get right to it.

6. Okami

Okami holds the dubious honor of being the worst-selling recipient of a “Game of the Year” accolade from a major gaming publication. Which is pitiful, because Okami is a wonderful and uplifting adventure of mythical scope and legendary beauty. Thick outlines, wispy details, and a rich palette lend the game a painterly aesthetic inspired by traditional sumi-e watercolor painting. The vast world of Nippon provides an incredible possibility space for any number of adventures,  each quest draws players into a fairytale world where friendly deities inhabit everyday life, helping humans with their everyday problems and protecting them from nasty demons like Blight, Ninetales, and Crimson Helm. Okami isn’t a dark, serious, conflict between forces of good and evil, but rather a playful, childlike one, with animals to feed, forests to regrow, and bridges to repair.

Okami was special because it imbued action-adventure mechanics with positivity and love.

An innovative core mechanic provides players with a thematically assonant means to interact with the delightful world. Using the Celestial Brush, controlled with the Wii Remote, players can paint objects into existence: a swish of the brush produces a strong gust, while a circle in the sky produces bright sunlight. Using a collection of brush techniques, players enact positive change upon the world. Carrying a positive subtext about environmental preservation and restoration, Okami‘s methods of interaction revolve around construction and restoration, rather than killing and destruction, making it ultimately way more unique as an action-adventure game than it should be. Enemies don’t fall over and die, but burst into beautiful clouds of flowers and butterflies, suggesting that the act of killing a creature is an action of liberation and restoration, rather than strictly one of violence. This all culminates to create a sense of mythic wonder characteristic of the very best of adventures.

5. Bastion

Bastion is a textbook example of how to design a linear game of progression properly. An isometric hack-‘n-slash game, Bastion delivers its story in a unique way, a reactive narrator, Rucks,  voiced by the cool, wistful, Logan Cunningham, comments on every action the player takes, delivering a constant stream of exposition that lends the narrative a detached, forlorn feel. In Bastion, the player wakes up to find his home world of Cylondia destroyed by some cataclysm of unknown origin, known only as the Calamity. He meets Rucks, and the two work together to collect crystals to restore power to the Bastion, a floating ship that would either allow them to set sail away from post-apocalytpic Cylondia or send them back through time to Cylondia before the Cataclysm.

Bastion was special because it was aesthetically luscious and perfectly paced.

Metaphorically, Bastion is an allegory about failed relationships. Players can choose to accept that great loss and move on, hoping to come across new friends, memories, and love somewhere in a terrifyingly vast future. Or they may choose to cling on to the possibility of reliving those moments of joy and returning to peaceful life prior to the Calamity, all while living in the shadow of the possibility that the Calamity would happen again. Its an emotive story with impactful, real-world implications.

Outside of its luscious, painterly aesthetic, its twangy, evocative soundtrack, and its original narrative, Bastion is perfectly paced and filled with variety. Every weapon the player acquires fundamentally changes how the game works. Different pieces of equipment don’t alter the numbers soft coded into the game’s combat system, but introduce systemic changes that substantially alter kinesthetics, tactics, and combat encounters. Playing Bastion with a machete and a bow is fundamentally different from playing Bastion with a shotgun and mortar, creating such an incredible degree of dynamism that players could have radically different experiences playing through the same story.

4. Super Mario Galaxy

Gravity isn’t our friend in video games, its shadow creeps behind our every move in space like an overbearing schoolteacher, eagerly seeking out the slightest fault. Hungrily it waits, waiting for the opportunity to end our fun, bringing us careening down into the lava pit, the bottomless abyss, the steel bed of spikes. Jumping may grant us temporary liberation from its heavy grip, but down we fall, unable to escape its gloomy grasp. No matter how joyful and free we may believe ourselves to be, Gravity’s inescapable shadow paces restlessly, watching us, reminding us that we are mortal, and that our fun comes at a risk.

Super Mario Galaxy was special because it recreated gaming’s oldest adversary as a playful friend.

Which is why Super Mario Galaxy is perhaps the greatest 3D platformer of this generation. Here, gravity is not judge nor adversary, but friend, playfully inviting us to dance. Levels in Super Mario Galaxy are comprised of numerous objects in space, each with its own gravity field. Gravity in Galaxy becomes a toy to be played with, and players joyfully dance through planetoid, starfield, and asteroid as they experiment with the boundaries of this otherworldly conception of physics. Suddenly, movement through virtual space, an experience that we’ve long since become accustomed to that it has become rote, becomes fresh, joyful, liberating. The cathartic escape of spinning into that first launch star and rocketing myself away from my preconceptions about physics is a feeling that I will never forget.

3. The Last of Us

Most AAA action-games ask players to enact power-fantasies, granting players a plethora of skills, powers, weapons, and tools, and giving them a stream of opponents and challenges to unleash them upon. Skillful play in games like Batman and Vanquish is empowering, the aggressive thrill of terrorizing violent thugs and evil robots intoxicating. This power fantasy has become so deeply encoded into video games that it has become the unsurprising norm. In direct contrast is The Last of Us, Naughty Dog’s post apocalyptic survival-horror myth, where combat is explicitly disempowering.

A hybrid of mechanics lifted from third-person shooters and stealth games, every combat encounter in The Last of Us overwhelms players with a tapestry of emotions, fear, panic, and catharsis. Interspersed between battles are long swaths of scavenging and exploration through believably designed environments, all performed in the creeping shadow of the possibility of ambush. Little glimmers of hope pierce the bleakness, often in the form of small portions of essential resources: half a bottle of alcohol, a broken pair of scissors, a cup of sugar. But desperately they may scavenge, players are never quite adequately prepared for any given encounter. Enemies are typically overwhelmingly strong, and almost always greatly outnumber Ellie and Joel. Their smart, hunter-ly behavior pigeonholes players into moving conservatively around the environment, the dreadfully tense dance between covers crescendoes into a panicked ratchet of gunfire and shivs, climaxing with the cathartic release of killing that last thug or Clicker. And then, the grisly and nauseating aftermath, the sigh of relief transitions back into anxiety, and the heavy shadow of desperation creeps on.

The Last of Us was special because its mechanics textured its narrative elegantly.
The Last of Us was special because its mechanics textured its powerful narrative elegantly.

And that’s to speak only of the game’s mechanics. The Last of Us remyths the archetypical “zombie” narrative in one of of the most engaging stories of that kind in recent memory, exploring themes about the demarcation of social boundaries of what entails “us” and “them” and what constitutes people as being “the other”. Restrained, tasteful cinematography and animation communicates unspoken, repressed, emotions, Ellie and Joel’s character development is represented cinematically with nuanced grace. The game’s incredible ending meditates on the moral intricacies of Christianity’s central narrative, arriving at an uneasy conclusion about interdependency and need. The Last of Us‘s mechanics, intricately designed to be assonant with the world and narrative, create a cohesive whole that is indubitably one of the best games of the year.

2. Portal 2

Portal 2 is the apotheosis of trial-and-error design, it is the greatest puzzle game ever made, and a great leap forward in environmental storytelling. Every single Test Chamber in the game is intricately designed, carefully introducing new mechanics, iterating upon them, and exploring new, creative ways to use them in its relatively limited possibility space. An incredibly simple and intuitive core mechanic becomes a portal into an ever expanding toolbox of light-bridges, gravity tubes, and repulsion gels. In any other game, the core loop of trial-and-error would have been immensely frustrating, the exasperation of repeated failures creates an incredibly negative experience greatly detracting from a game’s appeal. Portal 2 refines that core loop into something more akin to scientific experimentation: theorize, test, fail, theorize, test, fail, theorize, test, succeed. With each failed attempt at solving a puzzle, players discover more and more about Portal 2‘s conception of 3D space, and the constant acquisition of mastery becomes increasingly palpable. What is even more remarkable is Portal 2 achieves such depth and complexity without introducing a single additional control

Portal 2 was special because it exemplified great puzzle-design.

Representationally, Portal 2 is one of the more interesting advancements in environmental storytelling. The sterile hallways and elevators of the first Portal crack at the seams, giving way to lush vegetation and unspoken post apocalyptic ruin. The nostalgic design of Old Aperture conveys an authentic sense of style and place, communicating Cave Johnson’s character arc as he led Aperture through decades of decline. While the core narrative of trust, betrayal, and tenuous partnership has been done before in other games, Portal 2‘s genuinely funny writing and lovably sadistic characters allow it to transcend its cliches, turning it into one of the most original adventures of the last few years.

1. Journey

As I climbed over that first dune in the desert, I saw the mountain towering before me, eclipsing the sun’s blinding glow. The sands stretched out infinitely, the murky haze of warm air obscured my vision, and I couldn’t perceive the crevasses, towers, and valleys that laid in the wide expanse of my future. I slid down the slope, walking towards the first shrine I saw, and found a glowing insignia floating before an altar. I touched it, and a red, glowing scarf materialized out of thin air and wrapped itself around my neck. I jumped off the shrine, and gently floated, weightless, liberated and free. The scarf granted me the power of limited flight. I smiled, and hopped my first steps towards the vast monolith in the horizon. As I walked, my vision of the mountain gradually became clearer and more distinct, and I knew that I was destined to ascend it.

On my way, I met other people, also on their way towards whatever destination they were seeking. Some accompanied me, happily chirping as we hiked the desert sands, others looked away and hurried along the stony ridges. I met another cloaked traveler in the collapsed ruins of a city who decided to accompany me, a gleeful chirp and a dainty dance sealed our partnership. We ascended climbed the temple of our ancestors to arrive at a snow-covered slope. We were very close to the summit, the mountain’s peak visible behind a thin layer of clouds, and so we pushed on. As we climbed the snow-blanketed slopes, the wind began to blow. A thin layer of frost formed around my scarf and cracked away at it. We pushed on, and the wind blew angrily, pushing us backwards like an invisible force opposing us, and more of the scarf crumbled away. The wind matured into a blizzard, ice battered our bodies, freezing our cloaks. We drew close together, hoping the warmth of each other’s bodies would sustain the magic scarves until we reached the top, but gusts of snow would throw us apart. The stone dragons hungrily floated above us, waiting to strike at us in our weakness. We were tired, worn, and weary, and our strong stride slowed to a desperate crawl, each step more arduous than the last. The clouds above us congealed into a solid grey firmament, and the mountain’s peak faded away. I looked at my partner, and his head bobbed feebly as it if it was trying to make a sound, but only managed a weak moan, and crumbled into the snow, dead. Terrified, I tried to call back, but the flow of cold air into my lungs crushed me, and I collapsed onto the slope, I looked up, trying to make out the peak, but couldn’t, and died.

And I was basked by a welcome glow and a pleasant warmth. I opened my eyes, and saw my ancestors standing before me. They pulled my broken body from the ice, and gave me a new magic scarf and stepped away from me. An electrifying chill of power pulsed through my body, and I leapt skyward, through the storm layer and past the stone dragons. I pierced the cloud layer and I arrived at the summit. The sky was clear, and the warm sun cast a gentle glow upon the heavenly cloth bridges and red gates. I playfully danced across the bridges, down a slope, and over waterfalls of crashing mist, arriving at a beam of glowing dust. I flew into it and floated towards the peak, and there, my partner was waiting. A bright light and a soft breeze emitted from a great crack in the mountains peak, blowing a thin layer of snow past our feet. Our scarves crumbled away, and we walked towards the light. As we stepped into the blinding whiteness of our ultimate destiny, my partner chirped happily at me, as if to say “thank you”.

journey4
Catharsis, plain and simple.

And then Journey ended, and I sat before my television. I gripped my controller harder.

Thoughts of the life that I had lived flooded into my consciousness. The teachers that I’ve had, the friends who have loved me, and the wise family that had watched over me and lovingly watched me step forward into every stage of my life. I thought of the bridges I had burned, the relationships that I had nuked, the lies that I’ve believed, and the ways I’ve hurt and hurt-ed. I thought of the path that I chose to arrive where I was, and my nascent purpose. Then I thought about my irreversible choice to live the life of a game designer. Journey was a game that had affected me unlike any other, touching me spiritually and giving me an cherishable experience. This is the power of video games! This is what I can potentially accomplish should I take this path! This is the kind of experience I could give to my players! This is what I want to do with my brief journey through the wilderness of life! 

I received a letter the very next week. It was an acceptance letter from a college that I wanted to go to: the USC Interactive Media Division, the most renowned game school in the world and the very same program from which Journey’s creators graduated. I nodded knowingly, accepting my destiny, and took those first steps towards that mountain looming on the horizon, ready to accept the company of any strangers I would meet along the way.

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Stuff I’ve Been Playing Recently

I’ve been doing games a lot recently. A lot of them are good, some of them are bad. A lot of them are digital console games, others are not.

First up was The Walking Deadthis is a narrative point and click adventure game and one of the most surprisingly amazing things I’ve played in recent memory.

The Walking Dead

The point-and-click adventure game is hard to understand as a game designer due to its lack of emergence. When I work with games, I try to design systems that allow for players to develop skills within systems of interesting rules that are conducive to meaningful play, in other words, one can be good at a game. It means something to be good at a shooter, and it means something to be good at a platformer or a fighting game. What then does it mean to be good at a point-and-click adventure game? After all, success at this kind of game amounts to little more than rehearsing a predetermined set of actions until players reach the end. Pick up that, give it to him, push that, talk to him. If the point-and-click adventure  game allows for such little player choice within its mechanics, why then is The Walking Dead  so damn compelling?

Maybe its because narrative is so crucial to the player’s enjoyment of this kind of game. Rules of Play defines something called cognitive interactivity, which is “the psychological, emotional, and intellectual participation between a person and a system”. The framed narrative of the point-and-click adventure game imbues the predetermined set of actions needed to progress with meaning. Every puzzle we solve by combining and using objects in the game world is woven with our emotional investment in the characters of the game.

Which makes The Walking Dead a narrative tour-de-force unlike anything I’ve ever seen from a game. Yes, The Walking Dead features only rudimentary dialogue trees and simplistic puzzles. Why the hell then was I moved to tears at the end?

Its because The Walking Dead is realistic with its narrative situations, while dialogue trees in other games provide only binary decisions with clear-cut notions of good and evil, and tie these decisions into mechanics by rewarding or punishing them accordingly, The Walking Dead does no such thing. All important narrative decisions have clearly negative consequences, and are timed, imbuing each of its five episodes with a dramatic tension unseen in the best of games. Making moral decisions becomes not a question of what’s right and wrong, but rather a question of who doesn’t get hurt.

Lee and Clementine

The Walking Dead has players leading a band of survivors on an adventure to escape a zombie-infested Georgia while tasked with protecting the life of a little girl named Clementine. Moral decisions come down to making choices about what kind of leader one wants to be: will you try to be idealistic and inspirational or calculating with the distribution of the party’s extremely limited resources? Will you be able to put aside emotional prejudices in the name of fairness even when members of your group threaten to subvert the integrity of the entire party? Moral questions change from questions of good and evil to decisions about who doesn’t get hurt. Your choices aren’t accompanied by fanfare. No paragon or renegade points are rewarded, karma isn’t gained or lost, the game simply takes note of your decision, nods stoically, and adjusts the narrative accordingly.

And how invested in the narrative you’ll be. The Walking Dead is a taxing game, not on the player’s cognitive functions (the game’s puzzles are simple), but rather on their emotional capacity. By the end of Lee and Clementine’s adventure, I was exhausted and tired from buffet of difficult narrative decisions and the jagged road of betrayals, confused motivations, and sacrificial redemptions. Even if I was simply enacting a scripted set of actions to get to the end of the game, I was emotionally invested in everything that I did in that game.

So what else did I play? Well for one, Super Hexagon represents probably the purest manifestation of the action game that I’ve seen in a while. Its short play sessions are perfect for casual play, and I find myself repeatedly playing the game over and over again, eschewing much more sophisticated play. I often myself tired after long days and unable to muster the effort to consume a big new AAA experience, Super Hexagon is a natural go-to game when I’m afflicted with this apathy.

Super Hexagon

I also had to play through Bioshock, The Binding of Isaac, and Frozen Synapse for my introductory game studies class. Unlike how I’d play other games, I focused on “reading” these games using the Nick Montfort model of game analysis. Its a cool, formalized and academic model for understanding video games at a deeper level. Bioshock is one of my favorite games of this generation, and having the opportunity to replay it, and study it at a deeper level, was a pleasant surprise. Returning to the game after having a deeper knowledge of the economic and philosophical ideas going into the game made the game’s social commentary all the more interesting. The Binding of Isaac was a interesting rouge like that incorporated elements of shooters, which would probably be fantastic once I get bored of FTL. Frozen Synapse plays like a Super Hexagon for a strategy game, easy to pick up and play in those moments of apathy.

And there’s The Unfinished Swan. I’ve been making a concentrated effort to play more of IMD’s (or IMGD, or thatgameschool’s) games. The Unfinished Swan was an adorable first-person puzzle game with a brilliantly pronounced visual style, a telling of a cute children’s story, and made interactive. Its video-game comfort food, a game that makes you feel warm and fuzzy and loved inside. Upon discovering more of the unfinished kingdom, or seeing a cool new gameplay mechanic be introduced, I found myself grinning gleefully. Try it out, especially if you enjoyed Journey.

I most recently began playing Botanicula, its also adorable and will make you squee with joy. Great use of sound in that game.

2012: Gaming Year in Review

I usually do a “Year in Review” post each year around Christmas Eve where I reflect on games that I have played and name a personal game of the year. In celebration of the successful funding of LA Game Space, I am publishing this blog post early.  

My taste in gaming has changed substantially over the past year, I am no longer satisfied by epic narrative experiences and find myself seeking out brief, esoteric, and quirky interactive experiences that I’ll never forget. On my previous site, I wrote “Year in Review” posts where I would reflect and wax poetic on games that I’ve played and pick out a game as my personal game of the year. This year’s post will be a little different as it will include more nondigital and alternate reality games, giving us a broader range of experiences to discuss. My criteria for selecting games has also changed, and the games that I am about to discuss don’t necessarily fall under the umbrella of “fun”, but under that of “impactful”.

Games That I’ve Played

For the sake of readability, I won’t write about the games I played at the Global Game Jam, but will just say that Chelsea Howe’s To What End is totally worth the five minutes it takes to play.

I started the year off by playing both the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Both games were smartly done. While I felt that Skyward Sword suffered from a poorly paced introduction and midsection, I took note that the Impressionistic art style suited the spirit of the series perfectly and that the game’s motion controls finally made good on Nintendo’s original promise to create a game based around true 1:1 motion swordplay, and in many ways, it was the best motion-controlled traditional game that I’ve ever played. Skyrim was brilliant in it inspiring breadth, while narratively it sucked and there were a great many things that broke my immersion into it’s fantastic world, I was consistently driven to adventure for eighty hours with my Nord character Pixels. Alas, I eventually got bored raiding dungeons and hunting for improved loot, and went on a murderous rampage in Riften leaving much of the town’s population in pieces.

Journey
Journey

Then Journey entered my life.

This is the part where I sit at my keyboard and stare at my screen, not quite knowing what to put down to post. In many ways, Journey has become an important McGuffin in my life. I first played it days before I was accepted into USC’s Interactive Media Division and my life changed forever, I discussed it at length with my codevelopers at Subtle Stone before we separated for good, I played it to meditate before I left for college, and when I arrived at IMD, I discovered that it touched and inspired the souls of the colleagues that I was about to share my career with. Somehow, we had gathered around Journey collectively as an experience that had shaped, defined, and moved our infantile career in gaming.

But yes, Journey was something special. It touched my soul and shook my very being by speaking in a universal language transcendent of cultural boundaries. Play it.

After Journey I played Bastion. If I could find a word to describe this game, it would be luscious. Its rich coloration and enthralling music captivated me, its fluid combat and simple character customization was fun as hell. Most intriguing was Bastion’s narrator, Rucks, whose grizzled voice is as memorable to me as Morgan Freeman’s or Liam Neeson’s. His narration contributed much to Bastion’s emotional overtone, and I found myself invested in the story and found the ending to be clever in its self-reflexivity.

Up next was Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP. I played this game on my laptop, and missed out on a lot of the tablet & touch exclusive features. While I didn’t quite like the game’s puzzles and found them at times illogical and strange, its aesthetics and ambitions appealed to me. Give this game a try if you’re into the esoteric.

I liked Dear Esther, and you have every right to call me pretentious, but you know that that’s not true. It didn’t strike me that the island was a manifestation of the protagonist’s subconscious until the very end, but that made the second playthrough much sweeter. It reminded me much of Inception, it’s a brainy game that will make you think and dig deep into your intellect.

Dear Esther
Dear Esther

Itching for a shooter, I downloaded Crysis to my Playstation 3 and enjoyed how the first few levels encouraged creative ways to deal with combat situations. It was unique, fun, and reminiscent of the original Far Cry, one of my favorite shooters out there. Alas, when aliens were introduced, the game became far more generic, linear, and unfun.

I Arrive at USC & Meet IMD

IMD 2016, The Settlers of CTIN, The Unnamed Game Development Group, The Indie Circlejerk. I have met no group of people quite like my colleagues in my undergraduate class at the USC Interactive Media Division. Their drive, ability, initiative, creativity, kind-heartedness, and courage are above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen, they’re both good as developers, but even better as people. It is both an honor and a joy to work amongst them for these short few years, if not for the rest of my career.  They’ve already done a lot by introducing me to a few games, surprisingly, nondigital ones.

SCA 2016
SCA 2016

Two of the first folks I met from IMD got me into Dungeons and Dragons, having loved computer role-playing games like KOTOR, Fallout, and Chrono Trigger, it was necessary to discover where these games got their roots. When I signed up to join them one Friday night for DnD, I had no idea what I was getting into. The game’s ability to collectively pool the imaginations of a diverse group of people, bond them closely together, and leave them with inside jokes galore is astounding. I was a schizophrenic, dark-skinned rogue named Pixels with long purple hair and a goatee, and the situations that I have plunged my party into will stay with me for some while. Situations like rolling a critical miss on a disarm device check and nearly killing half my party. This game has brought together my adventuring party, and we’ve played many things together outside of DnD, like Uncharted 3 and the Jak & Daxter trilogy. 

Speaking of which, what was the deal with that ship scene in Uncharted 3? C’mon, seriously.

Shortly thereafter, I was introduced me to Cards Against Humanity, a party game for horrible, horrible people. That game has the unique ability to reveal facets of a person’s personality that you would have never expected. Its good fun and consistently hilarious.

Indiecade!
Indiecade!

Shortly after, a friend introduced me to this digital web game called Frog Fractions, which taught me… things… Its best that I don’t talk about it. Play it, you’re never going to forget it.

I also got to replay the Mass Effect trilogy as part of a charity speedrun. Bad stuff happened, Garrus shouldn’t be tech expert and Miranda is in no shape to save the galaxy alone.

Reality Ends Here

The most pervasive game in my life at USC was this alternate-reality game that Jeff, Tracy, and Simon dreamed up called “Reality Ends Here”, of which the entirety of the first semester of Freshmen year is based around. It was introduced to us minutes after we met each other in the courtyard of SCA with a mysterious message coded into fortune cookies that we received at our lunch leading us to a mysterious URL on the web. After a bit of snooping around, we were led to a secret unlabeled room in the School of Cinematic Arts called the “Game Office”. We were given our cards and were set off on our own to create things. Less than 24 hours after the Dean of SCA welcomed us to the school, I found myself operating an expensive DSLR video-rig for our very first project.

I formed an impromptu team and for a brief month, was obsessed with competing with other groups to win each week by producing high-scoring media. We won two weeks in a row, our reward experiences: a tour of Jim Henson studios by Transformer’s producer Don Murphy, and an advance viewing of Gates McFadden’s (Dr. Crusher from Star Trek: TNG) new play. But most rewarding was the experience of playing the game itself, the anarchic and chaotic spirit of running around the residence halls with expensive camera equipment and a script that we wrote in a few hours has been an unforgettable experience.

Reality Ends Here Cards
Reality Ends Here Cards

Reality Ends Here won the renowned Impact Award at IndieCade for showing the most potential for games to do social good and change some facet of society. G4TV did an excellent piece on the ARG:

ARG? Card Game? Film Project? It’s all of that and more. Reality Ends Here started out as a project for USC freshmen looking to do something a little different. As the story goes, the Reality Committee will be keeping an eye on you and judging how you play the game. Players work in teams as they put together groups of cards that they receive in a packet. Cards combine to develop an idea that the students need to make happen either through film, animation, or game. Cards tell you what kind of story and what will appear in said story. Cards add points to your project, but make it more challenging with each additional item you need to include. You make it and send it in.

More than just the motto for the USC School, Reality Ends Here gave freshmen an education that extended far outside their classroom. Contestants got to meet special mentors and got their “missions” viewed by some of the top players in the business. For some it might look like a game, Reality Ends Here showed a handful of students the beginning of a wonderful life.

I fell out of the game for a good two months when life got in the way, but I do have a wonderful concluding piece for my participation in this project, and for many of the people who dedicated much of their first semester to the game, it has been a life-changing experience that truly set off their careers in film in an epic way. Consider for one the Xander Legacy team, whose project The Sci-Fi Supercut managed to find its way onto the front page of Wired. The team has since decided to reconstitute itself into its own production company.

Game of the Year

Naming a game of the year is difficult this year, simply because I have decided to encompass nondigital games into the mix, diversifying the already wide range of experiences that I could have through games. Dungeons & Dragons showed me the original promise of the procedurally generated story and the simple fun that could come out of collectivized imagination. Journey exists in my life as both a mysterious symbol that has the tendency of showing up at significant times and a game showcasing the potential of video games to make us better, more loving people. Reality Ends Here made my first-semester of college truly one-of-a-kind.

Indiecade Impact Robot & Game Designer Jeff Watson
Indiecade Impact Robot & Game Designer Jeff Watson

What is different about this year’s batch of GOTY nominees is that each of them has rubbed off on me and has changed how I live in some small way. I’m not judging these games purely on their fun, but on their overall impact on me. Dungeons & Dragons showed me the original promise of role-playing games, the potential of collaborative storytelling, and introduced me to a valuable group of people that I expect to spend time with in the foreseeable future. Journey transcended the emotional ambitions of most games and touched my spirit in a way that I would have never expected from a piece of art. Reality Ends Here reenergized a creative side of me that atrophied over the summer and introduced me to some incredible collaborators at USC that I wish to work with for much of my life. To choose one of these games would shirk not only the other games that I have nominated, but the incredible people that were involved in my experiences with that game and impacted my life in some way, shape, or form. Playing these games with other people and gathering around the significance of these games in our worlds made these games great, and the people that I have met and shared this chapter of my life with through these games have been impactful on me.

To that extent, I must say that, with great apologies to both my adventuring party and the people of my IMD class, Reality Ends Here stands boldly as my personal game of the year. Wearing its dream on its sleeve, it exists as a shining example of how pervasive games can alter our perception of reality and change how players connect, compete, and interact with each other, fundamentally changing how we go about our everyday lives at SCA. Ideas come randomly and through the right team-chemistry, become realized in amazing ways. It is a unique experience and a highly sophisticated ARG that has changed the lives of its most dedicated players in huge ways. With escalating interest in pervasive and ARGs amongst the public, Reality Ends Here can set off a shockwave of positive social change throughout the world.