I have a few different games that I want to talk about today. It’s my “GOTY” list, so to speak, but it’s also much more than that. These are some of my favorite games of this year—and in some cases, they are my favorite games of all time—but I want this list to be far more than that. When thinking about doing something for the end of the year on FemHype, I didn’t want to just offer your average “Game of the Year” list where I talk about how rad some graphics and characters are (though there’s definitely nothing wrong with that). I wanted to do something more.
These are five of the games that I consider to be the most important of the year in terms of what they convey, what they cover, and what they end up bringing to the medium. So, without further ado, here are my five most important games of 2015!
5. Super Mario Maker
I find Super Mario Maker to be an absolutely unexpected game. Nintendo gives you the tools to make levels for one of the most famous franchises of all time? To upload online and play another person’s levels? It’s kind of amazing, to be honest.
What was first seen of Super Mario Maker last year made me think we wouldn’t get anything nearly similar to what we got. Possibly a toned down, basic level editor of Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. with bad online features, but instead, we got a full-fledged, fantastic package. And the best part about it? It’s probably one of the best game design tools, as I see it. Super Mario Maker is incredibly easy to use with an array of tools at your disposal, and the touch screen of the Wii U gamepad makes all of it easy to control when it comes to making and editing levels.
It’s a lesson in game design, that’s for sure, and I think it’ll be an important tool for teens, adults, and kids who are interested in getting started. While not all levels online may be Miyamoto classics, the sheer amount of variety and creativity some people come up with is absolutely amazing. I think the fact that something like Super Mario Maker exists is wonderful, and will give way to a lot of great designers in the future.
In terms of pure game and level design and making use of game mechanics, there are few better templates to work from than Mario. It has also shown no sign of slowing down in terms of creations, which leads me to believe that over time, people will just keep creating more and more levels, with levels getting better as time goes on.
4. Read Only Memories
A game where queerness is normalized, if not celebrated. Early in Read Only Memories, you get to pick your name and your pronouns, and you’re even allowed to enter custom pronouns. It was unexpected, but amazing nonetheless; an adventure game where your comfort as the player is what’s important.
Not only that, but Neo San Francisco is absolutely beautiful. It’s colorful with a huge array of great characters filling the story. Queerness of characters is the norm, and gay relationships are talked about casually and aren’t made a big deal of in the same way that straight relationships are treated in the majority of current media.
I also found the parallel between gene therapy in Read Only Memories to how queerness is treated in our present day society very interesting—especially in relation to trans people, as I saw it. This as a person who had to wait a long time to get and start hormones, and has had plenty of friends go through the same things, even now.
All in all, one of my favorite things is the sheer positivity behind the queer characters. They are treated like everyone else, and Neo San Francisco is a place where queerness happily thrives and is talked about and acknowledged. Not only do more games need more queer representation, but more genuinely positive queer representation and acknowledgement, too, which Read Only Memories delivers in spades.
3. We Know The Devil
I was surprised by what We Know The Devil turned out to be in comparison to what I initially thought it was. I thought any game with that name was surely some sort of horror game meant to leave you feeling uneasy, but it turned out being a very intense experience with a focus on being queer and coming to terms with it. For someone who’s started to transition this year—and has had to deal more and more with telling friends and family—this game was a bit tough to handle. Having to see characters come to terms with their queerness around their friends reminded me a lot of myself when I was first figuring out who I was.
Not only that, it’s a game centered and focused on queerness that was made by queer people. Gay and trans characters are rarely written by people who are gay, people who are trans, or people who are queer, so people like Aevee (and others) creating these games and stories is incredibly important. The writing is incredibly sincere and personal, as I felt intimately connected to the characters right away and throughout the entire game as I went through each path and saw the different routes and pairings that were possible.
One thing I really love about We Know The Devil—even as much as it pangs my heart each time—is something that is talked about in the game’s description, which states, “Pick Your One True Pairing.” As someone who loves shipping (sorry, not sorry), it was something I loved—even if it meant leaving one of the others to wait for the devil. Having someone there for you and being close with them while discovering yourself is definitely a theme in this game, and it’s something I’ve learned and experienced as I’ve figured out who I am as a woman—including having to struggle with choosing who to leave out at times.
I see Cibele as the type of game we need more of—one I hope we’ll be seeing far more in 2016 and beyond. It’s a game that is highly relatable in this day and age. Not only is it a deeply personal story—something we don’t commonly see even in independent games, or games in general—but it’s also just a deep, meaningful story. A young woman experiences love on the internet and goes to mutually pursue that love, only to end up betrayed and heartbroken. It’s a small, intimate story that left me stunned at the end. It’s a game that was constructed and crafted so beautifully with a character who feels so interesting, and would feel so real if you didn’t know the background behind the game.
The world of Valtameri (the MMO within the game) and the real world that Nina herself lives in becomes more and more fleshed out as time goes on, and what you see in Nina and Blake’s lives equally grows more and more interesting. I wanted to look through everything—even if it did feel more than a bit unsettling to do so, knowing that it’s based on real experiences.
The work by Nina and Star Maid Games doesn’t disappoint, and everything comes together and meshes so well, creating something small, intimate, and haunting. It’s a direction I definitely want to see games go in more and more, without a doubt, as I feel like more games taking approaches like Nina did with Cibele will help expand the breadth of the stories told and how far video games can go in a very positive way.
1. Life Is Strange
Life Is Strange, as you all know, is important to me. Deeply, deeply important. It’s a game focused on young queer women in a type of setting I absolutely adore, and one that we don’t usually see in most games. Slice of life high school mysteries are something rarely, if ever featured—let alone in games by big publishers. Not only does Life Is Strange hold a lot of my love on a personal level, due to my overall adoration of the game, it feels important for so much more than that.
The whole of the game itself is something, as I noted, we don’t see, and it’s because of this that I consider Life Is Strange to be so important. If a game that covers themes like bullying, assault, and suicide can be picked up by a publisher like Square Enix, it really gives me hope for the future of big budget, narrative-based games. The idea that we have this great starting point for games focused on darker themes that are tough to talk about—games that focus on friendships and romantic relationships between young women—is what really makes me see Life Is Strange as so important.
Characters like Max, Chloe, Kate, and Victoria are all people who are so similar and relatable to young women, and that’s something I love. These girls have moments of weakness, moments of strength, and intricacies and flaws that seem so realistic in the small town of Arcadia Bay. Not only that, but even for all their worst moments, they’re sweet cinnamon rolls I just want to hug and help be okay.
It has its problems, no doubt about that. But it really shines far brighter than most Telltale games have to me since the first season of The Walking Dead. I’ll hold it dearly, and if you can handle tough topics, I highly recommend trying it out—the most out of any game this year, without a doubt.