It’s fairly well established by this point that this has been longest and bleakest year in human record. Aside from all the obvious world-ending political and climate based bullshit going on, my year has also been blessed with a slightly terrifying number of physical and mental health problems. I wrote a whole other blog about this. It was 2000 words long, probably one of the best written things I’ve done. Never going to publish it. It was so utterly depressing that I had to insert photos of my parents’ puppy every 400 words to make it at least remotely readable without wanting to blow your brains out. It covered maybe half of the bad shit that happened to me this year.
Instead of all that horrid sadness (pretty good blog though) I’ve decided to write about something a bit cheerier: 2018 The Best Year For Games. Throughout all the horror of this year they’ve been an enormous help as a coping mechanism for both the horrible world affairs and my own problems. Whilst I could write an entire book on all the fantastic titles that I’ve played and loved this year, there were a select few that really helped me out when I needed it.
Sea of Thieves – Kept me sane during insomnia
A lot of people hate this game and that’s fine. You sail across a vast ocean full of adventure while collecting treasure, swash buckling and getting drunk; what exactly is there not to like? I mean, just look at that sea. LOOK AT IT.
The sea alone is worth the entry fee. You should be grateful they bothered putting anything else in there for you at all, you ungrateful pricks.
Passive aggressive jibes aside, what an incredible achievement this thing is. Hanging out with your friends and messing about on a pirate ship in a fully persistent world will never stop being incredible. Meeting up and interacting with other pirates (human idiots) is always unpredictable. Anyone can decide to screw you over at any point which produces a palpable tension when around strangers. Rare, the developers, have expanded the game extensively by putting on events forcing players to cooperate and solve mysteries together.
All of this comes together to produce ridiculous, memorable stories created by you and the players you meet. Maybe you’ll spend all evening trying to find a drunk guy’s brother? Perhaps you’ll have a 30 minute chat with a very stoned guy who’ll seem super chill right up until he stabs you and sinks your boat mid conversation? You never quite know what you’re going to get. It’s a mad game and has produced some of the most memorable multiplayer gaming moments I’ve had.
Here’s me and some mates taking part in a huge community event and swearing a lot:
The multiplayer is incredible but most of my time with Sea of Thieves has actually been in playing solo. In this mode, you have a smaller ship but everything else remains the same. As someone who suffers from fairly chronic insomnia and anxiety, being able to set sail on the open sea and just noodle around at my own pace has been immensely helpful. The combination of the gentle bobbing of the sea, the beautiful sound design of the creaking ships, and the simple task of sailing efficiently from A to B creates an incredible sense of place and purpose. Just enough purpose that you’re focused on the task in hand, but not so much that it gets overwhelming. It’s that fine balance that really helped distract me from whatever issues I was having at the time.
I never really got those truck simulator games before, but I think Sea of Thieves is my version of that. It’s an incredible thing to behold and I can’t wait to see what they do with it next.
Into The Breach – My go-to stress reliever
This is a game I keep coming back to and find immensely comforting. For those who have no idea, this is essentially a one player board game about cute robots fighting giant bugs from space. Your little mechs are set out on a 8×8 battlefield grid in which there are tower blocks full of squishy helpless civilians to protect. Combat plays out turn by turn, with the fun twist that you can see exactly what your opponents will do before that actually do it. The game is all about preventing what seems inevitable and getting out seemingly hopeless situations purely by sitting down with a nice cup of tea and thinking about it for a bit. You can take hours on a single turn if you really want to. We even played it by committee on a big telly at work once.
There’s something really relaxing about playing something with a really solid set of rules that play out deterministically. That aspect of the game kept me coming back to it throughout the year. Quite a few health problems of mine have been caused by stress. On days when it’s really got to me, this game has helped immensely. Just knowing that I can fire it up and I know that everything is going to play out exactly as its supposed to is extremely soothing. Playing Into the Breach has given me a sense of control in year where there’s very little control to be had elsewhere in my life.
Dark Souls – Resilience training
There’s a hell of a lot of pretentious shite written about the Dark Souls games, but here we go.
This year I completed Dark Souls I & III. These games are infamously difficult, steeped in ludicrously grim Gothic lore, and filled with a wide array of impressively disgusting monsters. If you’re unfamiliar with the vibe, here’s some screenshots:
Seems like a helpful game for someone with shit loads of health issues, right? Actually, yes!
Souls games are all about confronting seemingly insurmountable problems and then somehow surmounting them. If you’ve ever played one you’ll be familiar with the feeling of entering a new labyrinthine area full of traps, intangible tentacle beasts and sheer dread. Your first trip through a new area is not dissimilar from a haunted house at a theme park: initially bungling through being startled by some shabby looking ghouls (who are definitely just dudes with extra bits stuck on) and occasionally yelling “WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT”. The key difference being that you have to run/fight your way to the exit through a hoard of horrific bastards. Also death.
After a few inevitable deaths, you learn the patterns of the various ghouls and traps. Where they jump out from, how many kicks in the butt they need, how many seconds you have to run over that spike trap. Before long, traversing an area is more like heading down the shops for a bacon roll in a small village in the countryside, just with the local postman also trying to devour your soul. At the end of each area you’ll usually be confronted with a Boss. Fighting these is like a microcosm of all the principles previously mentioned. Initial horror and dismay, eventual learning of attack patterns, then finally either becoming a total pro or getting VERY lucky. This process could take DAYS but invariably ended with me doing a either a victory lap of the flat or a little dance.
Eventually you make it through to the next area. And guess what? It’s all different and way harder! With each new, impossible (but entirely possible) area, you gain more confidence and technical skill. The whole process is like an extreme confidence workshop where you’re torn down repeatedly and then built up again only to end up stronger than you were before. It’s also training you to face a bunch of horrendously horrifying things and absolutely beat the living shit out of them. It is immensely satisfying and utterly gruelling.
By the end of a Dark Souls game you’ve overcome an insane amount horrific bullshit. You’ve descended all the way to the bottom of a horrible pit full of nightmare fuel, kicked the shit out of all of it and come out the other side. I honestly cannot think of a better allegory for this year. Despite facing almost all of my worst fears, I have survived them and am now better than I’ve been for a very long time.
Wrap it up
So there we go. That wasn’t too depressing, right? Didn’t even need any puppy photos. I’d just like to finish by saying that I’ve mostly just attributed my survival of this year to video games, which isn’t even remotely the case. Thanks to my lovely girlfriend, close friends and family for helping me out, sharing a beer or shooting at pirates with me all year.
Also this moment where I beat the final boss in Dark Souls…