Rebecca Fay’s Purposeful Gaming Challenge – 2020 Edition

Greetings, travelers! Happy 2020 and welcome to the second annual Purposeful Gaming Challenge!

Whether you are a veteran of the challenge from last year and looking to come back for round two or just now joining us, know I’m happy to have you with us. Community makes all the difference for challenges of any size. We were lucky to have a core group of people working together last year, sharing successes and sorrows alike, and all keeping one another going during the hardest weeks. I learned a lot from how the challenge was approached and tackled, and have made some needed adjustments to the rules this year to make it more flexible and provide greater opportunity for customizing it for a wider audience. 

Before we get started properly, I want to give a very special shoutout to two very awesome people in the Greetings From community who made it all the way with us: Boots (@JGtotheMAX) and Aethom (@theapthomas). The Greetings From team also assembled our thoughts on the challenge from last year: Rebecca | Olivia | Tyler

What is it?

The Purposeful Gaming Challenge (PGC) is a twist on the traditional 52 Week challenges that tend to pop up as part of new year resolutions. You may have even already participated in something like this, whether it was watching 52 movies or reading 52 books. The “purposeful” part is what we at Greetings From strive to make a key aspect of our relationship with video games, and have each approached this idea differently during our first year with the challenge. Ideally, we like to use the challenge to help ourselves and others accomplish a few important goals:

  • Basic practical knowledge of more games. For those aspiring to be developers, artists, writers, and so on–there is no better way to learn the craft than to purposefully consume and study it.
  • A dent in your backlog (or forelog). We’re all guilty of long backlogs or lots of plans to balance all the new games coming out every year. The PGC provides an opportunity to plan out your year of gaming and ensure you have time to see everything you want to see. 
  • A better understanding of your own interests. Do you keep picking up the same kinds of games, playing them until you’re tired of them, and never really learning anything from it? Don’t do that anymore! Learn what really appeals to you and hone your ability to meaningfully critique the kinds of games you can’t get enough of.

How does it work?

I refined the rules in 2020 to remove some of the confusion that came about last year. In particular, I wanted to refocus the framing of the challenge itself to widen the scope for Purposeful Gaming and provide more opportunity and inspiration for customizing the challenge to fit your unique 2020 goals. 

  • Your goal is to play 52 different games in 2020. That’s one game per week for each week of the year. You can play more if you would like to, and there is no penalty for playing fewer. Fifty-two is merely an easily trackable number that will allow you to see a good variety of games throughout the year. This is not an easy feat, however; I do call it a challenge for a reason!
  • Any game counts. Phone games, big long commercial games, small team games, demos, DLC, old games, even board games! The choice is totally up to you as to what you want to play, because you should always be playing what you want to.  
  • Make decisions about your games. At the end of each week, I’d like to challenge you to reflect on the game that you played, and place it into one of our suggested categories:
    • Finished – Whether you saw to the end of the main story or hit a crisp 100%, you feel comfortable having seen everything the game has to offer. 
    • Unfinished/Will Complete – It’s not always easy to finish a whole game in a single week, so this category is for games you enjoy and want to keep playing. 
    • Unfinished/Won’t Complete – This is the category for learning to say no. You may not particularly like every game you engage with and that’s totally okay. Part of respecting your time is about setting your own boundaries
    • Other Categories – You’re free to use any categories you’d like to help group your games together, beyond just the three listed above. I often use Ongoing as a category for games that are generally endless, like Stardew Valley or Destiny 2. I’m also someone that likes to dip back into an old favorite I’ve played before, so to give myself that leniency, I use the category One-Off to mark games that fall outside of the PGC scope. 
  • Keep track of your games. You’re free to do this in any way that is meaningful to you! I like to use Airtable, while others may stick to a Google Sheet or Excel document. You may find that you also like blogging or journaling about your gaming experiences, or creating art about them. Keeping track of what you’re playing is more for you than anyone else, but it’s fun to go back at the end of the year to see everything you played. For 2020, we’re providing both an Airtable template and Google Sheet template to help get you started.

Each week, beginning on January 1st, I’ll post a thread on the Greetings From subreddit. These threads are optional, but a great way to connect with others and share what you’re playing that week and what you think of it. I am certain I was only able to finish the challenge last year because I had others in the Reddit and Discord to hold me accountable, and their support and enthusiasm for their own challenges made it a fun way to bond together over something we all love.

How can I make it my own?

I’m glad you asked! The primary challenge of the PGC is meant to be twofold: play 52 games during 2020 and play them purposefully. The “purposeful” part is meant to be up to your discretion! I created the PGC originally around the idea of playing purposefully with your time, but I would encourage everyone to level up in 2020 and consider other ways to be purposeful with your gaming. Think about causes that are important to you (e.g. fair labor, supporting minoritized creators, unionization, environmentalism, etc.), ways to be more frugal or judicious with your spending, opportunities to support independent artists and teams, and so forth. 

I’ve included below some ideas from the community to help give you a launching point to design your own PGC:

  • Backlog Buster – We’ve all gotten a little too excited during a Steam Sale and ended up buying more games than we might have actually had time to play. Maybe there are a few games you’ve played in the past couple of years that you’ve really wanted to get back to but just haven’t had the time. The Backlog Buster challenge is all about working your way backward and carving a purposeful dent in your backlog. Looking to level up your Backlog Busting? Take the frugal route and go on a no-buy or low-buy to ensure that you’re giving time to the games you already own, and saving some extra dollars for the games you really do want to buy. 
  • Patient Player – Video games are often a major investment, and not everyone has the ability to buy every new game as it releases. Patient Playing is for those who are more focused on buying games for the challenge, but still looking to stay frugal. Sales and deals come along frequently, making it more affordable to buy big box games within a few months following their release, and is a great way to engage with the criticism and discourse around games you may have regretted buying on Day 1. 
  • Itch Idealist – The Greetings From team is a big fan of Itch.io, a platform where developers can easily self-publish their work. There are a lot of incredible games available on Itch (and we have an ongoing roundup of our favorites!) and many are available for free, for a donation, or for a reasonable price. The Itch Idealist is someone who is interested in exploring more experimental games, more complex narratives, and more artistic experiences that are not always found in the big box gaming space.  
  • Subscription Seeker – Subscription services are all the rage these days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you were already paying for a few! I personally pay for Game Pass/Xbox Live Gold, Twitch Prime, Apple Arcade, and PlayStation Plus, which nets me quite a few free games every month. Many of you may also have subscriptions to Humble Bundle, or regularly pick up free offerings from the Epic Games Store. Regardless of what you’re subscribed to, a great way to challenge yourself this year is to explore all the games at your fingertips. You may not have purchased them, but you are paying to access them; make the most of your subscription!
  • Cause-Conscious Choices – This is a more personal way to approach the PGC, but after so many issues in the gaming industry came to light in 2019, I thought it would be a smart way to approach gaming in 2020. The Cause-Conscious gamer chooses to vote with their wallet, and abstain from purchasing games from creators, studios, or publishers whose actions or values go against what is important to them. Consider boycotting studios who support unfair labor practices or create hostile work environments for minoritized groups. Don’t give money to known abusers. Make a commitment to what you believe in. 

I still have questions!

And I have some answers! Here’s some of the most frequently asked questions:

52 games is a lot of money! How can I keep up?

  • You’re absolutely right! There is no rule about needing to spend money to accomplish this challenge. Obviously I’m not condoning piracy, but I’m also not telling you to buy 52 $60 games on Day 1. Here’s some frugal gaming tips:
    • Pull from your backlog!
    • Sales, baby! Gamestop, Target, Best Buy, Steam, the PlayStation and Xbox stores, and on and on–sales happen all the time and it’s a great way to catch up on stuff you’ve missed on the cheap.
    • The Epic Games Store is giving away free games every two weeks!
    • Humble Bundle is a great way to get a lot of games for the price of one!
    • Subscriptions! Humble Monthly, PSN, Gamepass, Twitch Prime–all these and more give away free games every month.
    • Free games! They exist! https://itch.io/ is a great place to find experimental free or extremely inexpensive games.
    • https://www.reddit.com/r/GameDeals/ is a great follow!

I’m going on vacation and I won’t have access to my Switch/console/PC and can’t dedicate time to playing this week. Does this mean I’m disqualified?

  • Not at all! This is a challenge after all, not the rules by which you must now live your life. If you know you’ve got some busy time coming up, consider playing a couple small games in the same week beforehand. If life comes at you fast and you lose all the free time you had, try a mobile game or something arty on Steam. The goal is just to experience 52 games, but they don’t all have to be 60 hour monsters. Don’t forget your old friend https://howlongtobeat.com/ if you need some help scheduling.

What do I get if I actually play 52 games in 2020?

  • We have something special planned for those who make it through to the end of 2020. Stay tuned and keep gaming! 

Photo by Lorenzo Herrera on Unsplash

 

Rebecca’s Top 10 Games of 2019

I’ve heard more than a few people express a sense of frustration with the quality of games put out in 2019. It’s the tail end of a console cycle, of course, with both the new Xbox and PlayStation set to release about a year from the publishing of this article. Now is when all the stragglers start to roll out; all the games that seem like they should be next-gen but somehow aren’t, yet will probably be released as remasters for the new consoles in the coming months and years. 

Maybe it’s because I find myself to be someone who generally loves almost all video games, but looking back at the past year, I’ve found it to be packed with great releases at all scales. Short and sweet? We’ve got those! Big and incomprehensible? We’ve got those too! 2019 is the year that those madlads at CD Projekt Red managed to put a true behemoth of a game, being the excellent The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, onto the Nintendo Switch for goodness’ sake. There’s no rules anymore. 

Much like my Top 10 Games of the Decade, I found myself equally in agony over the ranking of this list, and somehow ended up with 25 games I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with. If you’ve listened to our podcast episode for The Posties 2019, many of these will likely not come as a surprise. I enjoyed immensely the opportunity to go back through the games I loved the most this year, and spend a little bit of time reflecting on why they helped make 2019, and the end of the decade, a knockout. 


Courtesy of 505 Games

10. Death Stranding

There is a lot that could be said about Death Stranding, though somehow it feels like the discourse keeps waffling between “is it good?” and “is it bad?” I can tell you that it is unequivocally both at the same time. It’s a beast of a game that it feels like it shouldn’t work when it does, and should work when it doesn’t. But there is just something about it; playing Minecraft recently, I found myself peering down into a ravine and wishing I had Sam’s climbing rope and ladders to scale into the abyss with safety. In as much as Todd Howard once told us, back in 2011, that we could see a mountain in Skyrim and climb it, Death Stranding feels like the logical, decade-end conclusion of that promise, and one whose systems speak to a fascinatingly complex (and extremely literal) iteration of the “walking simulator.”

Yeah, the story is really bad. It’s hamfisted and lacking in subtext. When it comes to its handling of female characters, or just the sheer concept of women in general, it is easily Kojima at his worst. Did you not think we could outdo ourselves after Metal Gear Solid V’s Quiet fiasco? Think again! Yet, to its benefit, parts of its ridiculosity somehow become so-bad-it’s-entertaining, if even laughable, and perhaps that is what kept me going in Death Stranding’s longest hours. More than that, I found myself walking away with a sense of appreciation for the asynchronous multiplayer aspect woven into the game’s fibers. Watching roads being built before my eyes as I traversed parts of the map, bridges over BT-infested areas appearing precisely when I needed them most—there were a lot of moments that spoke far better to the point Death Stranding wanted to make than its writing did. I am left to wonder in the quiet moments of the game, the ones I love the most, with open road before me and timefall behind me, if Death Stranding deserves some kind of credit just for trying, even if it is a messy, chaotic, overwrought try. 


Courtesy of Capcom

9. Devil May Cry V 

Listen, you can come at me and tell me that “Devil Trigger” is a bad song, and maybe you would be right about that. Instead, I implore you to imagine a game with the sheer audacity to make “Devil Trigger” not only a battle song, but the only battle song, played on an endless loop in a game built almost entirely around super sexy stylish combat. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of an interloper when it comes to the Devil May Cry franchise; I originally was introduced to the series by a friend in high school obsessed with Dante, and at the time I found the games to be perfectly fine. To the original series’ credit, the games themselves improved over time as stories and characters became more complex, the settings less boxed-in. But I won’t lie: DmC, the more grimdark re-imagining of the Devil May Cry series released in 2013 by Ninja Theory, is still my favorite under the franchise’s umbrella. 

What I still love very deeply about mainline Devil May Cry games is that they are often wacky as hell (pun thoroughly intended)—something I thought Devil May Cry V embraced with unrepentantly open arms. From “Devil Trigger” starting and restarting on a loop to Nico’s van dropping into locations entirely inaccessible by anyone, least of all a Winnebago, Devil May Cry V is top-to-bottom fun. The addition of three playable characters creates great variety in combat scenarios, with series veterans Nero and Dante feeling as punchy and stylish as ever. Newcomer V, an Adam Driver look-alike, added much needed nuance as a generally non-combative character, instead using summons and spells to slice and dice enemies with as much style as his forebears. But don’t worry: Dante is still one hot piece of garbage, the women are all still tenuously clothed, nothing really makes sense—and I love it. 


Courtesy of Nintendo

8. Luigi’s Mansion 3

If Nintendo won’t crown 2019 as the Year of Luigi, then I, in all of my auspicious power and influence, most certainly will crown it the Year of Gooigi. Yes, would that I could have a backpack vacuum that contained the ectoplasm essence of myself that I could use to reach money left in drains and pass through poorly-constructed, absolutely not OSHA-compliant wall fixtures. 

I admit, I always was more of a fan of the concept of Luigi’s Mansion games than the execution; I never had a Gamecube as a kid and thus, never played the original Luigi’s Mansion until its re-release on the Nintendo 3DS. I found the controls mapped awkwardly to the 3DS handheld, and I never ended up getting as far in the game as I would have liked to, as I’m always a sucker for a little bit of cartoon horror. To my absolute glee, Luigi’s Mansion 3, the first Luigi’s Mansion game released for the Nintendo Switch, instead takes pages from the brilliant Super Mario Odyssey as it builds out thoughtful puzzles and willingly embraces increasingly weird and delightful level design. While I can’t say that Luigi’s Mansion 3 doles out anything you haven’t seen before, it is such a crisply delivered package of solid goodness that I can’t say I really mind very much at all. Easy to pick up and put down, fun to play solo or cooperatively, constantly surprising, and thoroughly packed with hidden secrets, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is delightful way to spend your gaming hours. 

I would also make the irrefutable argument that any game that allows Toad to drive a bus should automatically be considered for game of the year, but that’s just my two cents. 


Courtesy of From Software

7. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

When Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was first teased a few years ago, a lot of people on the internet thought it meant that we’d get what many were really hoping for: Bloodborne 2. Bloodborne is a very dear favorite of mine and I, like many, would love to see another follow in its lineage, but it raises a lot of questions as to what From Software could really bring to the table to elevate a game already so exquisite. 

Enter: Sekiro. An enormous departure from From’s most recent games, being, of course, Bloodborne and the Dark Souls trilogy, Sekiro feels exactly like From at the best they have ever been, and certainly at the most technically masterful. Where Dark Souls 3 may have lacked poise, Sekiro is all about it; combat is grueling, precise, and immensely rewarding. Traversing the world, full of zippy verticality, made me feel like Samurai Spider-Man in every way I could possibly hope for. 

The caveat I’ll admit to here is that Sekiro is a beast I have been grinding myself up against most of the year; I am terrible at it. It’s pretty unrepentantly hard. There are times when I wanted to throw my controller into the TV. I can’t say that I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t like sometimes feeling like they want to throw their controller into the TV. But I find that Sekiro is, while difficult, also immensely compelling. Beautifully acted (I recommend using the Japanese voice cast for this one!), cinematically directed, and with a fascinating story of revenge, political intrigue, and one extremely supernatural child, Sekiro feels like a traditional Japanese folktale come to life. 


Courtesy of Obsidian Entertainment

6. The Outer Worlds

I am a big fan of Obsidian Entertainment, as someone who is also a big fan of 2010’s Fallout: New Vegas. Olivia summed it up far better than I can in her excellent games of the decade write up: one of the most compelling things about New Vegas was that it presented no easy, black and white answer the same way that Bethesda-led Fallout games tended to. In place of “choice good” and “choice bad,” there were a lot of morally grey factions and characters that helped the stakes feel more significant, and the conflict more realistic. 

The Outer Worlds, Obsidian’s Fallout-in-space-without-the-Fallout-brand-name, is an interesting evolution of this formula that focuses less on conflicting political systems and instead rides fully into the horrors of late-stage capitalism. Workers suffer under grueling conditions that always favor company interest, product suffers to save costs, the system suffers under class warfare and gross negligence. I’d argue The Outer Worlds toes the black and white line a little more closely than New Vegas may have done, yet it still manages to very cleverly subvert expectations. Indeed, the strength of the game is often in the strength of the supporting cast—companions from many ideologies and walks of life help to make already difficult choices all the more difficult by challenging the player to think more critically about the weight their choices make. In place of black and white, there is more often the question of, “Is this thing better for the many or better for the few?”

I wouldn’t go so far as to say The Outer Worlds completely changes the game, but I have to give it immense credit for providing a lot of paths and outcomes to really challenge the moral compass a player might want to walk. When I made the choice to side with a corporation to save a group of people, the game was quick to remind me that my actions, though they had been valiant, still served an emotional blow to the people I thought I’d been a hero to. There is no easy solution to conflict, no direct good and bad. Whether it is the good of the many or the few, someone still has to lose so someone else can win.


Courtesy of SmallBü

5. Later Alligator

If it were possible to bottle up happiness, I imagine that bottle would contain only the purest essence of Later Alligator

Created by SmallBü, the husband and wife animation duo behind Baman Piderman, Later Alligator is a sort of pre-murder murder mystery. You play as The Investigator, a private detective in Alligator New York City (where everyone is an alligator, obviously) hired by Pat, an increasingly paranoid and childish twenty-something who believes that he will be murdered by someone in his family at something he calls “The Event.” The game takes place over a few in-game hours, with time advancing incrementally as certain actions are taken, like traveling to different areas of the map. The largest chunk of time will be spent talking to the various members of Pat’s eccentric, vaguely Mafia-adjacent family, allowing you the opportunity to grill them for information about The Event. But no information comes free, of course; tips about The Event are given as prizes for winning minigames of varying slapstick hilarity, from plain Old Maid to a fully realized dating sim. 

Later Alligator deserves immense credit because it is genuinely funny. Everything about it is funny. There is nothing that is not funny. I mean this sincerely when I say it; comedy, in any of its forms, is not easy to conjure and yet Later Alligator manages to do it so smartly and elegantly that I find it impossible not to recommend and even more impossible not to enjoy every minute of. Each of Pat’s friends and relatives is somehow themselves a fully realized character full of so much heart that it’s hard not to love every one of them, from Tall Jared and his haunted cellphone full of anime pictures, to Slick Mickey and his questionable skin condition (that he is very, very open about). 

Time is short in the game but multiple playthroughs are rewarded and encouraged, with new endings to unlock and new family members to talk with. It is a game full of stand-out moments that never stops delivering on itself, never for a single moment eases up on the joy.

Oh and hey, The Knife? Call me


Courtesy of No More Robots

4. Hypnospace Outlaw

By trade, I am a community manager and strategist, which essentially boils down to me running forums for a living. There is a lot more social complexity embedded in this role that separates it from merely throwing the ol’ banhammer around, but the concept is mostly the same. It’s kind of a weird job to have as I cut my teeth as a teen on the internet by participating in communities run by people willing to give their spare time over to supporting something they really believed in. It never seemed like something people could do for real actual money (spoiler: you can!).

Hypnospace Outlaw is somehow both catharsis from my day-to-day and intense nostalgia rolled up into one perfectly executed package. It’s the late 1990s again—a lawless time online full of looping midi autoplay, extremely low-resolution images, terrible gifs, and amateur web designers. Hypnospace Outlaw presents a satirical, alternate-timeline depiction of these early days; in it, players assume the role of a volunteer Enforcer tasked with basic content moderation on the Hypnospace, scouring webpages for illegal content, copyright violations, or anything that violates Hypnospace’s terms of service. At the surface it sounds a little bit like throwing the ol’ banhammer around, but what unravels is a delightful little mystery-solving puzzle game that oozes a great deal of love for the zinesters and mischief makers that made sites like Geocities so iconic and memorable. 

It’s like a fever dream of the way the internet used to be, made only more authentic by its packaging; players surf the Hypnospace using a Windows 95-ish operating system complete with stupid music player skins, pop up viruses, and awkward user interfaces. I admit, it’s likely I found myself so attached to Hypnospace Outlaw this year because I am the right age for it, but I would be hard-pressed to believe that anyone couldn’t love what magic the game makes. It is in every way whimsical, silly, thoughtful and truly a love letter to the internet, with a surprising relevancy to the online politics of today.

I also haven’t been able to get “Granny Cream’s Hot Butter Ice Cream” out of my head for the last eight months. You take the hot butter, mix it with the ice cream…


Courtesy of Studio ZA/UM

3. Disco Elysium 

My name is Rebecca and I am an unrepentant save scummer. It sounds terrible, I know, but I’ve found that the less time I have to play games, the more I feel this creeping urge to play them correctly. To walk the path of least resistance and see as much of the game as I possibly can in one go. I’m usually on the straight-and-narrow when it comes to video game morality, too, which means that I am all the more likely to roll back a save when I accidentally make a choice that maybe pisses off one of my dearest companions. Maybe, just maybe, I have a little bit of a problem. 

Disco Elysium deserves a lot of credit for doing a lot of things very, very well, but perhaps more than anything, I am grateful to it for finally forcing me to confront my desire to always play a game “right.” There really is no “right” to Disco Elysium; it is a traditional RPG in the sense that chance is determined by a randomized dice roll instead of a skill cap, and failure is possible at any moment, even for checks that guarantee a high level of success. At first, I thought I would balk against this notion, but in Disco Elysium’s world, it feels so unbelievably right. Revachol, where the game takes place, is a messy, forgotten former capital under the strain of a labor crisis, thrown into even more peril when a gruesome murder occurs. You are a messed up, alcoholic cop expected to solve that murder…who also doesn’t remember who he is, can’t find his badge and gun, and may have thrown a shoe through a window. Maybe.

In a game of chaos, both internally and externally, in a game that confronts how messy and confusing it is to be a functioning human, it feels right to never know where the chips will fall. I could put my nose in a guide and prepare myself for every outcome but it would never determine how fate might decide something for me—an action, a conversation. I died of humiliation once because I could not pass a very easy skill check to step over a small concrete barrier. I reloaded a save to try it again and managed to fail the skill check a second time. And for once, I felt totally okay with that. I didn’t want to be so messed up, but I realized that maybe the game was telling me that I had to be, was forcing me to really confront the difficulties in just getting through the day. Video games often present the ideal world or present conflict without real teeth, yet Disco Elysium is willing to get messy in a way I have never experienced before and, as it turns out, in a way I was really craving. 


Courtesy of Mobius Digital/Annapurna Interactive

2. Outer Wilds

If you’ve listened to episodes of our podcast this year, you’ve probably heard me say more than once that I thought Outer Wilds was one of the greatest video games ever made. At the same time, it’s also one of the most difficult to talk about meaningfully, as talking about it often spoils all the things that make it so great. I realize it sounds pompous to call it one of the greats, as if my personal opinion holds any real meaningful value over these kinds of things, but I am hard-pressed to find many other games that do what Outer Wilds manages to do. 

At its core, Outer Wilds packages together immense scale, responsive physics, and impeccable worldbuilding in a way that outpaces games made by studios ten times the size of Mobius Digital with ten times the budget. It is a soaring, breathtaking tour through the final moments of a dying universe whose primary strength—though it has many—comes from beautifully crafted moments of serendipity. It is never just one, here and there. They are constant, they are gratifying in a way that it is hard to put words to. The feeling of learning and exploring and understanding grants even greater power to Outer Wilds’ swelling conclusion, leaving us to ruminate on the meaning of life and our place in the universe. As much as we are just small things with short lives, our existence is not forgotten, our accomplishments never meaningless. 

Our own world feels short on time these days, and with a muddy, uncertain future ahead of us, I sometimes think Outer Wilds is one of those games that snuck in at the right time. My soul needed to know that we have a chance to make a difference now, even if it would only be meaningful to those who will come long after us. We owe them that much.


Courtesy of Remedy Entertainment

1. Control

I felt like I was making an extremely audacious decision by assigning Control my #2 game of the decade, but I find myself feeling more empowered by the decision every day. There is so much to love about Control that whatever tedium remains gives way to a game that is smart in every way it could possibly be. From absolutely magnificent art direction and level design to an incredible cast of powerful characters, I firmly believe that Control will long stand as one of those touchstone games that will be an influence on what comes after it, whether it does so quietly or loudly. 

I touched on this fact a bit in my decade in retrospect, but when I think long and hard about Control, I find that I am most attached to—and validated by—Control’s decision to tell a story of corporate horror from the perspective of the Bureau’s women. There is a brief sequence toward mid-game; a conversation between the player character, Jesse Faden, and Emily Pope, direct report of the Bureau’s Head of Research, Dr. Casper Darling. Jesse has an opportunity to question Emily’s feelings on Dr. Darling’s attempts to protect Emily from his work, and Emily responds so wonderfully matter-of-fact: “FUCK THAT.” 

There are a lot of energies worth channelling in 2020, but Control reminds me that one of the most motivating for me is Emily’s. Don’t take things lying down. Don’t let others determine your feelings or decide what is best for your well-being. Take control

And Now: A Series of Smaller Games You Should Play On Your Holiday Break

It’s been a great year for games from smaller teams, and perhaps one of the best we’ve been so lucky to have in the last few years. Here are a few of my favorites from 2019, all of which made a 10-game-only list almost impossible to finalize: Ape Out, Baba is You, Grindstone, Manifold Garden, Mutazione, Observation, Overland, Sayonara Wild Hearts, Untitled Goose Game, WATTAM, Wilmot’s Warehouse.

Photo by Alexey Savchenko on Unsplash

Rebecca’s Decade of Gaming in Retrospect: 2010-2019

Like others who dedicate some carved-out part of their identity to the craft, I can punctuate almost every year of my life by at least one video game that came to me at the right place, at the right time. I was 17 when I graduated high school in May of 2010 and spent the summer immediately following bouncing between undergraduate coursework and Red Dead Redemption. With 2011 came The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The summer of 2012 was built around the Humble Indie Bundle V as I was making the long commute back and forth to work with the soundtracks of Bastion and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery on repeat in the car. In 2015, when I returned from a year spent living in Boston, finding myself confronting depression and feeling as though my future was falling apart, there was Night in the Woods and Hohokum

Now at 27, though far from the oldest or wisest person I know, I feel as though I have the clarity to reflect back on the last decade as a pivotal one in my ongoing relationship with video games as a medium. While I started as someone who was willing to buy every popular game that was released, and felt like I had to in order to stay ahead of the discourse, even if I knew I would never finish it; I now feel like someone whose taste has been refined to the point that I don’t feel shame in saying out loud that I just don’t like platformers very much. I don’t feel guilt in not buying the latest hot thing until the review embargo has lifted. My heart will always lie with the weird, the esoteric, the experimental, and the narrative-driven.

Below I have listed my 10 landmark games from the last decade (2010-2019), many of which have become powerful rituals in my life as much as they have become the touchstones that have developed my interests and tastes as a young adult. There are a lot of games worth loving out there and certainly far more than just these 10, though I hope you have loved, or will come to love, some of my dearest favorites.

Courtesy of Microsoft Studios

10. Minecraft

I’ve seen Minecraft appear on a few other end-of-the-decade lists, and there’s usually some ensuing kerfuffle about how the game released in Alpha in 2008 which somehow means it couldn’t possibly count, despite a full release in 2011. I’m saving you the trouble by telling you this now, so you know that I’m not a stickler for particulars, and thus, am putting Minecraft on my end-of-the-decade list. 

I owe a lot to Minecraft; it was one of the first games that got me actually playing games on my PC, and is also one of the first to teach me about modding communities. I was active for many years in the Minecraft subreddit and on some Minecraft-related forums, where I enjoyed playing custom-designed game types, maps, and on multiplayer servers. It is impossible to talk about Minecraft, of course, without acknowledging that it stems from problematic origins. In spite of this, I feel that the team deserves immense credit for persevering in spite of it all. Indeed, Minecraft is one of the few games that continues to improve in incredible ways; the current game is almost unrecognizable from where it started with even more great content on the horizon that will surely keep it on many best-of lists going well into the 2020s. 

For me, Minecraft has been a very special place I return to when I need a break from things, even other games, and over time has become the common ground I share with many of the friends I’ve made playing social games on my PlayStation. Minecraft has been the glue that has kept us playing together for years now. We’ll build our hearts out, explore the depths of each map, and start all over again with even more enthusiasm than the last time. 


Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks

9. Dishonored 1 and 2, and no, I will not choose between them

Look, Dishonored is one of the few franchises that reads to me like a package deal. There is no Dishonored without Dishonored 2. Sure, there was that time between the games when we only had Dishonored, but that’s the past. The future is now. 

The Dishonored games on their own are a blissful combination of a grotesque, whalepunk, industrial revolutionist aesthetic with immersive stealth-’em-up mechanics, brought home by an immensely thoughtful narrative of political intrigue and otherworldly influence. The premise of the series is simple enough; you play as former Royal Lord Protector—turned spectral assassin—Corvo Attano. His primary goal in life is to hand anyone who took part in wronging him their very own ass. You have the choice to do this the easy way, by killing everyone and everything who stands before you, or the hard way, which allows you to assign a fate often worse than death to many of the targets who stand in your path. The beauty of Dishonored is that it rises to be more than just Corvo’s story of revenge, and tells deeply personal, troubling stories about characters in a world built on the back of poverty, disease, exploitation, and death. Not one iota of content is extraneous in Dishonored; indeed, Dishonored boasts some of the most incredible DLC stories I’ve ever played, bringing great complexities and perspectives to a story about so much more than revenge. More than just this, the series is also responsible for some of the most loved, cited, and influential level designs of the past decade, from Dishonored’s brilliant social-warfare simulator Lady Boyle’s Party to Dishonored 2’s intricate murder house The Clockwork Mansion.

I also named my dog after Corvo Attano, so it has that going for it too.


Courtesy of The Chinese Room

8. Dear Esther

Dear Esther is a ritual I have returned to and meditated on frequently since its release in 2012, though I didn’t hear about it until it was included in Humble Bundle’s Humble Indie Bundle 8 in 2013. At the time it was the talk of the office; I remember being asked so many times if I’d played it because it was just that good that I broke down and bought it the same day the bundle dropped. 

While not the first game to be called a “walking simulator” pejoratively, it is a game that introduced me to a genre I was previously unfamiliar with and came to love and care for very deeply. Dear Esther tells a haunting narrative of a man struggling with grief over the death of his wife and his own deteriorating health, told in randomized, disjointed, repetitive pieces of dialogue offered at intervals as the player explores a ghost-inhabited, picturesque island in Scotland’s Hebridean archipelago. It is a remarkable example of how the lived experience of games, of their settings, of the actions taken in being present in a space or environment, can sometimes be the most meaningful way to tell a story. There is great life here, even with poignantly sparse, minimalist gameplay as the unnamed narrator makes an arduous, painful trek to find some sort of solace in his sorrow while occasionally relaying the stories of the men who had lived on the island centuries before his arrival. He grapples with and tries to unravel their motivations and their pain in a way that flows effortlessly with his own struggle to unpack and gain authority over his trauma in a way so remarkably human and greatly moving that it is no surprise Dear Esther inspired the design and the stories of so many games in the years following. 


Courtesy of Lucas Pope

7. Return of the Obra Dinn

I’ve long been a fan of developer Lucas Pope, the man behind 2013’s Papers, Please—an immensely affecting simulation game about the tedium and morally grey day-to-day of working as a border agent whose well-being, and the well-being of his family, relies entirely on his ability to successfully complete his duties to the fictional nation of Arstotzka. Pope was similarly open about the development of his follow up game, Return of the Obra Dinn, whose demo I played in 2014.

The demo was clever and interesting, with a captivating art style, but it did not betray the incredible masterwork that the game would become. Return of the Obra Dinn again puts you in the tedious position of a public officer, this time as an insurance adjuster for the East India Company, sent to explore an abandoned ship and make some kind of sense about how members of its entire crew either mysteriously vanished or died violently. As others have noted before me, Obra Dinn is a fascinating game of three dimensional sudoku; armed with a pocket watch that allows players to travel back in time to the exact moment of a person’s death, players must thoroughly and correctly fill out an insurance claim while piecing together which sailor each corpse belonged to and what exactly their fate was. Using only sharp eyes and the clues of deduction, Obra Dinn is easily one of the most competent, complex, and thoughtful puzzle games of recent years, whose story takes such awe-inspiring and fantastical twists and turns that the act of exploring these frozen scenes of often horribly gruesome deaths is morbidly fun in the most unexpected way. 


Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks

6. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I went into this past decade a massive Elder Scrolls fan. When I was in high school, right around the time that I got my first big console upgrade to an Xbox 360, a friend recommended that I check out The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, as I was into Fable at the time. Even to this day I can’t say if there is a game I have ended up playing as thoroughly or for as long as Oblivion and so, naturally, I was fully prepared to spend forever and a day combing every inch of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I bought the special edition, I did the midnight release. I’ve carried that damn Alduin statue around for almost a decade, from move to move. It’s sitting behind me on a shelf as I type this. 

Skyrim decided to haunt me in a much different way than I was expecting. I never really had the same kind of time in these past 10 years as I did during my Oblivion days, yet I have found myself gently orbiting around Skyrim, always buying a new copy for this platform and that platform, always returning for a few spare hours, here and there, now and again. There is something so wonderfully familiar in Skyrim’s sweeping plains and snow-capped mountains that feels like home to me—a feeling I hadn’t properly grasped until playing Skyrim in VR late last year. I was in Jorrvaskr, the mead hall home of Skyrim’s mercenary group, The Companions, and decided to just sit down with my VR headset on, next to the fire. For a moment, everything around me melted away. It felt real, it felt comfortable, like I was meant to be there. Like I was in the company of a good friend. 


Courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment

5. Bloodborne 

Without a doubt, I knew I wanted to put at least one Fromsoft game on my list but I struggled to decide which one. I’ve dedicated a fair chunk of the last decade to the franchise as I love it dearly; Dark Souls 3 is my all-time favorite of the Dark Souls series, and one I often return to. In truth, despite how much I love them, I have only ever really been a bystander to the Dark Souls series. I have not mastered them as others have, I have not carved through their idiosyncrasies or “gotten gud” enough to walk with those who have.

Maybe it is because of this that I have long found Bloodborne to be the closest-to-perfect distillation of the type of game Fromsoft has been making since 2009’s Demon’s Souls, and one of my favorite games of all time, even outside the last decade. A contained experience, affecting a lone Hunter over the course of one hellish night, Bloodborne marries sharp, speedy combat with a highly aesthetic, cosmic-horror vision of traditional Souls-style sprawling locales. Unlike its “Souls-sisters,” I find that Bloodborne shines because of its more human-focused and environmentally-driven storytelling; presented are several key, conflicting factions whose various obsessions with being recognized by unknowable comic gods, known as Great Ones, helped to create the sick dynamic that has brought the spiraling gothic city of Yharnam near to ruin. Where the Dark Souls series often revels in its purposefully designed murkiness, Bloodborne instead spends its time lingering on the characters at play, on the settings it encompasses, and tells a moving, tragic story of the unknowable undoing brought about by the sheer hubris of man.


Courtesy of Studio ZA/UM

4. Disco Elysium 

At the risk of sounding like the fun police, I often refer to myself as someone who is anti-hype. For whatever inexplicable reason, I feel an internal cringe anytime some piece of media arrives as The Greatest Thing That Everyone You Know Loves And Won’t Stop Talking About. Maybe I’ve just been burned so many times by That Greatest Thing to have learned this cynicism but, of course, it kicked into high drive in 2019 once again with the release of Disco Elysium. Lauded almost universally and self-billed as both “groundbreaking” and “revolutionary” (like, who does that?), I naturally paused on this insane amount of hype to really consider if it was earned

As it turns out, the right to call itself both groundbreaking and revolutionary is not only earned but earned tenfold. Disco Elysium is a fascinating character study of an objectively terrible person built on one of the most complex narrative systems I have ever seen, considered the natural iteration of 1999’s long-reigning RPG favorite, Planescape Torment. It is a game with such incredible depth and clarity of vision that I have not stopped thinking about it since the day I put it down. I know this all sounds like the hype machine at work, but Disco Elysium, like many of 2019’s games, grapples very earnestly with mental illness, with racial, political, and economic strife, and contributes meaningfully (in my opinion) to the overall discourse—and deserves credit for trying even where it stumbles. It is one of those games that I found at the right time and has been a solace for me ever since in trying to exercise some of my conflicting, frustrating feelings about our late-stage capitalist hellscape. 


Courtesy of Mobius Digital/Annapurna Interactive

3. Outer Wilds 

I hit a few snags in writing this list, one of which being the sense that I had to cite only the games that introduced some new mechanic or concept or idea first, even if they may have not necessarily done it the best. Such thinking feels like a trap; games that build on those mechanics and concepts and ideas are often disqualified because they are not thought of as original, even if they are the most polished, most thoughtful iteration.

Outer Wilds rests at the intersection of those concepts, in my eyes. While it is made up of parts familiar from other games, such as Majora’s Mask, Subnautica and No Man’s Sky, it packages them up so effortlessly and expertly that it’s easy to forget how many years and how many games had to happen before Outer Wilds could exist. And exist it does; as an indie joint, developed into a full game by the small team at Mobius Digital after early beginnings as a student project, Outer Wilds rises effortlessly to heights sometimes not even seen in the AAA space. A compact, yet somehow sprawling story of a civilization long past told from the eyes of a charmingly hobbyist spacefaring race living out the last hours of a dying solar system, Outer Wilds provides an endlessly surprising (and wonderfully tiny!) space exploration sim that meditates so beautifully on what it means to exist in a universe so much larger than just one person. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself. 


Courtesy of Remedy Entertainment

2. Control 

Every couple of years, one game will sneak out of the void and become the only thing I can think about. I hate to call it an obsession, but I’ll admit the feeling is something like it; it’s hard to say what exactly inspires this feeling in me, but Control was one of those games to take me by the shoulders and shake me until I was all in for the ride.

Control is Remedy Entertainment at its finest (and weirdest)—a game that feels like the natural conclusion of a decade chasing the supernatural that started back in 2010 with Alan Wake. While Alan Wake, as both a character and concept, is very much alive and well in this story, Control chooses to instead focus on the Federal Bureau of Control, an SCP Foundation-like that exists to research, contain, and understand anomalous objects and world events. The strength of the game is several-fold; stylish, mid-century, brutalist art direction melds so beautifully into incredible levels and interiors that grant a character and familiarity to The Oldest House’s otherwise incomprehensible architecture. Such a strong setting only sweetens fast-paced, third-person gunplay (with not a waist-high wall to be found!) that, while occasionally frustrating, made me feel more like a superhero than I ever have in a game before. But more than all of these wonderful parts, Control won my heart because it unabashedly celebrated its women. Rather than falling back on an old trope, Control instead empowers protagonist Jesse Faden and whip-smart bureau employees like Emily Pope to literally take control and make meaningful structural change in a system built on the backs of men whose actions nearly brought the Bureau, and the world, to its knees. 


Courtesy of Cardboard Computer

1.  Kentucky Route Zero

I am certain my placement of Kentucky Route Zero (KRZ) comes as no surprise to those that know me well. I loved every second of KRZ so intensely that I had a pivotal scene from Act III, released in 2014, tattooed on my body. But the importance of putting KRZ at the top spot from the last decade is not so much because it is my favorite game from the last decade (or games, if I include the four supplementary interludes that have been released: Limits & Demonstrations, The Entertainment, Here and There Along the Echo, and Un Pueblo de Nada), but also because I find it to be the most quietly influential, the most creatively ambitious, and as of yet the only unequalled game from the last decade. I had hoped to be able to see KRZ through to its completion by the end of 2019 so that I could meditate on the closure of something so personally meaningful. But I returned to the game recently, to sit and ruminate again on its lessons, and I wonder if there is also something poignant to be found in the pause we are left on as we enter a new decade. 

Perhaps it is because I am older now, and understand it now, but I can’t help but feel as if the world we live in is full of more horror and terror than it has been before. KRZ confronts a lot of these evils directly, from corporate greed destroying rural communities, debt and alcoholism crippling those most vulnerable, to loss and guilt and the way that our histories, our traumas, and our relationships shape the people we become as we grow older. But what KRZ does so elegantly is present groups of people, as broken as they may be, often unfettered by what ails them—these artists and creators and magic makers—and celebrate how they manage to thrive and make meaning of things at the darkest hour, how they find some quiet sense of peace when there is no certainty in their futures. Perhaps this is an idealist’s view of things, but there is something about KRZ that gives me hope, that keeps my soul strong when the weight of the world makes me feel so impossibly insignificant. It reminds me that there is room for carving out joy wherever it can be found. It will always be meaningful to someone. 

Honorable Mentions

I agonized over this list immensely and ended up cutting several games that are very dear to me in the process of finalizing it. Because of this, I wanted to take a moment to name a few very special games that made creating this list almost impossible: Red Dead Redemption (2010), Mass Effect 2 (2010), Fallout: New Vegas (2010), Journey (2012), Hohokum (2014), Gorogoa (2017), and Prey (2017).

Header photo courtesy of  Ben Neale on Unsplash

Rebecca’s 2019 Purposeful Gaming Challenge, In Review

I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with 52 Week challenges since I was in college. More than a few friends at the time were always trying to tackle something, whether it was 52 books or 52 movies. I always liked the idea of the challenge; there’s a part of me that craves structure and checklists and finality. I liked the thought of being able to say that I’d stuck with something meaningful and formed a habit of it—increased my media literacy and all that. On the other hand, there was always that voice in the back of my head saying why create so many rules to make something you enjoy more difficult? 

Looking back on the last year, I am not yet certain I’ve successfully managed and married those two sides of myself, but I think I got pretty close. The concept of the Purposeful Gaming Challenge is nothing unique or particularly earth-shattering in the face of every other 52 Week Challenge on this planet. But I started it in the hopes of not only holding myself accountable to maintaining my game literacy, but also creating a more meaningful headspace for saying no. I’m not good at no—in fact, I’m honestly pretty awful at no. I struggle to say no to myself sometimes, even when I can feel myself shriveling up as I pile more and more on my plate. Maybe it’s the universe keeping the balance of things, but 2019 ended up mowing me down like a truck, and because of it, learning how to say no became a difficult—almost crippling—necessity. 

Yes, voice in the back of my head, maybe the PGC is putting too many rules on something I enjoy, but what’s wrong with trying? I found a lot of value in approaching the PGC as a lesson in no by learning how to respect my time. As kids, we often have a lot of time but little cash to buy games. When we grow up, we have the money but hardly the time to put into anything at all. There’s a lot of games out there, a lot of great ones even, but not all of them respect your time. Not all of them even deserve it. For me, the PGC helped me to feel more confident in saying no to what I didn’t like for the ultimate benefit of having more bandwidth for what I did like.

There’s room for improvement here, of course, but at the end of all this, I do feel a great sense of pride in myself for sticking to the commitment I made. Even when I felt my worst, I still showed up and played something. I never missed a single week. Saying no got just a little easier, and that’s an energy I’m happy to channel in all aspects of my life as I move into 2020. 

So what is the room for improvement, anyway?

I’m not perfect and slipped into anxiety even with the best of intentions in mind. Toward the end of the year I started to feel pressured to stay on top of the sheer volume of releases from 2019 that I’d not played, and as a result, I feel as though I set myself up to fail just a bit. There were weeks when I committed to playing three or four games when I certainly didn’t have the bandwidth for more than maybe one or two at most. The upside to this is that I found myself being much more willing to say no to things that didn’t connect with me right away, but I wonder if that came at the expense of not giving some games their fair shot. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, after all. Until they’re paying me to play these games, there is no meaningful reason to feel like I have to play every single one. 

In sum, I played 61 games for the PGC, along with 7 other games I didn’t count for the challenge (why didn’t I count them? They totally count!). Of those 61, I was able to finish 21 of them, felt confident saying that I liked and wanted to finish 15 more, and made a commitment to saying no to 12.

The Hard Data

If you’re anything like me and enjoy a good breakdown of the metrics (or just like looking at pictures of pie charts), I’ve got you covered with some of the facts.

  1. Nintendo Switch (18 games / 30%): I traveled pretty frequently this year, both.domestically and internationally, so having the Switch to tote around with me made it easy to keep up on the PGC when I was away from my more sedentary consoles. More and more, I find myself craving Switch releases for things, especially indies, as I enjoy the portability and flexibility the Switch provides.   
  2. PlayStation 4 (13 games / 21%): The PS4 is my primary console and remains the platform I buy all my AAA, big-ticket games for. Because of my move toward buying indie releases on the Switch, I have found that I generally purchase fewer games for the PlayStation 4 overall. 
  3. iOS (11 games / 18%): I was surprised how highly my phone ranked as a platform for me this year. The release of the Apple Arcade subscription service, along with mobile versions of many excellent indie games, gave my Switch a run for its money as my primary small-game device. As of this writing, I’m still subscribed to the Apple Arcade and plan to see it into the new year. 
  4. PC (9 games / 15%): PC has always been a middle-of-the-road platform for me. My job requires me to spend hours a day at a desk in front of a computer, so I find I’m less interested in going home and doing the same thing all night long. For this reason, I generally try to buy games on consoles where I can, but occasionally will still fire up the old PC, especially for exclusives and fun finds on Itch.io. 
  5. Xbox One (7 games / 11%): I picked up an Xbox One S over the summer, so it perhaps didn’t get a fair shot at being higher on the list. Ever since I purchased the console, it’s remained a Game Pass machine, which allowed me to play a lot of games I never planned to. As of this writing, I’m still subscribed to Xbox Game Pass, and absolutely plan to maintain a membership for the foreseeable future. 
  6. Et Cetera (3 games / 5%): I also ended up playing three additional games, two on the 3DS and one on the Xbox 360, to round out my 61. 

Because the PGC is largely about learning how to better respect your own time and embrace the games that you most enjoy playing, I decided to sort each game into one of five categories:

  1. Finished (21 games / 34%): These are the games I played through from beginning to end. For me, level of finished-ness doesn’t matter, so this metric accounts for those few games I saw through 100% as well as those whose story I finished and put down. Some highlights: Outer Wilds, Control, Later Alligator. 
  2. Unfinished – Will Complete (15 games / 25%): These are the games that were maybe too long and all-encompassing for me to see to the end, but the ones that piqued my interest and kept me wanting more (and more…and more…). Some highlights: Mutazione, The Outer Worlds, Disco Elysium. 
  3. Unfinished – Won’t Complete (12 games / 20%): This category was a hard lesson for me as I generally believe (erroneously) that I will eventually finish all the games that I play. In an attempt to force myself to be at peace with my bandwidth, I used this category to be extremely judicious about how I wanted to spend my time. Not all games have to make the cut, and that’s okay. Some highlights: Moonlighter, Void Bastards, Ashen. 
  4. Ongoing (7 games / 11%): This category is all about games that maybe don’t necessarily have a distinct finish point or are games that I can see myself returning to periodically when I have a few moments to give. Some highlights: Wilmot’s Warehouse, Baba is You, My Time at Portia. 
  5. One-off (6 games / 10%): I used this category to give myself some wiggle room to return to older games, local multiplayer games, or games I’ve previously finished when the itch struck me. I didn’t want to be too restrictive on only pulling from my backlog, so this category is just the right amount of flexibility that I needed. Some highlights: The Stretchers, Bloodborne, Murdered: Soul Suspect. 

Finally, we come to the release dates. Almost 60% of the games I played this year, released this year—35 in all, with many more still left unplayed. I also was able to clean up some releases from 2018, playing 15 games in total. The remaining chunk of games came from the last 20 years, going back in time as far as 1998.

The Harder Data

So, you like spreadsheets, do you? Here is the full breakdown of every game I played in 2019.

Postcards #1 – A Quick Look at Discolored (2019)

There is something hauntingly familiar to this scene. You, standing in the middle of a road, a desert expanse stretching into a fuzzy grey abyss both in front of you and behind you. To your right: a phone booth, bright on the inside, whose door won’t open. To your left: a diner–its neon signage reaching up into the night sky. From the side of the building you can see a large picture window on the diner’s second floor. Inside, a ceiling fan rotates aimlessly. In the light of a bright, full moon, everything appears in shades of grey…until it quickly becomes apparent that whatever color there had been before has mysteriously disappeared.

Discolored is a first-person puzzle adventure game from Jason Godbey, creator of 2017’s The Search. I was excited to try out his new game after having reviewed The Search when it originally released, and was lucky enough to spend some time with Discolored’s demo in advance of its closed beta. The demo comprises the earliest part of this initial scene with the diner, solving a few monochrome puzzles, finding the first shade of color, and eventually using that color to find the second color, after which the demo concludes.

Jason–an immensely talented 3D environmental artist in his own right–is also a master of atmosphere. There is something deeply unsettling to Discolored’s world without color; its desert road that ends in a grey void; its still and abandoned diner, a television flickering on static upstairs. The dread is Twilight Zone-like in the way it creeps around the edges. Returning color to the world one hue at a time curiously turned the game from ominous to whimsical, aided in no small part by a few reality bending puzzles, including a moon-related one that was extremely satisfying to watch play out. It’s clear there is a lot under the surface here; even the diner itself, which seems small at the outset, has a surprising number of extra rooms, nooks, and crannies that make me excited to get my hands on the full game so I can explore them.

How much time you squeeze out of the demo depends on your attention to detail; I found myself stumped for a while due to not attempting the most basic solution to a puzzle, though astute puzzlers might find themselves able to cruise through in a half hour or so. Despite wanting to see and learn more, I found the demo ended right where it needed to, right when I was finally realizing all the places I could access by unlocking the second color. It’s a taste to be sure, but just enough of one to feel intrigued about the mystery at large and comfortable with Discolored’s main mechanics.

Jason is launching a special closed demo period at the end of January which is ONLY available to those that sign up! He’s looking for feedback from players, so it’s a great chance to be part of the development process and get an early sneak peek at something cool. You can find out more information and register for the demo here. You can also wishlist the game on Steam.