Coaching Corner: Undertale – Episode 1

It’s Rebecca’s first time playing Undertale. Can Tyler and Olivia help her avoid murder and make friends?

In this episode: Olivia, RebeccaTyler


Greetings From 27: With Enough Can-Do Attitude, You Can Melon Ball Anything


Get up close and personal with your favorite video game creatures as we have fun with another random draw episode! We asked our listeners to send us their favorite non-humanoid video game creatures and challenged ourselves to provide the taste, feeling, and smell that their two-dimensional video games cannot. Join us for a spectacular FIVE DIMENSIONAL adventure!

Works Discussed

  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim developed by Bethesda Game Studios
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time developed by Nintendo
  • Viva Piñata developed by Rare
  • Stardew Valley developed by ConcernedApe/Eric Barone
  • Mass Effect/Mass Effect 2/Mass Effect 3 developed by BioWare
  • Resident Evil 2 Remake developed by Capcom
  • Luigi’s Mansion 3 developed by Nintendo


  • Olivia: Duolingo
  • Tyler: Destiny 2 developed by Bungie
  • Rebecca: Observation developed by No Code

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Greetings From 26: In The End, We Are All Skeletons


Happy New Year! In this year’s first episode of the Gaming Corner, we talk about cherishing characters in Darkest Dungeon, the difficulties of space in Outer Wilds, and dealing with grief in Kentucky Route Zero.

The Games Discussed

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Header image courtesy of Florian Krumm on Unsplash

Pen Pals: Destiny 2

Pen Pals is a show where we play some games remotely, together! In this episode of Pen Pals, we did some Destiny 2 strikes and learned more about the complex Destiny world.

In this episode: Olivia, Rebecca, Tyler

Games News Roundup 1/8/20 – 1/14/20

This week in one sentence: Sony is skipping this year’s E3, Pokémon Sword and Shield are getting an expansion pass, ADGQ raised more than $3 million for charity, Epic made more than $680 in revenue, and GameStop’s future doesn’t look bright.

Top Five Stories

1/ Sony Is Not Going To The 2020 E3: In a statement to, Sony confirmed that they will not attend the 2020 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) for the second year in a row. Sony commented that “We do not feel the vision of E3 2020 is the right venue for what we are focused on this year.” Many analysts and pundits assumed that with the upcoming launch of the PlayStation 5, Sony would make a return to the show. E3 is already facing a crisis of identity compared to more fan-focused shows like PAX and has lost the confidence of many games journalists after exposing their personal information last year. (Game Informer / CNET / IGN / Polygon /

2/ Pokémon Sword And Shield Are Getting A Paid Expansion Pass: In a live stream on January 9th, Game Freak announced a paid expansion pass and free updates are coming to Pokémon Sword And Shield. The expansion pass adds two new locations, the Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra, and the return of more than 200 older Pokémon, new legendary Pokémon, new clothing options, and many other features. The free updates to the base game will allow everyone, including people without the expansion pass, to get the returning Pokémon. (Gamespot / Eurogamer / The Verge / GamesRadar+ / VentureBeat)

3/ Awesome Games Done Quick 2020 (ADGQ) Raised More Than $3 Million For Charity: ADGQ, the yearly speedrunning event, was able to raise $3,155,199.56 in donations for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. This is the tenth ADGQ and the highest amount raised so far. The show had a few highlights, including TomatoAngus bringing props to show how a Fallout 4 glitch works, a strange “crash” in BioShock, and a blindfolded co-op playthrough of Punch-Out!! (Polygon / Eurogamer / VentureBeat / Game Rant / GameCrate)

4/ Epic Games Store Has Sales Of $680 Million Since December 2018: An infographic by Epic Games showed that their digital storefront had significant sales over the past year from more than 108 million customers. Epic also confirmed that they will continue to give away free games for the next year and that many requested features, like achievements, are on the way. ( / Washington Post / IGN / Gamasutra / The Verge)

5/ GameStop Had A 25.7% Drop In Holiday Sales: The already beleaguered GameStop experienced a 25.7% drop in 2020 holiday sales compared to 2019. This bad news comes after closing multiple locations last year and already down revenue from last year. The company’s stock fell 24.5% from the start of the year. (Gamasutra / Destructoid / Polygon / Forbes / Motley Fool)

✏️ Notables

  • A Bloodborne mod adds a cut boss back into the game. The modder, Foxy Hooligans, added back a boss version of the Loran Cleric. (Kotaku / Polygon)
  • The beta release date for Legends of Runeterra was announced. The League of Legends card game beta is coming on January 27th. (GamesRadar+, Polygon)
  • Grand Theft Auto IV pulled from Steam. Rockstar said they cannot make more keys because of the Games For Windows Live integration. (Rock Paper Shotgun, The Verge
  • Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is deleting the save files of PC players. The expansion is deleting older saves from PC players. (Kotaku / PC Gamer)
  • The $30 back-paddle attachment for DualShock 4 controllers is now available. Reviewers seem to like the extra triggers. (The Verge / Mashable)
  • Nintendo released a music video for their new theme park (Super Nintendo World) and it includes a song by Charli XCX (Kotaku / The Verge)
  • The Xbox Series X will not have Microsoft exclusives. First-party games will be compatible with the Xbox One. (VentureBeat /
  • VVVVV is now open source. Terry Cavanagh, the creator of the game, released the source code in a blog post. (Rock Paper Shotgun / Gamasutra)
  • Steam will now sell soundtracks independently of games. Game soundtracks can now be purchased on their own instead of only as DLC. (PC Gamer / Engadget)
  • Slay The Spire received a 2.0 patch. This patch adds a new playable character, balance changes, and a slew of other changes. (Shacknews / Eurogamer)

Greetings From 25: The Witcher Entered My Soul


In this episode of the Greetings From News Recap, we review the largest video games news stories for the biggest news from 12/05/19 through 1/05/20. We talked about Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher series, Redbox getting out of the video game rental business, Geoff Keighly’s The Game Awards, and the announcement of the Xbox Series X.


The Witcher TV Show

Redbox No Longer Renting Video Games

The Game Awards

The Xbox Series X Announcement/Details

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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, 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! is a great place to find experimental free or extremely inexpensive games.
    • 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 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


Olivia’s Top 10 Games of 2019

I thought that 2019 was going to be a slow year for video games. After the blockbuster years of 2017 (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata, etc.) and 2018 (God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, etc.), I was kind of ready for a little reprieve. Surprisingly, 2019 was full of fantastic games that were barely on my radar before they came out.

It was both thrilling and exhausting to have this litany of games come as recommended must-plays from people I trusted. Every year, I seem to have less and less free time, which stresses me out. There were so many overlooked games that I didn’t have time to play, and I’m sure I will look back on this list as incomplete. Alas, there is only so much time in the year, and I am only human. Please forgive me for this failing.

This game of the year (GOTY) list is going to get into plot spoilers for the following games: Death Stranding, Hypnospace Outlaw, Outer Worlds, Control, and Outer Wilds.

Courtesy of Kojima Productions

10. Death Stranding

The story of Death Stranding is Hideo Kojima at his worst. The plot is indulgent, plodding, and often nonsensical. Except for one notable exception, women in this game have no agency beyond being baby-making machines and tarnished sexual beings. It’s so bad y’all. I can’t even tell you how fucking stupid this game is because it would take another 1,000 words to describe what exactly “The Last Stranding” is and how it was never explained until the last minute.

Forget about the story. The reason that Death Stranding makes this list is because of ziplines. You see, playing Death Stranding is a chore. Dodging or fighting the ghostly Beached Things (BTs) is a stressful experience that never gets easier. Many remote outposts have no roads or easy to walk paths. Ziplines are a late-game item that allows you to fly over BTs and other enemies quickly.

Building a network of ziplines across the world of Death Stranding was one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I had this year. I hated sneaking by BTs and walking across the giant map. Ziplines were my reward for putting in the time trying to understand this story and thinking strategically about my resources. Every open-world game should have ziplines that let me fly around while my ghost baby laughs maniacally.

Other things that make Death Stranding bearable are its beautiful graphics and commitment to being a literal walking simulator. The game is powered by the same technology that made Horizon Zero Dawn, so it isn’t a surprise that it looks great. The slavish dedication to creating a world where players must watch where they step is admirable even if it is sometimes annoying.

Seriously though, who the fuck thought the concept of “still mothers” was a good idea? 

Courtesy of Capcom

9. Devil May Cry 5

Sometimes, I want to turn my brain off and wail on some bad guys. Devil May Cry 5 revels in this brainless fun. I got to play as a demon hunter who has a motor on his sword that he revs to do more damage and a prosthetic arm that has an engine in it so that he can fly. Nico is a daisy-duke wearing merchant who drives her van into the bowels of demon-infested territory. And by drive, I mean that she comes flying out random holes and falls from the sky. It’s ridiculous, and I love it.

The ridiculousness of this game is epitomized in the 21st-century masterpiece that is “Devil Trigger.” I didn’t like this song when I first heard it, but the game assaults you with it constantly. When you are playing as Nero, this is your battle music. Every time you get into a fight, it starts playing “Devil Trigger.” It’s audacious. It’s over the top. I got Stockholm syndrome and caught myself humming “Devil Trigger” while not playing Devil May Cry 5.

Devil May Cry 5 also has an intricate fighting system with three different playable characters who each have their own combat system. While not every character is as fun to play (I’m looking at you, V), I can respect the developer’s commitment to trying something new. I enjoyed using most of the prosthetic arms that Nero can equip, and upgrading my skills was fun.

I also appreciate how lame and dad-like they made Dante. He’s gone from being a cocksure punk in the original trilogy to a guy who listens to Slayer while picking up his kids from soccer practice. I’m glad he is still rocking out and using his big-ass sword.

Courtesy of GREZZO and Nintendo

8. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The Game Boy Color version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening won me over because of how weird it was. There was a village of talking animals that was never explained and the hint system involves calling a guy over the phone because he is too bashful to speak in person. The game isn’t afraid to be cute and strange.

The Switch version of Link’s Awakening takes this cuteness to a new high. The plastic-like aesthetic of the game’s characters sets up the world as a toy box that doesn’t need to make sense. Chain Chomps in a Zelda game? Sure! What if Kirby was an enemy? Go for it! Goombas— YES! This game is a relic from a time when Nintendo was much less precious about mixing its intellectual property, and it’s a great treat.

The puzzles can be a bit strange, and it feels old when compared to more modern games in the Zelda franchise. Additionally, the pervasive frame rate and performance issues ain’t cute. I don’t understand why this game has so many technical problems when other more graphically demanding games seem to work better on the Switch.

It’s worth picking this game up for the new version of the Animal Village song. Everything else is just gravy.

Courtesy of Nintendo

7. Super Mario Maker 2

I so badly wanted to play the original Super Mario Maker that I almost bought a Wii U in 2017. I had already bought my Switch, but I couldn’t wait to start building levels. Thankfully, my bank account and partner stopped me from making this tragic mistake. I resorted to downloading a Wii U emulator and checking out the unofficial Mario Maker subreddit to get my fix. Still, I felt like I was missing something.

Imagine my relief when Nintendo finally brought Super Mario Maker 2 to the Switch, along with a new single-player campaign. I picked up the game right around launch, and it’s been fascinating to watch the player-created designs evolve. The 20-second levels, strange puzzles, and horror-themed chase sequences are excellent examples of these new and popular level formats. The Legend of Zelda update has also completely changed what levels are popular, and I can’t wait to see how designers use these new tools.

While the single-player campaign is short, it’s still fun. We received 100 Nintendo designed levels that all illustrate the basics of creating a well-designed level. The game also includes a series of design lessons narrated by a pigeon. It’s a 100-level game design course that goes over the basics and explains that not everything needs to be a Kaizo-death gauntlet.

Super Mario Maker 2 originally was not this high on the list, but the new “Ninji speedruns” mode raised its place significantly. These speedrunning levels have multiple paths that only become clear after completing the same level many times. It’s exhilarating to watch the Ninji ghosts run the level and to pick up the strategies that the fastest players are using.

Ninji mode almost makes up for the ongoing trash fire that of online competitive racing. Nintendo, please fix the lag and make that mode playable.

Courtesy of Game Freak

6. Pokémon Sword and Shield

I’m a lifelong Pokémon fan, who keeps coming back for every other game. I loved Pokémon X and Y but skipped Sun and Moon. Grookey stole my heart in the first trailer for Pokémon Sword and Shield. Even in the shadow of “Dexit,” the newest Pokémon game still blew me away with its cute aesthetic and quality of life improvements.

For me, Pokémon games are about interacting with my adorable creatures, crushing gyms, and catching legendary animals. I am happy to report this game delivers on all these essential features. I was able to play catch with my Pokémon and make curry with them at my camp. The gym battles are framed as over-the-top soccer matches with crowds in a stadium. While there are only a few legendary Pokémon, I love my shield dog.

The aesthetic of this game is a mix of small pastoral towns in the United Kingdom and idealized coal town. You can customize your player character by equipping them with giant backpacks, gingham skirts, knit sweaters, and a million other vaguely British clothing options. I very much appreciate being able to give my character fiery eyes that show my blazing determination or rainbow eyes to express my blazing queerness. 

The lack of a national Pokédex is a bummer, and I would love to know more information about how banked Pokémon will be brought forward. But I love the new Pokémon so much that I’m fine to chill with my Wooloo and ghostly Corsola. That being said, I do want the Squirtle line brought forward. How could you do this to my squirting turtle man Game Freak?

Courtesy of Wizards of the Coast

5. Magic the Gathering: Arena

Digital card games have become a borderline obsession for me recently. Out of all the digital card games I tried out this year, Magic the Gathering: Arena (Arena) was the only one that I stuck with besides my old standby of Hearthstone. I had played paper Magic the Gathering (MTG) in the past, but the rules were so complex that I didn’t have a desire to stick with it. Having a computer mediate these complex rules and show me the ropes has been immeasurably helpful. I would recommend that anyone who has had any interest in MTG give Arena a shot to learn the basics.

The game teaches new players by having them play against a basic bot in practice matches and a free deck of every color and dual-color combination. Compared to the starting grind of Hearthstone and other major card digital card games, MTG is generous. Granted, MTG has significantly more cards than Hearthstone or other comparable card games, so it all balances out.

There are a few issues with Arena that I hope Wizards of the Coast addresses. The AI-controlled drafting mode often makes dumb mistakes. The client is also missing popular formats, like Commander and Pauper (outside of special events). Also, the abundance of expensive cosmetics, including card sleeves, pets, and hero portraits, feels a bit gross.

MTG is one of the most complex games ever created. You can literally create a programmable computer with paper cards. Arena is the most approachable and affordable version of this game.

But don’t play MTG. It will ruin your life and your bank account.

4. Hypnospace Outlaw

Courtesy of Tendershoot, Michael Lasch, and ThatWhichIs Media

Hypnospace Outlaw is a simulator of a fake 1990s internet that never actually existed. In this world, people can surf an approximation of the early internet while sleeping. This fake internet is dominated by hyper-compressed gifs, basic text websites, and auto-playing music. Your job in this dreamscape is to be a cop who hunts down copyright-infringing content, illegal commerce, and other actions that break the terms of services.

The game unironically loves the old internet that was comprised of GeoCities text websites and auto-playing music. The graphical interface is obtuse and never feels like an easy-to-use modern UI. As the game’s plot unfolds, this interface starts to become even more overwhelming as you unlock more helpful “features” and get computer viruses.

As a child of the 90s, the internet seemed to offer unlimited promise and the gateway to the future. Once I got on the internet and accidentally installed BonziBuddy, I realized that the hope of the internet was a lie. But even though my dreams were crushed, it was so cool to build an HTML website. But, My Final Fantasy X website that was comprised of a table of screenshots still feels like the coolest thing I ever created. Hypnospace Outlaw helped me relive this experience by using the built-in editor to create a terrible facsimile of a web page.

One of the best things about Hypnospace Outlaw is the music. If you haven’t heard “Granny Cream’s Hot Butter Ice Cream” or “Hypnospace Is Great,” please do yourself a favor and listen to them now. These songs have dominated my Spotify most-played songs and have forever ruined improved my song recommendations

This game was a pure shot of nostalgia with a plot that takes a turn into the melodramatic. The post-game mode of playing as an archivist who is attempting to fully backup the website is an interesting approach. It’s such a strange and genuine game that was unmatched by any other experience this year.

Courtesy of Obsidian Entertainment

3. The Outer Worlds

As I talked about in my Games of the Decade List, Fallout: New Vegas still reigns supreme when I think about the best games of the last ten years. This unabashed love of New Vegas led to me following every piece of pre-release coverage of The Outer Worlds. I thought that Obsidian Entertainment would be unchained from Bethesda’s Creation Engine and make the game they always wanted. Unfortunately for me, The Outer Worlds was never going to be New Vegas 2. It’s disappointing to have your expectations crushed, but The Outer Worlds offers a good but much different experience than I expected

The Outer Worlds is a much more focused and shorter experience than a modern Fallout or The Elder Scrolls game. This more limited experience allows the developers to give the game a fine-tuning that the Bethesda-created games never offered. Using a gun feels like a modern first-person shooter (FPS) that is comparable to an entry in the Borderlands series. The highest compliment I can give is that when you pick something up, the other objects don’t float away.

The society in The Outer Worlds is a hyper-capitalist nightmare set on a distant solar system full of deadly creatures. The citizens of the world have been so brainwashed that they refuse critically needed medical attention from non-affiliated providers. The corporations are so villainous that I never planned on ever allying myself with them. But the characters do make some compelling arguments about why you should maybe not burn the entire system to the ground. The game convinced me to choose the centrist path and not try to be a true radical. Once the stakes of the problems in the game become clear, the game asks you to make hard choices and give in to the path of least resistance.

You can see everything in the game in about 35 hours, and everything can be wrapped up cleanly. With a high enough skill level and the right choices, you can avoid most of the bad endings. Beyond the unique items, player equipment boils down to Chest Armor 1, 2, and 3. Its limited scope does function well, but I do wish the game had a little more meat.

The writing, gameplay, and general polish of The Outer Worlds make it a must-play game of 2019. At the very least, you should get to know Parvati and listen to Ashley Burch’s amazing performance. Plus, the “dumb” character options are hilarious, including a hidden ending.

Courtesy of Remedy Entertainment

2. Control

The moment you get the ability to fly in Control was when I realized that this game was more than just an art direction, storytelling, and graphical marvel. Flying showed off how complex the Oldest House was and the hidden locations throughout the world. Hovering over the Black Rock Quarry and the astral spike enemies is such a rewarding experience.

In Control, you play as a young woman named Jesse Faden, who has an entity living within herself named Polaris. Jesse has an unclear connection to the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), a government that oversees the protection of powerful supernatural items. These items may have powers that can change the world in the form of an “Altered World Event.” Control is a lore-dense game, and these basic concepts just the surface of what you can expect to learn.

Control has already widespread praise from the press for the way it handles the story’s dream logic, but it’s important to stress that the story is very good. The mystery of who exactly is Polaris, what Dr. Darling was trying to do, and how the Hiss took control is engaging. The set pieces, like the Ashtray Maze, are some of the best moments I’ve had this year.

Intense plot beats aren’t the only way that this game drips out plot points. The amount of lore that you can find in ancillary materials around the world is overwhelming. That is not to say that the lore is bad. I loved these dossiers and how much we are able to learn about the world. Listening to the Mirror Debrief interview reversed is a high-point of the lore that you can find in this world.

The world design in Control is another high-point of this game. I loved how the designers trust the player to figure out how to navigate the world by reading the signs and warnings placed around the world. Like the bureaucratic leaders at the FBC, the designers expect you to pay attention and not fly off into an abyss.

The technical issues on a base PlayStation 4 are inexcusable. This problem is especially pronounced during the already challenging Hedron boss fight, which only makes that battle more difficult. Eventually, I was able to get used to the slowdown and frame rate drops, but it’s such a disappointment.

There is so much more that I love about Control. The music is awesome, Threshold Kids is all I can think about, the hints about Alan Wake’s connection to the FBC are what I didn’t know I needed, and Ahti is still a thirst trap. I cannot wait to see how the DLC expands the world and what the eventual sequel will look like.

Courtesy of Mobius Digital

1. The Outer Wilds

The Outer Wilds is one of the most demanding and intricate games I have ever played. It’s a clockwork world that resets every 22 minutes. As the player, you must find clues, takes notes, and make your own connections about how these various clues fit together. The game doesn’t dole out the clues, and you are expected to go out and find them yourself. The only mission you are given at the start of the game is to go out and explore the world.

It’s best to play The Outer Wilds with as little information as possible. Solving the puzzle box and making those connections yourself is 90% of what makes this game interesting. Because less information is better, I want to talk about a few specific moments in the game that will stay with me forever. These will not make sense unless you have played the game to completion:

  • Entering the Dark Bramble and seeing the giant anglerfish and then realizing that I could not go backwards. I didn’t expect to be scared by this game. I was foolish.
  • Getting trapped in a cave that was filling up with sand and realizing that I had no way out. I kind of gave up and let the sand take me. It was horrifying.
  • Shooting myself into the far reaches of space and thinking that I had broken the game. I didn’t figure out what I needed to do for like ten hours because I avoided the slingshot.
  • Hanging out with Chert and watching him start to lose his shit as he realizes that the sun is going to explode. I felt bad for him, so I stayed and waited for the explosion to take us.
  • Jumping into the Ghost Matter on Timber Hearth before talking to the Nomai statute and getting a surprise game over screen.
  • Jumping from crumbling platform to platform on a planet that was falling into a black hole and then missing a jump and flying off into space. Then I just had to sit there for like five minutes until the sun exploded.

There are so many other moments in The Outer Wilds that I decided not to include in this list. Unlocking the story and learning more about what exactly happened is a gift that I want to give you. The Outer Wilds is on Microsoft Game Pass. You could play this game for $1. There is no excuse not to play this game. If I can break away from my Hearthstone addiction, I know that you can find the time.

Games That I Didn’t Get A Chance To Play

Here are a few games that I didn’t get a chance to play, but I’m sure would have been notable:

  • Sekiro Shadows Die Twice: The Dark Souls of samurai/ninja games.
  • Resident Evil 2 (2019): What did they do to my poor boy Leon’s chin?
  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: The Dark Souls of Star Wars games
  • Disco Elysium: Shout out to Marx.
  • Sayonara Wild Hearts: My favorite soundtrack of a game I’ve never played.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses: Teatime and war crimes

Photo by Alexey Savchenko 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

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

Here we are, the end of a decade. Congratulations! At the beginning of the decade, 2010 was a year when Humble Bundle launched, the war between Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s Playstation Move had just begun (Kinect now defunct and the Move left behind by PSVR), and Facebook social games like Mafia took us all by storm by beginning to shape and redefine what we considered “social gaming” (does anyone remember Outernaughts by Insomniac Games??). Now we have games like Fortnite, Overwatch, and DotA bleeding into mainstream channels thanks to the rise of Esports and streaming services like Twitch. It’s cool to be a gamer—finally—and for some, it can be an incredibly lucrative career (looking at you Ninja). 

Strangely, I can’t believe the most influential games that are responsible for this growth were released ten years ago, such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Bioshock 2, Limbo, Alan Wake, Civilization V, Super Meat Boy, Dark Souls, Cave Story, and Mass Effect 2 which all released in 2010. I’m sad to report none of these games made it on my top ten-decade list but they are definitely among my favorites. You really need to play them if you haven’t yet.

The ones that did make it on my list are very personal to me and are in no particular order of importance. It was not easy to come up with ten games to define my decade of gaming and in the end I think it’s impossible to be 100% satisfied with my selection. I hope you enjoy hearing about the games that I loved over the years and maybe you’ll love them too.

Courtesy of Frictional Games

SOMA (2015)

Amnesia: The Dark Descent walked so SOMA could run. The Swedish developers at Frictional Gaming have always delivered good horror but what really shines in SOMA is the plot to this survival horror game. 

SOMA leans more on pathological horror rather than traditional terror one might expect from this genre. Where most horror games rely on blood, guts, and gore, SOMA instead tells a harrowing story about Simon Jarrett, whose last memory was performing an experimental brain scan. Simon then wakes up, suddenly no longer in the medical research facility but in a crumbling, dark, and industrial research facility are known as PATHOS-II at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The story only gets stranger as you begin to unravel the mystery while trying to help Simon escape with his life. 

SOMA honestly has one of the most refreshing narratives within the horror game genre that I’ve experienced. It brings a dash of cyberpunk to the table while wrestling with philosophical quandaries like “What does it mean to be human? What is consciousness really? Do you have free will, or is it predestined programming?” All of this while you navigate the corridors of the now deteriorating research facility. I really can’t say more without spoiling so I’ll leave it at that. Of course, the aesthetic and environmental/level design really play a huge part in what makes this game scary. The atmosphere becomes very hostile and unsettling the more time you spend exploring. That and the sense of isolation as you search for someone, anyone who’s human like you.

If scary games aren’t your thing, rejoice! The developers at Frictional Gaming added a story mode where the monsters can’t harm you. The game becomes less scary but instead infinitely creepier because the grotesque monsters follow you around like a pet, staring at you, making wailing noises.

Courtesy of Simogo

Year Walk (2013)

“In the old days man tried to catch a glimpse of the future in the strangest of ways. 
They locked themselves in dark room, not partaking of food and drink.
At the stroke of midnight they ventured out into the night,
 through the dark woods where strange creatures roamed. 
To see if they would be wealthy
To see if they would be happy
 To see if they would live
 To see if they would be loved.”

Surprise! Another horror game, though this is more creepy than scary. Year Walk by Simogo is a point and click adventure game rooted in Swedish folklore about seeing into the future. You play as Daniel, a man who is warned to not go on a year walk by his crush but does so anyway (men never listen to women in the horror genre). The game itself is a journey with Daniel, performing little rituals to appease strange mythical creatures in the dead of night, hoping to catch a glimpse of the future. What could possibly go wrong? It turns out a lot and that’s why I like it.

Year Walk feels very much like Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” poem come to life. There is fresh snow falling and everything is extra quiet, save for the satisfying crunch beneath your feet. It gives you that sense of peace, the one that lulls you into a false sense of security until you suddenly realize you’re alone in the woods at night and the silence has become deafening. The rituals are no more than simple puzzles yet they made me feel like I was performing witchcraft. Upon completion, the rituals always end morbidly and they become more intense the longer you go on.  Enter a singing competition with a siren, sacrifice four babies to the water horse, mark gravestones for a picky bird, attend church with a goat. I’m being flippant about what happens but I’d hate to spoil things. 

I will spoil one thing: The Doll. There’s a wind-up doll hanging by a thread in a small, dark shed and you need to wind its head for a solution to a puzzle. This doesn’t seem too creepy unless you’re playing on iOS, where you have to use your fingers on a touchpad. I cannot tell you how jarring it was to wind this doll up with my fingers, bit by bit until it wouldn’t wind anymore and then slowly watch it unravel as it sang a tune doing a creepy dance. Interacting with Year Walk via touch makes it an extremely effective and powerful horror game. I highly recommend you try it sometime.

Dead Space 2 (2011)

I really have a theme of horror games for my decade’s list. Listen, what’s not to like about being a space engineer with a laser gun for slicing off the limbs of your enemies?

Dead Space 2 is a third-person survival horror action game set in the future. You play as Issac, a very troubled and unlucky spaceship engineer who seems to have misfortune everywhere he goes. In the first installment of Dead Space, Isaac had to trudge around the haunted Ishimura ship in search of his missing wife and unravel the secrets of the missing crew (hint: they all died). In Dead Space 2, Issac wakes up in a commercial space station, which is suddenly in disarray and under attack by familiar foes. He once again needs to escape with his life while simultaneously figuring out who is responsible for the monsters, called necromorphs, getting loose again. Dead Space 2 ends up being a bigger and better Dead Space, it’s really an Alien to Aliens comparison in every way. 

I absolutely love this game. A lot, a lot. I won’t say that it’s one of the most influential horror games of the decade; it has problems with the way it treats women and mental health, but I love it anyway. Here’s what I love about the sequel and Dead Space franchise overall: spooky space stations? Yes! Creepy and disturbing yet familiar looking monsters? Check. Is a religious cult single-handedly responsible for the fall of humankind because they can’t keep their hands off an alien space rock??? Amen. If I’m being honest,  the reason why I love Dead Space 2 so much more than Dead Space is because the religious cult, known as Unitology, is fleshed out. Essentially, Unitologists believe humans were created by intelligent aliens and those aliens sent a beacon, or ‘marker’, as an invitation to converge with their creators. It’s a very wild concept, there’s so much lore around it, and it’s a big driving force within the game, in between all the necromorph slaughter. 

If this franchise is ever revived (Visceral studios rest in peace) I really want this franchise to take off and dig deeper into the cult aspect because that’s what’s really scary about Dead Space. 

Courtesy of Subset Games

Into the Breach (2018)

I’ve never been a tactics gamer. Yes, I’ve played RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Dragon Age: Origins, but those never felt like tactics games at their core… not like Into The Breach, a top-down 2D tactics game where you command three robots to defend earth from kaiju-esque bug monsters.

What sets Into The Breach apart from other tactics games is the way it handles turn-based combat. Most tactics games have you create a strategy based on predicting the enemy’s next movements. It requires a certain degree of thinking ahead and usually your best laid plans are forfeit to the seemingly random enemy AI, never knowing the true outcome until it’s too late. With Into The Breach, you’re able to see what the enemies will do next and plan around that. You’re even able to move your units and experiment on what the best position for them would be, and if it’s not correct you can simply undo the movement with no consequence.  It’s like a game of chess, where your opponent broadcasts their next move. Just because you know what they’ll do next doesn’t mean you’ll always succeed in countering them. This helped me internalize strategy and tactics better, without feeling like I was subject to fail due to random RNG of the AI. Instead, when I got myself into a pickle it was absolutely my fault for overlooking something. 

Excuse me while I go off about the soundtrack for a moment because the music and sound design really tie this game together well. The composer is none other than Ben Prunty, who is also responsible for the well received FTL soundtrack. If you’ve been following me on Twitter then you know I’ve sung praise about Prunty for a while now. He just knows how to make great music and I find myself listening to the soundtrack of Into The Breach often., In fact it’s made it into my Spotify top 10 list two years in a row. You don’t realise how distinguished this soundtrack is in the game until you listen to it by itself. Truly a masterpiece. 

Courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment

Bloodborne (2015)

From Software knows my soul when it comes to crafting games, they can’t make one that I don’t like. I was introduced to Dark Souls in 2011 and it swept me off my feet. I fell deeply in love with the franchise, as most of the gaming world did, and since then I have spent too many hours across the entire Souls series. I have bought Dark Souls full price at least four times… But despite that, Bloodborne without question is the #1 game of the decade for me personally. 

Bloodborne grabbed me instantly. It has a grimdark setting, starting with a simple beast vs human conflict, but then it grows and keeps growing, and eventually crashes through the ceiling into the realm of cosmic gods. What really makes Bloodborne stand out over the other Souls series is its world-building. Yes, the Souls series is also known for its extensive lore but Bloodborne’s lore hits my cosmic horror-loving bones the right way. I was especially taken with one of the characters Eileen The Crow and her ethos Hunter of Hunters. You see, there are Hunters and there are beasts. The beasts prey on the hunters, so the hunters hunt the beasts. But sometimes the hunters go mad, influenced by the beasts, and they become much more dangerous. That’s where Hunter of Hunters come in, to save the now frenzied, infected hunters from themselves. This is where Bloodborne excels where the Souls series does not. It gives more thought and complexity to the characters and the result is they’re more memorable. 

But it also likes to play with Lovecraftian ideas and introduces cosmic-horror in a refreshing way. In the beginning, you’re hunting beats, possibly werewolves, and vampires, and then somewhere along the way things get mad and you’re suddenly face to face with a cosmic being with tentacle wings and a clam for a head. And don’t get me started on the DLC, which just gets even wilder. 

I feel like this game will be on everyone’s list and honestly it’s the true gem of the decade.

Courtesy of Galactic Cafe

The Stanley Parable (2013)

If you’re a real gamer you’re required to play this, sorry I don’t make the rules. 

The Stanley Parable is an interactive storytelling “walking simulator” (the quotes are because I hate that term) and it’s pure parody from start to finish. The developer Davey Wreden takes your preconceived notion of what a game is and slaps you in the face. It follows Stanley, an average everyday person, who pushed buttons all day for a living, until one day he’s suddenly alone. A narrator talks and directs Stanley through the story, telling him where to go and what to do. Deviate and the Narrator breaks the fourth wall by saying something like, “Stanely insists on touching literally everything he can, searching for a way to advance the story. He is not very good at picking up on environmental cues, is he?” The Narrator essentially makes fun of you throughout the game if you control Stanley any way the narrator doesn’t like. He’s trying to tell a story and you the player keep messing it up. 

Any Dungeon Master of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign has felt this pain. You take all this time to create a story, give certain characters extensive backgrounds, and within five minutes of the campaign your players ditch the story, kill a critical NPC, and bugger off on their own adventure. The Stanley Parable is like that.

What makes The Stanley Parable a strong game is the complete freedom you have as a player and the witty narration that happens along the way. You can follow the narration to a T and you’ll be told a story, or you can break away from the narration and you’ll be told a better story. You could also just sit and work at your pretend job and the narrator will tell you the best story about how mundane you are in a fictional world where anything can happen. 

The Stanley Parable had no problem breaking my comfort with games. It easily subverts expectations at every turn and doesn’t apologize if you’re not having fun (but you really are having fun).This game is incredible and you have to experience it for yourself. You’ll love it, I promise.

Courtesy of Red Hook Studios

Darkest Dungeon (2016)

I love it when a family member gifts me a large mansion and I go spelunking in caves beneath the foundation, seeking fame and fortune only to exhume a dark portal that unleashes all kinds of terrible monsters throughout the land. Does this happen to anyone else?

I clearly have a theme of dark, dank, grimy art aesthetic. There’s just something about banding your troupe together to go adventuring in a deep, dark cave where monsters lurk. Darkest Dungeon is a 2D side-scrolling roleplaying game by Red Hook Studios, where you band together mercenaries to fight back against the evil that now surrounds your beloved estate (and the townsfolk too I guess? Talk about the 1% messing things up for the little guys, am I right?). This is a game that I come back to every year like clockwork in January and I have yet to actually beat the game. I really hope my yearly ritual will allow me to finish soon. It’s very punishing and heavily reliant on group makeup and prior knowledge of surroundings to succeed in a dungeon crawl. Any kind of progress is slow, and it’s very easy to lose your heroes along the way. 

What I love most about this game is its Madness system. While your heroes adventure and battle the horrors within, they gain stress. Become too stressed and their resolve will be tested. This is my favorite moment in the game because your hero either falls into madness, becoming a source of pain for themselves or the party or they prevail and becomes a temporary Saint, blessing everyone and remaining wildly optimistic. You never know which way they’ll fall, usually madness, but it’s always a delight when they succeed and become a powerhouse to be reckoned with. 

I feel like I’ll always play this game at least once every year as tradition dictates. It’s always a source of enjoyment for me and I can’t wait to see what lies at the end. I wonder if I’ll make it through alive?

Courtesy of Mountains

Florence (2018) 

This game has affected me deeply, more than it has the right to. Florence is a narrative-driven mobile game about a young girl who falls in love with a boy and starts a relationship with him. It is simple and charming, yet complex enough to leave you guessing what’s next. There are no words, no voice acting, no text, only the story. 

I related to this game on a whole other level. I even had a friend, who also played the game, say they thought of me while playing it. I recently got into my first relationship within the last few years, even moved in together. My life paralleled what was happening in the game and I was having a surreal experience. It made me question what I was doing with my life. I was depressed for hours, maybe days after I finished it. In some ways, it was a wake-up call for me. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be in life and that upset me. I wasn’t happy and Florence let me know that it was going to be okay. 

I’ve since split with my partner which was difficult, but necessary.

Courtesy of Blendo Games

Thirty Flights of Loving (2012)

An even shorter game than Florence. This 5-minute game, that I’ve spent two hours with, impacted me and made me question what a game can really be. 

Thirty Flights of Loving, a small indie game created by Brendon Chung of Blendo Games, has more content and a better story than most 60-hour big studio games. The narrative is tight, the design is flawless, and the world is charming. There is no text to direct you, or voice acting to express emotion, only smart visual design. My personal highlight of this game is when you’re in a hotel room watching your partner peel an orange.  It’s night time and the moon is out, it’s quiet, but also the city has that nighttime bustle as your partner sits out on the balcony of the hotel room simply peeling an orange and taking it all in. This moment in the game acts as a reprieve from the very chaotic scene beforehand and it’s just lovely. There are many moments like this in the game and my words can’t do this game justice. Please, please, please play this game.

BioShock Infinite (2013)

Booker, CATCH! 

There’s too much to say about this game. People won’t put it on their lists for valid reasons. But it exists on mine for a single reason: the Greetings From crew bonded together around this game. It was the very first podcast that we did back in 2013. We were young, in college, and BioShock Infinite had just released. Several beers and one mic later, we recorded our first podcast. It was long, maybe too long, and probably bad—but an incredible experience that I will never forget. 

BioShock Infinite is a problematic hot mess but I love it because it forged a sentimental bond between me and my friends. That’s it.

Oh, but there was one thing I really liked about BioShock Infinite: the Boys of Silence level. It’s definitely a great transition from boring shooter to suspenseful horror, much like in Half Life 2, also an action shooter game which then turns into a horror game for one level in an underground parking garage. With BioShock Infinite, you’re thrown into this level as a reprieve, only the tension keeps going by introducing horror and depowering the guns you’ve come to rely on for safety. 

That was a good surprise.

Other Games I Cherish:

Alas, these games didn’t make the list but they’re among my most favorite in gaming over the last ten years. I highly recommend you check them out because if you asked, I could talk about them all day.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild (2017), Outer Wilds (2019), Control (2019), Hollow Knight (2017), Prey (2017), What Remains of Edith Finch (2017), Portal 2 (2011), Hyper Light Drifter (2016), Super Brothers: Sword & Sworcery (2011).

Header photo courtesy of  Ben Neale on Unsplash