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

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

This list went through countless revisions and reshuffling. I struggled with determining, “what are the most notable games of this decade?” I questioned if I should choose games that created new genres, refined a formula to its essentials, or games that created a strong emotional connection. I decided to go with the latter.

These games all punctuate specific points of my life, and I find myself wishing that I could play them again for the first time. They either challenged my expectations, forced me to face something about myself, or created a space that I could call home. It’s saccharine and sentimental, but I can’t find any other way to decide what games meant more to me.

When I look back at 2010 through 2019, the central theme was learning to roll with the punches. This decade is when I transitioned, graduated from college, moved across the country, got engaged, lost a parent, and cried a lot. It was hellish and amazing, and I’m scared of what happens next.

Courtesy of Firaxis Games

10. Civilization V

Civilization V (Civ V) was so close to not making this list. I have put more than 200 hours into Civ V, and there are parts of the game that I still don’t understand. I tried to read the wiki and get my mind around the complexities of managing my many  cities, who each have economies and needs, while also balancing my society’s technological progress. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare.

Civ V made the 4x genre (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) accessible to a mass audience. Not even its sequel could usurp Civ V’s place as the king of the genre. This game has staying power because of how it ramps up its complexity. All players start building their first settlement and choosing from a handful of technologies. Most people will then begin developing the area around their settlement and research a basic technology, like horse domestication or mining. A few players may choose to start building Wonders, which have wide-ranging effects like free technology or more culture. Other players may want to militarize and start expanding their borders. Others may decide to start trading with their partners or specialize in creating great works of art. The decision tree that players can follow is massive, and no two games are the same.

Finally, there are the expansions, DLC, and mods. Civilization V has two massive expansion packs (Gods & Kings and Brave New World) and 14 DLC packs. There are 9,409 mods on the Steam workshop as of this writing. There is so much extra content, and a lot of it is good. You can even play as the characters from My Little Pony. I know that it’s a gamer sin to cheer on expansions and DLC, but I’m happy this game received so much support. Steam sales often bring the collection down to $5.

I cannot stop playing this game. It is my warm blanket of nuclear destruction and city-state subjugation. I love setting up a giant map with 22 opponents set on easy and crushing them. Sometimes, I befriend them, and we go to space or whatever. But I mostly like crushing them.


Courtesy of Toby Fox

9. Undertale

I played Undertale later than most people I know. I had already seen the memes of skeleton dudes, heard the music, and decided that it wasn’t for me. I never played Earthbound, which seemed like the energy this game was channeling. It wasn’t until a family member asked me if I played Undertale that I gave it a shot over the Christmas break. I was enthralled. I didn’t talk to my family that break but instead sat on my laptop trying to get past the killer robot with a variety show. I felt terrible when I killed my adoptive dog mom because she wouldn’t let me go through a door. Then the game laughed in my face for trying to save scum the encounter.

Undertale is a game all about subverting expectations and making you care about a strange cast of characters. The more that I say about how the story of Undertale unfolds, the less interesting it will be 

Because of this paradox, I want to talk about W.D. Gaster. Gaster is a scientist that is not referenced in the main story, but he was responsible for unspeakable atrocities that appear in the game. Players can only learn about Gaster if they meet one of three randomly spawned Non-player characters (NPCs) that appear based on a hidden value that is determined at the start of the game. Players may also be able to find out more about Gaster by examining the game’s files and using the developer tools to travel between rooms. Gaster has a secret song, a possible character sprite, and a cryptic message written in Wingdings.

Gaster is a creepypasta made manifest in the periphery of this game. You can appreciate the story of Undertale without knowing anything about W.D. Gaster. I hope that I have been able to pitch you on the mysteries hidden within Undertale.


Courtesy of Bungie

8. Destiny

I turn 30 in less than a month, and there is something cosmically horrific about realizing that my young adulthood is almost over. This cosmic horror caused me to look back five years to when I thought it was time to put away childish things like video games and focus on more erudite hobbies, like chess or reading books or eating fine cheese and knowing what exactly tannins are. I didn’t buy the latest consoles. I was ready to be a “real” adult.

Then my roommate let me play Destiny on her PlayStation 4. I felt this rush of Halo nostalgia come over me. Destiny felt great to play, and there was loot to try on. I could dress up my space wizard in ornate robes with a headdress that looked like a deer skull. I became obsessed with doing bounties and taking on strikes.

The story of the first Destiny is nonsensical, but I didn’t care because it felt so good to play. I got to team up with other guardians in this weird world that had robots full of milk and space dragons.

It was the first Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) to get its hooks into me. I got lost in raising my light levels and completing obscure quests. I remember being so proud of taking down Oryx and getting his sword as my own. I loved getting the strike specific armor that makes you look like one of the bosses (bring this back Bungie!).

Destiny 2 refined everything in the original Destiny, but I’ve fallen off it much more quickly. The new expansions and season system seems cool, but I get so tired when I imagine myself getting back on the grind treadmill.

Destiny put my life back on a collision course with video games. I would not be here writing about my games of the decade without having played Destiny. That being said, I’m still not sure what tannins are.


Courtesy of Bethesda Game Studios

7. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Skyrim) is a game that I’ve felt come in and out of my life many times over the last decade. I played a little of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, but the generic aesthetic never spoke to me. The announcement trailer that showed a Dragonborn using his “FUS-RO-DAH” to fight a dragon on the side of a frozen mountain all while the chanting monks played in the background made me want to explore the land of Skyrim (I watched the trailer again while writing this, literally chills).

My first experience was getting the game in college and pouring hundreds of hours into the Xbox 360 version. Looking back, that version of the game is deeply flawed, with long load times and a multitude of glitches. Nevertheless, I played the hell out of it. I remember gawking in awe at the butterflies around Whiterun and being taken aback by how big the game felt. I beat the main story and faction quests but then put the game down.

I came back to Skyrim on the PC years later and realized how much better life could be. The load times were fast, the mods offered massive quality of life changes, and the console commands let me create whatever character I wanted. This time with Skyrim was my experimental period with the game. I started tens of characters and played with a variety of mods. It was fun, but I drifted away from it and played new releases.

The latest stage of my relationship with Skyrim involves the PSVR and Nintendo Switch. Playing the Switch version involved me making a spreadsheet to document everything in the game. I didn’t want to beat Skyrim; I wanted to finish Skyrim completely. I did learn so much about the game; did you know there is a weird light orb in a dwarven ruin called Kagrenzel that, if touched, will trap you and drop you down a pit?

Trying to learn everything about Skyrim showed me that the game is both much bigger and smaller than I thought. Sure, there is a lot of content, but it doesn’t go on forever. This in-depth documentation broke the illusion of this ever-expansive world. It was a bummer.

The PSVR version of the game gave me back a little of the magic of looking at the butterflies. It also helps that my motion sickness is so bad that I have to move very slowly in the world.


Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

6. Hearthstone

I have a complicated relationship with Hearthstone that I’ve documented in another blog post. The game has an abusive monetization strategy, addictive free-to-play trappings, and the developers have a kowtowed to repressive governments. Hearthstone is also one of the purest examples of complex design and player choice ever created. Over the last five years, the Hearthstone has released 13 expansions that each add many new cards to the game. It has also gone through more than 100 balance patches and popularized the digital card game genre around the world. Valve, Riot, CD Projekt Red, Bethesda, and countless other studios are still trying to chase the cash cow that Blizzard made.

Hearthstone is a platform comparable to League of Legends and Fortnite, with different game modes, metas, and competitive scenes. There is a subculture on YouTube, Twitch, and Reddit that uses complex tools to create competitive decks. Hearthstone is, in the words of Randy Pitchford, a “hobby grade” game.

I became part of this subculture on accident and loved how much analysis goes into the game. I feel a kinship to those nerds who would talk endlessly about their love of DotA 2 or League of Legends. I have become that nerd who annoys my partner by talking about the latest balance patches and upcoming sets.

2019 has been a big year for Hearthstone. I would guess that the Blitzchung situation and competition from Magic the Gathering: Arena has led to these changes. The last year of expansions has added an overarching story, and the newest set is overpowered and ridiculous. If you are at all interested in Hearthstone, the best time to start playing was five years ago. The next best time is now.


Courtesy of Nintendo
Courtesy of Concerned Ape

5. Animal Crossing: New Leaf/Stardew Valley

Animal Crossing: New Leaf (New Leaf) and Stardew Valley both occupy the same place in my brain, which is why they both live on the same spot on the list. I play these games when I need a moment to heal. I picked up New Leaf when I was working at a job that I hated and wasn’t sure what I was doing with my life. Being able to organize a little home and say hi to my friend was what I needed to keep my sanity.

I’ve played Stardew Valley off and for a few years, but it wasn’t until 2019 that I fell hard for it. There were some incredibly hard times this year, and all I wanted was something that felt safe and comfortable. Something that didn’t demand a lot of thinking, but instead let me take comfort in repetition. Stardew Valley was the game I needed when I could not bear to think about anything else.

Both of these games are deceptively complex life-management simulations that let me feel okay when it felt like everything was falling apart. They were places where I could hang out with those that I love and exist in the same space for a little while. There is no fail state in these worlds; your only goal is to be present.

When life gets too hard to bear, I know that my friends K.K. Slider, Blathers, and Mr. Resetti will be there to let me chill.


Courtesy of PlatinumGames

4. Nier: Automata

Brawlers like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta aren’t known for being introspective art pieces that meditate on the meaning of being human. Those two examples are loud and obnoxious beat-em-ups that revel in being “low-culture.” Nier: Automata builds on these earlier works by giving us a treatise on why we should continue to exist even if the world has no meaning. This message is delivered by a sexy anime robot in a maid costume who wields a katana. It is a silly game.

The game’s combat system doesn’t play super well compared to its contemporaries. The game’s world is a bunch of low-resolution textures with a bland art direction. I also died in the opening section of the game before I could save, which made me put it down and 

This game was created with a shoestring budget when compared to its Square Enix-published contemporaries. That low budget let director Yoko Taro and his team make something so beautifully weird that I cannot help but love it.

One of the first lines in the game is, “I often think about the God who blessed us with this cryptic puzzle [life]…and wonder if we’ll ever get the chance to kill him.” The story goes buck wild from there. The player sees snippets of the alien robots learning what it means to have a culture and to live in a society. Like a Greek tragedy, there is no happy ending for anyone beyond the player who bears witness to these bizarre morality plays.

The game’s story shifts over many playthroughs, as we see the perspective of floating pods that have gained sentience and aliens that can barely walk. The 26 different endings reinforce and change the context of each beat in the story. It all culminates in Ending E, which is set to an evolving rendition of the game’s central musical theme. It’s not just the end song that is good; the entire soundtrack is full of bangers.

Nier: Automata is a dense allegorical work told through the framework of an over-the-top, anime-inspired action game. The meaning of this game will be debated and analyzed for the next decade. All I can say is, please get through all the endings. It will be worth it.


Courtesy of Fullbright

3. Gone Home

I will admit that Gone Home is the right game at the right time kind of situation. I played this game shortly after coming out as queer and trans, I grew up in the 1990s, and have a gay sister. I am the target audience for this game.

Now that my biases are out in the open, I still believe that Gone Home is one of the best examples of a “walking simulator” out there. It is a subtle game that plays with your expectations and tells a genuine story about a queer person growing up in the 90s. You never meet another person in the game, but the small remnants of their life that you find around the house paint a clear picture of who they are.

I do need to say that I can’t handle the stress of horror games. Gone Home sets up the player to expect horrific scenes and jump scares. But, it never scares the player. This space that seemed so creepy becomes comfortable and welcoming. The shift from threatening to cozy is so subtle that I didn’t even notice it until I was walking around the threatening basement looking for clues without panic sweats.

This game was something I shared with my partner as soon as we started dating. It was an emotional and sappy journey for both of us that ended in happy sobbing. I don’t think I’ve had that experience with another game, which is the best compliment I can give Gone Home


Courtesy of Nintendo

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I didn’t finish The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time until 2019. My first Zelda game was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and I thought it was okay but not life-changing. I liked Zelda games well-enough, but I didn’t understand the fanaticism around these games. Playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BotW) felt like opening my eyes and seeing why other people loved this series.

BotW is an open-world adventure game, like Skyrim, that lets you climb mountains and explore to your heart’s content. Unlike Skyrim, BotW has been fine-tuned into a game that feels fun to live in without the open-world “Bethesda-jank.” The paraglider that Link uses to traverse the world is something that every other open-world game should steal and use forever. It is a pure act of joy to move around and take in the world.

Everything about this game feels like the perfect version of what came before it. The combat is challenging and asks the player to stay engaged. The world is beautiful, and the art direction reminds me of a Studio Ghibli movie. The music is phenomenal and understated. This game is an adventure, pure and simple. You can fight the final boss if you want, or you can explore and power up. Or you can go to Hateno Village and chill. There aren’t that many rules or things holding you back except your skill and ingenuity.

The game has a few minor issues, like climbing in rain or weapons breaking. But, those small problems pale when compared to everything else BotW has to offer. I beat this game and then immediately started another playthrough. I wanted to recapture that feeling of experiencing its world for the first time. If you haven’t played BotW, I’m jealous that you get to see this game with fresh eyes.

BotW is quite possibly the best game of not only this decade but the best game ever created. It was such a battle to choose what game defined this decade for me, and BotW almost took the top spot.


Courtesy of Obsidian Entertainment

1. Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas (New Vegas) is not the best game of the decade for everyone. The game is a bug-filled, often ugly, and obtuse game that has flying killer bugs that will poison you. New Vegas is a flawed game that I love with every ounce of my being. I will fight for this game at every opportunity that I get and have already written about why it holds up

New Vegas sets up a conflict between warring nations and ideals that goes beyond “fascists bad” and “democracy good.” There are no good people. There is a sense of history and place in this world. The NCR, a democratic republic in a desolate wasteland, committed a campaign of genocide against the locals and is being torn apart by infighting. Caesar’s Legion is a slave-holding and militaristic culture led by an autocrat. Mr. House is a libertarian who will use his vast intellect to remake the world in his image.

Additionally, there are so many smaller factions that I don’t have time to outline. All the factions are equally valid (except Caesar’s Legion), and you can decide to ally with none of them. No matter who you choose, you are going to make someone angry and have to live with your choices.

I love the desert and have only grown fonder of it after moving away. The world of New Vegas is beautiful because of its austerity. There aren’t a lot of buildings in the Mojave Desert, so you’re often fighting against the elements and wasteland critters. You may also be jumped by a crew of Legionnaires because you might have assassinated their leader. I know that New Vegas didn’t create scripted events, but it uses them so effectively to place you in this world.

The DLC is strange and great. It builds out the world and presents odd new wrinkles in the Fallout canon. The DLCs range from a horror-themed casino heist to a B-movie plot about floating robots and dating your disembodied brain. The DLC stories are tied together by an unseen character named Ulysses. His story culminates in the Lonesome Road DLC, where your relation to Ulysses and your character’s dark backstory is finally revealed. It is an audacious idea to take away a player character’s backstory and replace it with a developer-concocted one, and I love that they were willing to go there.

I found my deep conviction for New Vegas years after it came out. It was a slow burn that took over my brain and made it so that all I can think about in my free time is what happens after New Vegas? Do the Tunnelers destroy all life in the Mojave? Did the NCR win? Will I ever be able to romance Arcade Gannon? These questions keep me up at night. Bethesda you cowards. Let Obsidian make another Fallout game. I played The Outer Worlds, and it didn’t stick with me. I’m begging you.


Other Notable Games

Here are a few games that were on the list and were then dropped:

  • Mass Effect 2: I’m sorry Garrus.
  • The Walking Dead: Season One: Lee dying crushed me.
  • The Outer Wilds: This is a beautiful and impactful game that did not hit me as hard as these other games because nostalgia is a toxic impulse.
  • We Know The Devil: For making me realize that I was a snob for not playing dating sims.
  • Overwatch: Overwatch is a good shooter that I am so burnt out on and never want to touch again.
  • Super Meat Boy: For breaking my brain and making me want to grind my face against challenging games.
  • Bloodborne: It has wormed its way into my brain, and now I have eyes on my brain.
  • Minecraft: I don’t think I need to say anything else.

Header photo courtesy of  Ben Neale 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