In honour of Thanksgiving, Dork Shelf takes a look back at the things we love about video games. Because gaming is supposed to be fun – even if we sometimes lose sight of that. These are the games that we’re thankful for, the games that give us hope, and the games that we keep coming back to because they feel like home.
P.T. (Silent Hills)
At some point in the past decade, probably around the time people started calling Dead Space scary, I resigned myself to the fact that there were two things I would never find in a game again. One was a genuinely terrifying experience. The other was a real sense of mystery, the kind that can’t be solved with a quick trip to GameFAQs. This fall I was proven wrong when I managed to find both of those qualities for the low price of zero dollars on PSN with a little game called P.T., the playable teaser of Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming Silent Hills.
On its own the 30 minute game is better than any survival horror title released on consoles since at least Resident Evil 4. The teaser is a landmark for horror storytelling, offering a stomach churning tale of domestic abuse and soul eating guilt told through gameplay so simple a couple of mating cockroaches could (and do) teach you.
I’m thankful that a game can once again make me too scared to open my eyes at night. I’m thankful that a game respects me enough to put its storytelling symbols together on my own. Most of all, I’m thankful that I finally have a game that holds onto its secrets, preserving the horror of the unknown and pulling me back in for one more spiral down its infinite nightmare hallway.
– Peter Counter
Like many traditional holidays on the calendar, Thanksgiving is marked by the family gathering for an annual feast. The ritual of coming back home, seeing loved ones for the first time in months or possibly years, in the house that you grew up in, can be moving. Everything is the same, but older. The fickle nature of time means that some relationships and people have aged well, while others have not.
That’s kind of how I felt when I reinstalled Diablo II: Lord of Destruction on my PC. After pouring literally hundreds of hours into the always-online, constantly updated Diablo III, I felt the need to go back to basics. The shift was jarring at first, stretching the original 640 x 480 pixel resolution across my 1080p screen like a strip of Glad Cling Wrap that just doesn’t quite fit over the salad bowl.
After the initial shock, though, it’s easy to see why millions of gamers fell in love with the dungeon brawler that more or less defined the genre. Swinging an axe into the face of a skeleton and making it crumble into a pile of dust with a click of the mouse felt perversely like coming back home. The brilliance of the design shines through the now-primitive tech, in the way monsters shuffle around the screen or the way a single torch flickers inside a cave, illuminating only a few feet in front of you as you spelunk through the critter-ridden darkness.
All the fundamentals we enjoy on Battle.net today were codified by Blizzard’s classics like Diablo II and Starcraft. And there’s nothing like coming back and seeing that everything’s just as enjoyable as it was a decade ago.
– Jonathan Ore
I’m thankful for the gift Spelunky delivers every time I play it. I know I’ll die from something dumb, but even if I do, I can start right back up again. No matter what, I’ll always come back and I’m thankful Spelunky lets me try again whenever I die on that spike trap or that frog.
– Perry Jackson
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
If you’ve been following my Twitter, you might notice that for the past few months I’ve rekindled my love affair with killing enemies by shouting at them in Skyrim. Having spent close to 400 hours between my PS3 and PC, it’s safe to say that I’m thankful for how Skyrim never seems to end, though that would’ve been a helpful feature while writing my thesis. Skyrim is a world to get lost in even without having to do any major quests. I’ve used the environments as a way to simply escape, walking hours in the rain and snow just listening and interacting with the nature around me. I’ve also used the plethora of glitches and bugs as necessary comedic relief. Who knew that such a boring, broken game could cause me this much joy?
– Soha Kareem
Like many people, I’m thankful for all of the games that have brought me so many countless hours of entertainment. But as I reflect during this time of plenty – during a holiday that brings families together around a shared appreciation for food and warmth – I find that the game I’m most thankful for is Papers, Please, Lucas Pope’s bleak simulator about trying not to starve to death in the cold.
Here’s the thing: blockbusters will exist as long as there are massive audiences to sell them to. So while I am grateful for Mario and Uncharted, those games don’t necessarily need my thanks. Nintendo gets all the gratitude it needs when it looks at its corporate checking account.
But games that make me think – that challenge me while still remaining fun – are much harder to come by, and Papers, Please is one of the few games that dares to push those boundaries. It unearths truths about humanity that simply cannot be expressed through a non-interactive medium, telling a story through mechanics and offering definitive proof that games can stand with any other art form.
For me, that achievement makes gaming worth defending. Papers, Please is funny as hell and demonstrates how powerful gaming can be when it reaches its full potential. I’m thankful for the wonderfully creative people who have chosen video games as their outlet, and I look forward to playing whatever games come next.
I never had the chance to play the original Wasteland as a kid. The now-classic sci-fi roleplaying game came out when I was still a Nintendo-obsessed grade schooler without a computer, and it would have been a little bit above my gaming paygrade at the time anyways. When I was a little older though, I played the hell out of a series of games that were essentially the spiritual successors to Wasteland – Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel.
In the late 90s I was completely obsessed with the Fallout games. They were unlike anything I’d ever played. They were violent, weird, funny, and offered the kind of rich, open-world gameplay that I’d never experienced in an RPG before. I lost countless hours to the radiation-soaked wastes of post-apocalyptic America and kept coming back for more.
A third Fallout game – codenamed Van Buren– was in development by Black Isle Studios in the early 2000s. But fans only found out about it the day Interplay was forced to shutter the studio in 2003. A tech demo of Van Buren eventually surfaced online – a painful reminder for many, including myself, of what could have been before Bethesda took the series in a very different direction with their unrelated 2008 version of Fallout 3.
Fallout 3 was an entertaining experience, but it wasn’t the Fallout that fans knew. On top of being a completely different genre (a first person action RPG), it completely lacked the twisted sense of humour and the character that made the originals so endearing. Sure, it had vaults and perks, ghouls and mutants, but it just wasn’t the same. While elements of Van Buren did end up as part of Obsidian’s far superior Fallout: New Vegas, fans like me never got that true sequel to Fallout 2.
That’s where Wasteland 2 comes in. InXile Entertainment’s crowdfunded sequel to the 1988 game that inspired Fallout is essentially what Black Isle’s third trip to the end of the world would have been. Produced by many of the same folks who made the original Wasteland and subsequent Fallout games, Wasteland 2 takes all the things that its brutal, hilarious, and extremely compelling predecessors did so well, and iterated on that foundation with more than a decade’s worth of game design know-how. It’s Van Buren ten years late – the Fallout game we never got.
I’m thankful for Wasteland 2. I’m thankful that InXile was able to resurrect the once dead turn-based, post-apocalyptic RPG genre and did it so damn well. There’s hope yet, wastelanders. Ranger Team Echo out.
– Will Perkins
What games are you most thankful for? Tweet your answer to @DorkShelf with the hashtag #ThanksGaming
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