Monday, 2 January 2012

My Personal Games of 2011: Part 1

So once again its list time. Time for everyone on the Internet to declare what their best games of the year were. I've always felt that the game of the year concept was a very arbitrary one.

So I've decided to do mine a little different this year. With my gaming habits now heavily weighted towards picking up titles in sales instead of at release,I find myself considering games in an environment of far less hype than I used to.
For me a game of the year has to be experienced which is very much of its time. A game that was not just released in 2012 but reflected it in some way.
I am obviously aware of the game with a three-year development cycle to never truly be a response to events in the year of its release, But I think I can content myself with games that reflect the the Zeitgeist without demanding them to actively create it.

So my choices will all be games that I feel I could not have got the same experience from if I'd played them in any year apart from 2011.

My experience of 2011 was the year to find the way an atmosphere of uncertainty, indecision, and confusion in popular life. Such slippery concepts have always been an anathema to the heavily emphasised rules an goals that form the backbone of most games, and they ascension to primer to place on the news agenda may explain why are some of the more straight forward and traditional games I have played haven't made my list.

1st Runner Up: Fate of the World

In the latter months of 2012 I along with many other watched almost disbelieving as most of the western world's political class sat like a rabbits in the headlights of the oncoming economic crisis. So when I played FotW I was intrigued by the way it advocated a non political approach to solving global problems, that stood out in stark contrast to the serial failure of contemporary politics.

It's uncompromising rejection of absolutes of both the right and left wing of contemporary political debate, made this game there was no quick fix, and which didn't respect a player for taking a 'stance' on a issue. To be a successful player I had to be guided by a feeling pragmatism and not idealism.

Drill, Drill, Drill!!!

In it I found a game of crushing failures, and fast iteration. When I tried to focus on renewable energy, the economy tanked. When I attempt to raise living standards, I had to watch helplessly as a couple of billion extra consumers turned the environment into a car wreck.

I could not max/min my way towards victory, or 'game' this system. Eventually through hard work and a couple of hundred billion deaths it began to become clear to me the key was to keep all your plate is constantly spinning. To search constantly for equilibrium, while riding a catastrophe curve.
When a game gives you a bonus for only causing 6.5 Billion deaths it probably means business.

In some ways it echoes back the 50s and 60s rejection of politics as a means for dealing with the world's problems, And while I certainly have more than my fair share of scepticism regarding this approach it is still interesting to find a game advocating any kind of engagement with the world's problems in a year where political disillusionment was so widespread.

Its heavy debts to board game mechanics may put off a lot of people, but for those willing to persevere it offers one of the most challenging and thought-provoking experiences for years.

In Parts 2 & 3: Two games which surpassed my expectations, made me think, and provided two genuinely excellent game soundtracks.

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