A Case for Playing More Video Games — and My Top Picks of 2018
2018 was the year I fell in love with video games — a somewhat surprising fact given that I’m far from the stereotypical gamer. And actually, that’s the point.
I’m not a teenager. I’m not a dude. I don’t drink Mountain Dew or eat Doritos very often. I don’t even have a gaming console, just my iPhone and laptop. So why then, have I become a major champion of games?
Because I love stories.
And while this is probably obvious to veteran gamers, I hadn’t realized the extent to which video games are one of the best mediums for creating immersive, interactive stories that plunge you into other worlds, thereby changing the way you see your own.
Many people short change video games. “They’re mindless” “They incite violence.” But games are just another canvas for creativity, an neutral artistic medium like books or movies. (And as an art form, they’re now gaining long deserved recognition through exhibitions such as the Victoria & Albert Museum’s current Design/Play/Disrupt exhibition.)
Naturally, different storytelling mediums have different strengths. When reading a novel, you follow the characters and plot while using your imagination to create the scenery and craft personas. Movies supply the visuals and soundtrack, but allow you to become fully absorbed in the unique perspective and narrative of the creators.
Video games, on the other hand, are a unique blend of immersion and interactivity. The designer guides you along a path, yet you are required to demonstrate skill and make decisions at each turn that impact not just your experience but the actual outcome. As a player, you co-write the story while at the same time discovering it.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen a slow but steady evolution in consumer taste. We’ve increasingly progressed from a product economy to an experience economy, and now we’re beginning to see a new shift — from passively consuming experiences to co-creating them with our communities. Given this trend, I’m willing to bet that video games are destined to become only more mainstream, popular, and diverse as this evolution continues.
So that’s why I’m championing video games, and specifically my latest favorites below. To keep things simple, these are all games you can easily download on your smart phone for a couple dollars each. Some games are new; others were simply new to me. And of course, the list strongly skews toward my own personal preferences — narrative-led exploration and puzzle games with great soundtracks and stunning visuals that make you pause and see things in a new light.
So without further ado, these are the top 6 iPhone games I loved this year:
- Florence: A simple, surprisingly moving love story about an aspiring artist and a cellist. Without any words or dialogue, you experience firsthand both the mundane and magical moments that make up the arc of a modern relationship. If the NYT’s Modern Love column made games.
2. The Witness: Imagine you are dropped onto a deserted but stunning island. There are no instructions, but endless puzzles that reward you with voice recordings from different philosophers. Unlike any other puzzle game I’ve played, this is a meditative game where the primary goal is simply to pay attention and bear witness to your surroundings.
3. Prune: This game was the ideal antidote to a maddening multi-hour flight delay. The idea is simple — you prune trees in order to help them grow towards the light and blossom in increasingly difficult circumstances. Despite the simplicity, I set down my phone having had a deep meditation on what it means to sacrifice and simplify in order to grow.
4. Old Man’s Journey: Now this game is just gorgeous. An old man received a mysterious letter from his long lost daughter and takes off on an epic journey across ever-changing landscapes while reflecting on his life, love, the choices he’s made and those he hasn’t. The soundtrack edition is a must.
5. Doughnut County: Genuinely a treat! (Ha.) This quirky game is a story of raccoons who use an ever-expanding hole in the earth to collect and capture objects and storybook characters. I was skeptical that it would be too twee or overly sweet, but the story is actually quite funny and filled with surprises.
6. Monument Valley: This one is no secret but rather a runaway indie favorite. Yes, it’s another island based puzzle game, but it’s filled with unique mind bending challenges woven throughout a quest to understand a long abandoned civilization. To say more would be a spoiler.
What did I miss and what new games should I check out in 2019?
I’ve barely touched the surface and would love your recommendations!