Tag Archives: psychonauts

Playing the Canon’s First Birthday: Five Favorite Games (So Far)

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As I looked back over the past year’s worth of entries, I realized I didn’t play nearly as many games as I thought. This illusion comes from a mix stopping and starting a handful of titles, devoting time to games I put down due to their sheer time commitment (someday, Baldur’s Gate!), and my rediscovery of the medium making every new game feel like an epic undertaking.

So, picking my five favorite games covered on this blog was not nearly the Sophie’s Choice I thought it might be. Sure, there were a handful of darlings I regret not including: The Saturday morning whizzbang joy of Psychonauts. The moody and punishing Another World. Braid’s deeply felt and fully realized puzzle box. But at the end of the day, these five games below are the ones that kept me going as I slogged through lesser titles. These are the games that still prove to me despite the industry’s deeply embedded problems and presiding adolescence, video games are so unique and powerful when the alchemy’s right that they are worth defending and talking about.

I’m still early in my quest. I have so many more games to experience — and there are more by the day, being created by an ever-diversifying community now that technology and distribution has dissipated — that a second anniversary top-five might look entirely different. I am presenting these in alphabetical order, because pitting five things I hold so dearly against each other in some misguided battle of worth seems like a fool’s errand.

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The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)

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You’ll probably never hear me say this again, but I wish this game took itself more seriously.

Well, that’s only a half truth. I’m glad a game exists that’s as irreverent as The Secret of Monkey Island. I’m especially glad that for a brief period, the game industry had a gang of consummate court jesters in Lucasarts-employed weirdos Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman. (And with their recent successes — like Schafer’s upcoming adventure game that launched a thousand Kickstarters and Gilbert’s soon-to-be-released comeback opus The Cave — it seems like these guys have finally found their rightful place amongst video game legends.) In a world by and large content to rehash the same tired Tolkien-isms, to grant players the same handful of dungeon keys and magical spells until they’re about as exciting as finding loose change and Starbucks receipts in your jeans pocket, designers who are more comfortable finding esoteric uses for rubber chickens and ghost-dissolving root beer are not just welcome but necessary.

The Secret of Monkey Island exists in a state of almost pathological fear that players will mistake it for one of the stuffy, straightforward semi-graphic adventure games Sierra Entertainment cranked out throughout the 1980s; stuff like Mystery House and King’s Quest was surely well-meaning and innovative in its day, but it’s no wonder Monkey Island appeared as such a breath of fresh air to computer geeks in 1990. Continue reading

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Psychonauts (2005)

How should game developers rectify that players will forever exist in two universes at once, remaining in the real world while engaging with a virtual one? Even the most elaborate role-players still must sit on the couch with controller in hand; no matter how much you want to fully take the leap, one foot stays planted in reality. Many games acknowledge this problem by creating similarly dichotomous settings, from the terrifying secrets within the pristine walls of Aperture Science and Black Mesa to the Zelda series’ obsession with a “dark” world lurking beneath our own. Smart games embrace a disconnect within their universes, recognizing that true immersion is easier said than done. However, these games often cast us as soldiers of truth, the only ones who can see behind the curtain and expose the world’s falsities. Far fewer titles look inward, embracing that our own perception might be just as flawed as everyone else’s. Engaging with a game – wanting to explore the fictional space of another’s creation – expresses some desire, no matter how slight, to disassociate one’s point of view from the rules of reality. Tim Schafer’s Psychonauts¬†takes place almost entirely in this space between “truth” and perception. Continue reading

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