Lists, lists, lists. It seems like everyone throws together an obligatory “Game of the Year” list this time of year, because, well, everyone else is doing it. So we get all-encompassing, “comprehensive” rundowns that are immediately accused of leaving out Big-Name Game 127. It's all about "non-biased journalism," writers and readers alike clamor. But I don't think that's what game of the year should be. It's subjective. It's special. There can't be a unanimous game of the year because different games appeal to different people in different ways. A monolithic, "objective" game of the year spits in the face of creativity and - as a result - the fine folks who've striven to make it possible. If games are - in any way - art, then we can't reduce them to numbers and arbitrary rankings. And so, I present an experiment. I'm going to explain precisely why my favorite games of the past year are my favorites, and the precise moment in each game that made me realize just how important they were to me personally. I hope you enjoy each entry, and of course, feel free to contribute your own favorites as well. Lastly, as a general rule, SPOILERS AHEAD.
The original BioShock was thought-provoking, philosophical, and prone to painting in broad, all-encompassing strokes. It brazenly put its Big Daddy-sized foot down and made a far-reaching statement on both videogames and the nature of humanity. It also pitted you against an evil statue man in its final battle.
Sure, the game wasn't perfect, but its goals were undeniably admirable. Still though, it was missing something. Hard as I tried, I couldn't really feel for a sealed-up tin can full of snooty geniuses or their debatably sane dictator. Enter BioShock 2. It aimed a lot closer to home, and unlike its predecessor, it hit its mark dead-on. At least, for me it did. Although, I imagine that – in this age of extreme familial dysfunction – it very well may have played a pitch perfect solo on your heartstrings as well.
See, I've never had the best relationship with my father. He's a great provider – don't get me wrong – but he's been largely uninvolved as a parent since my earliest days. And even during the rare moments when his kids have been at the top of his priority list, his questionable morals didn't make him the best role model. My sister, especially, came out far worse for the wear emotionally speaking when all was said and done. Granted, I'm not trying to spill my guts here; my father's semi-absentee nature never led to any long nights sobbing into my pillow or anything like that. I just always felt like there was a strange void in my life. When I was in high school, I consciously sought out father figures in extra-curricular activities and things of the like. I'm not really sure why. It just felt like it needed to be done.
During the times when I actually sat down and thought about my relationship with my dad, though, I always reached the same conclusion: “When it's my turn, I'll be different. I'll do things right.”
I have no idea whether I'll be able to hold onto that resolve when I'm at the point in my life when it actually matters, but – cheesy as it sounds – BioShock 2 convinced me that I wasn't alone in caring so much about it. Moreover, it perfectly articulated the bottom line of what I think being a father's all about, and – better still -- put me in the driver's seat of the whole operation.
As with its predecessor, BioShock 2 is a game of choice. Save helpless Little Sisters or tear them apart with your own two hands to sate your lust for gene-altering Adam? Spare a well-intentioned mother-gone-murderously-mad or splatter her brains to have her permanently out of your hair? Kill a man because he begged to be put out of his misery when he was still sane, or spare his monstrously mutated form because it's now groveling for life? When the spotlight's singing your retinas and the people in question are looking you right in the eyes, the choices definitely aren't easy.
However, in a twist that ties the whole game together brilliantly, it's not you that makes the biggest choice of all. It's your daughter, Eleanor. And she makes it very clear that she's been watching you the whole time, learning how to live her life by your example. Meanwhile, her mother – who tried to murder you and nearly smothered Eleanor to death with a pillow – is drowning, and only Eleanor can push the button that'll drain the rapidly rising waters. So the game poses one last question: were you a good role model for your daughter? Her choices – her thoughts, her motivations, her goals – are informed by yours, and in the end, they matter most.
For me, that put everything in perspective. I hadn't been rampaging through Rapture for my own sake; someone else was far more important. That, I've always figured, is what parenthood should be. It's not about you. The moment a child enters the picture, you start playing second fiddle to a screaming, illiterate poop machine that – for better or worse – will feed on your every word and action. That's an enormous responsibility. If you forget that, you've failed.
In my playthrough, Eleanor spared her mother in spite of the unforgivable crimes she'd committed. And after we escaped from Rapture's nightmarish depths, she declared herself ready to begin a new life on the surface with my memory as her guiding light. More so than in any other game with so-called “moral choices,” I felt as though I'd done something truly right. My actions had helped build something greater than myself. I was – strange as it feels to actually say – proud. Legitimately proud. Thanks to a videogame.
I can only hope for a repeat performance when the time comes in real life. Well, you know, minus the pillow-smothering, bullets in my brain, and whatnot.