Fucking every goddamn year this happens: My boss asks me to say something about a video game, even though (as I've said) my gaming days ended so long ago that I no longer even know how to hold whatever passes for a controller these days.
"Where's ... how many thumbs am I supposed to have for this? Because I have fewer than that number, I'm sure."
I'm not embarrassed by my status as a non-gamer, nor am I proud of it. It's just a thing, it's just my life now, and for most of the year, everything's fine. But then our year-end list rolls around, and if I want to keep my job, every freaking year I have to not just name a video game, but name one that goddamn somehow says something about the world, right now. I can't pick Draw Something, the only sort-of game that I sort-of play, because someone already picked that, and I can't pick Wreck-It Ralph, because as it turns out, that's a movie, not a game (the same reason I can't pick Seven Psychopaths).
So, I don't know, did they make a Halo game this year? They did? Oh, good, that's mine, then. According to literally the only review I read to prepare for this section of the article, Halo 4 is the best installment in the franchise, and that sure is something.
Of all the Halos, this is easily the 4-est.
As someone who only played the first Halo and only on multiplayer, reading that review makes me feel crazy, or rather, it just reinforces what I already know: Games are different now. They claim that it's the best game in the series, but the things the reviewer is talking about all involve dialogue and the emotional dynamic between Master Chief and Cortana. My favorite thing about the first Halo was that I could throw blue bombs at my friends and the bombs would stick to them and blow up and my friends got so mad! Can I still do that in Halo 4? This review is not clear.
At the time of this writing, you can't buy Watch_Dogs without the aid of a time machine or stealing a beta copy off of some developer's workstation at Ubisoft. It is a game that was shown off at E3 in June of 2012 and took everyone's breath away, destined to come out in 2013, or 2014, or who knows when. All we knew was that we had seen the future:
So why is it my game of the year of 2012? Because I've heard more discussion and buzz about it than any game that actually appeared this year. You have to keep in mind, we gamers have been playing the same consoles since 2005 -- to put that in perspective, there have been five iterations to the iPhone in the same span. The industry has, as a result, gotten completely stagnant. I'm not stating that as an opinion -- sales have been plummeting for the last few years because we're just not getting anything new.
Then E3 comes along and Ubisoft shows us this demo of a game that seems to be Assassin's Creed starring hackers, beginning with gameplay of a guy walking down a leaf-blown street that looks like it could be a shot from a movie:
Graphics aficionados recognize all sorts of little touches, like the light shining down through the leaves of the tree and the leaf shadows on the sidewalk dancing lazily in the breeze. When it starts raining, you see weather effects that would make a PS3's processor melt with effort.
Then you have the gameplay, in which the master hacker has almost unlimited control over every device in his environment. We see him bring up a menu to hack the street lights ...
... triggering a car accident at the intersection, trapping the assassination target:
When our hero strides over to finish the job, he shoots, and we watch as the muzzle flash from his gun reflects off of every raindrop falling past him.
He jumps over car hoods, he rolls, he moves smoothly from one animation to the next as if he were a live stuntman doing it in real time, no clipping or janky body motions to remind you that you're just playing a game.
This might be the first video game to provoke PTSD.
And just like that, we suddenly realized why we had grown so bored with the current generation. Bad graphics don't look like bad graphics until you've seen them compared to the next level, and in Watch_Dogs, we suddenly saw what type of game was waiting for us once the hardware takes that next leap.
I, for all intents and purposes, stopped playing video games a long time ago. The last video game console I owned with any kind of fandom was an NES. I had a Wii for a bit and used it primarily to watch Netflix and fool houseguests into thinking that I lived an active lifestyle. If I'm "gaming" now, it's because I'm sitting at the DMV or on an airplane or in any other situation that calls for me to kill time that would otherwise be spent staring off into space.
At present, my favorite option in these situations is a game called Dummy Defense.
Oh Melvin, you should never trust the Internet with your safety.
The game is exactly what the title would imply. You have to defend a dummy. As bombs explode and hail falls from the sky, the only line of defense between a crash test dummy and complete destruction is your limited knowledge of the basic principles of physics. You're given a stipend with which to purchase the necessary materials to build a structure capable of keeping the outside elements, which sometimes consist of gigantic swinging hammers and such, from getting in and destroying your dummy. If you're bored, I totally recommend downloading it and trying it out.
It's fun stuff, but, like any other game in its genre, the real draw is the intellectual satisfaction that comes with telling people that you're "playing a physics game" when they ask what you're doing. It's a great way to still seem cool even though smoking is no longer socially acceptable. When your gaming days are as far behind you as mine are, that's the kind of stuff you look for in a pointless distraction.
This is basically cruise control for cool.
2012 (or as I call it, "2010: Part III") was yet another year filled with third installments, new trilogy announcements and cynical franchise overdevelopment, so it was refreshing to see the Blizzard team whip up ... well, yes, a third installment developing their popular Diablo franchise. But like, in a really excellent way! Execution is everything, as they say, and there aren't many executioners out there better than the folks who invented Diablo, StarCraft and the eternally retreating release date.
In fact, aside from some new character classes, a few (some would say fundamental, I would say minor) changes to the way the game is played, and the working out of some kinks, it's a lot like Diablo II with a fresh coat of paint -- or boiling goat's blood, as the case may be. It's still really fun, the plot is still whatever, the graphics are enthralling and as far as the "click on it until it dies" subgenre and the random generation of humorous enemy names goes, you're not going to find a better game.
This is the pinnacle of hack-'n'-slashery.
But none of that -- nor the fact that D3 made so much money, Blizzard executives are worried about storing it all in one place lest its mass collapse into a miniature black hole that devours us all -- is why I picked it as my game of the year. Diablo earns its spot on this list not for the kind of game it is or isn't, but for the kind of players it attracts: entrepreneurs. Specifically, stupid ones. "Morontrepreneurs," if you will.
You see, for the first time in the Diablo games, Diablo III gives players the chance to sell items they collect at a sanctioned public auction, and through some fairly uncomplicated system that I take it as a point of pride not to have figured out yet, transactions at the Auction House can result in real money trading hands.
This is far from a new thing as far as online gaming is concerned -- even back in the D2 days, players were running similar systems through websites they whipped up instead of through the in-game engine. Because why simply enjoy a game when you can use it to scam people out of moderate sums of money by mechanically repeating quests a mind-numbing number of times and scrupulously tracking dozens of online transactions?
As an outside observer, what's striking (and hilarious) about it all is just how quickly and thoroughly the virtual economy created within the world of Diablo III ate itself and shit out a binder of class-action lawsuits. In the midst of worldwide economic crises ranging from housing market crashes to national insolvencies, a bunch of people got together and built a new fake economy to run into the ground. It's almost like there's a lesson in there somewhere. Don't worry, there isn't. But there almost was.
And I must admit, there's something especially tickling about watching traditional media try to grapple with what can only be described as the silliest economic collapse in the history of any world, real or virtual. Honestly, how does a journalist take a story seriously when it yields the headline "Devastating Price Crash in the Diablo III Hamburger-Dagger Market?"
No more paying the rent with digital hamburgers.
One of my favorite pastimes these days is imagining a freshly laid-off dad with his house underwater, confronting a son or daughter who just lost a bunch of money to a computer game about demons because the hamburger-dagger market collapsed. I mean, I'd never condone beating your children, but sometimes you have to just leave the room and say, "Hey, yeah, fair enough" and let the chips fall where they may.
But don't worry, people who stare at a computer screen for 12 hours a day for different reasons than I do and are therefore to be made the subject of ridicule: I'm sure Blizzard will release a Horadric Burger Bailout Patch soon enough and get you back on the road to recovery.
Special sauce is coming in the next patch.
In the meantime, feel free to click on BulgeBladder ThunderMuscle "The Head" McGillicuddy till he dies! I hear he's got a really high drop rate for Kielbasa Katanas.