Emer: Loving ME, and other tales.

Games Played: Year Walk, Sims 4, Mass Effect, FF:RK

Games Beat: None.

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Ok, let me set the scene. It’s the coldest night of the year — record breaking cold. Actual cold, not just the raw chill that seems to settle on the Cape round about November and which doesn’t leave till June. It’s late, nearly midnight and my lights are on dim, just the bedside lamp, the rest of my cottage in shadows. I’m sitting up in bed with a heavy blanket draped over my shoulders. Cold is seeping through the windows, the wind howling over ice and snow and making patterns on my blinds. Baxter is asleep on the floor beside me so deeply that I can’t even hear his breathing. And I’m playing Year Walk.

I downloaded this game probably a week after it came out and I’ve never gotten further than the prologue because it’s a game that requires heavy concentration and typically if I’m on my iPad, it’s in situations where I don’t have a lot of concentration to spare. But this was the kind of night where a cold, quiet game seemed just the trick, I thought. Let’s play it, I thought. I don’t get scared, I thought.

I lasted about half an hour before I was too unsettled to continue. It’s gorgeous, all falling snow and the sound of your feet crunching over frozen ground, the dark night sky, the stark trees and the vaguely ominous carvings on their trunks. But then there’s also the silent goddess floating with her eyes closed, beckoning you on. The hanging of her effigy in a shed, with the head that twists ‘round and twirls back covered in blood. The dolmen that’s only lit up by its doorway, a square of white in darkness. Knowing other things are in the woods. It’s a game that scares you because it feels WRONG, not because it’s scary. Something’s off here, and you know it. It’s masterful, and gorgeous.

I’m still chipping away at FF:RK. I’m at the point where levels are no longer easy to come by and I can see a bit of a slog ahead of me, but the enjoyment factor hasn’t leveled off yet. And lest you think I was exaggerating that boss’ sheer creepiness, let me show you how much I was not. I never played FF IV so I don’t know how accurate this is to the original, but man. Horrible.

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Sunday I distracted myself in a much less scary fashion watching Freddie Prinze Jr. VOD on Twitch and playing Mass Effect. Like, you guys. Freddie Prinze Jr. I’m still not over this. All the streamers I like are people who seem like they’d be really nice in real life; I don’t have time for big name streamers who are asses to please a following. Or are just asses. Freddie seems like a sweetheart; if you knew him in real life you’d probably like him. It’s a pleasure to watch him stream.

But, Mass Effect: I am rapidly warming to this game, now that I’m over the initial “I have to do what with what button” hump. It feels like a dirty little secret: I like shooters. I like shooters? I like shooters. This shouldn’t be a surprise: I loved Bioshock, liked HalfLife 2, adored Borderlands. And yet every time I play a shooter and don’t suck, I am shocked all over again. Clearly, I like forgiving shooters.

And I don’t know, I hate driving in video games, but I love the Mako. Not only is it near indestructible, killing things with its turret is a damn pleasure. For a game made in 2007, Mass Effect is gorgeous, all film grain and blur and a second to focus through your sights, like real eyes, like a real gun. I don’t really love the haphazard method of traveling through the galaxy, and the character interaction is, well, rushed. Save Liara and she’s coming on to you within the first few chats you have with her. Kaidan makes a little more sense, but I’m still holding out for Garrus. Kind of. This is going to be like Dragon Age all over again, where I was holding out for Bull and somehow instead ended up with Blackwall. And then Cullen, after Blackwall’s personal quest. But aside from those two quibbles, I haven’t found a lot not to like. Gameplay is fun, often challenging. Of course I’m taking it easy on the storyline and racking up those extra quests like mad, which is exactly what I did in every Dragon Age and is why I’m consistently over leveled for everything. And also, of course, Paragon for life. But, oh, Bioware. They’re great at making it clear that you can make good decisions all the time and still make huge mistakes; that being a “good guy” is flawed, imperfect. Their writing is very, very good.

There’s a theme this week; with the exception of the Sims, these are all games I’ve owned for a long time; years and years. And because they require effort to get into, I’ve always just pushed them off for another day, in favor of watching someone else play something. And I was missing out.

Games can be art. FF:RK is just a fun time waster, but Year Walk is actually stunning. The best games are the ones that make me feel like someone else, that make me feel real emotions, that let me see the world through someone else’s eyes, that challenge me. I have a feeling I’ll have a few new games to add to that list when this is all said and done.

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