In last year’s annual review, we spoke of a “complex year” lying behind us. The past 2021 has unquestionably – and unfortunately seamlessly – followed on from that. As we did last year, we still want to take a look back and have gone through our personal video game experiences of the last twelve months: What moments particularly touched us while playing games in 2021? Which moments have remained in special memory?
Last year at the turn of the year, colleague Mirko talked about how he screamed and cried while playing The Last of Us Part II, and even though it was very memorable, it wasn’t at all christmassy. For some, of course, screaming and crying is part of it, but speaking that truth doesn’t feel very christmassy either.
This year I play the game to which Mirko has already found other impressive words elsewhere and make everything good again. Because in this contemplative time I take the opportunity to take you on a Christmas walk.
The Last of Us Part II starts in a well-secured village in the middle of the apocalypse. A real community with relationships, farming, partying and a cozy bar. And it begins in the snow. Children throw snowballs, horses brave leisurely from house to house. People have made a home for themselves.
As I move Ellie through this Christmas tale, my eyes fall on a man leading a toddler by the hand. It cannot yet walk on its own. I recognize the slightly stooped posture. I remember the tugging in my back from constantly leaning down to a child who incessantly and desperately wants to walk, but cannot. The two arrive at a staircase with only three steps. The man turns around and gets down on his knees. Then the child hops down the stairs into the man’s arms and he continues walking with the child in his arms.
Not only do I recognize the entire motion sequence, and not only am I moved by this loving moment in the post-apocalypse – I become especially curious as to where they came from. Then I remember that I’m playing a video game and they probably just spawned at the corner as I stepped over an invisible threshold. I take a look anyway. They came out of a house. I peek through the window. Inside, children are squatting on beanbags in the morning circle. The man and the toddler have taken the big sister to daycare.
I can’t explain it further, but I fell in love with this game at that moment. After that, dozens of things probably much more worth telling happened to me, but this is without question my gaming moment of 2021.
Fire, fire everywhere! Panic spread. We knew that one more source of fire would inevitably cause the spaceship to explode. So, with several aliens breathing down my neck, I rushed to the last unexplored room, because it was clear that it could only be the fire station. It was our last salvation. But what happened? When room cards are turned over, they are given a random property, and in this case it was… a fire marker. What an irony! The longed-for fire station burst into flames before my horrified eyes, prematurely ending our game after 8 hours, in which we had been only a few turns away from victory. My team and I had lost Nemesis. And I laughed. It was so great!
That’s just one of several memorable moments I had this year with friends in Tabletop Simulator – by far my most played game on Steam. Already last year, it helped us better endure the loneliness of the pandemic when we kept our contacts to a minimum. And by now I’ve tried almost a hundred board and card games on the virtual tables. The possibilities never cease to excite me. Earlier this year, I bought the co-op card game The Crew – Mission Deep Sea, only to pull the mission booklet right out of the box, set the rest aside, and play through the entire campaign via Tabletop Simulator with my personal crew. It took us many evenings, and we had a lot of fun doing it.
I’m actually a bit of a loner when it comes to video games, but I love the community feel of board games. Especially in cooperative games, where it’s all about tactics together while you push pieces across the board. Fortunately, the market for these games has grown immensely in recent years, so that today it’s impossible to keep up with all the exciting new releases. The board games of my childhood seem like Pong compared to CivVI in comparison. New genres are sprouting, charming illustrations are the rule rather than the exception, and the instructions don’t have to scare anyone off anymore. That’s why I see modern board games as a logical extension of my love for video games, and Tabletop Simulator as the perfect fusion of the two worlds.
We also avoided major meetings in 2021, and being able to transport the experience of a game night so well to the screen meant an immense amount to me. That’s why I enjoyed moments like our Nemesis defeat so much. It’s not about winning, it’s about sitting around that table with friends and having fun. And about at least one scrawling a penis on the board with the drawing tool in the process.
PS: At first I was going to choose Golly as my moment of the year, but anyone who has played through Inscryption knows why I decided not to for spoiler reasons.
I didn’t have much planned for that day, in the middle of a year in which emotional states like tired and angry were to combine into a neologism. Everyday life consisted of deliberation, breathing space and distance. The world felt like a badly wounded deer, and the way-too-warm summer sun could only partially mask that. Much was too much. I longed for rest. And freshness. For optimism and coming down.
In the mental wasteland, escapism was a good friend to me. Terra Nil became my companion for considerably more hours than I would have thought. In the reverse city-builder, I was to fill a Wasteland with life, strategically clicking, placing, scarfing, just like back in the day, only greener. Just when I thought I understood the spin of the oh-so-woken game (and could only smile a little wearily at it), I got my final task of the first round of play: Take all your shit and get the hell out of there. Let nature take its course. Pack up and leave.
The game was not won until the last remnant of the landscape was renaturalized, until the last bit of industry, even if it was once helpful, was recycled. There is no happy ending without complete recovery. It’s a lesson that feels far too relevant at the end of the same year with all its half-assed decisions. But as long as these insights still exist, as long as visions still find form, all is not gray in gray.
Because after this game I was able to breathe a little better, be more optimistic again, because I slept well and woke up confident, the dismantling phase from Terra Nil is my gaming moment of 2021.
F:___To_Sort\Stuff\Backup\Stuff\Mission in Snowdriftland
This is the path to a folder I created on my hard drive fifteen years ago. In 2006, I saved all the wallpapers, icons, ringtones and other things in this folder that you could unlock in the Advent calendar created by Nintendo that year.
The advent calendar was actually a little flash jump’n’run called Mission in Snowdriftland. In the spirit of Advent, every day in December a new level was unlocked, after which the above stuff could be downloaded. This went on for a whole twenty-four days and a friend of mine at the time and I played the levels every day, showed each other the pictures and especially enjoyed the photos of families playing together. You know. Those Wii and DS pictures you were always presented with back then. Different looking people of all ages sitting on a sofa playing video games together. The biggest fantasy sensation after Lord of the Rings.
When fifteen years later, on December 1, 2021, the new edition of the game appeared on Steam, I had to grin broadly with joy and push away a few memory tears. Mission in Snowdriftland was suddenly back. I pulled myself together and stuck to the Advent calendar requirement. I played one level each day, although it would have been easy to play them all in a row at once. Each morning I started the game and finished the appropriate level. For twenty-four days.
It was a nice time. While unfortunately you don’t get outdated wallpapers or ringtones anymore, that’s not a bad thing. After all, I still have all that stuff on my hard drive. And there it will probably stay forever. Thanks Mission in Snowdriftland. It’s good to have you back. Even though you were never gone in my memories.
2021 was a strange year. Not only because of this pandemic, but also because of an almost incessant number of events that have shaken one’s life in every direction. In between all of this, the hobby of video games engrossed me more than perhaps ever before. Often I simply didn’t have the time, and not too rarely I simply didn’t feel like escaping into digital worlds.
So when I look back at 2021, there’s really only one game left that I wanted to pay attention to and spend time on, no matter what else was going on: Metroid Dread. Up until now, I had mainly played and loved the Prime series, but the 2D Metroids always passed me by a bit. With Dread, I wanted to change that, and the new OLED Switch was supposed to be the motivator. I couldn’t really get started until four weeks after the game’s release date, but I was immediately captivated by it. But, alas, time and leisure were rare here as well, and a game like Metroid punishes it immediately. Not even because the world is so complex and convoluted – it isn’t in this Metrovania at all – but because my current frustration tolerance is at its lowest, which met with a somewhat overloaded control system and crunchy bosses.
Now, at the end of the year, I’m still somewhere in Ferenia, having just escaped from another E.M.M.I., and in a seemingly endless battle against a beetle that is throwing purple slime at me. Supposedly I’m supposed to faceshift or spinjump or all of the above at once, but by the time I’ve internalized the controls again, I die a thousand deaths.
Usually a surefire recipe to lose me as a player. But this time it’s somehow different and despite long pauses in the game, I keep gritting my teeth. And I ask myself whether I’m actually still interested in the game – or rather in the dogged intention to be able to finish something myself, no matter what comes my way.
Since I’ve stopped playing video games full-time, I’ve noticed how my relationship to them changes with each passing year. It reminds me a bit of growing up, where you also notice at some point that something is different and you no longer belong somewhere, but have arrived somewhere else. At the same time, there are many experiences that will always remain. It’s a very normal process and yet it’s interesting to observe it.
Exemplary for this is the game I’m mainly occupied with at the moment. After finally completing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 this year, including the expansion, I wanted to jump into some new RPGs and discovered my purchase of Tales of Vesperia on the Switch. After the first few hours, I thought how stale the game felt and noticed many gameplay parallels to Tales of Symphonia – my favorite RPG from the GameCube days. Even more so, little Karol Capel reminded me of Lloyd Irving, at least visually. It’s certainly no coincidence that there’s a costume later on that makes this connection more obvious.
All this made me want to find out more about Tales of Vesperia, and I was surprised to find out that it was just an HD version of a classic, and that the original game is already over twelve years old, so it belongs more to the time of Tales of Symphonia than to today. And I had to smile even more when I found out that Tales of Arise also seems to share a lot with the two classics. This game is high on my wish list and would be a reason for me to get a PlayStation 5. Until then, I’ll feel like I’ve fallen out of time for a while and enjoy playing grandpa telling stories of the old days when everything was better.
We wish all our readers a less complex year 2022. Stay healthy, happy, open-minded, tolerant, and colorful – and be sure to visit WALL JUMP regularly again this year. As usual, there will be new posts every Wednesday and Saturday.
This post is also available in: German