At First Person Scholar, we do Game of the Year differently. The rampant chaos of end of term and the general lack of time and funds that graduate students have means that getting through many of the latest releases is nearly impossible. Instead, we focus on the games we spent the most time with and the ones that the had the biggest impact on us in 2016.
For a more in-depth discussion on Game of the Year awards in general, please listen to Podcast Episode 4
We have included OTG reflections for members of the team who could not make it to the podcast recording.
Senior Community Manager Rob Parker:
We’re a part of the games industry: we buy and talk about games, but are critical of that industry in ways that are often at odds with most hobbyist coverage. I was on a few FPS podcasts throughout 2016 and touched on some possible OTGs: I talked about the glitch horror of Calendula and IMSCARED on our Horror Games podcast (featuring Michael Lutz). I also talked about Titanfall 2 and DOOM during our Recent Trends in First Person Shooters podcast. However, none of these games intersected with my research in the way that Hackmud did.
Hackmud (stylized as ｈａｃｋｍｕｄ) is a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) about hacking. It takes its cues from the text-based role-playing games that in many cases provided the template for early MMOs like Ultima Online. Hackmud is my OTG because it’s kind of a mess. It’s my OTG because so much of what it does overlaps with my research into player communities, accessibility, and posthumanism:
- Hackmud is (as far as I know) the first game on Steam to call itself a MUD, and the ways in which it plays with the conventions of traditional MUDs are by turns frustrating and fascinating.
- Hackmud’s depiction of an apocalyptic cyberpunk future where humans have largely been wiped out is compelling, even though its details are incidental to the core gameplay. Most chat channels are overrun with automated robots, mindlessly chatting about the banality of their programmed function. It provides a feeling that the world (and the game) is fuller than it would otherwise seem.
- Hackmud has just a single developer but feels like a hobbyist MUD that’s been passed around between developers over the course of a decade, thanks in part to the fact that the game lets players author and add their own scripts to the world. Many player-made scripts are broken, highly contextual, pranks, or actively harmful to other players. There’s so much trash code floating around in Hackmud that it leverages a (probably unintentional) critique of cyberpunk’s incongruous tendency to figure hardware as lived-in, held together by duct tape, but software is always immaculate. In cyberpunk, if something crashes, it’s never in the banal way that programs fail in the real world.
- Some of the more accessible scripts in the game also require human intervention. As the game changed or the holidays approached and the coders didn’t have time to update or manage their scripts, several scripts designed to locate and crack NPCs simply returned a heartfelt apology from the script’s creator. It’s a wonderfully human thing to emerge from such a mechanistic game.
- And finally, Hackmud is a great case study in what not to do when it comes to game accessibility. For example, building your text game in Unity means anyone using a screen reader can’t play your game. The tutorial system also doesn’t explain how to locate/hack basic NPCs. I had to look up a player-made tutorial to figure out how to write and upload my own scripts to the game – one of the primary features of Hackmud.
Book Reviews Section Editor Phil Miletic:
My OTG of 2016 is an older game, although its third installment came out this year so it kinda counts: Dark Souls. Despite all of the frustrations I had while playing this game, I kept coming back to it. It took me approximately the whole year to “complete it,” since I would take frequent breaks, and roughly 80 hours in game (60 of those were probably me dying). I rarely spend that much time on a game, and whenever I reach the 20-30h mark, I grow impatient and rush through the game. Not with Dark Souls. I became less concerned with “completing the game” and more invested in exploring the beautiful level design, a world so interconnected, complex, and rich that I learned to appreciate (some of) my multiple deaths because I wouldn’t have explored every nook and cranny that I did (although I found out I missed a couple of areas!). My friends laughed (as they looked on), I cried, and a lot of memories were made from this game. This game still has a hold on me, and I know I will return to it sooner rather than later (never mind playing the sequels. And that’s why Dark Souls is my OTG of 2016.
Commentaries Associate Editor Justin Carpenter:
Hyper Light Drifter is my OTG for a few reasons, but mostly because as I write this in Europe I am still imagining it, and it’s been that way for ages. From the tight, incredibly tense combat segments that get your heart pumping to the expansive, thoughtful moments of exploration, every inch of Hyper Light Drifter is what I’m looking for in a video game. Challenging while fair, aesthetically gorgeous and glitchy, rhythmic and rigidly tied to the pace of a beating heart, this game is expressive, philosophical, narratively sparse gold. I nearly failed term papers because I couldn’t put it down, and it would have been worth it. Plus, you can play with a friend or loved one and literally give one of your hearts to them, which is a great excuse to play it on holidays.