Game of the Year 2013

Carolyn Petit's Top 10 Games For 2013

Adventures in intimacy.

Like most years, 2013 had plenty of games that let me escape into grand adventures and magical worlds, and some of these games are among my favorites of the year. Rogue Legacy made my free hours disappear by the dozens. Spelunky, that masterpiece of elegantly interlocking systems, saw its best release yet on the Vita, where my friends and I could venture forth together, each of us able to explore freely on our own screens. And Nintendo rekindled my childlike love for them yet again with terrific entries in franchises I've been playing since I was a child.

But what set 2013 apart for me were the games that did things that felt entirely unburdened by our preexisting notions of what games can be. In Depression Quest, creators Zoe Quinn and Patrick Lindsey drew on personal experiences to open up the struggle with depression to players in a way that was honest, accessible, and powerful. Simogo's stylish iOS game Device 6 used text in a wonderful way, making exploring the pages of its narrative really feel like exploration. It also told a terrific tale about playing and being played, and it had the most stunning ending of any game I played this year.

Kentucky Route Zero is still incomplete, but it has already established itself as something beautiful and special, a road trip tale through parts of America that are both recognizable and magical, both wondrous and deeply sad. The Stanley Parable made me think about the nature of choice in games like no other game has, while also making me laugh more than any other game I've ever played.

And then there's Gone Home.

In subtle ways, it reminds me of other games I've played. Myst, for instance, and Dark Souls, games whose environments I loved being in because I could feel the story they had to tell emanating from every surface. In Gone Home, that kind of environmental detail is done better than any game has done it. The house is empty, but it thrums with the energy of its inhabitants.

I love that Gone Home demonstrates that just as players of all genders can often find things to relate to in game narratives that focus on men, players of all genders--provided they're open to it--can find things to relate to in stories that focus on women. Gone Home gives all of its characters, women and men, the gifts of humanity and complexity.

But I also acknowledge that my reactions to the game are personal. I don't apologize for that; I think the fact that it elicited such personal reactions from so many players speaks to its greatness. It's not the fact that it's a story about queer women that makes it special. It's the fact that it gets so many of the emotional details (as well as the environmental ones) just right, creating a narrative that many of us could see ourselves reflected in. I didn't know how badly I wanted that experience until it happened.

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My family was nothing like the Greenbriars, and our house was nothing like their house, but I was a teen in the '90s, and in Sam's experiences I see reflected not experiences I had but experiences I wished so badly that I could have had. Given the strange assortment of experiences I've had and haven't had, in many ways I still feel like a teenager, fumbling to figure things out. So for me, the definitive piece on Gone Home is by game designer and trans woman Merritt Kopas. She writes, "I want to be Sam. I want to be present in my youth. I want a riot grrl romance. I want to make zines and go to girl band gigs and dye my (girl)friend’s hair. But I can't have that, not in the way that part of me still desperately wants it: it's not the 90s, I'm not a teenage girl, and neither of those things is ever, ever going to change. That's something I'm still dealing with."

"But ultimately, Gone Home left me hopeful rather than grieving. Hopeful about storytelling and games, and hopeful about my own experiences. Because obviously we can't go back home, into our pasts, and change things--like Katie, all we can do is observe, witness, and turn things over in our heads until they make a kind of sense that we can work with. But we can write new stories, ones where girls in love don't die tragic deaths and where big empty houses are scary but ultimately safe and where you can have a teenage girl romance at 25, or 35, or whenever you want to."

Maybe Gone Home's coming-of-age story resonated with me more deeply than most because, although I'm older than she is, I'm still experiencing some of the feelings that Sam experiences in the game. In a very real way, I'm still coming of age myself. In any case, playing Gone Home hurts a little. Thinking about Gone Home hurts a little. But it is a cathartic pain, a kind of grief that leaves me feeling a little more free of the past, a little more open to the possibilities of the future.

For me, 1995 and 2013 belong to Sam and Lonnie.

Carolyn Petit's Top 10

102 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for melle224

Growing up as a girl in the 90's (a loner, living in a small town and not out yet) who cut my teeth on Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill and Bratmobile and wishing for a riot grrl girlfriend pretty much every day of my life, there is so much that I can identify with in Gone Home. It's a game I never really thought I would ever see come into being and it makes me so happy to see that it did. Thanks Carolyn. I love your reviews.

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Thank you so much.

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<< LINK REMOVED >> It's a really good game. There is a lot for anyone to identify with. I say this as a straight guy. Would you slam a positive review of The Last of Us because only fathers with daughters can identify?

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It is OK. Not great and surely not long. And in no way shape or form, or any place in the galaxy, better than GTA5. And I don't even play GTA games. Now, considering the stupid misandristic things Caroldude wrote on the GTA review, and what she wrote here about Gone Home also having a tranny on staff, finally we can understand why this got a higher review score. And BTW, Last of Us is better than both this games and it has nothing to do with who I identify with.

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Maybe it's actually because she can identify with it, like she stated, just like something about you must identify with Devil May Cry since you have it as your profile pic. People do tend to like things they identify very strongly with. Maybe you are just scared of there being one out of very few games out there that tells a different story than you are used to and maybe you just have the inability to identify with anything that isn't exactly like you.

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How does the type of people you have on staff determine the score a game gets in its review? The review is for the game, not the staff. Is like giving a game a higher score because they have a hot woman on staff...

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<< LINK REMOVED >> It was reviewed for the game and not the staff.

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I wasnt planning to play Gone Home, but you may wanna watch for spoilers. Brutally good piece though, thanks for that :)

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her White Chicks voice aside and Nintendo games, I like most of her choices here...

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Did you hit puberty yet? Didn't think so. Interesting you don't like her reviews but you came to read them and continued to take your time to post... Kinda makes you look silly.

And please don't refer to God after you've made a completely judgmental and vomit-worthy comment. I don't think God would approve.

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >>God? As in the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

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Great list Carolyn, I always enjoy reading your opinions and insights on your favorite games :-)

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<< LINK REMOVED >> indeed, a great list...

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<< LINK REMOVED >>Thank you!

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Carolyn always has a surprise under her sleave, much apreciated.

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Awesome seeing Gone Home as #1. :)

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Literally just played (and finished) Gone Home two days ago and did it in one sitting, I could not put the game down and had to finish the story line, one of the best games of the year for me as well.

So many idea's racing through my head going up to the attic of what might be there and drawing conclusions.

Definitely hope for more great games like that in the future.

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<< LINK REMOVED >> I hope you did it in one sitting, it was only an hour and a half (and €20) hope you enjoyed reading scraps of paper in an abandoned house

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> I enjoyed every second of it and would gladly purchase a game of that caliber from this developer if they make another one just as good.

I take it from your comment th at you felt it wasn't worth it/didn't like it, to each their own.

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Wait, did you just get 5 likes for that comment? What happened? When I played Gone Home and commented on the review that I thought it was a good game people replied to me that my opinion was wrong, it wasn't really a game and it was too short; while receiving in the 20's of likes for saying that.

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Sadly Gone Home, even though it has its fans and the critics liked it, it's one of those games like Heavy Rain, MGS4, etc that splits people's views on games, especially those that like to classify when a game is a game or isn't a game.

Avatar image for LordCrash88

I like Carolyn's writing style but we seem to disagree when it comes to good games. Well, doesn't really matter I guess.... ;)

Avatar image for Bread_or_Decide

Carolyn you write exquisitely about video games. On par with Kevin VanOrd and Adam Sessler. You've done a great job this year reviewing games.

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<< LINK REMOVED >>Thank you so much, that's very kind of you.

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Very happy to see device 6 on your list Ms.Petit. One of the few worthwhile games on the mobile platform. We need more of these than the uncomfortable-to-play GTA ports.

Your taste in video games is so unique and amazing! I haven't heard of 'Kentucky route zero' or 'depression quest', but I am going to definitely check them out this weekend. Thank you for highlighting these indie gems.

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Nice choice for game of the year. Gone Home is definitely in my 2013 top 3.

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Damn you Carolyn, you made me choke up a little!

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Aw, thank you. :)

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I would suggest that you make a blog post on that, but I like your post.

Really, I personally would condense what you have written into the following:

"I appreciate outliers for injecting variety into opinions."
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I use Gamespot as my sole medium to make educated purchases. Games aren't cheap, and nothing is worse than being disappointed with one, so what Gamespot does for me is important, and that they're the only one I go to puts a lot of trust in them.

So when a reviewer who consistently reviews big games gets as much flak as Carolyn has, I pay attention. I want to make my own informed judgement on the credibility of said reviewer. Until now I was just watching on the sidelines, and I'm glad I did because it made me realize something.

Before I say what, first let me state the obvious: opinions are all over this site. A myriad of them. And that's good right?

So that's exactly why we need reviewers like Carolyn. Reviewers like her, teamed with reviewers like Kevin, and reviewers like Tom are what make this site so awesome. So many different opinions from so different of people, differences that are very apparent. Tom games for this reason, Kevin for this reason. Carolyn has her distinct reason for gaming, too, as do we all. I think people forget that sometimes. We tell our friends, oh this game is good. That game sucks. You should play this game, it's a blast... so on and so forth. But those are our friends, people we're close to. These are reviewers who have to earn our trust. But because we have such a diverse reviewing team here, they can. We as readers can relate to certain reviewers. It forms a bond with the site, a bond that's important to people like me because at times when I'm on the fence about certain games, this site determines whether I drop my hard-earned dollar or not.

It has to be said that people put way too much stock in that little review score number. That number is all the pros and cons of the game condensed into a easy-to-glance-at figure. But it's rife with the reviewer's opinion. So if you don't relate, or think like, that reviewer, of course you're not going to agree with it. But that doesn't mean the review isn't valuable. Read the points. Read what they actually thought of the game. Maybe you'll learn why the number score is a little low. Still probably won't agree with it, but it might make sense.

For example, I site a recent criticism Carolyn has been getting lately. She docked Batman Arkham Origins for being repetitive, and people have been referring back to that whenever a game uses a familiar formula and Carolyn doesn't negatively point it out in her review of said game. After reading her other reviews, and reading Batman's I've come ot the conclusion that the reason why Carolyn docked points for Batman's familiar formula was because,,,,

She noticed it.

In other games, other aspects engage a player enough for little things like that to not even come to mind. But as she was fighting off the hundredth wave of Gotham goons, she thought to herself, man I've done this a lot. And it's losing oomph.

Not everyone playing Batman will think that. But having played Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, I know I would.

Let's put a little more thought into our judgement of these reviews, guys. Obviously the reviewers put a lot in when they write them. They're damn good. They give good supporting points to their opinions.

If there's one thing I've learned observing the comment section of Gamespot's reviews lately, is that reviewing games is thankless work. I'd like to change that.

So thanks Carolyn. And Tom. and Kevin, and everyone else on the team who puts their opinions out there, into the fire of the comments section.

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Finally someone of intelligence posting. THANK YOU.

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<< LINK REMOVED >> " It has to be said that people put way too much stock in that little review score number. That number is all the pros and cons of the game condensed into a easy-to-glance-at figure. But it's rife with the reviewer's opinion. So if you don't relate, or think like, that reviewer, of course you're not going to agree with it. But that doesn't mean the review isn't valuable. Read the points. Read what they actually thought of the game. Maybe you'll learn why the number score is a little low. Still probably won't agree with it, but it might make sense "

I think GameSpot should adopt this into a pop-up box that appears when hovering the mouse pointer over a review score. It is a perfect description.

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<< LINK REMOVED >> *standing ovation*

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Damn, that was beautifully written. And the trolls need to pull their heads out of you know where. Maybe that won't happen because the majority of them are too young to realize it. And the death threats aimed at the reviewers needs to obviously stop. I don't know how you can't respect someone else's opinion.

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<< LINK REMOVED >> THIS should be on Feedbackula. Maybe publicizing a well said comment such as this will help bring an end to reviewer hate. Stop giving trolls and those with malicious intent a platform.

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Thank you for the lovely comment!

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Sole!? No no no, you never want to do that. (Well, maybe if it's a $5 game...) Even the most perfect reviewer can only play the game so much. Best to get at least two reviews.

P.S. Wow, I watched Gelugun's reply show up as a reply to MM's post, vanish, then pop up at the top of the page!

Avatar image for x-2tha-z

I just bought Zelda. Gonna play it over Christmas. Can't wait.

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I'm a little curious though. You added 3 games that are not even rated by GS. Why haven't they been rated by GS?

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Gamespot has failed to "catch'm all" ;)

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@carolynmichelle First of all, sir glad to see you mentioned gta5 :) People whatever say about this game but it's one of my favorite games of 2013 including ac4 black flag, the last of us,tomb raider and ni no kuni ^^
I played gone home after watching your review, it's a good game but personally i will prefer brothers: a tale of two sons over gone home ^^ I was expecting tomb raider in your personal favorite list because you gave an 8.5 and liked it.I respect you and believe in the freedom of choice. Thats the only reason for why i'm asking about tomb raider. well overall it's a good list :) Keep up the good work :)

Happy holidays!