Game of the Year 2013

Jess McDonell's Top 10 Games For 2013

Powerful delights.

This year brought so many examples of games that stepped outside the understood boundaries of what a game should, could, and would be. Some games did this metaphorically, like Depression Quest, which delivered meaning through the patient illustration of what it's like to live with depression. Other games, such as The Stanley Parable, took this quite literally and had you, the player, looking in from the outside of an in-game level, listening to the insistent narrator tug fruitlessly at the shirtsleeves of the protagonist, whose body you had abandoned.

For me, this year was as much about hurt as it was about fun. I love the even dichotomy created by games like BioShock Infinite, which, while it may not have been a masterpiece, was bright and inviting in all its first-person shooter glory. In this same vein lived incredibly charming games like Tearaway, which tore my heart right out, but unlike the solemn Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, it did so only to have it grow three sizes and subsequently shove it back in my chest, leaving me grinning like a fool with my Vita camera watching on.

The only motto or vague life affirmation I've ever stuck to is to "Always be better"--better than yesterday and better than what is simply expected. In a strange way, I feel like all of my chosen games from this year really pulled through on that one. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons didn't settle with just creating a grand, beautiful adventure with a moving story; it took its game mechanics to the next level too. There was nothing "by the book" about making gamers control each brother with the left- and right-hand side of the controller respectively. OK, so it was sort of wonky and difficult, but at least it did something different. Telltale continued to push the boundaries of adventure gaming into something that was so much better than the tight restrictions of point-and-click could ever have produced. The Wolf Among Us was dark and brilliant, as was the suggestive and mysterious story of The Swapper, where the simple act of placing clones and swapping into them left you with a burning question that the game only needed to hint at: "At the end of this level, after all of these lifeless, abandoned clones, what am I leaving behind?"

This year I made crappy crowns for squirrel kings, cheered and wept with two brothers, finally saw people from the non-fantasy world represented as honest and unembellished, and had a hell of a lot of fun in the process. These games were the kind that had you talking about them to friends and family in detail because the gameworlds were so painstakingly detailed and deep, while their mechanics were evolved and integrated neatly into the stories to which they belonged.

Whether I was laughing or crying, I can't help but admire the games of this year that exploded with new and clever ways to tell magnificent stories and evoke such extreme emotions. I swear any day now I'll stop crying over Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Any day now.

Jess McDonell's Top 10