Game of the Year always seemed so simple to me. What game did you like the most? Bam. You’re done. A dull list of titles assigned various generic awards: “Best PSP Game,” “Best Graphics,” “Best Soundtrack,” whatever. At the time, I never bothered making my own lists. I was just a kid, after all. I didn’t play enough and I didn’t have the context to make an informed decision, and to my credit I knew it. I knew that I just wasn’t qualified to make the call. Am I qualified to do so now? Certainly, many people would say no. I didn’t play Call of Duty: Ghosts. I didn’t play any PS4 or Xone titles. How can I claim to know what the best game of the year is?
It’s a valid point. I can’t really, and I don’t think pretty much anyone can. Certainly people at proper games journalism sites are better qualified, but even they have great titles that they just didn’t end up playing. What I understand now that I didn’t then, though, is that it’s not about what’s objectively best. Objectivity is a piece of the puzzle, and worth considering, but subjectivity is far more important. What was my experience of a game like? These are my awards, and who do I think deserves them?
And in realizing this, I also realized something else- Game of the Year doesn’t just mean “game I liked best” to me. You cannot simply make a good game and expect me to put it on my GotY list. Fair or unfair, that’s how it is- that’s how I can say that Ace Attorney 5, which I’m enjoying greatly, will not be on my Game of the Year top ten (spoilers- that’s the format for this year). There are certain qualities I look for in a game to be called Game of the Year, above simple review score.
Put simply, a game needs to inspire me. If your writing or your design does not capture my imagination, if you don’t enchant me with your ideas, I don’t care how solid your title is, you’re not making my list. GTA V is not making my list- it was a very good game outside of some troubling themes in its writing, but it just didn’t captivate me. GTA sure as hell doesn’t need me- it sold millions of copies, and will get plenty of GotY awards besides. But I’m not interested in giving an award for taking a gigantic budget and playing it safe. That doesn’t interest me.
Perhaps more than just a quality assessment, I’m trying to reward bravery. There are games this year that maybe aren’t strictly speaking one of the ten best experiences I had, but they were so passionate and inventive that they got me fired up for their ideas and what they were trying to do. Obviously, they do still need to be good games, but that flame of passionate and ambition is so important in a Game of the Year. You need to reach for the stars, even though you’ll probably fall short… because if you just reach for the top of the doorframe, and brush it with your fingertips, that’s boring. Good for you for reaching your goal, but it wasn’t worth reaching if you didn’t have to work for it
There are a handful of titles this year that I feel incredibly passionate about- solid locks for the top ten. But there are others whose ambition was too great for their resources, and I want to honor them while not totally feeling okay calling them Game of the Year. Maybe I’ll find some other way to do it, but I want to reward those brave also-rans. For while they may not have won the battle, they have the hearts of champions, and that’s worth a thousand by-the-numbers sequel iterations. Before I finalize that list, before I even really know who it is I’m dismissing… I want to salute those who were courageous enough to fail. You are the people I will be keeping an eye on, not the Battlefields and the Killzones of this world. Bravo.