The Game(s) of The Year

I love video games. But….

I realized recently that just about everything I write about games could start that way. I write about games because I find them so interesting to play and to analyze, but as any of my friends will tell you, I am one of the most cantankerous and critical entertainment consumers you will ever meet. I’m the guy who complains on the way out of the epic movie we just watched together because of that plot hole in act 2, or who watches every episode of Lost just to pick apart every foreshadowed plot point that never comes up again, or who tells you in one conversation that he loved Red Dead Redemption and then will go write an entire blog post about its flaws.

I am hard to please, and even when I am pleased, I’ll probably still criticize. This is why I don’t really reflect much on the “Game of the Year.” I can’t pick one; I’m too picky.

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Red Dead Railroading

Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption represents an interesting contradiction in game design. On the one hand, as a “sandbox” game, it represents everything that game critics and scholars have been saying about how the real strength of the medium is in choice, challenge, and exploration, and not in traditional storytelling. On the other hand, the story it tells—if you make a point to actually follow instructions and go complete story missions—is exceptionally linear, sometimes even restrictively so. Critics seem pretty darn near universally tickled pink by both aspects of the game, gushing not only about the richness and fidelity of the world, but also about their involvement with story and attachment to characters.

I liked the game, too, but I think I must have been spoiled by all the RPGs I play that take “choice” as a matter of course in plot development. Actually, what bothered me most about Red Dead Redemption wasn’t the lack of choice per se in any given interaction—such as not being able to choose your own dialog in cut scenes, as you might in many RPGs—but the times where it looked like I had a choice and it turned out I didn’t.

(Some major SPOILERS follow.)

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