I only consider myself a “gamer” in a literal sense—I play video games every year, but only a modest handful of those already familiar to me, like my darling Bloodborne or Super Smash Bros. I started working at Kotaku this year, though, and by demand, 2022 became my most “gamer” year ever, with lots of new games lighting up my boyfriend’s gaming computer despite his grumbling about “storage.”
He’ll be okay. But we’re different—truthfully, I only care about video games because I care about art. I listened to more albums, watched more movies, read more poems than I played new games this year, and I spent probably equivalent hours looking at Vivienne Westwood corsets on eBay. Those things might make me less of a stereotypical “gamer,” which I’m a little insecure about as a girl (if you haven’t heard, the video game industry doesn’t like girls that much), but they make my life and perspective feel more full, and the gratification I get from playing games flowers in turn.
I wanted to give you an honest end-of-year list. I picked five games that stood out to me this year and paired them with the other art I was into around the same time I was playing (I tried to avoid this year’s biggest titles, but know that I loved Elden Ring and The Callisto Protocol). Call me gamer Julie Andrews—here are a few of my favorite things.
When I played Requiem, the anxious sequel to 2018’s medieval survival horror A Plague Tale: Innocence, I was most moved by the rats, which squirm in dense clumps on your screen like something alive stuck in a horrible draining sink. Those rats shy from the light as you solve puzzles with siblings Hugo and Amicia, stealthing your way around bloodthirsty French soldiers or cutting through them with alchemy and a crossbow.
Perhaps because I’m a mean New Yorker terrified of rats, their image has stuck with me more than Hugo and Amicia’s complex and tragic relationship, more than the game’s impressive landscapes, and more than its queasy, aching score, though those things are there, and I acknowledge them. But I loved this game for the rats. It’s exciting to look at your enemy without it being able to touch you.
Best paired with: Werner Herzog’s movie Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), which I watched for the first time this Halloween. It’s a perfect movie to me—palatial, unremorseful, with an anxious sense of humor—and the squealing white rats that run around it are nauseating.
Like its older sibling Until Dawn, interactive werewolf drama The Quarry gives you a shot at keeping a bunch of horny young people alive. I failed, but I was okay with it. I liked the scary summer-camp atmosphere and watching attractive actors—like Detective Pikachu (lol) lead Justice Smith and Scream alumnus David Arquette—get broken open by bald werewolves.
Best paired with: TV On The Radio’s 2006 album Return to Cookie Mountain. Particularly the song “Wolf Like Me,” which I like to interpret as being a young, sexy werewolf. “I recognize / You’re a hideous thing inside / If ever there were a lucky kind, it’s / You, you, you, you,” Tunde Adebimpe sings. I doubt I would enjoy horror as much if there wasn’t a recursive evil inside of every beautiful person, as The Quarry’s thesis statement goes. One Vampire Diaries episode I watched this year, which has a teen werewolf playing basketball to “Wolf Like Me,” backs me up on that.
Speaking of vampires, I was a big fan of roguelite Vampire Survivors, which kind of looks like goth Minecraft. I am not very good at it—it makes you protect yourself against an onslaught of ghouls using only a couple of automated weapons and magic spells, and my timing is usually off. But once you start playing, it’s easy to get carried away, or off by the game’s crowd of flapping black bats.
Best paired with: Lana Del Rey’s 2012 album Born to Die. I played Vampire Survivors mostly while listening to that album, which is sleepy and treacly like cough syrup. It helped me keep calm and forge ahead (I can get precious about messing up in roguelites), and let me romanticize killing my character ad infinitum.
Technically, this neon-pink narrative adventure isn’t out yet, but its demo released for free this year, and I’m excited. It’s about a 30-something demoness hoping to make her punk band famous, which she struggles to accomplish amid waitressing gigs and perfunctory swipes through dating apps. The game seems delightfully gross (there’s a minigame where you wash Gordy’s scum-covered dildo), funny, and the music is decent and buzzy, too.
Best paired with: Nana, the emotional and fashionable anime that ran from 2006 to 2007, which I started watching this year and can’t stop thinking about. Nana is a slice-of-life about two best friends, one of whom is trying to make it in a punk band. Like Dead Pets Unleashed, it’s a simple goal that takes a complicated combination of love, tears, and discomfort to make happen, and I’m always thankful for stories that take women and their spiritual inner lives seriously.
This year, I learned about elaborately bejeweled Tamagotchi digital pets, but they’re all too expensive secondhand, and I’m not even sure if they’d turn on. So I’m going to buy myself a Sandy Liang necklace instead.
Nonetheless, my boyfriend decided to gift me a Gen 1 Tamagotchi, first released in 1996, and now I carry the magenta-colored egg everywhere throughout my day. Though the first Tamagotchi alien I hatched died in a week, I gave him a name (Tomasz) and checked to make sure he was snoring every night before I turned off my light to go to real sleep. That made me feel like a mom to a cyber, but still mortal, child, so I wanted to honor his memory. R.I.P Tomasz.
Getting attached to Tomasz, too, represents what I love about games. It’s an art form that forces you to act, and once you do, it’s hard not to care.
Best paired with: All the love in your heart.