2020

I have to be honest: I kept putting off writing my 2020 wrap-up post. As early as late November I thought about collecting my thoughts on last year’s games. It’s not that I didn’t want to write about all of the wonderful games I played in 2020. I love writing about video games more than almost anything. But 2020 was a weird year, as unsurprising as that may be for me to say. Though the year was filled with excellent and exciting games and gaming moments, the many global and national challenges facing most of us affected me, too, and impacted my gaming experiences and work more than I ever wanted to admit.

If I think about 2020 purely in gaming terms, what an amazing year. Although critical reception for it was tepid, I loved the Resident Evil 3 remake. It wasn’t quite as expansive as the remake for the second game, but I think both remakes were excellent renditions of their parent games. Capcom’s RE Engine produced beautiful graphics, I loved navigating the broken streets of Raccoon City once again, and I was ecstatic to get more time with Jill Valentine, my favorite Resident Evil character.

A new Animal Crossing game is always a welcome addition to any year, and New Horizons was released at perhaps the most welcoming time in history for any game. Everyone seemed to be playing it – Animal Crossing fans, celebrities, politicians, people who have never played a single AC game, and seemingly everyone on every social media platform. It made me happy to see the series get such love, especially since this was easily the entry with the most significant changes in both gameplay and presentation. With every single new AC game, I lamented the lack of new, exciting features. With older titles, Nintendo would add maybe one major new gimmick and a handful of minor tweaks, but I was always left wondering when a true, full sequel would come out. While New Horizons does retain some of the series’ core mechanics, it adds and expands on so many cool features, like crafting, travel, and multiplayer (even if it’s still imperfect). I had so much fun with New Horizons, and even when I sometimes feel sad for “abandoning” it, I still ended up putting over 300 hours into it. A point that I’ve heard repeatedly debated in conversations about the best games of the year is whether or not New Horizons would have been so popular or well-received if it weren’t for the global pandemic. I suppose the degree to which it would have been popular is debatable, but every mainline AC game has been popular without a mandatory quarantine to boost their prestige. Plus, I think people entertaining that idea are conveniently forgetting both the fact that a great many of us AC fans have been waiting years for this game and the persistent popularity of the Nintendo Switch means that the potential audience for this game was huge, regardless. The fact that many people were looking for a distraction from the pandemic may have notably nudged up hype for this game, but it’s a great game in its own right and surely would have found more success than its already-successful predecessors.

One of the things that made 2017 such a magical year in gaming for me was Persona 5, my long-anticipated introduction to the Persona series, which made 2020’s Persona 5 Royal an absolute day one purchase for me. I really wanted the Phantom Thieves special edition, and after finding it was sold out everywhere I was overjoyed to snag a pre-order from Best Buy. The problem? The release date was right when many non-essential stores went into lockdown from the pandemic. Not the most serious problem anyone’s had in these times, but I was worried the in-store pickup (the only option for pre-order) would be delayed or even canceled. Luckily it was not, and it was my first experience with a staple of pandemic consumer life: curbside pickup. Best Buy sent me an email instructing me to park in front of the store and call the customer service desk (later to become an automated process), and once they verified my order number, someone came outside and dropped the game in my backseat. It seemed like such a novel and bizarre process at that point in time, but I was excited to get home and unbox my new treasure. As with the base game, I absolutely loved my time with Royal, and got the platinum trophy for this entry, too.

Speaking of platinum trophies, I’ve been considering replaying Final Fantasy VII Remake to get the platinum trophy for that game, too, because I was so enamored with it but I feel like I could have spent more time with those characters. I was worried that it would slip from many critics’ minds when it came time for end-of-year award consideration, but it seems to have won a fair number of awards from various outlets. The game is beautiful, the music is so nostalgic and magical, and I really can’t wait to see what they do with the next installment, especially after that provocative ending.

I wasn’t quite as smitten with The Last of Us Part II, but part of that might have been the deafening discourse surrounding the game and its release. It seemed simultaneously the best game ever released and the most offensive artifact to soil consoles, and this was before it was even in most people’s hands. People seemed desperate to share their takes on social media, falling over themselves to take sides or point out some new observation. I specifically avoid hype for most games I play because I don’t want my experiences to be tainted by expectations shaded by the opinion of others, but in this case the hype was virtually unavoidable. I had a pre-order and had, once upon a time, been excited for the game, but I couldn’t get the ongoing conversations about the game out of my head as I played it. I got about fifteen hours in and just didn’t feel like finishing, so I quit. I’ve recently had the itch to go back to it, though, in part because I hate leaving games unfinished, so I installed it on my PS5 and will be starting it back up soon.

In almost an exact opposite situation, I had very little hype for Ghost of Tsushima and it ended up being one of my favorite games of the year, easily. The E3 2018 trailer looked beautiful, but the combat appeared to be in the vein of the Souls games, which didn’t seem up my alley. Tsushima was always on the fringes of my radar, and with little else to play mid-summer, I decided I’d give it a shot. If I didn’t like the combat, at least it had what looked like a beautiful open world I could explore. As it turns out, I really loved the combat. It allows for so many different approaches to battles, and I appreciated that switching stances wasn’t an absolute must to defeat most enemies. I also loved the beautiful open world. And the characters. And the acting and exploration and foxes and… well, you get the point.

I also had a great time with Star Wars Squadrons, which was a simple yet thrilling flight sim, and despite being a sloppy, buggy mess, I also had fun with Cyberpunk 2077.  I very recently wrote about my love of Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Phasmophobia, as well as my mostly-positive adventures in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and I also had a warm and tingly stroll down memory lane with Astro’s Playroom. Paper Mario: The Origami King was a humorous, adorable trip, and The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope was sufficiently spooky. I also used my quarantine months to catch up on some non-2020 games like Days Gone, Gris, I am Setsuna, Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Yakuza 0, and of course I wrote maybe too much about my giddiness over the new consoles. While I wrote specifically about the PlayStation 5, I did also manage to get an Xbox Series X for myself for Xmas. I set it up and… well… that’s about it for now, but I was excited to unbox it and I can’t wait for games like the next Perfect Dark and that Indiana Jones games that was announced today.

So, well, I guess I did end up revisiting games I’ve played this year. But before I started actually writing, the only thing I could think about was the general, difficult-to-describe affect the pandemic has had on me. The few years leading up to 2019 were incredibly hard for me, in terms of my mental health. I had gotten to some very dark places. In early 2019, I took steps to navigate myself out of those dark places, and by the end of the year I began to feel like I had regained control of my life. Then, well, you know. 2020. Many people have had a much worse 2020 than I have, no doubt. But it was something of a precarious year for me. I remained determined to maintain my mental health. I got into a solid workout routine, I walked my cat every day when it was warm, I kept a daily journal, and I did a fair job of transitioning to online teaching, if I do say so myself. The problem was that I felt like my mental and emotional energy had a limit. I could dedicate only so much to staying healthy, and teaching, and participating in hobbies, and parsing all of the negativity that came with the pandemic and the historically toxic presidential election, that anything above and beyond that felt… impossible? Maybe that seems dramatic, but I don’t feel like I had much time post-recovery to enjoy decent mental health before I was expected to write my dissertation, maintain a healthy routine, become an online teacher, and just deal with the overwhelming, flaming flood that was 2020.

So my dissertation went by the wayside. And it felt okay at first. The general consensus about the pandemic’s effect on workflow seemed to be that it was normal and that everyone should give themselves a break. And I did. For a while. I still am, I suppose. But now that it’s been a year and I’ve made almost no progress, the self-doubt and reality of having to secure more funding or work to hopefully try and finish this thing in 2021 is inescapable. Institutions and professionals urged us to be kind and give ourselves more time, but in reality the expectations and deadlines never really changed. And because my dissertation is on games, looking back and thinking of my experience with gaming in 2020 was… complicated. I’ve played so many great games, and I’m excited for the future of gaming, but my place as a gaming scholar always feels like it’s on tremulous ground. I have moments where the field of games studies feels exclusive and some of the most notable names seem out of touch or, frankly, full of shit. Dr. Emma Vossen, a gaming scholar I admire, recently tweeted that she was publishing her final games studies article in academia, and was leaving ten years of work in the field behind her. Why? Because the field is so filled with scholars who don’t seem to understand games and gaming culture. They are academics first, and many of them seem to have gotten into the field because they saw an emergent trend that held lots of publishing potential. Dr. Vossen and others have expressed the notion that some of the best work on games and gaming culture has been done outside of academia, and I agree. But where does that leave me? I have no idea, to be honest. Confused? Angry? Do I push on, hoping to carve a niche for myself and change the culture? Or do I get out and try and get into a seemingly equally exclusive game coverage industry?

Sorry for the rant. For how terrible 2020 was in almost every other regard, it was a great year for gaming. My future in my field of choice may be murky, but I am still in love with video games, and there are some exciting titles coming out this year and in the near-ish future. Persona 5 Strikers, Resident Evil Village, Gotham Knights, Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Breath of the Wild 2, Horizon Forbidden West, and who knows what else is to come. What will the Switch Pro be like? When is the PS5’s next-gen virtual reality headset coming? Wherever life takes me this year, at least I’ll have some amazing games to play along the way.

Video Game Crushes: Jill Valentine

Oh, Jill Valentine. Won’t you be my valentine? No, wait, that’s cheesy. And it’s April, not February. Ahem. Please be my Jill sandwich – no, wait, weird and gross. You truly are the master of unlocking… my heart. *cool sunglass guy emoji*

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The original Resident Evil was a huge reason I betrayed my pulpy Nintendo fanboy blood and asked my parents to help me buy a PlayStation. I had a Nintendo 64, so why did I need a PlayStation? All those games are ugly and stupid and not Nintendo, I thought. Wait, there’s a game with zombies? And a big, creepy mansion? A-a-and there’s, like, giant spiders and snakes and stuff? I mean… I guess I could get a non-Nintendo console. Just this once.

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It didn’t quite happen like that, but it was close. My sister’s then-boyfriend had a PlayStation, and when I told him about RE he went out and bought it right away. He and my sister preferred to watch me play, though, so we huddled in his attic with the lights off and played through the game bit by bit, jumping at the zombie dogs, solving puzzles together, and reading all of the creepy notes lying around. That experience satiated what hunger for the PlayStation had risen in me, but as soon as I heard there would be a sequel the hunger returned and I began the classic console negotiation with my parents, where I had to explain that this new console was not the same as the N64 and played completely different games that I couldn’t play on the N64. They eventually relented, and my first games for the PS were Resident Evil: Director’s Cut and Resident Evil 2.

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Okay, so I love the Resident Evil games, but where does Jill come in? Well, my love for Jill started with my preference for playing as her in the first game. If you haven’t played the first two RE games, you have the option to play as one of two characters: Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine in RE, and Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield in RE2. I remember we chose Jill for our first playthrough because she had more inventory space than Chris, but we played through Chris next. Regardless, I always found myself gravitating toward Jill, whether it was in the original, Director’s Cut, or the remake for the GameCube. I was sad when Capcom announced that she wouldn’t be in RE2, but ecstatic when I found out that she would be the star of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.

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Source: https://gameranx.com/updates/id/193437/article/capcom-producer-reveals-why-they-redesigned-jill-valentine-for-resident-evil-3-remake/

Jill has come a long way since those famously cheesy lines from the first Resident Evil. As mentioned, she starred in the original Resident Evil 3, she had a very cool surprise appearance in Resident Evil 5, she once again took the lead in the surprisingly good Resident Evil: Revelations, and she returns in the latest RE game, the remake of Resident Evil 3. Her long and harrowing journey reveals one of the reasons I crush on her so hard: she has seen some serious shit. As an Army vet and member of Raccoon City’s Special Tactics and Rescue Service (STARS), Jill was already a badass with military weapons and explosives training, combat skills, and a quick, keen intellect. Layer on top of that all of the horror and hardship she’s seen, and her readiness to not only endure but to return to these terrifying situations in pursuit of the truth and a way to contain the dangerous bio-weapons she’s discovered, and it’s clear that she is one. tough. lady.

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When I poll my students about what they would do if a zombie outbreak happened, you’d be surprised how many of them say some variation of “lay down and die.” A real zombie outbreak would be terrifying, indeed, and after Jill survives just that during the “Mansion Incident” in the Arklay Mountains, she doesn’t collapse in defeat. She begins her own investigation into the event, because it’s clear that her superiors aren’t going to do it. And after the events in Raccoon City, when so much has been lost and she once again survives unimaginable trauma, her response to a villain challenging her ability to discover the truth is a sly smirk and “I’m not afraid of a little detective work.” *swoon*

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She’s not all brawn, though. She cares about those she trusts and she is loyal to her friends and steadfast about her personal ideals. She has some serious trust issues (uh, same, and how can anyone blame her?), but if you demonstrate loyalty she returns it in kind. She has escaped death several times, and she could count herself lucky and stay away from the madness, but she genuinely wants to protect others and help those who are also fighting, like her old friend Chris Redfield or her new friend Carlos. Given her personal fashion choice in the original RE3, a mini-skirt and tube top, I also like to think that she wasn’t always all business. That maybe she had a fun, casual side before she was pulled into the never-ending cycle of horror that is Umbrella and its nefarious products. Regardless, she is strong, smart, capable, caring… and one hell of a locksmith… of my heart… I overplayed that a bit, didn’t I? Damn it.

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Sienna Guillory as Jill in Resident Evil: Apocalypse

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Source: https://residentevil.fandom.com/wiki/Jill_Valentine