The internet fuels negativity. There’s so much cynicism and pessimism about games online that it can be hard to remember why we play them in the first place. This Thanksgiving we asked some of the contributors to our games section to write about a game they’re thankful for, something that cuts through the bad vibes and reminds them why they love games. Thirteen writers participated, writing about everything from a massive RPG released two weeks ago to a handheld classic older than some of our readers. Join us in reflecting on these games that matter to us, and let us know in the comments what you’re thankful for.
I played some games as a kid. Sonic. Mortal Kombat. They were distractions, playthings to help me pass the time. And then Half-life happened. I was nine years old. I spent over a hundred hours playing the demo alone and then spent a summer saving enough cash by helping my father build a new bathroom in our house. The full version of the game didn’t disappoint. With its (for the time) emphasis on realism and a design that let you experience the events of the game as an extended interactive single take instead of feeding you story details through cutscenes and text logs, it was the first game I played that wrapped me up in wonder and got me thinking about the storytelling potential of the medium.—Javy Gwaltney
Dragon Age 2 does some very important things. Its companions can accept or reject the hero, can respect them and love them even when they routinely disagree. They have lives beyond what the player sees—card games and crushes and in-jokes that you aren’t always in on. Most importantly it shows more than just one heroic triumph. It spans seven years of high and lows, landmark moments and comforting mundanity in the lives of refugees and outcasts trying to make a place for themselves. It’s real in a way so few AAA fantasy games are.—Janine Hawkins
World of Warcraft doesn’t have the pull with the masses it once did. Hell, It doesn’t have the same pull with me. But I wouldn’t be who I am without it. I’ve made lasting friendships, gotten jobs, and a host of other things because of it. WoW even, in a roundabout way, honed my writing (hi Elitist Jerks forums), meaning you wouldn’t even be reading this without it. I’m not always there anymore, but I’m never far away for long.—Ian Williams
Despite the (hella) clunky dialogue and the occasionally awkward graphics, there is a certain earnestness that shines through Dontnod’s Life is Strange. It’s something we don’t see very often in giant publisher-backed videogames, but the time-warping mysteries of Arcadia Bay with Max Caufield and Chloe Price felt like a game that the developers actually wanted to make. I am thankful games like Life is Strange still get released and that I can still feel the developers’ excitement through playing it.—Imran Khan
Flower, Sun, and Rain wouldn’t rank among my favorites of all time. But when I first played it, I had no idea what to make it. I loved its look, its aloof characters, and its surrealist style, but found playing it a chore. I could see all of its flaws, but I loved it anyway. It taught me that games don’t work on a mechanical scale; you can love something despite its blatant flaws, and don’t have to apologize for it. It opened my mind to a brand-new appreciation of games as a medium, and for that I’m eternally grateful to it.—Suriel Vazquez
Last fall I developed a repetitive strain injury and couldn’t really use my hands. Unable to work, I also couldn’t play any game that required a shred of reaction time. That didn’t leave much, but one game it did leave was FTL. I spent days wrapped up in its interstellar world, at once fast-paced and gripping while still enabling me to pause and awkwardly poke my mouse across my desk with both wrist braced hands. It felt like the twitchiest shooter while still being physically accessible, and I’m grateful it got me through a rough spell. I still haven’t beaten it, though.—Riley MacLeod
I’m thankful for Dragon Age:Inquisition because it gave me a lot more of Thedas to explore, and learn and love. Getting to meet and welcome back companions over the course of the game made that week of vacation I took worth it. Getting to know their backstories, how Josephine was going to be a Bard at one point, filling in the blanks of what had happened since Kirkwall with Cassandra and Varric. Getting to see my Hawke again, and letting them have a last run of it with the Inquisitor and company was a bit painful but totally worth it. Since I’m a lore nerd, getting those little codex pages from everywhere we went made me happy, and gave me a bit more knowledge to run around with as I met others that helped to tell the Inquisitions story. Lastly I’m thankful for Trespasser, a DLC that gives me an ending for my Inquisitor as well as a hint as to what could come in the future. It was good to have an ending for everyone, no matter how friendships lasted or shattered.
So thank you Bioware for making me love Thedas, while breaking my heart, making me cry and laugh usually all at once. —Tanya DePass
Magic: The Gathering is a game where you pretend to be a wizard fighting another wizard on a battlefield. It is perhaps the nerdiest activity that one could participate in, and this is only rendered more weird by the fact that you can be a professional at pretending you are an archmage throwing goblins at another, more nefarious lichlord. It’s a complex game with a baroque rules system created and cobbled together by people who are far better at math than I am, and despite all of these things, I would not have it any other way. There is not another game around that enables the kinds of strange interactions between players, cardboard and rules that Magic affords. Playing it with a good opponent is something close to the sublime, and a tournament setting where you have to defer to a wizard poker rulesmaster (aka a judge) drives the entire system up and over any kind of threshold that one could pretend to have with ridiculousness. Magic is a game of excess in all respects, and much like the American holiday of conspicuous consumption and hangovers both alcoholic and food-based, it feels the best when you’re dumping it into your body by the truckload.—Cameron Kunzelman
There’s a scrolling glitch in Link’s Awakening that breaks its little dreamscape, allowing you to travel to areas normally inaccessible. In some cases it even creates game areas that shouldn’t exist, strung together from random pieces of the world. In that way the game’s little dreamscape always felt bigger than what you could see. It felt as if it would never end.—Omar Elaasar
For the longest time, I didn’t think I could get into games. I thought I had missed the window, that I would have to wade through generic shooters and platformers in order to catch up. When a friend of mine booted up Silent Hill 2 for the first time, I realized that games could be something else. Games weren’t just violent and they weren’t just power fantasies. They could be personal, psychological, and complex. It seems silly that I didn’t realize that games were just another medium to tell stories before Silent Hill 2 but the first scare convinced me for life.—Carli Velocci
This season, I’m most thankful for League of Legends. Not because it’s the most impressive or groundbreaking game I’ve ever played, but because it lets me keep in touch with family. My whole family plays League: my sister, brother and dad all have accounts, and when we’re thousands of miles apart, it’s nice to still be able to jump online and play an ARAM match just like we were all home again.—Eric Van Allen
I’m thankful for Fallout 4 because anytime my husband wants to play Fallout 4 he suggests I go take a bubble bath. I am now a person who takes regular bubble baths.—Jenn Frank
For about six months last year Disney Infinity was almost the only game I played. I took time off to review a few others but I’d always come back to this weird nostalgia trip, where my childhood heroes Donald Duck and Captain America can hang out in the ersatz version of Wonderland I threw together in the toy box. Nostalgia might be the inarguable draw, but there’s more to the game, from the surprises of user-created toy box levels to the beautifully sculpted figures needed to play the game (they are easily the best designed of all the toys-to-life toys). I have to spend so much of my free time playing gross, violent games where the only point is to kill everything in sight, so I’m thankful there’s a place I can turn to for pure, simple joy. (Even if there’s just like a lot of violence in this game. You can make it entirely about bashing bad guys’ skulls in, if you’d like. I never knew Minnie Mouse was so deadly.)—Garrett Martin