Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a well-timed, well produced lockdown game, but even the most diehard fans can agree that it hasn’t reinvented the wheel. Other notable titles include The Last of Us Part II, and Cyberpunk 2077, both massively ambitious titles. However, alongside the massive amounts of publicity these titles received has been some of the worst examples of the toxic work culture in years. Former Kotaku reporter Jason Schreier has covered both of these in great detail, highlighting the true cost of the games we all enjoy so much.
It seems that Supergiant Games’ most recent title, Hades, could represent a brighter future for game development. Don’t get me wrong, the expectations placed on Hades, a game developed by a 17 person indie studio, are very different from that of The Last of Us Part II, which was developed by Naughty Dog, whose entire 350 person team had been working on the game since 2017. Supergiant also self-publishes, avoiding the problems associated with publishers, who often enforce harsh deadlines, necessitating this crunch culture.
“Not everyone hollers if they’re overburdened by work”
Greg Kasavin, Creative Director of Supergiant, in an interview with Kotaku
That said, so much about Supergiant’s work culture sets a really good example that I hope is celebrated more widely. Some of the simpler policies the studio has is simply telling workers not to send or respond to any company emails after 5pm on a Friday: the implication being that the weekend is not for work, and Supergiant don’t expect their employees to come in during their free time.
Supergiant also requires that their workers take at least 20 days off per year, and can take more time off as required. This is the most indicative policy to me, that Supergiant care about their employees first, and their projects second. Looking at their track record of gorgeously presented, well written and successful games, it’s not hard to see that this approach, for Supergiant, works a treat.
That’s why Hades is my game of the year. Not necessarily for itself as a game (fantastic as it may be as an experience), but for Supergiant simply standing above the mire of games work culture.
Whilst the Wild World instalment of Animal Crossing didn't click with me as a kid (to be honest, Mr. Resetti, who would pop up whenever you logged back on after forgetting to save last time, scared the shit out of me). It wasn't until City Folk on Wii that I fully came to appreciate what is, at first, the most mediocre game on earth.
Animal Crossing (and especially New Horizons) is a game I play to escape the real world... by doing real world stuff - with a twist, of course. I pay rent to a racoon, watch a dog play some half-decent music on a Saturday night and even buy clothes from two hedgehogs. If anything, these sound like reasons why New Horizons shouldn't win Game of the Year. But, as we all know, this hasn't been any normal year. Half the stuff a player can do in AC, we can't do in real life at present. So I started to live vicariously through the game for a few months. And honestly? It really helped.
Long gone are the days where video games claim to rot people’s brains - numerous studies are now showing how gaming can improve mental health. Andrew Przybylski, the leader of a study from Oxford University, even said the study proved that "if you play four hours a day of Animal Crossing, you’re a much happier human being, but that’s only interesting because all of the other research before this is done so badly."
Whilst players, myself especially, might occasionally experience AC-induced stress (look, it's really difficult to get the bridges just right sometimes), the benefits of the game outweigh the negatives. Because the Switch console allows for seasonal updates throughout means every time I play, there's something new happening! No two days on the game are ever the same. My only request? BRING BACK THE ROOST CAFÉ PLEASE I BEG YOU NINTENDO I MISS SPENDING ALL MY FAKE MONEY ON COFFEE JUST LIKE I SPEND MONEY IN REAL LIFE.
Why might you ask? Well Animal Crossing achieved something that I believe no other game has this year. It has truly gifted so many of us, avid and casual gamers alike, with a sense of escapism and respite in a tumultuous and quite frankly terrifying year. By now I am sure we are all sick to death of hearing about the pandemic, I certainly am! But Animal Crossing: New Horizons gave us those precious moments - moments where we could switch off from it all.
It touched a chord that cannot be quite explained. I might be sentimental, but within those first couple of months, amongst the darkness, the fact that you could meet your friends and hit each other on the head with nets gave a sense of normality. To spend time with the people you care about was hard this year, but with the game, it became that little bit easier.
With endearing graphics, beloved characters and a charm that would make even Mr. Resetti crack a smile, Animal Crossing: New Horizons should (and hopefully will) win game of the year. Why, you ask once again? Because in a world of darkness, this game gave that small flicker of happiness that so many desperately needed.
The colours, the narrative, the very cute little foxes and birds leading me to side quests. Ghost of Tsushima was hands down one of the most visually stunning and innovative games that came out in 2020. There are so many aspects of this game that make it one of my favourites. The cinematic nature feels like I, the player, am in control of what is happening in a major motion picture due to the incredibly minimalistic yet not problematic HUD. The grainy, black and white filter mode, or Kurosawa mode (named after the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa) enhances this feeling, adding dramatics and even more depth to an already complex narrative. You can even play the game in Japanese language with English subtitles, piling on the immersion from the get go.
I had very few gripes about this game. As a player and as a notorious backseat gamer for my partner, every moment was enjoyable and every scene and set piece was jaw dropping. The meticulous attention to detail and sheer achievement in graphic design is why I think Ghost of Tsushima deserves to be 2020s Game of the Year.
Kaitlyn Maracle[Featured Image: @TheGameAwards on Twitter]