DayZ is as much a social experiment as it is a game. A mod game based on ARMA 2: Combined Operations, DayZ requires players to eat, drink, keep warm and, of course, defend themselves from zombies. What makes the game fascinating is how players interact with each other. You can band together with other players or, as has been the case in my experience, die at their hands. The brutal nature of DayZ is perhaps the best digital representation I have seen of the doctrine of total depravity.
A self-described “minimal action game,” Super Hexagon is one of the best designed games of 2012. I was surprised to find out how meaningful it was to others. Jordan Ekeroth wrote about how the game challenged how he understands meaning in games. Jenn Frank wrote an incredible piece that addresses how, for her, the game was about living life.
8. Halo 4
What I love about Halo 4 is honestly the same thing I have loved about every previous Halo game: its unique ability to bring diverse people together in fellowship. I was also surprised to find myself interested in the story of Halo 4, which touches on the cost of saving the world.
I feel a bit weird including this game, given that it has been called a “murder sim,” but no game from 2012 grabbed me quite like Hotline Miami. Learning to be successful in HLM requires shutting everything else off. The violence is in itself an emotionally powerful experience. In truth, players do in HLM what they do in most action games: kill lots of people. What distinguishes the game is the way it never congratulates players for doing so. HLM is about what’s lost when we try to shut off what makes us human.
6. Dear Esther
This is a game about being alone, something that we, in our age of social media, take great pains to avoid. It is a dark tale and far less interactive than other games on this list, but it leaves players considering the importance and danger of being alone.
Dishonored is a game about political intrigue and it’s full of devious characters whose motives are constantly in question. However, the most important character of the game is Dunwall, a fictional, steam-punk version of London that is fascinating to interact with. Dishonored excels at something video games have lost sight of in recent years: it creates a space compelling enough that we want to uncover every inch.
War games are the best-selling games on the market and they are generally some of the least thoughtful. This year, however, Spec Ops: The Line promised to take seriously the toll of war and avoid jingoistic pandering to American imperialist ideals. The result is a game that makes deliberate strides, not only in highlighting the unseemly aspects of war, but also in exposing players’ unhealthy obsession with “playing” at it.
3. Papo & Yo
Vander Caballero created Papo & Yo to express what life was like growing up with an abusive alcoholic father. It gives players a small glimpse into the world of a boy whose world is unraveling under his father’s addictions. I believe that games, because of their interactive nature, have a unique ability to teach us empathy. Papo & Yo is perhaps the most powerful example of this that I have experienced.
The Walking Dead manages not only to honor its source material, but also to break new ground in game storytelling. The game gives players a limited time window within which to make decisions. I found myself constantly second guessing the decisions I made and even regretting them. This speaks to how we respond to trials and how they shape us.
“Thanks for staying with me on the journey.” I found this message in my PlayStation Network inbox after having completed That Game Company’s Journey. I do not know this person and yet we shared an experience playing Journey. By keeping players from communicating verbally, placing them in games with strangers and giving them simple means of interacting, Journey highlights one of the most significant elements of the imago dei: our desire to connect.