Last year came and went without that high-profile, go-to, automatic, everybody-agrees Game of the Year, yet two particular titles continued to buck traditional triple-A trends, topping more than a few high-profile “Best of 2012” lists. Both downloadable and created by relatively tiny teams, Journey and The Walking Dead beat out even the biggest beasts of the year — Mass Effect 3, Dishonored, and Borderlands 2 to name but a few — in their holiday season climb to superiority. The retail release of Telltale’s take on the popular zombie franchise became Metacritic’s highest-scoring console title of the past 12 months. Destructoid declared The Walking Dead as its overall Game of the Year, as did outlets with broader reaches beyond the gaming community like Wired and USA Today. Even Spike’s nationally-televised Video Game Awards, undoubtedly the most mainstream awards ceremony within this industry, issued the same best-of-the-best praise to this indie darling (much to the surprise of even the most enlightened among us).
As I mentioned earlier, Journey wasn’t quickly forgotten, either, another major winner at the VGAs and earning Game of the Year awards from supergiants IGN and GameSpot. Even I was quick to declare it my game of the entire generation, an acknowledgement that admittedly may or may not hold up as I eventually align myself outside the realm of knee-jerk reactions. Now, though, The Walking Dead is doing its best to dethrone Journey, the former hoping to at least overtake the latter to receive my meaningless nod as a personal Game of the Year. However, when considered closely and objectively, these two titles that everybody’s talking about are especially simple in the gameplay department — especially simple within the aspects that actually make a game a game. The term “revolutionary,” or even “refined” would never enter deliberations on the interactivity side. And yet they won. They won often. They won big. And they won as games.
Because emotions have become the Game of the Year trump card. This fact isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and media outlets are not in the wrong for voting with their heartstrings, though that statement is, in fact, a fact.
There is perhaps nothing more powerful than emotional pull. After finishing Episode Two of The Walking Dead — or surviving, I should say — I immediately discussed the details with my dad…because I needed to! Like Frodo’s fateful voyage with the One Ring and Sidekick Sam, this burden was too big to bear alone. It didn’t matter that my father’s gaming history includes nothing more than Wii Sports. He was there, so I spilled my guts about the guts I’d spilled, about second-guessing split-second decisions, and he understood. Hell, why do you think we started the Spoilercasts? Because The Walking Dead was built to be discussed. It strikes an emotional chord that resonates so strongly that it drowns out the areas of excellence displayed in other games. Disregard the gargantuan adventures of Commander Shepard, the addictive charm of Pandora, and the arguable pinnacle of stealthy deeds done in Dishonored. Forget all of that; we have emotions.
With emotions, that special something to rule them all, none of that mattered. We recognized The Walking Dead because we remembered The Walking Dead. We remembered how it moved us, how it made us feel and think, how it made us fall in absolute paternal love for an adorable virtual girl. We remembered with emotions and, in turn, equated those emotions with unparalleled greatness.
Which brings us around to my question, summarized in a simple two words: Should we? Should the award for the very best Game of the Year — “game,” mind you, not “story” or “experience”– go to the title that offered the most lingering touch, or should we more objectively take all the individual components into account? Who knows; maybe we did and I managed to miss it. Either way, that is my question.
And now I leave it to you.