The Year Behind: 2018


IMAGE(   Greg “DoubtingThomas396” Decker

Well, another year behind us. Usually I pull together a list of funny news items, but this year that just didn’t feel appropriate. Instead, I thought it would be a good opportunity for those of us here at GWJ to talk about some of the high points of our individual years. Because at the end of the day, we don’t live our lives on the internet. We live our lives at home with our families and friends. So let’s all take a moment to reflect in the good stuff that happened this year.

For me, I was privileged to watch my son grow into a full-fledged gamer. He’s not yet ten years old, and he’s already dominating me at Dragonball Fighter Z. I can still top him at a Team Fortress 2 – for now, anyway.

My daughter and I, meanwhile, connected over the bonding agent of horrifying walking simulators. Layers of Fear, Amnesia, SOMA, Among The Sleep, Bendy and the Ink Machine: If it had macabre imagery and audio logs, we were all over it.

My wife and I, meanwhile, discovered the joys of cooperative multiplayer games. We beat Overcooked and the sequel, and after some fits and starts dove into Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate like nobody’s business. We are currently hip deep in super mutants and ghouls as we cut a swath of destruction through the wastelands of West Virginia.

Beyond that, I rediscovered my love of sculpting miniatures again, which was a great savings on birthdays, let me tell you. And while we’re on the subject of creative endeavors, I started a new novel for NaNoWriMo, and though I failed to hit the 50,000-word mark, I did manage to crank out tens of thousands of words on a story that might just have legs. We’ll see. I also outlined a story for an RPGmaker game, which will be a fun project to work on with my kids, who are both interested in game development.

All in all, while the year had its ups and downs (what year doesn’t?), it was a good one, and I’m glad to have put the time into it.

IMAGE(   Felix “Cat’s in the DLC” Threepaper

Four moments sum up my gaming year of 2018: 2 signs of ageing, 2 signs of growth.

The first was when, after struggling through even the tutorial and first dungeon area, I dropped down to Normal difficulty on God Of War. I’d played all the previous ones on Hard, even argued that it was the only true way to play, but this time around, I wasn’t finding joy-in-mastery at taking 3 hours to clear a standard encounter – only frustration. Once I stopped worrying and embraced my limitations, I enjoyed the game immensely. I still found combat interesting and challenging, just not a total roadblock. Odin only knows how anyone could win a Valkyrie fight on harder difficulties.

The second was the Battletech title screen. It’s all I saw of the game, as it didn’t work on my PC. Maybe my PC is too old, maybe I should have checked the specs better, maybe maybe maybe, but I bought a game I was super-psyched for and it didn’t work. The prospect of spending further hundreds on gear to make it work was no longer appealing, nor justifiable. It was the straw that tipped me out of the PC master race. My trusty PS4 never treats me like this.

The third was beating the first Voidwoken Deep Dweller in Fort Joy in Divinity: Original Sin 2. There were memorable battles throughout the game, but this was the first early battle that really opened up the sheer breadth of tactical options. I had to come at it a dozen or so times to get it right. It was before you could just respec at the ship, too, so I was stuck with the builds I had.
What stands out is the number of different approaches I tried before finding the winning formula. Each attempt taught me something along the way – coming in from different directions, trying different positions for my crew, different combinations of spells, sneaking the rogue into a good backstabbing spot before triggering the fight (Tip: after getting in one good strike, she was demolished each time, teaching me never to isolate your rogue). The distinction from the God of War situation is that I could always go away and do something else – I wasn’t stopped from all progress in the game if I couldn’t win this fight. I did indeed do some other missions and came back at it with a few more levels under my belt. My winning run did, of course, involve Divinity’s signature ploy of breaking barrels around chokepoints and trying to funnel the critters through the ooze before lighting them up. But I had to do a whole lot more besides, including some cowering in my dome of protection. The battle taught me to use consumables such as source powers and scrolls instead of hoarding them. It was long, tough, and I don’t think the gear was even that good. Nonetheless, it was super rewarding. What a great game.

Finally, and similarly to the other writers here, I saw my 5-year-old son beat Spider-Man. It made an already spectacular game into an ultimate family experience. I watched his whole emotional arc: tears at losing early gang fights, rage at my constant nags of “Dodge! Dodge!”, pride in unlocking the Iron Spider suit before me (as he had vowed to do) and then serenity when he was watching me play, having finished the game himself, and counselling ME through the game: “Dodge, Dad!” To be able to finish Spider-Man, he also had to display increased mastery of the PS4 controller, including those infernal bumpers and L3 and R3. He gets an A+ on his gaming report card.

Other life news was pretty good: I rekindled a musical hobby, singing in a band at birthdays and parties for friends on request. It’s fun to gig again. As I type this, I should actually be packing boxes because we’re moving interstate, to my wife’s family’s home town. It’s the first time I’ve lived out of my own home town in my life. Wish us luck! Happy holidays.

IMAGE(   Andrew “Minarchist” High

This is the year my kids got into board gaming the way all us gamers keep hoping they will: able to learn more strategically complicated games, not just making moves because it’s a move they can make but actually thinking, and starting to show that competitive drive while still learning good sportsmanship. Take heart, Gamers With Kids! It will happen eventually.

This is the year that I finally came to peace with how precious time actually is, and how little of it I have to devote to any of my hobbies, gaming in particular. It’s one thing to realize that time is precious and the pressures of home and career demand a lot of it, but actually wrestling it to the ground so that you can make some sort of peace, at least in my case, took a lot longer.

I’ve finally reached the point where I can enjoy the time I have, without stressing that it’s not enough. Enjoy the time I spend in a story or world, without stressing that it’ll be so long before I pick it up again that I’ll forget that it’s the left trigger that aims the bow at the eagle from the cliffside, and the right trigger that leaps forward, hurtling my ragdoll body into the Canyon of Doom. Oops.

I’ve even reached the point – which will shock some of you – where I don’t care about achievements anymore. I simply don’t have the time, but if I wanted to still enjoy the hobby I had to almost consciously shift from The Completionist to The Tourist. And y’know what? It’s pretty cool! In some ways I feel that everything, not just gaming, is in a much healthier balance than it’s been in my life.

This is the year I got over the cafeteria glut of my eyes being bigger than my stomach, buying 20 games when I only have time to play 5, piling it up with the someone-said-this-is-good potatoes and the maybe-I’ll-like-RTS-this-time carrot souffle. Just a few games for me, thanks; I ate a big lunch and don’t have much room left on my plate.

Coincidentally, it’s maybe the first time I’ve also managed to avoid doing that over Thanksgiving, eating “enough” and not rolling around like a beached whale for the next six hours while the Lions inevitably lost again. There’s something to this maturing bit that I could get used to.

IMAGE(   Erik "Wordsmythe" Hanson

My kid turned 3 this fall, and was given a number of very entry-level board games. His favorite thus far is probably Restoration Games's Dinosaur Tea Party, but with a few of the complications sanded down – he has a hard enough time remembering not to excitedly show us his character when we guess incorrectly about whether his dino is wearing a bonnet.

He's a sharer, that one.

In a year that's been hard in a few ways, and ended up getting harder, play has been a life preserver. Apart from logging some time with nervous-distraction gaming (I've spent how many hours playing Sudoku on my phone?) and working my way through the Battletech campaign, playing at a table with other hyu-mons has been the core of my gaming year. I think that's part of why McChuck started a YouTube series with our friends and boardgames (and beer).

It's 11:30 on December 30 as I write this, and our neighbors just recently went home after we finally beat Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 together. We've been through Season 1 before this, and played a number of other games at our kitchen table. I can't begin to explain the magic of this to folks who haven't experienced having a young kid and a tight babysitting market, but it is magic to have people who will come over at the kid's bedtime to share a meal and board game every few weeks. If you don't understand why that's meaningful, I suggest you try to be that neighbor to someone in your community.

And this last one is just starting to pay off, but this is the year I learned to play Cribbage with my father. He's never been much for talking about himself, but you get him some pegs, a plank of wood, and some cards, and suddenly you hear stories about playing with his grandfather as a kid in Milwaukee, about the corny puns his grandpa had ready for every kind of way you could cut a deck, and about being sent around the corner by his grandma to buy a chocolate cake from the bakery.

So I can now reliably lose at Cribbage, but without getting skunked. Also, now I know where Dad got his love of chocolate cake. That's much more valuable to me than I would have guessed.

IMAGE(   Shawn “Certis” Andrich

This is the year my wife Karla and I rediscovered a love of gaming together. Twenty years ago our romance started when we lived in a big house as roommates and bonded over games like Everquest, Bushido Blade and Soul Calibur. As we’ve gotten older and busier, it’s harder to overcome the slow, sneaky distance that naturally builds up in a long-term relationship. Something clicked a few months after I’d shelved Divinity: Original Sin 2 while I waited for a patch that made the last chapter better. I knew I wanted to get back to the game, and I also knew it supported same-screen coop, so I pitched it to Karla.

We connected two controllers, started a new game and got to it. I'd already played the first two acts so I didn't need to worry about missing story beats if Karla took her two characters to one NPC while I was off somewhere else. The combat is turned-based and has a strong puzzle-solving vibe to it that makes collaborative decision making a joy. It takes longer of course – some shorter sessions felt like a tabletop D&D game. We’d show up, do two big combat encounters and then call it a night. The point was less about progress and more about reconnecting, so it never felt like it mattered all that much.

Lately we’ve turned to the new edition of the Kingdom series with Kingdom: Two Crowns. The chill, mysterious and deceivingly simple kingdom builder is even better when you have two monarchs trotting around on their horses, discussing where to put limited resources and overcoming brutal night attacks. It kept us up until 1AM the first night we played it, which almost never happens these days. There’s something magical about entering a gaming flow state with someone where, without saying a word, you both succumb to “one more day” as the sun rises over your shared Kingdom.


In case anyone wants to see McChuck's full series/season:

Had a daughter in November. Looking forward to some of those gaming milestones in a few years.

Stele wrote:

Had a daughter in November. Looking forward to some of those gaming milestones in a few years.

Translation: Had a kid, looking forward to playing games again in a few years.

Congrats, btw. Enjoy the smiles when they come!