Content warning: discussions of trauma, abuse, substance abuse, and self harm
If you think about it, aren’t all games a game of the decade, or at least of a decade? Ah well, another 10 years go flying by and it’s time to engage in the Sisyphean task of rolling the “top games of x decade” rock up the hill once again nonetheless, so let’s not waste any time from this decade and just dive straight in.
An experimental foray into the nascent and underexplored genre of quick-shot MMOs, Realm of the Mad God is a fascinating multiplayer shooter based around pointing and clicking in a direction with countless others. The apparent goal is to climb your way up the loot tree as quickly as possible and eventually topple Oryx, the eponymous God, however as any seasoned player will tell you, the real goal is to grab the best loot you can, run ‘n gun, and wait for the sweet embrace of death so you can start all over again, slamming your strength of will repeatedly into the brick-wall that is the game’s sudden and painful difficulty cliff.
It’s this style of swift and lighthearted death-centered gameplay that makes the game so compelling, drawing you back for just one more run until it’s 9am and your keycaps are imprinted on your face, back aching from falling asleep at your desk that has earned it a place on this list, a monument to the countless hours of my life it’s consumed with its frustrating fun. Memento Mori.
Terraria is the rare breed of game not centered around suffering that still manages to hold a very nostalgic place in my heart. The seminal 2D multiplayer sidescrolling city management combat heavy build-em-down game of the last decade, Terraria stands out amongst its peers in the saturated genre. Whether you need to kick back after a long day at work and spend the 90th hour touching up your automated mushroom farm in your solo game, or group up with several of your friends to face Santa and slay him back, it’s an experience that more than delivers and has gotten me through many a rough patch of the last decade.
Now, we’ve put it off for far too long, it’s time to finally talk about the genre-defining masterpiece CRPG you’ve all been waiting for.
Without a doubt the best CRPG I’ve had the pleasure to play in recent memory, The Age of Decadence is a Roman themed romp around a world full of hucksters, quick-talkers, brutality, and bizarre technological wonders not for the faint of heart or the easily deceived. Around every corner lurks some ne’er-do-well looking to make a quick coin, whether at the edge of a crafty lie or that of a sharp blade; a land where quick wits and a keen sense of self preservation is paramount, where an ounce of common sense threat perception is worth its weight in quick-talking de-escalation.
Combining punishing combat, a comprehensive dialogue system, and the ability to argue your way to the top of the clergy, The Age of Decadence throws you headfirst into a world where you’re decidedly at the lowest of every hierarchy conceivable, and you’d better figure that out faster than those standing in your path. Take the trip, descend to rock bottom, and discover the truth lurking behind the mysteries of this anachronistic Romanesque adventure and you just might come out on top, if you can make it through your first 10 conversations that is.
The long awaited follow-up to Ice-Pick Lodge’s masterpiece cult-classic survival game, Pathalogic 2 is a powerhouse of diegesis and ludonarrative integration. As a deconstruction of the milieu that is the holy grail of suspension of disbelief, Pathalogic 2, like its predecessor, artfully picks apart audience expectations in its deep exploration of suffering, inevitability, what the meaning behind the concept of a game actually is, and why we, as players, are so reticent to pull back the curtain and peek behind the collective lies we tell ourselves for the sake of “enjoyment”.
At once thought provoking, challenging, and rewarding (although perhaps not in the ways we might expect), Pathalogic 2 invites you backstage to talk about how the diegetic sausage is made, and for this it has left a mark I will not soon forget.
Without a doubt my personal favourite game of all time, and one I am exceptionally glad came out last decade so I can include it here, LISA: The Painful RPG is an exploration of guilt, trauma, sacrifice, abuse of unhealthy coping mechanisms, and how our personal heroic mythologizing can become a source of inimitable pain, for ourselves and for those around us, as well as a horrifying justification for abusing others “for their own good”, a refrain all too familiar to many who have dealt with abuse in their own lives.
LISA is a hard game to play, not mechanically but emotionally, and one I am reticent to recommend to others as it, at times, feels like a very personal and private experience, in much the same way as a therapy session might feel to some. Having played through the game countless times, I have never found myself not at the point of tears by the end of the game, unsure of how to answer a dying man’s final pleas given all that has come before.
As someone who has experienced countless others immolating themselves on the pyre of martyrdom, either in a misguided and traumatic attempt at benevolence, an attempt to harm by proxy, or as a way to obtain leverage over someone who never wanted the self-serving help of the martyr, LISA speaks to me on an extremely deep and personal level that I struggle to convey, and one which won’t be present for many who have not gone through similar. I see in its characters paths I have trod, paths I have come to the crossroads of, and paths I could have easily gone down, and for that it’s an experience that will stick with me to the bitter end.
Mx. Medea is a writer, artist, and editor who spends most of their time drawing things with squares and buried under a small pile of endless paper copy. When not working they can be found playing everything from interesting indie fare to oldschool games. You can find them, their art, and their opinions @Mx_Medea on Twitter.