I did not play many games this year. A whole host of reasons contributed to that, including but not limited to the thesis year of my MFA program, a couple months of COVID and COVID fatigue, and checks notes depression. There is a huge list of games I’m hopefully going to get into next year — NORCO, Citizen Sleeper, Immortality, Pentiment, Neon White, Tunic, God of War: Ragnarok, etc. I’m looking forward to this year of narrative bangers sustaining me for quite a while.
However, the games I did play this year, I played a lot of. All my ~150 hours on my Switch were split relatively evenly between the two open-world Pokémons. (And, while I’m here, in any other year Pokémon: Legends Arceus would have had a fighting chance.) And I knew roughly what my PlayStation wrap-up would look like, but it was still a little shocking to see that, of the ~550 hours I spent on my PS5 in 2022, 96% of those were in Souls games. Three guesses why.
Anyway, it’s Elden Ring. I haven’t been this excited for a game since Breath of the Wild — and I don’t think I’ve loved a game like this since BOTW either. Souls mechanics are my comfort zone at this point; put simply, being in that combat system feels like going home. What ER did was fill that home with endless moments of wonder, discovery, and joy — so many that I can barely remember them all. In a sense, it’s a greatest hits album, but it’s also more than that. Souls games are, to me, about the the relationship between belief and power. A player can kill a god and still cast their miracles because the god never mattered — their belief in its power did. What Elden Ring added to that was a sense of pathos that felt at best fleeting in its… relatives? Siblings? The moments I remember clearest in ER are characters like Millicent, Ranni, Boc, Melina, Alexander, and others. Souls games are notorious for tragedy, but the tragedies in ER are different than those of say Siegmeyer or Lucatiel. Many of these characters die, but their storylines are about the quest to find meaning in a dying world… and, with the right help, most of them actually do find it.
Anyway, finding meaning in a dying world is something that occupies a permanent space in my brain. It’s at the core of basically all of my work, and at this point it’s the thing that pushes me to continue trying to make art. It so commands my thoughts that I wrote a whole MA essay on it… which was also an essay about community and Dark Souls III. And while Elden Ring may not be the best ever vehicle for that idea, it wraps that idea in all the things I love about video games. The 300 hours I spent on two full playthroughs and an NG+ run made up, conservatively, 40% of the time I spent playing video games this year. I don’t think a game has dominated my experience of a year like that before, and I don’t think another one ever will. So, yeah. No contest. GOTY.