One of the things that’s been most interesting to me this year has been seeing the types of games that unexpectedly exploded in popularity. The fanaticism around games and forming communities around them isn’t anything new, but in more typical years it was inevitable that someone might miss a big trend or event in gaming. Considering I’ve been home most of the year however, I was able to see these wild surges in popularity among various games and genres in a way I hadn’t ever been able to before. Despite all of this, I feel as if I’ve dipped into several of these big trends that took the internet by storm this year and managed to bounce off of most of them…
One of the things that’s been most interesting to me this year has been seeing the types of games that unexpectedly exploded in popularity. The fanaticism around games and forming communities around them isn’t anything new, but in more typical years it was inevitable that someone might miss a big trend or event in gaming. Considering I’ve been home most of the year however, I was able to see these wild surges in popularity among various games and genres in a way I hadn’t ever been able to before. Despite all of this, I feel as if I’ve dipped into several of these big trends that took the internet by storm this year and managed to bounce off of most of them.
Like I said, big trends in gaming is nothing new. A few years ago PLAYER UNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS exploded onto the scene and thrust the battle royale genre of games into the spotlight. There was Overwatch, which arrived in 2016 and prompted every company in existence to try and take a stab at the hero shooter genre, with newcomers like Valorant releasing this year and finding an audience, while games like Hyper Scape, Rocket Arena and Crucible, all games which released within two months of each other, failed to gain any traction. Hell, even years ago we saw plenty of MMO’s get conjured into existence in an attempt to dethrone World of Warcraft… which definitely happened.
My point is that these big trends in gaming isn’t a new phenomenon in the slightest, but it’s been particularly interesting for me to watch them come into existence and either explode in popularity or just fizzle out into obscurity. So I’d like to highlight a few big things that happened in the game-o-sphere in 2020, and discuss how they all managed to pass me by.
February sure feels like an eternity ago, but we definitely had one of those this year. In fact, I was still working in my office, a concept that feels completely foreign to me now. But back in February, specifically Valentine’s Day, Dreams, the wildly ambitious game creation tool by Media Molecule, released on the PlayStation 4 and was immediately heralded as an impressive piece of software more so than being a fun game. It allowed creators to make their own games within the Dreams engine, either through hand crafting everything themselves, or collaborating with other users by importing their characters, settings, objects, sound effects and more into their projects. Dreams smartly credited every piece of content used to the user who made it, which encouraged a sense of community that seems to still be active to this day.
Above is a video from the YouTube channel, Ugly Sofa Gaming, a channel that highlights interesting and fun creations from the game. They’re still cranking out videos about the nearly year old game on a regular basis, which to me seems like a great sign for the entire Dreams community, although recent reports make it sound like the player base is waning. I watched a couple of their videos that highlight the cool games people are making in Dreams, and it’s genuinely impressive what people are doing with that engine.
But despite adoring what people were making and mostly catching the wildest things on my Twitter feed, I knew that Dreams wasn’t the game for me. I don’t have the patience to build a game in the slightest, and shelling out the cash for the ability to peruse the user generated stuff back when the game released just didn’t seem like a great investment to me at the time. But looking back on it now, I feel compelled to check in on it and see what people have been able to do in the past 10 months since it released. But it would be absolutely wild of me to, while writing this article, open up a new tab, navigate to Amazon, notice that Dreams is on sale, and purchase it, right? That would be ridiculous…
Let’s move on.
I don’t know exactly when Among Us exploded in popularity, but it sure dominated most of the internet and continues to be one of the most watched things on Twitch. It’s kind of wild when you think about it. Here’s a game that released in 2018 for five dollars and didn’t really make an impact, only to find incredible success two years later during a pandemic. Among Us is another one of those Mafia or Werewolf type games where one or more people are the bad guys who are trying to carry out their grim mission in secret, while the rest are innocents who need to figure out identities of the bad guys while also working towards their own goals. The formula is tried and true, but I’ve never really seen one of those games be as popular as Among Us is.
From what I can surmise, Among Us being as cheap as it is, available on the platforms it is, and existing in a world where people are in their homes more often than they aren’t and are desperate for human contact, were really the things that made Among Us a go to game for so many people. Streamers also helped immensely and that cannot be overstated. For as shitty as 2020 has been, it was the perfect set of circumstances for a game like Among Us to garner such a massive following. It did so well that the developers just straight up canceled the planned sequel they were making and decided to weave the new content into their surprisingly popular game.
Now to inject myself into this story. I played a little bit of Among Us with some friends on a handful of occasions, and it was fun. But it never felt like more than a novelty I could dip into once and a while, and certainly not at the rate that some other people play it. Aside from not falling head over heels for it, there was something weird to me about playing a game solely about lying to people you know. Now, I’ve played plenty of Jackbox games where I have to lie to people, but for every one game in a pack that’s about duping your friends, there’s four others that are about just knowing trivia or being the best at non sequiturs. Whenever the pressure of lying to people was too much, you could just pivot to something else. But Among Us is solely about lying to your friends and playing mindless mini-games. It’s fun for sure, but it just wasn’t something I wanted to play for more than a half hour at a time.
I think we kind of all knew that Fall Guys was gonna show up on this list. Fall Guys isn’t a bad game by any means, but it just felt like a game with no lasting appeal, which I mentioned back in the Gut Check from when the game released in August as a “free” PlayStation Plus game. The long and short of it was that to me, Fall Guys was kind of a one-note experience. Yeah seeing the little bean-people flop around and get flung through the air is fun, but it truly felt like a game that relied more on luck than anything else.
Although it’s in my favorite genre of games, the “wacky physics” genre that is, something about Fall Guys just never clicked for me. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it is a battle royale, a genre of game that I am truly tired of at this point. I exhausted my desire to play any battle royale back when PUBG was big, and never really felt compelled to play another game like it. While Fall Guys doesn’t have any guns or anything and is a different kind of battle royale altogether, it’s still a game solely about competing with other people, something that I feel less inclined to participate in as I get older.
There’s nothing wrong with Fall Guys, I actually think it’s a really neat concept. But in addition to me not digging the genre, a lot of the wind was taken out of my sails by the fact that the first game I managed to play, I won. That’s not some weird flex or anything, it’s just something that happened thanks to an accidental, yet helpful glitch. Within ten minutes of booting up the game for the first time, I was able to clinch a victory, effectively closing the book on my desire to keep playing. But Fall Guys is still going strong with consistent support and updates. In fact, their latest season released earlier this month and seems to be fairly popular, so good for you, Fall Guys.
Man, for a hot minute there I really tried to get into Blaseball but just could not. Blaseball is essentially fantasy baseball in a fantastical league where rules can change, referees and players can randomly die, super powers can be bestowed, and all manner of weird shit can happen. None of it is visually represented however, which might sound like a drawback, but it allowed for people to fill in those gaps for themselves with a ton of fan made artwork. In Blaseball you pick a team to follow based on little more than their name and home city. I chose to follow the New York Millennials, a team with a player named Dominic Marijuana on it. They were good… I think.
Honestly, the biggest drawback to Blaseball is how inscrutable and inaccessible it can feel to new spectators. For instance, I just checked the site for the first time in months, and all of the teams now have different names (UPDATE: They’re back to “normal”). I don’t have any idea what just happened, but apparently the weird “sport” got even weirder somehow. I’m having a really hard time describing what the fuck Blaseball actually is, and that’s kind of the problem.
Despite my best efforts to understand this spectacle, I eventually just bounced off of it because of how difficult it was to wrap my head around it. According to the website, I have 22,000 dollars, 6 tickets, and 10,000 peanuts. I can vote on rule changes with tickets, I can buy certain buffs and bet on the outcome of games with money, but I have no earthly idea what the peanuts do. I can however, purchase more peanuts with the money, or buy a squirrel to help me eat the peanuts. It’s shit like this that a wiki could probably explain pretty well, but I just do not have the desire to do that. But hey, Blaseball is going strong I suppose.
At some point this year, everyone really hopped aboard the Hades train and never got off. Well, maybe they got off, but not in a way that makes sense with this particular train-based metaphor. Look, Hades is an incredibly fun and well made rogue-like action game that has a bunch of different elements from other genres weaved into it, all of which it does incredibly well. It also blends storytelling with the rogue-like genre in an apparently very successful way. It’s a very good game by all accounts… except for maybe the people who just aren’t into rogue-likes.
While everyone was getting incredibly horny for the cast of Hades, I was giving it an honest shot in an attempt to see what all the fuss was about. And hey, even I thought it was good. The problem is that these kinds of games just don’t have any real staying power for me. I don’t find the rinse and repeat nature of rogue-likes to be particularly rewarding, so even in the face of a tremendous one of them like Hades, I still would rather just play a more traditionally structured game.
This has been day 2 of The Bonus World’s Game of the Year 2020 coverage. Check back on Thursday for another list about video games from this year.