2016 In Video Games

2016 has been a weird year for me. I really haven’t talked about it at all here and have only mentioned it in passing on Twitter, but I found myself unexpectedly sick back in February and my world got flipped upside down. In less than a year I’ve lost a lot of mobility and have to use a cane (and wheelchair for longer expeditions), I get sick almost constantly, and I ended up unemployed because I could no longer sit up long enough to work. It’s been a really rough and frustrating year, a year of adjustment and acceptance, a year of learning, and a year of escapism from my own limitations. And that escapism definitely came in the form of video games.

So in honor of my year of escapism into the virtual world while I dealt with personal things, I put together a list of my favorite video games of 2016 and some of the games I wish I had been able to play.

pokemon go

Pokemon Go

What is it: If you haven’t heard of Pokemon Go, you might want to check and see if you’re living under a rock. It’s the most popular mobile game of the year and has gotten so incredibly big that the game has even impacted laws in some cities and states. Basically, Pokemon Go is a GPS app on your phone that encourages you to catch Pokemon in real life. It’s created by Niantic, the same folks who created Ingress, who partnered up with Nintendo to bring us an augmented reality game for Pokemon trainers everywhere.

Why I love it: This game. Oh man this game. So this year was filled with doctor’s appointments and because I’m no longer able to drive due to illness, I had a lot of free time sitting in the car and in waiting rooms. This game kept me going. My husband would even help me de-stress after long afternoons of labs and tests and drive me slowly around nearby parks so I could catch Pokemon. The great thing about this game are the PokeStops and Gyms, which are usually around places where lots of people are. So we’d find one, put a lure on a PokeStop, and just sit there catching Pokemon together. It might sound silly, but it helped bring my husband and I some peace and quiet in otherwise very hectic year. We had “PokeDates” where we’d just get in the car, drive to the nearby park, and hold hands while we caught Pokemon and talked things out. Since I can’t walk much or do a lot of extracurricular things due to my illness, Pokemon Go helped me feel like I could still get out of the house and have fun. Having a mobile game like this that interacts so much with the outside real world is fantastic and I really love this game because of that.

abzu

Abzu

What is it: You might be familiar with Abzu if you’re fan of Matt Nava’s other works. He created the incredibly breathtaking adventure game Journey, which many reviewers called the best game of all time. When Nava left thegamecompany (the company behind Journey), he created his own video game studio, Giant Squid, and Abzu is the first game they’ve released. I like to describe Abzu as an introduction to guided meditation. Nava is a great fan of scuba-diving and has described it as “an extremely magical experience.” He used this inspiration to create Abzu, an adventure game that takes place entirely under the depths of a great and ancient ocean. You are an explorer, seemingly the only one of your kind, but as you discover more and more about your watery home, pieces of a complex puzzle start to take shape.

Why I love it: This is honestly probably my personal favorite of all the games I’ve played this year. There were a few times during this game that I just stared at the screen and watched the beautiful ocean life swim around me and I cried. I’ve honestly never played such a beautiful game. It’s gorgeous. Right down to the intense and moving music composed by Austin Wintory (also the composer behind Journey). There are points in each area of the game where you can actually meditate – it’s what they’re there for. Your character sits quietly on a large stone statue and watches as each species of fish (some current, some now extinct) gently move around you. It’s quick game too if you’re not a completionist like me, though the more things you find, the more the story comes together. There are no words in this game and for some that might be daunting, but for me, it was comforting. You get truly lost in this game and I highly recommend it to everyone. I’m looking forward to replaying this game again and seeing all the things I missed in the first pass.

pokemon sun and moon

Pokemon Sun and Moon

What is it: Yes, two Pokemon games. What can I say. For Pokemon fans, Pokemon Sun and Moon is one we’ve been waiting for FOREVER. Nintendo’s newest game in the Pokemon series breaks down the barriers of its predecessors and gives us a jam-packed new storyline, new pokemon, new characters, and a completely new gamestyle. Though the premise is the same – you play a pokemon trainer traveling the game world (Alola) catching pokemon and battling – this game shines with what makes it different from previous installments. Where once we had only a top-down view of most cities, now we have different camera angles. We have avatar customization to make for easier cosplaying (what? I can’t be the only one who thinks this). We even have closer, more responsible, pokemon care! There’s a reason this is the fastest selling game in Nintendo history.

Why I love it: I chose Moon (husband chose Sun) and I’m not even gonna lie. My favorite part of this game, other than the new character customization, is the ability to interact with your pokemon outside of battles. I LOVE brushing and petting and feeding my Rowlet. I feel like I’m back in Tamagotchi days or Neopets and this facet of the game just completely wins over my nostalgic side. It’s what I felt was missing in Pokemon. I also love Pokemon Sun and Moon for another reason that doesn’t particular have anything to do with the game. As an early Christmas gift, my best friend from college Kate got me the Nintendo 3DS Galaxy. I’ve never even had a 3DS before and when this one came out, I wanted it so much, so she and Jake surprised me with it while I was sick in bed. It’s been perfect since sometimes it’s super hard for me to sit up and play games on my other consoles. Jake bought me Pokemon Moon to go with it. It’s been my perfect bedside companion for the last few months.

overwatch

Overwatch

What is it: Several years ago, Blizzard was working on a game that lots of us were pretty stoked about. It was called Titan and was going to be their newest MMORPG and was said to be even bigger and better than World of Warcraft. And then they nixed it. Just POOF. Gone. I, at least, stopped thinking about it because by that point I was fading out of the WoW scene and was realizing just how much money I was putting into that game. So I quit. Then the Overwatch announcement came in 2014. And with it some familiar faces that we recognized from what we saw of Titan. But instead of an MMORPG, what we have now is a team-based first person shooter with a variety of diverse heroes to choose from.

Why I love it: I am the first to tell you I am NOT good at FPS games. I get vertigo and motion sickness very easily so FPS games are not easy for me to play (I tried very hard to play Destiny when Taken King came out this year but my lord that game made me sick despite who beautiful it was). But the battles in Overwatch are relatively short and I can play a handful of them before I can stop. And damn this game is FUN. You have so many fully-formed and established characters to choose from, ranging from distance support to up-close tanks, and it is just a blast to play. The fandom for this community is pretty incredible too. And Blizzard has done an amazing job with marketing and making the game accessible for everyone. While Abzu is my favorite game, I strongly believe Overwatch is the best game that has come out of 2016. It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s DIVERSE, and I LOVE so many of the friends I play with. (Special thanks to my friend Kristin for buying it for me for Christmas so I didn’t have to steal Jake’s computer to play!)

war and order

War & Order

What is it: War & Order is a mobile strategy/conquest/simulation game made by Camel Games. Basically it reminds me a lot of old Warcraft back in the day and there are tons of similar mobile games like it now. Basically you have a castle and city that you level up by kiling monsters, attacking other players, and collecting resources with the help of other players in your alliance (guild). W&O is very fantasy based so there are orcs, dragons, elves, and randomly spawning monsters and lots of events to motivate you and your alliance to gain power.

Why I love it: To be honest, I would never have looked at this game, except my friend Chloe is very convincing and got a bunch of us to make an alliance with her so she could catch up with her boyfriend (and steal the kingdom from him – we’re still working on that part). I couldn’t be more surprised with how much fun I am having with this game on my phone. It helps that most of us in our alliance are friends of Chloe so we’ve all become fast friends and talk constantly, both in game and out of it. We’ve become known as the friendliest guild in our realm and I’m kind of proud of that fact. We’ve only been doing this for a month or so but we’ve already got a bunch of new members and have made a lot of headway as a growing alliance (thanks to Rob). It’s a cool, social game to have on my phone and in a weird way, it gives me the same social satisfaction I used to get from my WoW guild back in the day. So thanks fellow TrashNoobs! You’ve been making the end of this year a good one.

Games I Wish I had Played

There were a ton of great games that came out in 2016 that I just didn’t have time to play. Here’s a quick list of my top picks that I’m hoping to get to in 2017.

  • Quantum Break: Jake played this game and it looked like so much fun and had such an interesting style and idea behind it. I loved watching him play and then seeing the “TV episode” that followed.
  • Firewatch: I have been mesmerized by the footage of this game. It looks so beautiful and the story sounds intriguing. This one is on my Steam wishlist and hopefully I’ll have time to playthrough it soon.
  • No Man’s Sky: I have been waiting for this game to come out forever. Jake bought it and played it a ton and then I ended up winning my own copy for the PS4. I know the reviews are mixed but it still looks gorgeous and I can’t wait till I have time to actually sit down and play it.
  • Uncharted 4: I feel like I’m running out of excuses to play these games. And with the release of Uncharted 4 I’m starting to feel like I’m missing out. Looking forward to playing catch up on this whole series.
  • The Last Guardian: Literally the only reason I’m not playing this already is money. Bad timing when it came out. But holy crap I have been wanting and needing this game forever. The previews already make me tear up and I can’t wait to full-blown cry over this story. SOON.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful year of video games. 2017 has a ton of new and exciting titles coming out (MASS EFFECT ANDROMEDA!!) and I’m really just looking forward to 2016 being over. I could use a fresh start. Happy New Year everyone!

n7day

Today is N7 Day and if you know me or have stuck around this blog in the couple of years, you’ll know this is something of a personal holiday for me (and many others I’m sure). I’ve written about N7 Day before, how I was led to Mass Effect and what the game and Commander Shepard mean to me. This year, Mass Effect made a pretty important impact on my life in a very big way.

I mentioned it in passing, but I haven’t actually written about the fact that I got married early this year. My husband is an incredibly patient and geeky man who also loves Mass Effect and all things Bioware (he’s the one who got me back into playing SWTOR again). Because we are both huge nerds, we got married on May 4th (Star Wars Day!) and had a small but geeky wedding with friends. Our themes? His was Star Wars (he wore a Star Wars tie, had his lightsaber on hand, and his cake was a life-size BB-8 cake that had sounds and a working lighter – I’ll post his side of the wedding later). Mine, of course, was Mass Effect and it was all over the place. Here are some of my favorite highlights (photos courtesy of our AMAZING and TALENTED photographer Mary Lynn).

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Mass Effect Wedding 03

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Mass Effect Wedding 07

Mass Effect Wedding 08

Mass Effect helped turn my life around in a time when I wasn’t doing the best. I was struggling to find purpose. Jake and I bonded over our love for video games and he is one of those people who understands the importance and power that a good story can have in someone’s life. He’s a writer, he knows this. So he has never batted an eye over my passion and connection with Mass Effect. He encourages it. He wasn’t surprised at all when I told him my theme for our wedding would be Mass Effect (and I, in turn, knew that he was going to choose Star Wars before he even told me). We get it. I tell him all the time that he’s my Garrus. “There’s no Shepard without Vakarian” is a phrase commonly heard in our household.

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Of course we had Mass Effect cosplayers at our wedding!

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My Squad. <3

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Me and my bestie Lee who is mostly to blame for this whole Mass Effect obsession. We are trying for our badass Shep faces here. **Trying.

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Garrus & Shep.

I’m so incredibly lucky that Mass Effect has impacted me so much and, in some ways, brought me together with the man I married. (I doubt I ever could have married someone who didn’t like Mass Effect.) He’s always 100% paragon and I’m always 100% renegade so we balance each other well. I’m so thankful to him and the many friends I have made because of this game. I love the Mass Effect/Bioware community. Thank you for giving me Shepard and a ship to call home (whether it’s the SR-1 or SR-2). This game, and these people, mean the galaxy to me.

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Handfasting with our Xbox controllers.

Today, Bioware is releasing news about their upcoming Mass Effect Andromeda title that is coming out in early 2017. I have been beside myself with joy at the idea of going back into space and becoming a new N7 officer, with new friends, new enemies, and new places to explore. I am at a new place in my life, and I’m curious to see how this new game impacts the new journey I am on. I know it’s going to be a good one. Bioware has never let me down and I can’t wait to see what they have in store.

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Happy N7 Day everyone!

Reflections of a Snailbird as We Head into 2016

Well this was a year of unforeseen life changes for yours truly. It was an incredible year and also one of the most heartbreaking. A lot happened, good and bad, but I think, overall, 2015 and I are on good terms. There was a lot more good than bad at least. Some highlights of my 2015:

  • Introducing Jake to snow (and my family)
  • Running Catan demos at SXGaming for Mayfair Games
  • Getting engaged to the love of my life
  • Attending SDCC and being nerds with a bunch of old & new friends
  • Seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time
  • Having my sister move in with us
  • Introducing my sister to the Atlantic Ocean for the first time
  • Seeing Star Wars and having it be GOOD
  • Getting to be home for Christmas for the first time in 6 years

And so many more. Overall, it was filled with amazing experiences. And as a person, I am vastly different from who I was in 2014. I am healthier, at least mentally (my physical health is always touch and go), and have managed to get my life together and organized and that in itself is a pretty big deal. I have a good family, a good job, and a good idea of where my life is going. I’m happy and decided to do a little reflecting on what I’ve learned this past year.

jikki

Reflection One: The Universe is Full of Surprises

2014 saw me entering into a relationship that completely changed my life for the better with a man of all people (first real relationship I’ve ever been in with a man (I thought I was a lesbian for years (I’m still not entirely convinced I’m not but I love him so))). 2015 saw the two of us getting engaged, driving across the country to meet tons of family, flying to California together for our first San Diego Comic Con, and becoming temporary parental figures to my fifteen year old sister. We’ve packed a lot of life into just a year and I am more in love with him now than ever before and I can’t wait to marry him. May 4, 2016 is going to be an amazing day. Not only is it Star Wars Day, but it’s our wedding day as well, and it’s going to be the geekiest wedding the Universe has ever seen.

I never saw myself getting into a relationship with a man. I NEVER saw myself marrying one. But the Universe brought Jake into my life when I needed him most and what I’ve learned from this is that I need to always keep my mind open to whatever the Universe brings into my life because It usually (always) knows better than I do. And the Universe likes surprises.

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Reflection Two: You’re Never Ready to Say Good-bye

June 1st I had to say good-bye to one of my favorite people in the entire world, and one of the most important: my Opa. It was hard and I wasn’t ready. The silver-lining is that it wasn’t a surprise and he told everyone he was ready to go. But it doesn’t make it easier. He had been a constant presence my entire life – he and my Oma were there for everything for me and I grew up with them. Ted Jeninga was always there with a smile and a joke and a plate of cookies and my heart still hurts so badly to know he is gone. This Christmas was the first time I was able to go home and it was a shock to my system for him not to be there when I walked through the door. It’s still hard to handle. I wasn’t able to go home for the funeral in June because I was still very sick (I was on short term disability from May till July and couldn’t leave the house except for doctors appointments) but my uncle read the memorial I wrote for him and I know it was a beautiful send-off.

But it still hurts. And even when you know it’s coming, you’re never ready to say good-bye to those you love. I still haven’t really accepted it yet that he’s gone and I’m not sure if I ever will.

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Reflection Three: You are Stronger Than You Know

I’ve gone through a lot in my life. I try to use what I’ve learned to help others. Sometimes, this comes back in very surprising ways. This year, it came back in the form of my fifteen year old sister. I won’t go into details because that is her story and only she can tell it, but back in October she came to live with Jake and I and her strength and dedication and willpower to get through all the things she’s been through has been inspiring. And I know she’s been surprising herself with her own strength. It’s been extremely hard for her, but she has pushed through and every day she is stronger and I am so proud of her.

Because of her, I’ve discovered a strength in myself. I go through moments where I’m scared I’m not enough to help her, but through her I am gaining control of my own fears and doubts and just like her, I’m surprised by how strong I am. A lot of it, for both of us, has to do with Jake, our rock, who has been there for both of us and has kept me sane through this whole thing. We don’t ever know how strong we can be until we are faced with difficult choices.

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Good-bye 2015, Hello 2016!

You guys, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more excited for an upcoming year. Yes, most of it has to do with the fact I’m getting MARRIED next year (almost four months now), but it also has to do with the fact that my life is on track now. Things are going well. For the first time, I’m not entirely in the dark about my own life. Stability is an amazingly underrated thing, and I feel very adult saying that. I love change, but I’m also a fan of having a solid foundation and I have that now. I’ve worked very hard to bring myself back up from a very very low period of time in 2014. So many things have happened this year and I am so grateful for where life has brought me. I don’t regret anything and I would never take anything back, but I feel I am lucky to have come back as well as I have. Things were good this year, despite the sickness and death and rough patches I had to deal with. I know 2016 will have rough patches too but I’m looking forward to it and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us all.

2016 is going to be a year of creativity, of building, of community and of stretching the limits of our imagination – it is going to be MY year and I can’t wait to get to work.

Happy New Year, Universe! I’m ready!