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Gita Jackson's Top 10 Games of 2015

Match 3 co-host, Critical Distance blogger of the year, and video game fashion/furniture expert Gita Jackson tells us which games meant most to her in 2015.

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Gita Jackson is a nice girl who likes dating sims, cats, black lipstick, and weird old man cocktails. She’s the assistant editor for the Comedy section at Paste Magazine, which is pretty cool? She’s on a podcast with her friend Sam Phillips and some other guy, and she wrote some shit about death that made a lot of people cry this one time. Anyway, follow her on Twitter.

10. Massive Chalice

I often tend to like games that are more interesting than good. I find Massive Chalice in many way pretty frustrating: the difficulty spikes quite swiftly, and it’s super easy to fuck yourself hard and not notice for 50 in-game years. But the way this game allows you to shape a legacy over a period of many centuries just fascinates me. In the end it left me wanting more of that--more ways to build and shape the kind of kingdom I wanted to construct--but I enjoyed it regardless. It felt very much “for me,” in ways that not a lot of games really do. I like turn based strategy, I like interesting fantasy settings that get away from the trappings of elves and dwarves, and I certainly like being a ruler. That it exists makes me happy, even if I can feel what it’s missing every time I play it.

9. Neko Atsume

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I love cats. I spend a lot of time looking at cat adoption websites. I follow FosterKittens on Instagram. This is a passive iPhone game about collecting as many cats as possible. There’s not a lot to it--you put out some food and some toys, wait a little while, and then come back to yard full of cats--but it’s probably the closest I’ll get to having a big pile of kitties for a while. Neko Atsume is probably the best of this kind of iPhone game. It’s packed with personality and really doesn’t ever require you to spend money. Plus, you know, ~ c a t s ~.

8. The Sims 4

Playing The Sims is like eating a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. It just always comforts me. When I was young, The Sims was the kind of game that girls were "allowed" to like, and it’s disappointing to me that it’s still pretty gendered. I know the idea of a dollhouse is traditionally feminine, but like a lot of the games on this list, The Sims is really just about making stories. My favorite thing to do in The Sims is to make a family and then play as their descendants until I get bored, creating a long, long family tree in an increasingly extravagant house. It isn’t too dissimilar to what I do in Massive Chalice, Dwarf Fortress, or even something like Fallout 4. In a time when games are asking players to find their own fun, and are respecting the ways in which different players like to play, The Sims has always kind of just been explicitly about that. The thing that makes a dollhouse so desirable is that it’s empty, and it’s yours to fill. The Sims 4 took away a lot of the density of The Sims 3, but I appreciate its new, cartoonish and expressive art style, its mood system, and frankly, how much easier and faster it is to make some Sims, build a house, and just start playing. There's never been a better time to try The Sims. You might just like it.

7. Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

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Speaking of dollhouses--I know that this game is repetitive and shallow, but I just love it. All you ever do in this game is decorate houses for clients that have specific style requests, but they’re open ended enough that you don’t often feel railroaded into making something you don’t like. Besides, as far as I can tell, there’s no way to really fail. Something that I really appreciate about the Animal Crossing series is that its end goal is to make the player feel happy. Yes, it’s repetitive, but these rote tasks are so calming. Designing houses, stores, and hotels became an evening ritual for a month or two, not just because the library of furniture, wallpaper, and other decorations are broad enough that you can actually develop a “style” as an interior designer, but because I always knew that I was going to make my client happy. There’s room, I think, to celebrate a game that wants to provide you the satisfaction of a job well done. In life, we don’t always get that feeling.

6. Siren for Hire

I met Maddy Myers years before I ever considered writing about games professionally, and she had already been doing it for many years. Siren for Hire, not her first game but her most expansive one, speaks to that experience. It’s a touching twine game about Sailor Moon-esque super heroines that are down on their luck. I see my own experiences as a freelancer in this, I see shades of what it’s like to be a visible professional woman. Ultimately, it’s about the confluence of all the garbage women in this industry are forced to deal with--resenting our audience, the older writers who paved the path for us, the young writers that come after us, our peers, our work, ourselves--and trying to find ways to finally let all that resentment go. No matter how Maddy seems to you, or what she might tell you, she’s really a big softie. It’s why she’s still here. It’s why we’re all still here. Even in an industry that sometimes treats us badly, we still really, really care. Maddy if you’re reading this, and you probably are, know that I love you, and I love that you still care, despite everything.

I liked Siren for Hire so much I made a Spotify playlist for it. I only do that for things that really move me.

5. Undertale

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I don’t like every part of Undertale (I don’t like bullet hell), but the things I do enjoy I absolutely love. It’s understandable that it has a passionate and outspoken fanbase--Undertale tries to appeal to your humanity in its every breath. Toby Fox has made a lovely little game that is desperately asking you to be a nice person, to realize that everyone you talk to, online and off, is a human with wants and needs, and to remember that even the people that you might initially hate have hopes, dreams and desires. It’s a hard world to live in. It’s very easy to get cynical. Undertale doesn’t want you to give up, and I cherish its optimism.

4. Cibele

I played Cibele at two in the morning and then immediately had to write a review of it and part of me thinks that is the best way to experience this game. It is so much like a series of diary entries that journaling right after you play it can help you process the deeply intimate feelings it brings up. Cibele is a game about first love and the internet. It’s not an easy story, mostly because it is obvious from the start how stories like this end. It’s clumsy in parts, and maybe overly earnest, but those weaknesses are also its strength. It’s honest in a way that games are usually not. I don’t know if this game is really for everyone, but Cibele represents what is possible in games, and how games can tell a streamlined, personal story, and how important those stories can be at two in the morning when you remember the way that first heartbreak felt.

3. Dwarf Fortress

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Dwarf Fortress is ruining my fucking life. It’s all I can think about sometimes: the industries I want to get into, the improvements I can make to my defenses, the little dwarves that I’m waiting to grow up so I can turn them into tanners and soapmakers and soldiers. It’s a dense game with a lot of moving parts you have to juggle all the time, and it’s very, very easy to drop six or seven hours into it without noticing. It’s just got every niche thing that I love about games. I get to meticulously design my fortress with an eye for aesthetics and efficiency, I get to keep an eye on the characters as they live their lives, I need to carefully observe the economics and trade. And occasionally I butcher 20 puppies to prevent overpopulation and turn their leather into armor. More importantly, I like the way that it contextualizes failure. In a way, failure is the point of the game. There really isn’t a way to "win" Dwarf Fortress--these dwarves were born to die, and will, often in a way you didn’t expect. The legacy of your failed fortress is as much a part of the game as managing all these fucking dwarves. If I can be extremely dark, it’s kind of putting me at ease about the idea of death. Everyone dies. That’s part of the deal we all were handed. You might as well live the best you can. And have a moat. Having a moat will help.

2. Love Live! School Idol Festival

This is the most garbage thing I can’t stop playing. It’s cheap, it’s unfair, it’s translated questionably, it’s pandering to my love of cute anime girls and I hate that it knows everything I like. It’s a rhythm game! It’s a collectible card game! It has bad, but catchy, anime music! All the girls are really cute and they have a lot of fucking outfits! It has special events so I better log in every goddamn day so I don’t miss any! Love Live has truly optimized the sleazy iPhone game model (I have spent an embarrassing amount of money on this game and my friend bought me a Nozomi Tojo nendoroid), but it doesn’t feel soulless. The point of collecting the trading cards of school idols is to get to know these girls. Each action you make, each song you play or event you participate in, gives you another glimpse into their lives. Even if it’s trying really, really hard to make me spend money, it’s still about making friends and liking people. I’m a sucker for that shit. Having friends is cool, it turns out. Liking things earnestly is pretty great, actually.

1. We Know the Devil

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If I had played this game when I was sixteen, it would have changed my life. Let me get personal for a second: I was a sad teenager. I thought I was a bad, ugly person and that I didn’t deserve happiness. Not an uncommon story, especially for young women or marginalized people, but not an easy thing to live through. We Know the Devil is about teenagers like that, people who are still figuring themselves out, who are self absorbed enough to always be thinking about the things they hate about themselves. It’s also about how hard it is to maintain real friendships when you’re like that, how hard it is to be honest to the people you love, or to give those same people room to talk about how they’re feeling. It’s a short visual novel that I immediately played five times over--once to get the ending for each character, and then the secret ending twice in a row. If We Know the Devil is trying to say anything, it's that you deserve to love yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you. The things you think make you weird or unlovable actually make you more powerful than everyone that puts you down. The Devil loves you, and He won’t abandon you, and the curse He gave you was actually a gift. You know Him. You know Him because even if no one else loves you, He always has, and always will. Remember that. You’re always loved.