Things I Liked: 2021
Okay, so I wasn't going to make this. There's a lot of complicated reasons why, but let's get the preamble first: It's very cool to know and be a part of a community that is so welcoming to some random person on the internet like me that shows up saying that No Mans Sky actually sucks ass now. It really breaks through the myth that YouTube is full of people stepping on others to get to the top like some kind of horrific Renaissance painting. Instead it's people vibing out and making cool things and helping everyone out with stuff.
It's this that actually fuels my hesitancy. If I collate a list of Things that I liked this year, then surely any omissions from the list means that I Didn't Like The Thing. This is, of course, nonsense. It's just that there are so many Things now, that it's basically impossible to have a list of Things That You Liked and not have omissions. So it's armed with that knowledge that we venture into the darkness. Although I guess a better metaphor would be into the light. Y'know, of cool things that I liked this year. Anyway.
Another Minute Remaining by HotCyder
Oh here we go. Look at this right here, literally the first thing you recommend is something you were a part of. Unbelievable! What's going on?
Well, maybe. But what better way to continue this sentiment of community than by giving mention to a video that was largely created by the community? Another Minute Remaining is a collaboration between 60 different creators, each given a single minute in the spotlight to talk about whatever they want - and I mean whatever they want. From Bullet Chess, to Brian David Gilbert to a game of Super Smash Bros. Melee that lasts a single minute (you're welcome), Another Minute Remaining is a rapid-fire journey into the minds of its many creators.
But it wouldn't have been possible without the person who curated it. Somehow, HotCyder managed to make it all work, managed to bring order to the chaos of 60 different voices talking about 60 different subjects and weave it into something that flows with coherency and structure. Honestly, the idea of sending a single Discord DM to someone freaks me out, so I have no idea how he managed to send 60.
HotCyder himself runs a channel that is fastly becoming one of my favourites - a particular merit I want to highlight is how he can take absurd subject matter, from the idea of a Wario-like to the idea of Tetris-but-with-faces and still talk about it with a level of care and respect that I would simply not be able to do myself with a straight face. It's genuinely hilarious and wild how people don't talk about it more.
Queer Fantasy | Finding Your True Self in Cyberspace by Transparency
Okay first of all, I'm sure I'm not alone here but I'm just going to say it. I took me like 6 months to realise that Transparency is a pun on Transgender. I don't know what I was doing at the time, I was probably scrolling through Twitter or something when I saw one of their tweets and was like "hmm.. Transparency... Tra.... Trans... tra.... oh for fuck sake!"
A great strength of video essays is their ability to provide empathy - to put yourself in a situation or see a point of view that you had not considered before. So I can say that I am not a trans person and have never had to live a life as someone else in an MMORPG. Whenever I created my character, or at least, a character that I believed to represent myself, I would always choose a male character with brown hair who looks like they haven't had enough sleep. But for closeted trans people, this might not be the case.
Transparency's video on the subject is an interesting insight into the idea of an online identity where you can be whoever you want to be and express yourself in a way that you might not be prepared to do in real life just yet. When I watched it, there was just something that clicked with me, not necessarily in a gender-affirming way, but in an "oh, holy shit, yeah that totally makes sense" way.
The channel of Transparency itself, comprised of two Swedish trans women, has many other great videos that do a fantastic job at deconstructing and rejecting the idea of the "gamer" and is a channel that is incredibly refreshing from a perspective of a cis male such as myself.
Descent and Ascent in Dark Souls, Hellblade, Dear Esther and Celeste by Pixel a Day
Okay, this one is a bit of a personal inclusion but it's my website so I can do whatever I want. This video came out around the time when I was taking this "writing" thing a bit more seriously and started to pay attention to nerd shit like structure and pacing and stuff, and then this video from Kat comes out and, let me tell you, I am upset.
The idea for the video alone is incredible, but it's also backed up by some excellent writing from Kat and I feel hopeless. Structuring a video around descension and ascension and then having the video also mirror that structure is genuinely a masterclass in how you can structure a video essay.
If you're starting out or thinking about making videos, I implore you to watch this one and study it. It really was the moment that hit me in terms of how you can structure a video to tell a compelling story. I know this is nerd shit that nobody cares about, but, like I said, it's my website.
Beyond that, Kat runs an equally smart and insightful channel (when she's not covering games that I intend to play but haven't got round to yet so can't watch 😔). These range from full-blown critiques of particular video games to shorter, more focused videos on topics that you probably haven't thought of before, such as what it truly means to die in a video game. Great stuff.
How Umurangi Generation Tells a Story by Static Canvas
Tom from Static Canvas is a creator that I think is overlooked a little bit, even in this small circle that we have. Static Canvas feels like a series of videos that harken back to the days of YouTube before three-hour long critiques of video games that breaks down every little thing and instead, getting in there with the thin brush and focusing on a more central point to capture the detail.
It's not complicated, but it's also not pretentious. Tom goes in, makes the point he wants to make, then gets out. If I was incredibly wanky, I'd describe his analysis as poetic. I think the best example of this in action is his video on Umurangi Generation - a game that can be interpreted far beyond the actions that you actually take, beyond the base gameplay mechanics.
If I were to recommend you a channel that does an excellent job at talking about games beyond the game itself, then I think this would be the one.
Making Fighting Games Accessible by Darkfry
That's right fuckers, you thought it was going to be the Dark Souls video, but no. Heh heh.
Darkfry is someone who I'm sure is on the minds of a lot of people on YouTube at the moment. His unique presentational style and sense of humour is something that you won't find elsewhere and is something that has only got more refined as he has progressed. This came to a head with his "Designing Dark Souls Easy Mode" video which challenged a lot of the conceptions and arguments around the tiresome topic and, in my opinion, proves to be the last word on the subject. It's filled with insightful and respectful analysis.
But, if you'll allow me to introduce some controversy to this post about how cool people are, it did make me worry Darkfry was venturing a bit too far on the other side and, in the process, losing a little bit of what made his original focus on whacky humour so compelling.
It turns out I was just flat out wrong and Darkfry is so powerful, he can do whatever he wants. His video on making fighting games accessible for new players is the perfect mix of analysis akin to his Dark Souls video, while bringing some incredibly good bits that would feel right at home with his classics.
The PixelLit Podcast by Kevin the Arcadeologist and Phil the Conquistadork
Right, so I'm going to be honest with you, when I first saw the idea of a podcast that was about video game novelisations, I thought it was a terrible idea. I did not under any circumstances expect it to be one of my favourite things this year.
Because video game books are bad, right? I mean come on! I read an Assassins Creed book when I was like twelve and thought it was cool as shit at the time, but if I read it today, I'd probably think it's terrible. An entire podcast dedicated to that sounds like it would just be a consistent beatdown and trashing. If you're here for something like that, then I'm more than happy to stream my online games of Age of Empires 4 instead.
But like, trust me on this one. This is not that. PixelLit is the perfect storm of its hosts gelling wonderfully together, providing entertaining and hilarious commentary while also giving the source material the respect that it deserves.
Sometimes you can tell a particular book has been written under some not-so-great circumstances and yet Phil and Kevin never punch downward. In a similar vein, it turns out there are some genuinely great video game novelisations out there and you can really feel the energy and enthusiasm from both of them when they cover such books.
They also thankfully don't shy away from injecting themselves into the mix. Kevin and Phil bounce off each other so well in a way that you can tell they've known each other for years. Equally, they don't shy away from critiquing the subject matter of the novelisations. Their series on Bioshock Rapture in particular has been enjoyably ruthless in their criticism of Objectivism.
PixelLit seems to be quite a hard thing to sell and if you're reading this, you've very likely heard of it already, but like, if you're put off in any way by the subject matter, don't be! Please, give it a shot. You won't regret it. It's completely turned around my thoughts on video game novelisations. Start with Halo if you're unsure.
I'm not really sure how to end this, except to echo the worries I had at the start. In making this list, I am omitting many other videos and pieces of work that I also loved. That's just the nature of things I suppose, but I just want to make it clear that I don't hate any of you who aren't on this list. Except from you. Yeah, you. You know who you are.
Aside from that, if you're making things, then please do not stop that. It is a very cool thing to do.