Though something else topped my GOTY list, if I could pick one experience instead of one game, it would be the process of swapping back and forth between God of War Ragnarok and Pentiment. I watched more movies and played less games this year, but, as 2022 is coming to a close, playing these two games in tandem is reminding me why I love the medium.
In short, I love it because it contains multitudes. God of War and Pentiment are very different games that scratch very different itches, but they both are great examples of what games can be.
God of War is a couch game. It’s easy to just throw it on, kick back, and play for hours at a time without thinking about my back getting sore or whether I should really be doing something else. Pentiment is a chair game. I’ve been playing it on PC, which means that if I’m going to play it, I have to be in the same location where I sit all day for work. It really needs to engross me to make me forget that I’m tired of sittingand that I have to read a lot to get the most out of it. That’s a higher barrier of entry, but once Pentiment has me, it has me for hours.
God of War Ragnarok is an action game. It requires thought, but they’re the kinds of thoughts you think through before you realize you’re thinking them. Should I use the Blades of Chaos or the Leviathan Axe? Is it time to activate my Rage? My health is getting low, should I switch to Valor? Though it absolutely requires strategy to succeed in the game’s more difficult battles, that strategy tends to happen at the subconscious level. Advancing God of War’s story generally requires little thought, unless you want to go off the beaten path and solve the spatial puzzles required to open a runic chest or de-goo a blocked area.
Pentiment, meanwhile, is a game where you think hard by default. Playing it at all requires it, because the game is heavy on text and you need to internalize a lot of information in order to know what to do next. That includes small things like, “Who do you want to eat lunch with?” and big things like, “Who do you think committed the murder?” There are many ways to spend your days in this game and time is limited. To paraphrase Sid Meier, it’s a series of interesting choices.
The reason these games go well together is that each type of thinking is a useful antidote to the other. After hours of the low-level thinking that God of War requires, I sometimes want something that requires more from me. And, after exerting my brain while working to untangle Pentiment‘s knotty murder mystery, I sometimes want to shift down a gear and only think about how to smash stuff as efficiently as possible.
I want both kinds of game in my life. Playing this way is an antidote to the console war fanboy bullshit that is still way too prevalent in gaming circles. Somehow, my game of the year is an Xbox exclusive mixed with a PS5 exclusive. That’s fine. That’s gaming, baby.
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