Don't Get Mad About Year-End Lists

By Gus Mastrapa in Pretension +1
Friday, December 3, 2010 at 9:00 am
The year is coming to an end and its just about time to start looking back. Websites of all kinds will publish comprehensive lists of the best and worst of everything we've experienced this year. Aficionados will compile their own lists. And once these lists have been aired and shared there will be a small, vocal group of people who will get their panties twisted into a nut-crunching bunch over said lists. To these people I offer this remedial advice: please chill out. Don't let these lists ruin your weird little life.

There's a better way to consume lists. Rather than bust a blood vessel every time a list snubs your favorite game try my approach to enjoying year-end lists. I promise my technique will make you happier person and (ask your friends) about ten million percent more fun to be around.

Just to make sure we're all on the same page let's make sure we're speaking the same language. Year end lists are opinion, not fact. They can't be right or wrong. Sure, a list of the best videogames of the year that doesn't include Red Dead Redemption (ease back, Rockstar hater) could be considered in poor taste. But it wouldn't be wrong. So there's no reason to call the journalism police, insist that a particular critic be fired and blacklisted. We're just sharing opinions here. And some folks, strangely, find the opinion of people who play dozens upon dozens of games a year somewhat valuable.

I find myself writing lists at the end of the year. It's my job. I usually contribute to a handful of different lists, casting votes for my favorite blockbuster videogames and under-appreciated indie gems. It's a fun process to be a part of.

I also find myself consuming similar lists every year. For example, Decibel -- a magazine about heavy metal -- just published their year-end list. And as a born-again metal head I love these kinds of lists, because they're a fabulous way to get turned on to new music. Decibel picked "Marrow of the The Spirit" by Agalloch as the best metal album of the year. Though I'm nowhere near as versed in the genre as the magazine's editors I tend to agree. The record is amazing. 

Here's the best part. Their number two slot is occupied by a record I don't own -- "Lawless Darkness" by the notorious Swedish black metal band Watain. I've been curious about the band, considering the crazy things they do on stage. So its very likely that Decibel's list will inspire me to go to Amazon and download the record.

I could spend my time fuming that records that I like, such as this year's offerings from Torche and Kylesa aren't higher on the list. But that's not a very constructive conversation. 

Of course video games aren't quite like music. Fewer games are released every year. So many top ten charts tend to look alike. We'll see a lot of the usual suspects popping up in top tens. That's okay too. Consensus isn't a bad thing, especially when we're all sampling from the same shallow pool.

I do, though, try to push for smaller, weirder games to make it into top ten lists. Last year I championed the weird Noby Noby Boy because I thought it was an incredibly freshing game. Of course I had to let a well-reviewed game fall by the wayside in exchange. I'm okay with that. Because most games that are shoe-ins for year-end top tens have already been rewarded with decent sales. That's another thing that separates games from other art forms.

Critically acclaimed music and movies tend to have small audiences. Well-reviewed games are much more often rewarded with good sales. One could call this a shortcoming of video game criticism. We're not sniffing out the real art amongst the high-quality commercial work. I'd argue that videogames just aren't that mature yet. The art and product, the indie expressions and the corporate creations still feel intermingled, like layers of water and oil that haven't quite settled yet. 

So now that we've settled on the idea that getting angry about a year-end list is a bad idea what about the next step? How can you, the reader and videogame fan become a part of the conversation? As veteran of many lists I can tell you that the cheapest way to join the discussion is to dash off the comment, "Where's Game X?" That's little more than website graffiti. If you've got a game you mean to champion here's your chance to make your case. You don't have to run your ideas past an editor. You don't even have to sign your name to it. So take your time and write something interesting -- something that's going to convince me that fans of Game X know what they're talking about.

I know its tough. Many gamers are wrapped up in console turf wars. I can already tell that the PlayStation 3 crowd will feel like they've been snubbed this year. Gran Turismo 5, being a late year entry and a game with an increasingly narrow appeal, won't make a ton of lists. Relax. You guys had Uncharted 2 last year. The Xbox faithful will probably be ticked that Halo: Reach, which was more of the same, won't always enjoy a spot on many lists. And the Nintendo crowd will, of course, be appalled that there are people on the planet who don't think that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the single greatest achievement of mankind. 

To you folks with your pitchforks and torches at the ready, I urge you to stand down and relax. You already know what your favorite game was this year. Rather than get mad and spew bile in the comments take a deep breath and open your mind. You might just get turned on to your new favorite game.

Pretension +1 is a weekly column by Gus Mastrapa that aims to change the way we think and talk about videogames. It's a lofty goal, but you can't blame him for trying.

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