GOTY 2016: The Top 10 Games of the Year - #9
We're excited to announce the Silicon Sasquatch Top 10 Games of the Year! After months of discussion and a marathon five-hour meeting, we've finally narrowed down the ten games that we feel best represent the best and most important that 2016 had to offer.
#9 | Firewatch
Campo Santo | February 9th, 2016 | Windows, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
To explain what Firewatch means to me, and to demonstrate how it made our list, requires me to share my neuroses.
Apologies in advance!
I turned 30 in April. Then I got married. The previous year I bought a house and started a real career. My wife and I hope to have kids soon.
Firewatch shows me the life of a man not too dissimilar from mine; a married, flawed man, as I sometimes see myself. To be fair, we all feel flawed in some way — though I, for deeply internal reasons, worry I’m not good, or strong, or capable enough to succeed.
Henry is the man I hope I’m not, but worry I am.
We meet Henry at the start of his Wyoming summer, the new custodian of a fire lookout tower in the wilderness. I immediately recognize his escape to the woods as a reflection of my own in the summer of 2010. Back then I took a job as a Boy Scout camp cook in central Oregon, partly because I needed work after a year-and-a-half of unemployment, and partly because I felt useless and scared about my place in the world. I was lucky to have my then-girlfriend (and future wife) as my best friend and emotional support, but I — a boy raised to be a fairly typical man — felt emasculated with no direction or purpose. I needed to get away from the endless post-college job searching and the disappointing career prospects and just...be in the woods.
While it’d be a bit melodramatic to project my mid-twenties onto a fictional character whose wife, Julia, suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s, the game's narrative forces players to express feelings and actions of inadequacy. In my personal life I can play the victim, and will occasionally assume the worst about who I am just so I get ahead of actually disappointing friends or loved ones. Henry, as I played him, was the manifestation of my worst-case scenarios.
As a game, Firwatch doesn’t do much beyond giving the player beautifully rendered waypoints to walk to or take pictures of with your in-game disposable camera. It’s a game as much as a Nickelback album is music. I don’t begrudge anyone who checks out a clip on YouTube or reads a review and passes on the basis that it looks boring, even elitist — it really does come off as self-serious, introspective drama. I wouldn’t be surprised if developer Campo Santo said it was based on a daytime movie.
Despite its shortcomings, Firewatch hits hard for me, and maybe for those of you who’ve started a family; those who have a wife, husband or partner and worry that you’ll be a good friend, spouse and provider. It challenges you to live with the actions of a man who, on one hand, comes off as a complete bastard, and on the other might just be scared and can only run away from himself, even if that means abandoning his sick wife. Who are we to judge?
The choices Henry makes — as told by the dialogue you choose to share with his boss Delilah over the summer — are recognizably human. Dramatic, yes — but human, and real, and worth experiencing. For Henry to air his faults, fears and flaws is to confront them with sincerity. To play Firewatch as a husband and hopeful future father is to experience the messiness of true love; and yet, Henry demonstrates that inner strength can be found through brutal honesty with one's self. Firewatch taught me a bit about empathy, which I can't say about many games.
Firewatch paints Wyoming as a beautiful landscape to explore, limited as it is. However, the game will be remembered most for the internal journey it puts its players on. And I’m so glad, as I embark on many new and wonderful chapters of my own life, that I was able to wrestle with and overcome the worst chapters of Henry’s for a handful of hours.
Despite all my fears and anxieties, I credit Firewatch with reminding me that I’m a better man than the one I roleplayed. — Aaron Thayer