PopMatters Top 20 Games of 2011

Well, PopMatters put up their list of top 20 games of 2011. I was a proud participant in their first ever end of year list for games. Back in December G. Christopher Williams put out an email that we were doing this and despite it only coming out recently all the decisions and blurb writing was completed obstinately before the new year. It was done by having all of us listing our favorite games of the year in order and our editor did some voodoo math to come out with this list. First thing I said out loud upon seeing it: “This list makes no f-ing sense.” Yep, self censor and everything.

For reference here’s the list:

20. Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars
19. Dead Island
18. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
17. Battlefield 3
16. Mortal Kombat
15. Shadows of the Damned
14. Gears of War 3
13. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
12. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
11. Batman: Arkham City
10. Fate of the World
09. Assassin’s Creed Revelations
08. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
07. Dragon Age 2
06. Inside a Star-filled Sky
05. Dead Space 2
04. L.A. Noire
03. Catherine
02. Portal 2
01. Bastion

Again, I say, this list makes no f-ing sense. It doesn’t look like any other lists out there, but that’s not what bugs me. Nor is it that a number of these games wouldn’t be anywhere near my top games of 2011 list. Or the order of certain games. I can totally understand Dragon Age 2 over Skyrim, especially knowing who works at the Moving Pixels blog. I can also get past the fact that Driver: San Francisco was completely overlooked. After all I hadn’t gone on my promoting spree across 4 different sites yet. No, I don’t really have an issue with the list, it’s just really really weird. Logic doesn’t seem to enter into the equation and I end up thinking more about how on earth this came together rather than feeling any unique voice to the site and the culture it embodies.

That’s not entirely true of course. Like I mentioned before the Dragon Age 2 above Skyrim speaks volumes on our priorities. That both blurbs were written by Mattie Brice just adds to it. Catherine coming in third also says something, what I’m not sure. Portal 2 and Bastion are both rather conventional picks for top honors, because they totally deserve them, so it’s what comes after that speaks to our collective tastes. Honestly, a big shocker to me was Fate of the World coming in at #10. It deserves to be there, but I don’t know anyone other than Jorge Albor and myself who have actually played it. Either a small group put it extra high or a lot of people just haven’t mentioned it.

I think what throws this off, is not the unconventional picks for top honor, nor certain absentees that have been noted in the comments. They explained why they weren’t there in the podcast about this list (no one on staff had played them yet). It’s the rhetorical order of them. Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars coming in at #20 makes sense in looking it over, doubly so for the average reader. It’s an indie game they’ve never heard of at the very bottom of the list. No one is going to complain. It’s conventional to squeeze something in at the bottom. Dead Island speaks to what we as a staff thought of it, not that great, but solid enough. Then you smack the reader with Skyward Sword at #18. Ok, even fanboys have to admit there has been backlash against the game recently. Any fanboy complaints will take that into account in their screeds. But the reader is reeling at the surprise of seeing it so low on the list. Then Battlefield 3 comes in, followed by Mortal Kombat and Shadows of the Damned. Were these three games on anyone’s talking list for GotY. Then we go back to conventions, strong AAA end of year releases not quite as good as their predecessors. The logic behind them where they are makes sense. It’s understandable. Then a minor quibble with Batman. You can see how maybe this group didn’t think it was the bees knees like other sites did. But it’s ahead of other action games, it’s still in relation to other games that are comparable and it makes sense. Then you throw Fate of the World in their face, a game I can guarantee they’ve never heard of. It’s in the top 10 what the hell. Above all these other critically acclaimed games that I have heard of. This threw me through a loop because I didn’t know any of my fellow writers even knew of it. The Critical-Distance editors sure didn’t. The Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, generally considered the worst in the series. It could be accepted and understood in relation to other titles if they weren’t still reeling from Fate of the World. Oh Skyrim, thank you Skyrim familiar territory…Dragon Age 2 what the hell!!! Again an argument I think could have been made and understood if not agreed with were it not for the reeling still going on.

Inside the Star-filled Sky…ok I think you’ve broken our dear reader. He wont make much fuss, but it’s getting a little awkward with him just sitting there. What makes it doubly weird, it’s only the third indie game on the list. Were it more populated with smaller, flash, downloadables etc one could understand the mindset of the people behind it. They like indies over the AAA cheeseburgers. The reader puts himself in a different mindset expecting something else. They expect artsy fartsy stuff they’ve never heard of, but now might try. Instead they’re in a AAA mindset with levels of story being their driving factor as evidenced by Dragon Age 2 over Skyrim, but wait Mortal Kombat is in there and Battlefield 3. Ok he’s drooling now. Dead Space 2.

Once said reader has stopped hopping up and down to a chorus of “that came out last year?” It’s another head-scratcher as it was forgotten and to be this high doesn’t meld with the lists narrative from previous Action titles that came before. Then L.A. Noire, which works on a list where story is king, but such a list this is not. Catherine, while it says a lot coming from the top on down, is dumbfounding coming in the other direction. It’s not just that the list doesn’t conform to other people’s opinion, it’s that it doesn’t seem to conform to an internal logic of priorities of the people making said list. (I stop here because Portal 2 and Bastion make all kinds of sense, though it’s a little late for the reader’s faculties.) Artistic statements mixed with story priority games, next to message games, next to riproaring B movie action games, world building and character building all in the top 10.

Said reader was me when I first read this list. Some choices were baffling all on their own, but it’s the lack of any internal logic to what the staff prioritized as personal preferences in picking particularly pleasant play proceedings to present to the petulant people. Hence what I meant when I said it made no f-ing sense. Of course the blurbs don’t really help in this regard as they only explain what we liked about the game and not in how it relates to the rest of the list. I don’t think we could have done that anyway, because this isn’t anyone’s list really. Maybe that makes for a better site to see such diversity.

Of course, what I’m really saying is I would love to see the math that led to this. There has got to be an interesting story or two in there. I meant to ask back in December, but then the Critical-Distance projects took over so that idea got pushed aside. Take a gander at what we had to say about each game. I had the privilege of making my case for Fate of the World and Portal 2. Oh yeah, and Mike Schiller wrote one hell of an intro to the whole thing.

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