To mitigate the utter misery of 2020, we here at Chooch have deliberated over the need of adding more positivity to our Game of the Year programming, especially for this year in particular: This year will mark our debut of For the Win Award, a moral counterpart to the evil twin that is our WTF Award (aka Agumon for Smash Award).
Despite all the hiccups and hurdles, and in the adversity of endless bullshit, there actually was still good happening in games! As small as these achievements may be, this is but a stark, hopeful reminder that many out there are continuing to do work to hopefully make great changes in the industry, for both gamers and developers alike.
Given that this is a newly introduced award that deserves a more subjective, unconventional approach compared to our other other ones, For the Win is free from the restraints of rankings and we have decided to highlight multiple noteworthy things in conversation. There is not a single loser here—only winners!
ITCH.IO’S EPIC BLM BUNDLE, LABOR ORGANIZATION PROGRESS, IMPROVEMENT OF ACCESSIBILITY SETTINGS
John: In a year of absolute disasters, it was a treat to see a few bits of good news. I’d say all three of these things are positives without any hesitation.
Elvie: Even as we are already in 2021 when we look back on this, many elements of all of these things are still ongoing too: there continues to be efforts made around improving the visibility of Black developers and personalities, upcoming games are now being more flexible to public feedback and testing across different needs before releasing, and multiple industries—specifically in the tech industry if we’re talking anything adjacent to games—are making small, but major strides in labor organization.
Christine: It’s been nice to see, people taking bad circumstances and building something great out of it. Instead of games dying, they are suddenly thriving away from the toxicity of the managers that kept teams held back. Companies are suddenly giving importance to building out accessibility features that finally are making it so that games actually can live up to the promise of being for everyone.
John: That’s right. I mean, we all talked trash about TLOU2 this year, and it was very well deserved, but we all can agree that it has some incredible accessibility options and that everyone should copy them. But that’s it. Don’t copy anything else, please.
Christine: Oh god, I am 100% with you there. And with being the one who reviewed the dumpster fire that was Watch Dogs: Legion, I will say, the one complaint I don’t have is with it’s accessibility. I was able to tweak things to just how I needed it to make life a little bit easier for me. Ubisoft for having such a terrible year, at least they are one of the front runners when it comes to accessibility. I need more of that, especially having to deal with either no filter options or poorly implemented ones a lot of games have. I should not have to download shader programs other people make to be able to enjoy your games to the fullest.
John: I feel like after 2020, if your game doesn’t have better accessibility options, it should get points off or something. Get with the times.
Speaking of the times, it did feel like 2020 was constantly draining with regards to social justice and politics, but there were times where folks came together for just straight up good causes, and the Black Lives Matter itch bundle was a highlight this year. Sure, nobody will ever play all those games, but the fact that that’s a problem is in of itself a good thing. So many people were willing to throw their hat into the ring and add onto the bundle was heartwarming.
Elvie: The itch.io bundle was also a great reminder that well…itch.io exists. Something I’m hoping for further down the road is that smaller, independent spaces like itch.io become part of the bigger conversation given the dominance of storefronts like Steam and the Epic Games Store—spaces that undeniably push out AAA titles first and foremost. I’ve noticed the community on itch.io has been growing, especially as of late, as more people are becoming interested in games development even on a very molecular level. It’s not surprising that as games were being so sought after and even selling out as even non-gamers were seeking to develop the hobby in the middle of a pandemic, that people were even starting to think about making their own games. Some of these new folks entering the scene may never really seek out to work in games professionally in the long run (like, itch.io hosts zines!), but the idea of games being accessible from both a player standpoint AND a creator’s perspective as another medium to play around with have been both recurring positive themes that came out of 2020.
Christine: Yeah, I’ve been a huge fan of itch for a long time, just based on the kind of weird niche things I can find there. And seeing a massive group of people from all forms of media all band together for an amazing cause was great. Comics, tabletop games, light novels, and every kind of video game you could imagine all being part of this massive thing was a great feeling. It felt like a cultural moment of people really coming together to do everything they could to do something good and I loved it. I don’t need the big AAA space to fill my gaming needs, what I have is a beautiful collection of everything under the sun that I’ve been digging into for months and feeling good every time.
John: I absolutely need to jump back into that. I’m awful with my backlog, and having like, at least 500 games and just as many little doo-dads in there isn’t helping. But again, I’m glad that the collection benefitted a group that was beneficial in such a hard year, and it was worth every penny even if I never got a single game.
Christine: Yeah I’ve definitely found myself spending more time reading the tabletop RPG books that came in it more than anything else, I really do want to spend more time digging through and playing with some of the really small passion projects that are in there, the little 1-2 hour things to just, get my feet more wet. Because there is so much it can be intimidating.
John: Finally, we gotta shout out the work people have been putting into unionizing. Unions are good. End of story. And seeing the games industry at large treat unions as an end goal and not some lofty dream or a foolish whimsy is inspiring. Not only have unions happened, but there’s some pretty prominent co-op game studios out there these days. Of course the Dead Cells team, Motion Twin, has been lauded for paying everyone the same and treating all of their staff as equals, but after cutting ties with their abusive CEO, Lab Zero reformed into Future Club, and with that became a co-op themselves! Skullgirls lives, they’re making new characters, and they’re being made by an employee-owned studio. That’s awesome.
Christine: Yeah that has been absolutely fantastic to watch, Future Club not just taking what they have built but building it into something stronger than it’s ever been. You look at Skullgirls, a game that was on the periphery, people who played it loved it but it wasn’t a big thing, and suddenly they are seeing more success, building the game more for the better, and it’s having even more of a resurgence than it would have had being part of EVO: Online. It’s been fantastic to see people at Future Club and a lot of these co-ops be so energized about their projects now that they are free from the toxicity of the corporate structure.
Elvie: It’s pretty astounding how there was so much labor organization in the past year alone, yet we often associate images associated with these movements with mass gatherings—yet none of that could have possibly been done in any logical or safe way that wouldn’t compromise people’s lives with the still ongoing circumstances of the pandemic. It just goes to show that we are fortunate to live in a time where technological communication has given so much resources for things like organization to still be possible, in addition to helping people distances away build connections they otherwise would have never made in different circumstances. (Hell, when we first were drafting this, some new developments literally just dropped saying that now some streamers and influencers may soon be eligible for union benefits, which may indirectly have been in response to Twitch’s whole year of constant screw-ups!)
Using digital tools was such an important thing across the Black Lives Matters protests, in how protestors were able to communicate and assist each other in spite of very oppressive forces trying to constantly break this very unified cause. I think with all the anger and frustrations built up with everything that happened, from just very blatant displays of both racial and labor injustice, all of it ended up providing more fuel to a fire that’s just going to keep up into this new year.
John: 2020 was damn rough, but there was light that showed through the cracks. Sure, a lot of the positives were in response to negatives, but said positives were a step forward that we hadn’t done before. Instead of one step forward, two steps back, it felt more like one back, two forward. Progress is progress, and hopefully 2021, even with the continued strife, can bring the gaming industry a bit closer to being the ideal that we’re all striving for.
Although the campaign for itch.io’s Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality has since ended, you can still view and individually support all the different projects and creators that took part in it here. Here are also all the multiple ways you can support Black Lives Matter.