Games can be art, but they don’t have to be. Sometimes a game is just a game, and that’s great, but sometimes a game’s ideas can be strangely life-affirming or life-changing. Often, these titles get overlooked because they might not look or feel like what most people would consider “games” — but their uniqueness doesn’t make them any less valid.
We’ve put together a list of five exceptionally emotive or thought-provoking games from the year that’ll get the gears in your head whirring (or the tears on your face streaming). Whether you’re looking for a test of your mental prowess or your emotional resistance, we’re sure you’ll find something here.
Before Your Eyes
Uniquely, Before Your Eyes is a game played via the webcam of your PC or laptop by blinking your eyes (though you can choose to click instead if you must). To begin, you watch scene after scene of one person telling the story of their life to a ferryman carting them off to the afterlife.
There are spoilers abound for this game, so we won't ruin anything, but Before Your Eyes is as heart-warming as it is consistently emotionally devastating. It's a beautiful example of how to tell a story, and the core mechanic works so impeccably because you'll have to strain through tear-filled eyes at several points, because if you blink you'll quite literally miss it.
It's odd to joyfully recommend a game that's almost certain to make the player an emotional mess, but Before Your Eyes is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. It's an astounding title that deserves to be played by anyone who believes in gaming as an artistic medium. Just don't stream it unless you're fine with crying in front of people.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale
Aspiring to be greater than we are is a big part of what makes us human. It's also the driving factor behind your character in Chicory: A Colorful Tale. Chicory kicks off like a surprising number of titles before it: by asking you what your favorite food is. You’ll then we tasked with cleaning up the place where Chicory, the artist who's colored in the world, lives.
Unfortunately, Chicory isn't in a great place, and you end up accidentally inheriting the magical brush used to define the colors of everything around you. With this power by your side, your aim is to stop the world from being consumed by an ancient evil, and you can do so by coloring everything in. The world is quite literally your canvas, and you'll unlock new colors and abilities as you go.
It's all just so absurdly wholesome, and the tone of the game is so consistently caring and empathetic that it's hard not to feel good just by playing it. It helps that painting a plant before watching it splat that paint across the map never gets old either. Chicory: A Colorful Tale just makes its player feel wonderful.
There's something special about mastering that feeling of something being off. Not overtly, but more subtly, and in a far more insidious way. It's what makes social deduction games so enjoyable — because you know that there just isn’t something right about a member of your party, but figuring out who can be unsettlingly difficult. Gnosia takes those feelings and puts them into an RPG.
Gnosia is titled for the beings known as The Gnosia, who infiltrate groups of humans and slowly eliminate them, one by one. Your aim is to gather as much information as possible, figure out who among you isn't actually human, and put them into cryosleep. The trouble is, nothing is static. Sure, you'll get better at figuring out what's not right, but the complexity of the people, and non-people, you'll be dealing with will increase too.
What makes Gnosia really special though, is that you'll have to play through loops to figure everything out — but you’ll also have to work up stats that allow you to get other characters on your side. After all, even if you're right, there's no good in doing so if nobody believes you. Gnosia excels in its character design, writing, and that constant underlying mistrust you'll develop of both yourself, and everyone around you.
The Artful Escape
Art is hard. It's something that anyone who even dabbles in the creative space knows. Whether you're just discovering a new talent, trying to reignite an old passion, or just simply trying to live, creating art is always a challenge. It's this idea that sits at the core of The Artful Escape, a game all about one musician trying to find themselves and live their life on their own terms.
Francis Vendetti is the classic interpretation of a young musician, with a style that simply doesn't make sense anywhere else, and they spend a lot of their time contemplating how to exist. They're the nephew of a legendary musician trying to escape that legacy and do their own thing despite the weight that their name carries with it.
The Artful Escape is a blend of different genres that relies on a heartfelt story and gorgeous visuals to draw the player in, and does it with an immense amount of style. Here, it's less about the gameplay than the vibes, so this is an excellent choice for players who are looking to relax and enjoy a good story — even if the writing can regularly be over-the-top.
The Forgotten City
Despite originally being a mod for Skyrim, which is about as far removed from being indie as you could imagine, The Forgotten City comes from a small team and is now its own game. The Forgotten City casts you as an adventurer of sorts who has to try and stop a small community from destroying themselves. You see, if even a single sin is committed amongst those who live there, everyone will be turned to gold.
Your aim is to get to the bottom of these strange goings on, and attempt to stop everyone around you from becoming heavy metal, by investigating the this strange place and making the most of an unusual time loop to do so. You'll need to use every tool at your disposal to try and solve this mystery and end this strange curse, but you'll also have to abide by the laws of the land.
It's a truly fascinating tale and an intriguing puzzle game. The slow process of uncovering what you can and can't do, and which rules can be broken, is what makes a lot of this game so enthralling — but the writing is also strong enough to carry this strange premise from start to finish. If you're in the market for a mystery that relies heavily on your ability to talk your way around trouble, then this is the game for you.