Once again, the year is winding down, and everybody under the sun is looking back at the past year’s news and culture as if the world began on January 1st, 2017. But while the hype cycle operates in tidy annual waves, our lives don’t. As part of our usual look back at our favorite things of the year, we’re acknowledging the things we loved in 2017 that didn’t come out in 2017, and talking about how those new-to-us discoveries and late-arrival favorites got us through another tumultuous year.
I tend to stockpile video games I’m interested in, only jumping in later when the impulse (and free time) strikes. The downside is that I’m years behind any cultural conversation about a title. The upside is that playing a game after the world has moved feels like more of a unique, personal experience, simply because it’s not something everybody is doing at that exact same time. That feeling fit in perfectly with the bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape of Fallout 4, which I found myself visiting repeatedly over 2017.
My colleague Andrew Webster articulated perfectly how the franchise’s RPG-meets-FPS formula is enhanced by a more emotional storyline back in his original review, and that’s certainly true. But I was struck by just how fully realized and cohesive the world of the game seems. The open-world nature of Fallout is an obvious selling point, but I found it to be so comprehensive that it became a sort of peaceful refuge from whatever chaos and madness was going on in the real world on a given day. One wrecked by warfare, radiation, and mutant creatures, sure — but a refuge all the same. That’s what our best storytelling does: provide an escape, while hopefully showing us something new about the world, and ourselves, along the way. Fallout 4 check all of those boxes. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some quests to complete. — Bryan Bishop, Senior Editor
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game
Readers who saw last year’s version of this column already know I’m an RPG hobbyist: last year, I talked up the Dungeons & Dragons liveplay podcast Critical Hit, which was a major part of what kept me going in 2016. That podcast kept me endlessly entertained again this year. (For newbies curious about what it takes to plan and launch a campaign, I highly recommend Critical Hit’s 2010 GM Workshop series.) In 2017, I got back into actually playing RPGs as a social outlet. Unknown Armies (from 2002), Lady Blackbird (from 2009, the best quick-start, low-prep game I know), and Pathfinder (Paizo’s 2009 D&D reworking) played a big part in my year, and brought me closer to some immensely creative people with terrific skills at improv and invention.
With more and more creators publishing cheap or free mini-RPGs for fun, Stranger Things bringing D&D closer to the mainstream, and a skyrocketing number of RPG podcasts and Twitch streams illustrating how many ways there are to approach games, the barrier to getting into tabletop RPGs has never been lower, and I’ve never felt more comfortable recommending gaming as an escapist outlet, a social experience, and a creative experiment. — Tasha Robinson, Film/TV Editor
Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People
For most of 2017, turning inward seemed like the most selfish thing imaginable. Curling into a ball became a delicious luxury, and I thought about it the way we used to think about cake, or a power outage in middle school.
That’s where Broken Social Scene’s 2002 masterpiece You Forgot It In People came in. I discovered this album belatedly, when I was in college, because Lorde’s 2013 single “Ribs” has a line about putting “Lover’s Spit” on repeat and it was very important to me that I understand every word that came out of her mouth. Just one of the many dozens of immaculate gifts Lorde has given me, this collection of endlessly looping choruses in endlessly looping pop songs is still the perfect soundtrack to a sugar-crash nap, a long walk, or a really good makeout. There are whispers and cymbals and violin reprises; there are three songs with dreamy lyrics about drinking someone else’s bodily fluids. There’s a little temper tantrum where Emily Haines demands “park that car, drop that phone, sleep on the floor, dream about me” 13 times in a row. It’s selfish and small in the way that falling in love is selfish and small, so it’s also an expansive, affirming album about the gross, rude, improbable miracle that is other people. It lets you go away and come back. —Kaitlyn Tiffany, Culture Reporter
Japanese room escape games by Mild Escape
These meditative puzzle games are over a decade old now. I was late to them when I first discovered them in high school and I’m extra late diving back into them this year on mobile. They’ve finally come to iOS now, so I have that as an excuse. These games are just so charming. You’re thrown into a random room with furniture that resembles a Pottery Barn catalogue and then you’ve got to piece together the clues that someone else has left you to successfully escape — under the couch pillows, behind a potted plant, by twisting the beak of a plastic toy duck that’s the developer’s mascot. There are other mobile room escape games out there, but none respect your intelligence as much as Mild Escape games do.
Along with the beautiful soundtracks, the nine iOS games (24 if you’re on Android) add a sense of peace to a daily commute on the subway, even if it’s sometimes frustrating to be stuck on one last unsolved riddle. — Shannon Liao, News Writer
The Gintama anime has been airing on and off in Japan since 2006, and is currently over 330 episodes. I’ve gotten through about 280 in total, around 150 of those just this year. It’s a hard show to explain, (I tried to once before,) but it’s become a sort of comfort food-like show for me this year.
Gintama’s stories generally start with the introduction of a serious problem that is then complicated by an absurd or comedic scene. It then alternates between dramatic and absurd scenes, each further escalating things. But absurd turns that start as jokes can become serious plot points, and serious moments can become a comedic element by the end. One arc has a running gag where people playing Uno at inopportune times, only for an Uno game to be the backdrop for the emotionally important moment in the arc. This tonal whiplash means that even in particularly dark or dramatic moments, the writers find humor and joy. Also you get episode titles like: “So in the Second Season of Prison Break, They’ve Already Broken out of Prison, but the Name Works Once You Realize That Society Is a Prison.” — Michael Moore, Reviews Coordinator
Ken Burns’ The Civil War
I studied The Civil War in college, but it’s been a few years since I had refamiliarized myself with the topic. Burns’ series isn’t perfect, but it’s a solid examination into the causes and direction of the war, paying particular attention to not only the motivations for why the men and women of the Northern and Southern armies went to war, but also how the war was remembered. Shortly after I finished the series, the national wave of protests and violence over the removal of Confederate Statues arrived. Burns’ series and the rationale behind pro-statue activists demonstrates that the the Southern cause has become a sort of deep-seated mythology within the fabric of America, and shows just how badly we misunderstand our own history. — Andrew Liptak, Weekend Editor
Hop Along, “Get Disowned”
As the title track and closer of Hop Along’s 2012 album, “Get Disowned” has the responsibility of leaving the greatest impression once it’s over. The song is vaguely about what a lot of songs are vaguely about: love, growing up, and the nostalgia that accompanies memories that might not even be real. Like in a dream, the lyrical line breaks come when you don’t expect them, reducing nostalgia to a series of disjointed hiccups. In the final minute, Frances Quinlan’s voice stretches to a breaking point, from a whisper to a jagged, wild force, before gently deflating. The track reminds me of one New Year’s Eve in Philadelphia a few years ago, back when even disappointment seemed like a sign you were living, at least. — Lizzie Plaugic, Culture Reporter
England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond by Jon Savage
Early 2017, with its unofficial slogan of “This Isn’t Normal,” seemed even more apocalyptic than the already-dismal 2016. So I found a counterintuitive form of escapism: an exhaustive chronicle of early UK punk rock. England’s Dreaming presents the Sex Pistols and their contemporaries as a raw backlash to futile 1960s idealism in decaying post-imperial Britain, and it’s a paradoxically comforting reminder that darkness is cyclical, with a non-fiction narrative as compelling as any novel.
Even after I’d finished reading, the book inspired a de facto 2017 soundtrack full of belligerent-yet-melodic bands like the Adverts, Subway Sect, and the Diodes, and a supplementary list of cultural oddities like Roger Ebert’s never-filmed screenplay for a Sex Pistols film. Less predictably, its backdrop of ’70s council housing revived my fascination with brutalist utopias, culminating in a trip to Montreal’s retro-futuristic Expo 67 buildings. (I was also there for the bagels.) As weird as that might sound, England’s Dreaming did what all my favorite pop culture histories do: pull together a bunch of threads that I could follow almost anywhere. — Adi Robertson, Senior Reporter
Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City
The reason I don’t enjoy most reality shows is the same reason most people love them: the cattiness, the cruelty and the manufactured drama that seem to bring out the worst in everyone involved. Terrace House, a Japanese reality series that debuted in 2012, couldn’t be more different. Like Seinfeld, it’s been described as a “show about nothing,” but its stars are anything but selfish and neurotic. Instead, the show’s gradually rotating cast of six attractive young men and women are remarkably kind, polite and empathetic to each other as they search for love and professional success.
Even the conflicts tend to be charming; some of the most contentious moments include a housemate who encourages the others to follow their dreams with too much enthusiasm, and an awkward debate about when, exactly, it’s appropriate to hold hands. If you enjoy the supportive atmosphere of The Great British Bake Off and want to see people in love triangles be unfailingly sweet and encouraging to each other, Terrace House will be a balm to your soul in these trying times. — Laura Hudson, Culture Editor
I spent a good chunk of December laid up in bed with a debilitating flu, and part of that experience meant getting very dizzy whenever I got up and walked around, and even worse, playing Skyrim made me sick to my stomach. That’s where Cat Quest came in — a video game where you play a cat warrior with special dragon-slaying abilities. I’d call it Skyrim-but-with-cats (and the in-game references to Skyrim are clearly intentional), but the game mechanics are markedly different. It’s a 2D RPG where you fight dragons and monsters, clear dungeons, and follow quest lines. The fights happen in map view, so the interface doesn’t take you into a different fight screen. The map scrolls smoothly along as your cat warrior skips merrily along from town to town, so you won’t get even a hint of nausea if you happen to be sick with the flu at the moment.
Cat Quest isn’t revolutionary: it’s a game I’ve played in many iterations. You learn spells, you hit monsters with a sword, you clear dungeons, and you run around sprinkling catnip on bushes on behalf of your quest-giver. But also you’re a tiny little cat warrior with an adorably fat face and a guardian cat spirit that can’t stop cracking feline-themed puns. The king is a lion (of course!) with a cute snaggletooth and the game keeps meowing and startling my IRL cat. Probably don’t play this game if you don’t love cats. — Sarah Jeong, Senior Writer