I spent Christmas amid the dog hairs and beer bottles of my ancestral home, a place and time which would have given a more pensive mind the chance to reflect on a dauntless year, but gave my mind the chance to swell on pints of Smithwicks and the odd blast of gift-triggered serotonin. I also got the chance to meet my three-month-old Nephew for the first time. He did not cry when I held him, which I found endearing and suspicious.
Last night, I arrived back in Central America, where I saw Orion had once again fallen on his side. At the top of my street, the porter welcomed me by picking up a clipboard and revealing a handgun beneath it. The magazine had been ejected and lay beside the gun, with a single golden bullet protruding at the top, like the glinting nib of a ballpoint pen. “What’s your name again?” he asked, smiling and squinting at the clipboard.
Outside my apartments, there was black dust everywhere, a messy film I have come to recognise as responsible for the fifty-five sneezes I endure daily. It comes from the volcano Turrialba, whose consistent eruptions 33 kilometres away cover everything for days in a pathetic ash. At this point, I discovered I had forgotten my keys and I sat down in the black dust, waiting for my girlfriend to rescue me. I took off my my hoody, undid two surplus buttons on my shirt, and rolled up each leg of my jeans.
“I have written some good things this year,” I thought.
* * *
The Ridealongs. I went flying with a real pilot and stalled 2000 feet above the ground. I roamed through Minecraft’s most offensive server with an archeologist-of-sorts. There were many other ridealongs but my personal favourite was when I explored an abandoned MMO with a player who was once a King of the whole virtual land, but had become reduced to a tiny farm and a stolen horse.
A War in EVE. Some days, as a games journo, you log in to your various dripfeeds of cyberknowledge and see a single article being passed around like a clandestine floppy disk, over and over again. Look, someone says, Andy Kelly has written about videogame toilets. Or Christian Donlan has wirtten about a 3000-year-old Egyptian board game. When you see this, you understand that this writer has won Twitter today. But some days, if you’re lucky and you work hard, you’re the one on the floppy disk. I felt like that when my story about EVE Online’s revolutionary casino-fuelled war went up. It might be the best bit of games journalism I’ve written, or maybe just the one I’m most proud of.
Premature Evaluation. I took over this weekly column in the daily thunderstorms of July, and proceeded to fill it with stories of me being terrible at my one job: playing games. This one about management sim Software Inc was probably the most fun to write.
Keeping a diary. Diaries are the thing I like to write the most. Take an appropriate game, explain the systems and features briefly, then set out to achieve something difficult or weird in-game. In Stellaris, I was a race of human-loving robot father figures. In Rimworld, the manager of an ill-fated desert hotel. But a lesser-known game gave me the most satisfaction to write about. Hackmud was an excellent, complicated multiplayer hacking sim that saw me become both the worst gambling kingpin and a sentient newspaper algorithm.
Free Loaders. Every week I slap this up, a short list of free games. It’s something I look forward to, because writing it has become an weekly exercise in describing concise things concisely. It’s sad to see a lot of good stories and games still going unnoticed in the deluge of 2016 but also understandable. So I did a list of the best of this year’s freebies.
* * *
My girlfriend has rescued me. I’ve finally made it back into the house, where we will eat pizza and exchange presents while suffering guttural and dark laughter at Charlie Brooker’s annual news roundup. Outside, tiny motes of black dust are still falling, like invisible snow.