The weather outside is frightful, but we’re coming to the quiet time of the year when most of the world has a tacit agreement to at least turn down the volume—and in best case scenarios really unplug from our jobs—for a couple of weeks around the holidays.
A lot of anthropologists have talked about winter festivals like Saturnalia and Yule, and why Christmas came to be celebrated at that dark midwinter time in Europe. In America, we experience similar midwinter conditions to our European cousins, especially in the northern states. It’s dark, and it’s cold. The world is quiet, hushed and waiting to wake up again in the spring.
And it’s a great time to hole up with all those video games you haven’t had time to play all year because you’ve been acting like a responsible grown-up. (Or the one you bought yourself as a present when you weren’t acting like a responsible grown-up!)
Snow days are prime gaming days. I like to think of a laptop and a coffee mug as the twenty-first century equivalent of the cozy book and lap blanket stormy weather combo wryly referenced in the flavor text of April’s bay window in the episodic noir adventure game Bear With Me.
Bear With Me, whose first episode released in August 2016 from Exordium Games, manages to hit the sweet spot right between cute and cutesy. It’s highly narrative driven and has a comic book, noir style.
When April goes to ask Ted E. Bear for help finding her missing brother—the police down in Paper City are all on the take—Ted’s monologues are sheer Bogey, but April occasionally misses her wan Bacall register to ask cheerfully “Who’s got your nose?” (He’s too old for this, but he never could resist a dame in a pickle.)
I like my cold weather gaming to be not too challenging. You can keep your horrible brain-melting puzzles when I am sipping cider and happily wondering which pair of socks would be exactly the right fuzzy without making my feet overly hot.
Bear With Me takes just enough thought to maintain engagement and never enough to require reference to a walkthrough, and there are plenty of cinematics to sit back and giggle at.
For those who are less whimsical in their gaming pursuits, Telltale Games has one of the most highly anticipated releases of the holiday season with The Walking Dead: The New Frontier, due out on December 20.
Telltale’s adventure adaptations of The Walking Dead comics from Robert Kirkman have been critically acclaimed: the initial outing in the series garnered plenty of “Game of the Year” laurels in 2012 when it was first released.
If their launch trailer below is anything to go by, you won’t have any trouble retreating from the bleak wintry landscape outside to a bleak undead hellscape inside. It’s the same hard-hitting, gory narrative that Telltale fans expect from the series, and the art looks phenomenal.
Hygge, a Danish word that loosely translates to “coziness” has become so trendy that there’s also hygge backlash as well now. But Scandinavia in general does winter up right, which is why we devour their thick knits, fairy tales about Snow Queens and dull television. (Now available on Netflix: people shearing a sheep and knitting—yes, really, and after a tough day, count me in!)
Midvinter is an indie point-and-click adventure that hails from Sweden, and its protagonist is a friendly little gnome with sterling ethics. If you suggest he touch some shoes that don’t need repair or perhaps just borrow a cool-looking thing, he will firmly inform you that he is not a stealer.
Instead, he just wants to wander around the farm at night doing chores. Yarn needs untangling, the key to the root cellar is missing—if he finds it, he should definitely put it in the right place again. There’s a mean troll wandering around, and if he finds out a baby is going to be born, he’ll make trouble, so the friendly gnome had better keep a careful eye on the family.
All this unfolds to some peaceful Swedish folk music composed by Douglas Holmquist and exquisitely performed. And in a year where HBO’s John Oliver gave voice to our collective mood in a video titled, Fuck You, 2016, helping a nice Swedish gnome enjoy his porridge, protect his family, and return things to the proper place while listening to a flute and fiddle harp feels incredibly reassuring.
Unlike a lot of low-budget foreign indies, while Midvinter is basic, the translations are well-done and never distracting. At five dollars, it packs a lot of charm and storytelling under the hood and does what it does wonderfully well.
And if all you want to do is wreak havoc in your 2016 MOBA addiction, Blizzard has released a holiday update to Overwatch: the Winter Wonderland holiday event running December 13-January 2 features wintertime loot boxes with cosmetic items and a chance to queue up for the 6v6 Mei’s Snowball Offensive.
Keep warm out there—and don’t let the zombies, trolls or the wintertime blues get you down.