Relative vs Absolute Wealth

There’s a stat I often hear in economics, but people rarely see the takeaway. The saying is that even though the annual income threshold to be in the top 1% in the US is around $400,000, for global income it is only $32,000 (Investopedia for US and world). Therefore the US middle class ought to feel like they are doing very well compared to the rest of the world.

While this is partly true, it ignores things like purchasing power and different costs of living in different countries. And people often get bogged down in the details of these objections rather than admiring the giant wealth gap that exists between countries and how well off Americans are who claim they are not.

To demonstrate the point better, I think there are two better comparisons to make. The first is to make the comparison across time and also within countries. The second is to make the comparison in simulated/virtual environments where people all start off on the same footing—video games. People usually care more about relative wealth than absolute. And maybe we should be thinking more about absolute.

Historical Economic Growth

I’ve previously written about human progress over time, and it’s still the case that this is underestimated. People generally think of growth as additive, but in reality it is exponential. Life isn’t just somewhat better than it was 300 years ago. It is orders of magnitude times better:

gdp_per_capita_slide

And yet, people often claim that things are worse than before (e.g., Make America Great Again). We’ve made this exponential curve of progress, and many problems of the past we now don’t ever think about—the diseases that have been conquered, a scientific understanding of the world, advances in healthcare, access to modern technology, democratic society, much lower chance to be murdered, not taking months to communicate with someone on a different continent, instantaneously looking up information from the sum total of human knowledge from a device in your pocket, and so forth.

We only think about the problems that face us now, never thinking about the problems that have already been solved and the things that didn’t exist before. And when we compare ourselves to people, we take all the above for granted and point out most absurd of differences—like claiming how in a hunter-gatherer society, you obtained some food and then had leisure time for much of the day, therefore we should go back to being hunters and gatherers.

Social Comparison

Among the most useful ideas to understand human interactions is that of keeping up with the Joneses. People strive to keep up in material wealth with their neighbors and friends. This is why one common response to the global 1% statistic is “why don’t I feel rich”? Because they are not comparing to the average human; they are comparing to their other global 1% neighbors.

A study by researchers at the University of Warwick and Cardiff University has found that money only makes people happier if it improves their social rank. The researchers found that simply being highly paid wasn’t enough — to be happy, people must perceive themselves as being more highly paid than their friends and work colleagues.

The researchers were seeking to explain why people in rich nations have not become any happier on average over the last 40 years even though economic growth has led to substantial increases in average incomes.

Lead researcher on the paper Chris Boyce from the University of Warwick’s Department of Psychology said: “Our study found that the ranked position of an individual’s income best predicted general life satisfaction, while the actual amount of income and the average income of others appear to have no significant effect. Earning a million pounds a year appears to be not enough to make you happy if you know your friends all earn 2 million a year.” (ScienceDaily)

This effect has become bigger in recent years, as it has been exacerbated by social media. People are now much more likely to see the day-to-day of people more well off than they are—not just the super rich, but the person you thought you were clearly superior to in high school who is now doing much better than you, and being reminded of this constantly on Facebook. And people show off their best on social media, so if everyone compares their average life with what they see on social media, everyone could be unhappy.

One of the most memorable essays from The Occupy Handbook is one precisely on relative vs absolute wealth, specifically on the idea of “last-place aversion”, and I’m not sure it actually makes the reader more or less supportive of the Occupy movement. The authors write:

We also documented last-place aversion outside the laboratory by surveying a sample of Americans about their attitudes toward an increase in the minimum wage. The minimum wage obviously affects low-income workers disproportionately, and thus it is reasonable to expect that most low-wage workers would support an increase. Indeed, we generally do observe this pattern, with one major, and telling, exception: those making just above the minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, are far more likely to oppose an increase than those making $7.25 or below or those making more than $9.00. That is, people making $7.50 per hour would rather forgo a small raise than take the chance that an increase in the minimum wage will cause them to earn the “last-place” wage themselves—and to be tied with workers previously below them. (“Where Is the Demand for Redistribution?” from The Occupy Handbook)

So it’s more important to make more money than other people, rather than to just make more money in absolute terms.

Video Games

Now let’s talk about Diablo 3. This game, as originally released in 2012, was an item-grinding game, where you kill monsters to get powerful items, so that you can kill even stronger monsters to collect even more powerful items, and so forth. The following is basically all anecdote, so be warned (I’m not aware of any literature on this).

This game was done very well, but was highly controversial at launch. Its Metacritic rating was 88% from critics but only 40% from site users (averaged from some good ratings and many 0’s).

diablo3_metacritic

I claim the controversy came from economics. The central core of the game is described above, where random items drop for you to collect, and you collect better and better items as you play more. This was all fine, except Diablo 3 did one thing that other games did not: have a massively available public online exchange for trading items.

Without trading, the game felt very good. To abstract it a bit for the sake of argument, suppose there are 10 difficulty stages in the game, 1-10, 1 being the easiest and 10 being the hardest. Most people breezed through the easier difficulties got to somewhere 4-7 on their own without much trouble. But the game ramped up in difficulty significantly once you got to 8, 9, and 10, and most people started struggling as soon as they got to 8. I claim this was still fun because the point of the game was to play the game, get better items over time so you can defeat 8 and go to 9, and then beat 9 and 10 eventually. However…

The most hardcore gamers, including many famous streamers on Youtube and Twitch, could get to 8, 9, and 10 very quickly (arguably partly from skill in playing video games, and also from just spending lots of time on the game or spending money on items), and one person even did 10 on a “hardcore” mode where any death is permanent and your character doesn’t respawn.

(For people who know the game, 8 refers to Act 1 Inferno, 9 = Act 2 Inferno, 10 = Acts 3&4 Inferno, and the one person who beat Act 4 Inferno before nerfs was Kripparrian.)

There were millions of players at launch, and they weren’t satisfied struggling in difficulty 8 while streamers were doing well in 9 and 10. And from the social aspect of the game, they weren’t satisfied being stuck on 8 while their real-life friends were on 9 and 10.

Remember the item exchange from earlier? Now all the people stuck on 8 could amass in-game currency and buy items obtained by the people on 9 and 10, and thus move themselves to 9 and 10. They basically bypassed the game itself, skipping the gameplay process of fighting monsters to get better items. And when a critical mass of people did this, the keeping up with the Joneses effect really kicked in. Now all of your friends are trying to take down the boss for 9 and 10, but you’re still stuck on 8 and can’t play with them. So you also go out and buy some items to keep up. The difficulty level you played on was your social status. (Why are you stuck on 8? Are you bad at the game?)

The whole game was a microcosm of economics. There were many different “builds” or strategies that characters could use, but the game soon degenerated into 3-4 common hyper-efficient builds that were borderline exploitative. It should have been that most builds seemed ok and a few were really good. But since everyone else was using the best-possible builds, using any other build was basically crippling yourself and your party. Instead of trying out cool, unique builds on level 8, everyone went to the degenerate builds on levels 9 and 10, which is why the game effectively had no variety. It was a case where buying a really good item made you more powerful in absolute terms, but since you then just went to a higher difficulty level, you didn’t become relatively more powerful, and now you have less flexibility of strategies. This made the game less fun despite being your character being objectively more powerful.

In addition, the more people bought items from the exchange, the lower the chance they would ever find a relatively better item naturally. If you have a 50th percentile item to start, you’ll in expectation find an upgrade in the next two items. But if you go to the exchange and buy a 99.9th percentile item off the bat (as most people did), then it will take 1000 items drops in expectation for you to find a better item naturally. (I think I was one of the people who figured this out at the time, and I wrote a popular forum post on the official Diablo 3 forums. Since then, the game has actually done both suggestions, to remove the exchanges and trading in general, and to soft-reset the items every few months, so people aren’t stuck in the situation where they have the 99.999th percentile items and can’t feasibly get better ones.)

Anyway, this experience in 2012 is why I think about the topic a lot. It’s nice for people to move up and improve their standard of living, but the improvement should be on a personal level and not to be keeping up coworkers and Facebook friends.

Nonorganic Growth of Nations

India’s rapid economic growth — and its long-standing poverty — are also reflected in the census. More than half of all Indian households now have cellphones, but fewer than half have toilets. [NPR 2012]

More recently:

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that it would allow women to drive, ending a longstanding policy that has become a global symbol of the oppression of women in the ultraconservative kingdom.  [NYT 2017]

I would guess most people reading this learned history with a focus on Europe and the United States. One worry is that the West, as the technological leaders of the world for most of modern history, has a story that does not apply to developing countries today. Instead of progressing “organically” like the West, many countries today have built their laws, cultures, and institutions in different orders.

The United States began with a document outlining the principle of self governance. It had, at the time, a colonial and economic relationship with Great Britain. It was 14 years after the publication of The Social Contract, which was itself part of a larger body of work in the Enlightenment. And it took several weeks for news and communication to travel across the Atlantic. These were part of a larger number of factors that all aligned to make the Declaration of Independence happen.

Now imagine you skip to the Information Age and ask a particular faction of some war-torn country, whose primary export by overwhelming majority is oil, to draft some documents like the above. I worry that we look for the good things in the past and try to duplicate them in other places today, but fail to consider the circumstances that made them good.

What happens when social media appears before secularization? Airplanes before representative government? Internet before free speech? Our conventional lessons from history don’t apply.

To be certain, I am very in favor of teaching Western history as it is so crucial to understand the big themes of the modern era. It alone contains the world-changing arcs like the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. But we need to consider what happens when countries make progress out of order compared to what we have learned.

More Topics

I have several post ideas floating around but it’s always easy to get stuck in drafts. Here are topics that I’ve been interested in recently and might write about.

  • The meaninglessness of most things on the Internet, particularly due to the lack of context. A lot of “arguments” I see these days are made in short Facebook posts, tweets, or viral stock images with a sentence of text on them. This is actually fine in certain cases, precisely because there is context spanning much more than a sentence. If Nate Silver tweets one line about a something about an election, I can say “Hmm that’s interesting.” However, if the same tweet were made by a random person, I would immediately start thinking instead, “What are the credentials of this person? On what evidence is this claim based? Does this person have a political agenda? Do I expect certain biases to exist?” This isn’t to say that Nate Silver is a perfect being, but when I see a tweet from him, I really have much more to consider than just one sentence.
  • The one-upmanship or “Keeping up with the Joneses” effect in competitive or “socially competitive” gaming. This goes back to the early days of Diablo 3, and also applies to Hearthstone and many other games. There is a mathematically vast number of possible “builds” or “decks” that people can play. Of course, we don’t expect all of them to be very good, and there are probably some redundancies in how you count things, but there should probably be hundreds or at least dozens of “viable” styles of play. But with Hearthstone being a zero-sum game, any more viable deck will beat a less viable deck, and most people are competing to win, so everyone ends up using the same 1 to 3 decks. My quote from the last post was: “how optional, bonus things become requirements…. Things that were ‘amazing’ become ‘okay,’ things that were ‘okay’ are now ‘terrible.'” Also, how does this apply to real life?
  • Video game economics and socioeconomics. Namely, how emergent properties of trading and economics form in massively multiplayer games like WOW and Diablo 3 (w/auction house).
  • Social norms and social capital, versus financial capital. This is maybe a more personal topic. When I was in college and younger, despite how I hated certain social norms, I went along with many of them anyway. But now that I have a job and can easily support myself, I no longer feel the need to abide by certain social norms that I don’t particularly care for. Given this, I wonder how much of abiding with social norms before was just to build up social capital to improve expected earnings, whereas now I no longer care as much. One example is that even 5 years ago, I used to not blog about video games, and posting something like this would have been unthinkable.
  • Various economics, Effect Altruism, and rationality topics. In particular, a few below.
  • Cost disease. Regarding the famous Scott Alexander article on the topic earlier this year. This is really fascinating and the results of this really should matter for your political beliefs.
  • The meta confirmation bias – “Everyone who disagrees with me is under confirmation bias.” It seems like these days a lot more people know of the existence of the confirmation bias, but don’t understand it well enough to know that it applies to you even if you are aware of it. I think this occurring more and more. People are generally aware of echo chambers now, but the erroneous conclusion people have reached is now “oh, everyone on the side other than mine is in an echo chamber whereas my side is free speech.”
  • How my interests work, and how I categorically dismiss certain things. It’s my understanding from real-life conversations that I have a weird utility curve/set of preferences, and this could be a really boring or interesting topic. For instance, I despise eating food because I think it is a waste of time, and if there was a way to be just as healthy but not have to spend time eating anything, I would do it. For this reason I also don’t really understand eating meals over $25 (the threshold would be lower elsewhere but I live in Manhattan…). I  don’t like travel because I think the Internet is just better, and I also don’t play board games (besides some chess because I used to play it a lot) because I think video games are just better.
  • Sharing knowledge online. As a meta point, why do people say anything at all on message boards/yahoo answers/stack exchange/reddit/quora/etc.? I used to post a lot on online forums (though most of my posts are gone through let’s say a long story). And why do I blog?

Travel vs the Internet

I’ve explained to many people in the past year why I don’t like travel. This summarizes my main reasons:

  1. It costs lots of transportation time, both getting to and from the destination, as well as local transportation at the destination.
  2. Costs money.
  3. Stress of booking flights/hotels and keeping constant track of time to not miss such flights and connections, etc.
  4. Nonzero chance of being stranded or catching some unusual disease.

In addition, famous landmarks/cities give me roughly zero enjoyment or value. If I’ve already seen something in a history book or website, know about its historical significance, and have seen many pictures of it including in pop culture like movies or TV shows or even in video games, I feel like I gain nothing from visiting it in person.

The main thing I actually do like about travel is that you get to explore new places, ideas, and cultures. Which is why I think browsing the internet is just a better version of traveling. In addition to the exploration of new things, it doesn’t have any of the negatives mentioned above:

  1. Transportation is on the order of seconds or even fractions of a second spent loading web pages, rather than hours and hours on a plane or at an airport.
  2. People generally already have computers and internet anyway, so it is free.
  3. No stress of booking any flights/hotels, no deadlines/schedules.
  4. You can’t get stranded on the internet or catch real life diseases.

If you get bored at any time, you go to a different page. You can expand your perspective in minutes by simply going to a forum or news site of a different ideological affiliation. You can learn things so much quicker. And so forth.

I’ve held this position against travel for roughly 7 years, though it’s definitely open for debate. Anyway, back to the internet!

Video Game Ratings

mario

Here are my video game ratings on a scale of 1-10. I’m open to (good) suggestions!

Platform is PC unless otherwise stated. Year is when the game was released.

Key:

  • 10+ (favorites) – bold orange
  • 10 – bold purple
  • 9 – bold blue
  • 8 – bold green
  • 7 – bold
  • 1 to 6 – normal

2017

  • Agents of Mayhem – 7
  • Everything – 6
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda – 9
  • Nier: Automata – 5
  • Prey – 8

2016

  • Battlefield 1 – 6
  • Civilization VI – 9
  • Darkest Dungeon – 2
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – 7
  • Doom – 3
  • Grim Dawn – 2
  • Layers of Fear – 6
  • Offworld Trading Company – 2
  • Quantum Break – 8
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider – 7
  • Stellaris – 4
  • The Division – 6
  • The Town of Light – 3
  • The Turing Test – 7
  • Titanfall 2 – 6
  • Valley – 8
  • XCOM 2 – 9

2015

  • Cities: Skylines – 7
  • Fallout 4 – 9
  • Galactic Civilizations III – 3
  • Grand Theft Auto V – 4
  • Heroes of the Storm – 9
  • Kerbal Space Program – 2
  • Life Is Strange – 4
  • Saints Row: Gat out of Hell – 6
  • SOMA – 5
  • Star Wars: Battlefront – 5
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – 5

2014

  • Civilization: Beyond Earth – 8
  • Deadcore – 4
  • Divinity: Original Sin – 1
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition – 7
  • Endless Legend – 8
  • Far Cry 4 – 7
  • Hearthstone – 9
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – 5
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall – 7
  • Sniper Elite 3 – 5
  • The Talos Principle – 5
  • Transistor – 3

2013

  • Bioshock Infinite – 10
  • Dota 2 – 7
  • Europa Universalis IV – 1
  • Gone Home – 6
  • Metro: Last Light – 6
  • Outlast – 6
  • Path of Exile – 10
  • Remember Me – 4
  • Saints Row IV – 9
  • Splinter Cell: Blacklist – 7
  • The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – 4
  • The Swapper – 2
  • Tomb Raider – 9

2012

  • Borderlands 2 – 4
  • Diablo III – 10
  • Dishonored – 6
  • Dragon Nest – 6
  • Endless Space – 4
  • Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – 5
  • Mass Effect 3 – 9
  • Spec Ops: The Line – 7
  • Torchlight II – 4
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown – 6

2011

  • Batman: Arkham City – 3
  • Crysis 2 – 6
  • Dead Space 2 – 7
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution – 8
  • Might and Magic: Heroes VI – 6
  • Portal 2 – 7
  • Saints Row: The Third – 8
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – 3

2010

  • Assassin’s Creed 2 – 2
  • Bayonetta – 4
  • Bioshock 2 – 4
  • Civilization V – 9
  • Fallout: New Vegas – 4
  • Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) – 7
  • Mass Effect 2 – 9
  • Metro 2033 – 6
  • Mirror’s Edge – 2
  • Starcraft 2 – 10
  • Vanquish – 7
  • World of Warcraft: Cataclysm* – 10

2009

  • Batman: Arkham Asylum – 5
  • Dragon Age: Origins – 5

2008

  • Dead Space – 6
  • Far Cry 2 – 3
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) – 8

2007

  • Bioshock – 8
  • Crysis – 4
  • Mass Effect – 10
  • Portal – 9

2006

  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – 5

2005

  • Age of Empires III – 4

2004

  • Half-Life 2 – 2

2003

  • Enter the Matrix (PS2) – 4
  • Rise of Nations – 8

2002

  • Ty the Tasmanian Tiger (PS2) – 7
  • Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos – 10

2001

  • Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) – 5
  • RuneScape – 5
  • Super Smash Bros. Melee (GameCube) – 8

2000

  • Diablo II – 6

1999

  • Age of Empires II – 4

1998

  • Starcraft – 10

*The convention above is to list by release date of the original game, regardless of when I played relative to expansion packs or DLC or beta testing. However, as the expansion World of Warcraft: Cataclysm was released 6 years after the original game, I’ve listed it as separate.

These ratings are my subjective opinion and reflect how much I enjoyed playing each game. For instance, Half-Life 2 (2004) is considered one of the best PC games of all time, but playing it for the first time in 2017, I got bored of it very quickly. On the other hand, I found Quantum Break (2016), which has mixed reviews, to be really fun.

As I’ve mentioned before, rating video games seems a lot harder than rating something more standard like movies. There is a lot more variance in time played, games have different goals, and pricing is not so simple. There are some games that I included which seem like good games for some people or even myself at different points in my life, but at the time of playing it was clearly not for me. For the sake of statistics (not excluding negative results), I have included games even where the time played is very small, in the hope that someone with similar tastes in video games may benefit from such a list.

I generally like newer games better than old, but since I play out of order, it may be the case that for two games released in the same year, I played one of them on release and the other 5 years later, and had disparate ratings between the two even if they were similar in quality, depending on which I enjoyed more at the time.

Below are additional comments for each game. For a lot of the newer games I can use Steam or some other tracking to see exactly the hours played; for older games I can only estimate.

Agents of Mayhem (2017)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 43 hours

This is a pretty fun open-world/RPG/shooter game. The humor really nails it at some points (particularly the announcer at the planetarium). It has much less character customization compared to the other Saints Row games, but despite this, it manages to not be boring, probably due to the fast-paced switch-ins. On high difficulty, this game also had one of the coolest final mission/boss fights I’ve seen.

Everything (2017)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 2 hours

There is no central plot, you basically just sandbox the universe, and can zoom to varying degrees of distance. Decent at doing what it intends to do, though I wish there were more features.

Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 101 hours

This is an excellent game. However, I can see why it got so many negative reviews. I think the main thing is the disconnect between what many people expected and what the game was intended to be. People seemed to want Mass Effect 2 revamped, but Bioware made this an open world game, not a linear cover shooter. Namely, even before release, it was very clearly stated to have open-world elements, and that the plot would involve humans and other Milky Way species exploring parts of a star cluster in the Andromeda galaxy to find a new home. The game’s title even contains another galaxy. Based on that, I went in expecting a focus on exploration and environments, and on these fronts it definitely delivered.

Exploration/Environments – This is where Andromeda shines. The overall graphical look is bright but realistic. Some (though not all) of the planets are breathtaking, and the main player ship and space station look gorgeous. Without spoiling the plot, there are enough varied environments to cover a huge range.

Pacing – The game starts off very slow. It has a couple of large tutorial missions, and it took me about 10 hours to get to the point where I had a full base and could start exploring at will. Once you get to this stage, the game really picks up. Though, because the game is basically open-world, it is still slower than any of the first three Mass Effect games. The slow pacing may be offputting to people, but I thought it was definitely worth it.

Facial animations – For some reason, this game has received an incredible amount of criticism over facial animations, and while I would agree it is not 100% realistic, I would also like to point out that it is a video game. If I wanted 100% accurate facial animations, I could go talk to someone in real life. Also, I noticed that only the human animations seemed off, as if Bioware was really trying to enhance here but made some mistakes. On the other hand, the Turian/Salarian/Asari/Krogan/other-alien animations seemed fine.

Characters/Dialogue – Similar to above, I don’t expect games to have super convincingly realistic characters or dialogue. Regarding the dialogue, there were certainly good moments and cringey moments, but it never took away from the game immersion. Plus, sometimes the game is self-referential in addressing how awkward the dialogue is. My personal order from best to worst of the original trilogy is 1 (known for story/exploration), then 3 (known for combat), then 2 (known for characters).

Combat – I would agree with the critics here that the combat is extremely good.

Plot – The overall premise is really exciting – exploring a star cluster in the Andromeda galaxy and finding a planet for habitation. Of course, things don’t go as planned. The main story was pretty straightforward but was fleshed out enough to be satisfying.

Nier: Automata (2017)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 11 hours

One of my greatest pet peeves is backtracking, and it is exceedingly horrible in this game. Yes, I got to the point in the game where you unlock fast travel, but still, those early hours were incredibly painful. The quests are boring, and the environments seem mostly bland with vast stretches of nothingness.

This could have been a 2/10, but the combat definitely comes to the rescue. The first 30 minutes, which is basically a well-scripted tutorial level that comes before any of the problems mentioned above, was mind-blowingly awesome.

Edit: Months later, I continued on and it got better but I still couldn’t get into it.

Prey (2017)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 24 hours

Basically Deus Ex in space. As someone who is not a fan of the Dishonored series, I thought this was actually enjoyable and well made.

Battlefield 1 (2016)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 10 hours

I’m mainly a person who does single-player, and this game had some decent missions. But I have a feeling most people who enjoy this do so for the multiplayer.

Civilization VI (2016)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 158 hours

This game is a step up from Civilization 5, though I only started playing VI after several patches/new civs came out. Yes this is a pretty costly game since you have to buy some of the civs, but each one is worth many hours. I really like the new district system, though I wish wonders were more impactful, given that they now cost production and tile space.

Darkest Dungeon (2016)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 2 hours

I play games in a perfectionist method, making sure I have max health, etc. This is clearly not a game for me. There are random hits and permanent-ish afflictions that really take away the fun.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 23 hours

This follows up Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011), and it definitely lives up to its predecessor. The best thing about the new one is that you have tons of ways to complete missions, giving it a high amount of player choice and replayability. It’s also the first stealth game I’ve played where it actually felt fun to go completely non-lethal; I didn’t feel the same way in Human Revolution, Dishonored (2012), or Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2013). (Not that those were bad games—just that I preferred the lethal approach in them.)

The story is very interesting but it gets heavy-handed for a video game; I would normally praise this but I feel like this game basically forced many story elements on you in sometimes annoying ways, e.g. being ID’d by police for the tenth time. Basically, the world is divided into mechanically-augmented people (“augs”) and non-augmented people (“naturals”), and there is lots of blatant discrimination and segregation against augs, including the player character. It’s clear what this parallels in real life. It had potential to be best social commentary in video games, but the story is told in a way that comes off as painfully obvious/sometimes annoying, rather than a more subtle “show, don’t tell “approach.

Doom (2016)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 9 hours

Maybe it’s because I never played the original Doom (1993), but I really couldn’t find anything satisfying in this game. The graphics were nice and detailed, but that was it, and it really didn’t capture the scary feel for me like Dead Space and Dead Space 2. I felt like I was just mindlessly jumping around/dodging/shooting from one level to the next. And maybe I quit the game too soon, but the player character never really felt powerful; every gun that felt good to use ran out of ammo really fast.

Grim Dawn (2016)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 17 hours

This game is pretty fun for the first few hours, but it then devolved into your everyday ARPG. The plot was uninteresting, graphics were meh, and gameplay felt really slow and repetitive. It doesn’t compare at all to Diablo III or Path of Exile, and you’re better off playing either of those if you crave an ARPG.

Layers of Fear (2016)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 3 hours

This game is Escher painting meets jump-scare horror. I’m generally not a fan of walking simulators, but this was well done. The best parts are when the spatial orientation is messed up, such as when you walk into a rectangular room, turn left, go through a door, and end up in the same room.

Offworld Trading Company (2016)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 5 hours

As a professional trader, I was really excited about the premise of this game and really wanted to like it. You get to trade resources, take out loans, and buy out other companies! Better in theory I guess. After I finished one match, I had basically no interest to play another.

Quantum Break (2016)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 8 hours

This is one of gaming’s underrated gems. It has one of the most compelling plots of any game, and it is both perfectly rational and mind-blowing. It’s also a weird game in that it is part game and part live-action TV show. The combat is not spectacular but it’s good enough to not detract from the story.

Rise of the Tomb Raider (2016)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 37 hours

Something about the combat and environment didn’t feel as good as in its predecessor Tomb Raider (2013), but it’s still a solid game. It just never made me say “wow” like the previous game did. It does have insanely good graphics. Finding collectibles feels really repetitive.

Stellaris (2016)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 23 hours

Had potential to be good, but resource management, combat, and diplomacy were all lacking. At one point in a game against an easy AI, I just wanted to end it so I amassed a fleet and went to war with the AI. However, I didn’t choose the objectives carefully (demanded 3 of their 5 planets), and after a while the AI just surrendered the planets I demanded, thus forcing peace without my ever agreeing to it. Then began one of my most frustrating hours in video gaming. It turns out having 3 extra planets is a nightmare because of resource maintenance and civil unrest, and it was pretty clear that this was just draining my resources, and that I would be better off just giving away these planets. However, the game doesn’t let you do that. I had to wait the requisite amount of time before you could declare war again, and by that time my resources had basically gone to zero and I had been forced to disband most of my fleet.

Edit: I tried it again a year later, and it felt much more solid. Would still take much longer to get used to.

The Division (2016)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 46 hours

Has really beautiful graphics and is an open-world Manhattan! It doesn’t have enough of the city to visit where I currently live, but I did manage to find my former Murray Hill apartment in-game! There are a lot of mixed opinions about this game, but my experience was positive. The graphics are nice, and there is a real sense of progress as you spend more time. The main downside is that the combat feels very repetitive. It’s basically a cover-shooter MMO.

The Town of Light (2016)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 4 hours

This has a great concept and atmosphere, but the actual playing—figuring out what you’re supposed to do—was really frustrating as the game provides minimal information. I basically gave up and resorted to youtubing everything after a certain point.

The Turing Test (2016)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 6 hours

Decent puzzle game in the style of Portal/The Talos Principle with interesting enough mechanics and pretty nice story and graphics. The Europa landing scene that happens early on was epic, one of the best landing on the ground scenes in video gaming and film. I enjoyed this game much more than The Talos Principle. For the most part, there weren’t any super gimmick puzzles, and the philosophy was pretty elementary but well organized, and it didn’t feel like too much.

Titanfall 2 (2016)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 4 hours

Not a bad game, though a bit disappointing given the hype around it. I exclusively played singleplayer, and it felt like a walking simulator at times (which is fine but it felt like a weird change of pace every time).

Valley (2016)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 4 hours

A great walking simulator with a top-notch story. Some of the running missions felt awesome.

XCOM 2 (2016)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 85 hours

I liked this one better than the 2012 game XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It has really solid graphics and customization, and the core turn-based squad combat feels great. The DLC was a blast. It is brutal in terms of difficulty: I played on the easiest setting and still felt like I needed to save/reload constantly.

Edit: I replayed with the War of the Chosen expansion and it was awesome. Bumping up from 8 to 9. Also, the Reaper makes the game so much more fun.

Cities: Skylines (2015)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 10 hours

Had fun building a city. It was exactly the experience I expected.

Fallout 4 (2015)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 128 hours

I had recently gotten bored of open-world games. GTA5 and Witcher 3 felt super overrated and not that entertaining, while Far Cry 4 was actually good but became boring towards the end. However, Fallout 4 drew me back in. The RPG, combat, story, open-world, and crafting elements are all superb.

My last real-life vacation was in Boston, but exploring a fictional future post-apocalyptic Boston was so much better than exploring real Boston. It’s incredibly detailed as well: you can find all kinds of historical landmarks, and even the Freedom Trail exists in-game. I found the DLC to be pretty good, though I think I’m one of the odd few who prefers Nuka World over Far Harbor.

I’m giving it a 9 instead of 10 because I really didn’t like using the settlements: the system itself seemed fine, but I didn’t like having it be required rather than optional. Also, the load screens could get annoying. For example, why are there three load screens between the Commonwealth and the main deck of the Prydwen?

Galactic Civilizations III (2015)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 1 hour

I really just wanted to play Civilization 5 or even Beyond Earth instead. The 4x genre is interesting but I felt like this didn’t had anything new.

Grand Theft Auto V (2015)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 7 hours

It had some good plot moments, the character switching is pretty cool, graphics are decent, and there is a ton of content. But the thing I can’t stand about this game is the realism and slow pace (at least in the beginning). Yes, I’m complaining about GTA5 not because it is violent, but because it is boring. For a game that literally has “theft” in its title, there’s not too going on.

In contrast, if I go 7 hours into Saints Row IV, much more plot and action will have occurred. It feels like in my 7 hours of play in GTA5, nothing really happened, and to make something happen, I will need to elaborately plan the details of a heist and spend effort doing that. I quit the game after being asked to prepare for the first heist.

Heroes of the Storm (2015)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: est. 200 hours

A very solid game, and since I’ve played Blizzard games extensively, it’s cool to see all the crossovers from different franchises. I could see myself playing this if I get bored.

The game is has a much faster pace than Dota and is much less stressful, while simultaneously having more action from constant teamfights.

Kerbal Space Program (2015)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 44 minutes

This sandbox spaceship-building game is probably awesome for some people but I’m clearly just not the target audience. As much I love space and sci-fi, this was among the most boring 44 minutes I have ever spent in a game.

Life is Strange (2015)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 16 hours

Definitely had a great plot with some memorable and gut-wrenching moments, but the whole experience (all 5 episodes) felt excruciatingly slow and could have been over in half the time. I also encountered a very frustrating glitch near the beginning which meant I had to restart the first un-skippable minutes a couple of times. It had potential to be an 8 or 9.

Saints Row: Gat out of Hell (2015)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 4 hours

A solid follow-up to Saints Row IV, though definitely short.

SOMA (2015)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 1 hour

Really nice atmosphere but the style of gameplay (survival horror) is just not for me.

Star Wars: Battlefront (2015)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 5 hours

The singleplayer was lacking. And I actually tried the multiplayer too though it was probably too long after the game release for it to be fun.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 58 hours

This has got to be the most overrated game of the last few years  (along with maybe Skyrim). It’s not a bad game—in fact, it is pretty good. But I really don’t understand how it has universal acclaim from both critics and the wider playerbase. It is not even close to “the best RPG of all time” as some claim.

The combat was boring and extremely repetitive, and nothing else could really make up for this. Player control and movement never felt good, though briefly controlling Ciri at times was a surprisingly good exception. Graphics were awesome, but the controls made exploration more annoying than exciting. And the backtracking through certain paths in the main Novigrad quest chain was horrible. Basically, the first 5 hours are very good (before repetition sets in) and “On Thin Ice” is one of the best video game set pieces ever, but everything else felt lacking.

Civilization: Beyond Earth (2014)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 39 hours

Definitely an underrated game. It is often criticized as being Civ 5 in space, but how is that a bad thing? You build a settlement on an alien planet. The soundtrack is ridiculously good and somehow makes me think of actual grand space exploration, of solemn optimism and hope after a great tragedy (like 2016). The main thing lacking is definitely the uniqueness of the sponsors/beginning choices. It never felt like you were really choosing between different options.

Deadcore (2014)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 2 hours

A pretty interesting/fun platformer for an hour or two. The game gets intense quickly and becomes far too hardcore. Beating certain puzzles felt very rewarding, but it devolves into having to perfect the art of insane controls/timings, which is not for me.

Divinity: Original Sin (2014)

Rating: 1/10

Time played: 10 hours

A game where I clearly lack the required patience level. It was good for the first 30 minutes, including a tutorial highlighting the combat system. But it went massively downhill once I entered the first city. I got stuck quickly on the main quest, and all the gates leading out of the city were shut and the guards told me I didn’t have enough experience to venture outside. After some frustration in figuring out what I was supposed to do, I did one of the things I dread most in gaming: look up online how to get past the first level.

As an aside, I strongly believe a well-designed game should not make you do this. For example, Portal is an extremely well-designed game in terms of difficulty curve and I never felt like I needed to look up solutions online even for hard puzzles. In Divinity: Original Sin, not only could I not figure out how to do anything, but I could not even figure out what it was I was supposed to do. I should not be brickwalled in the very first town.

Other things: graphics were meh, controls felt bad at times and movement especially in a city felt really slow. The dialogue is pretty boring and I ended up just skipping them as quickly as possible. Once I finally ventured outside the gates, I found combat to be much less interesting than I had thought at first (although this was after ~4 hours of frustration and I felt pretty negatively at this point). I really wanted to like this game, probably because of sunk time fallacy, but it was to no avail.

Overall, I can see how the game can be really fun for some people, but it was probably the worst gaming experience I’ve ever had.

Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 57 hours

This is a wonderful game, with some amazing landscapes and scenery. The combat is pretty good but again repetitive. However, it is definitely a step up from Dragon Age: Origins (2009). The quest system felt kind of weak, in that it was vastly overwhelming and I ended up not caring much for most of them. Exploring was awesome though.

Endless Legend (2014)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 25 hours

Solid 4x game. The game and ui are very pleasing to look at and it feels very polished. The factions all feel cool and unique. Some of the tech choices seemed useless but I haven’t spent so much time on it. Also, the tactical fight view felt like a waste of time, as there aren’t that many decisions to make, nor are there difficult decisions. I eventually just had combat always auto-run.

Far Cry 4 (2014)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 39 hours

Overall a pretty fun open-world game, though nothing was spectacular. The main quest is good, side content is good, combat/stealth is okay, and exploration is great.

Hearthstone (2014)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: est. 450 hours

A card game where you can basically spend countless hours. It’s made by Blizzard so it’s super well polished. The actual mechanics are pretty simple but combining cards in different combinations is really cool, and the classes all feel unique even if they are just WoW classes.

The only reason I am not giving it a 10/10 is that for a game that is always online and probably 90% multiplayer, it has roughly no interface for talking to other players other than a bizarre 6-emote system. I understand why Blizzard left out chat, but this really bugs me. Overall, the game is excellent.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 23 hours

This game is often praised for its combat, and I definitely agree, at least for the first few hours. At the beginning, the story, exploration, and combat are all superb (other than ranged combat).  However, after a while it becomes very repetitive—every fight and side quest feels the same. Still, there is enough cool stuff left to plow through the rest of the game.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall (2014)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 20 hours

An XCOM-like squad game set as a cyperpunk RPG. The plot and initial gameplay were great. It got very repetitive though, and it felt like it lacked some of XCOM’s depth (in XCOM you could counter RNG by positioning/playing very carefully; in this game it felt much more often like I would get screwed due to being unlucky and have been able to play around it). It is overall solid though and I loved the cyberpunk atmosphere.

Sniper Elite 3 (2014)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 3 hours

A solid sniper game but a bit too conventional for me.

The Talos Principle (2014)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 12 hours

A puzzle game with a philosophical twist, but it doesn’t compare to Portal or Portal 2 at all. Some of the actual puzzles were superb, but the story really got in the way. I grew increasingly annoyed every time Elohim talked, which was like every five minutes. A good number of the puzzles felt like filler, making the game length pretty bloated. For context, I spent more time on this game than Portal and Portal 2 combined, and it was maybe half as fun as either.

The puzzle distribution was as follows: 20% were tutorial-ish (but still pretty fun as there are interesting mechanics), 30% were really satisfying to solve, 40% were grindy/a bit repetitive, and 10% felt like cheap gimmicks where you had to know or stumble upon some trick. But overall, it’s solid, and there are many puzzles.

Transistor (2014)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 41 minutes

I disliked the gameplay and the story. I’m generally a fan of futuristic/cyberpunk settings but the environment felt too unrealistic here. The constant narration also got annoying.

Bioshock Infinite (2013)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: 39 hours

Easily one of the best video games I have ever played. The plot is unmatched. It continues to explore social and philosophical themes like in the original Bioshock (2007), and it does so in even greater depth. Character development is among the best in any video game. The city of Columbia looks amazing and inspires just as much awe as Rapture. And you get to see some of the apparent utopia in action before conflict breaks out, as opposed to how in the original Bioshock, you start well after society has already crumbled.

Level design and atmosphere are superb. It had one of the most memorable enemy types ever, which was simultaneously comical, scary, and very sensible in terms of how it fits into the plot: Motorized Patriots. Everything fit together very well, making Columbia a living, real place.

Dota 2 (2013)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: est. 50 hours

I’ve played many more hours of Dota 1 than 2, so I’m not really sure if I’m rating Dota 2‘s improvements over Dota 1, or just Dota 1 itself. Anyway Dota 1/Dota 2 is a really good game, though I cannot see myself having fun playing this as I did 10 years ago.

Europa Universalis IV (2013)

Rating: 1/10

Time played: 51 minutes

Similarly to Kerbal Space Program and Divinity: Original Sin, this game isn’t actually bad but it was a combination of realizing “obviously not for me” and “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do and the tutorial clarified almost nothing.”

Gone Home (2013)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 54 minutes

Decent mystery/walking simulator, has a good amount of content while not wasting any time.

Metro: Last Light (2013)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 8 hours

A dark, gritty post-apocalyptic shooter. Felt very similar to the original Metro 2033 (2010), but had enough improvements and the story felt fresh enough.

Outlast (2013)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 1 hour

A survival horror that is the only game I have ever quit due to its being too scary. So I’m giving it a solid rating despite that I stopped playing.

Path of Exile (2013)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 300 hours

This might stay the best ARPG of the decade. It has a combat system that is easy to get the basics of, but it is incredibly complex, allowing for tons of depth. It has a mind-boggling amount of customization in both active and passive skills. And the combat can actually be fast. There are not many games that feel anywhere near as good when you are super geared, where you can use one skill to clear an entire screen full of enemies, use a very fast movement skill to get to the next screen in under a second, clear that screen, and so forth. I think Diablo III is a really good game, but Path of Exile is just better.

Remember Me (2013)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 4 hours

Storytelling and scenery were impressive, but combat was super frustrating. You often fought multiple enemies at once, and there was basically no AOE. Combat was based on combos, but you had to break combos to dodge attacks from many enemies. And there were invisible enemies that you couldn’t attack without doing certain things.

Saints Row IV (2013)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 38 hours

This is basically the Family Guy/Monty Python of video games. It’s very fun, mainly from the outrageous plot, relentless parody of other video games (the GTA and Mass Effect series immediately come to mind), numerous jokes/references to pop culture, and some unexpected mini-games (like Family Guy cutaway gags). You get to play an old-style 2D side-scroller game within the game during a key plot moment, and at other times you can chase a fast-moving, flying golden orb in what is essentially street Quidditch. And you can shoot people with a dubstep gun that causes them to move in beat. Oh and you get superpowers.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2013)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 19 hours

Solid stealth game. One of the few games that actually got me to replay some levels.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (2013)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 3 hours

A squad tactical shooter that had really weird controls and it took a long time for combat to feel reasonable. The intro mission was actually pretty fun because you had squadmates with powerful abilities and the visuals of the base. However, the game lost its luster after that. I also encountered various technical issues with this game that were quite frustrating.

The Swapper (2013)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 1 hour

Learned that it was not for me. The first few chambers were pretty cool, but the entire point of the game (clone/swapping mechanic) quickly became a chore.

Tomb Raider (2013)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 25 hours

Excellent storytelling and environment. The protagonist’s character development is one of the best in recent gaming. Graphics and combat were also really good.

I felt like I can’t give it a 10/10 because of one particular annoyance, which was that the early levels were littered with things/areas that couldn’t be explored until you get mechanics from later, and this fact was very unapparent. I spent what felt like a couple of hours early on trying to get past a certain area, before I realized much later that you need to get rope arrows for it.

Borderlands 2 (2012)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 11 hours

Was genuinely fun for the first couple hours, but then it felt like a leveling grind. There were some humorous aspects of the story, but it felt very over-the-top and disjointed. I never cared for any of the characters. The RPG elements were mediocre, while shooting was good but had its annoyances. I wasn’t a fan of the graphics style, and I could not stand the backtracking.

Diablo III (2012)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 600 hours

I still think this was an amazing game on release, and that the early criticism and subsequent nerfs to Infero, the hardest difficulty level, were unjustified. The game definitely did have some issues. The variety of skills was excellent, and the ability to respec was awesome for trying out new things.

Most of the controversy I think comes from socio-economics/behavioral-economics, in that the original Auction House allowed players to bypass all of the end-game and immediately get the best items, thus the chance of ever finding a better item is exceedingly small. Once I realized this, I played without using the Auction House, and the game was actually incredibly fun. (Yep, that linked post was me, and I still wonder if it contributed at all to the Auction House’s demise.)

Dishonored (2012)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 26 hours

Overall a good game. I encountered weird and devastating technical issues that definitely bring down the rating. In addition, the game provides you with the option to go combat over stealth, but the combat aspect was definitely lacking. I remember reloading from saves over and over and over again.

Dragon Nest (2012)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: est. 30 hours

Still has among the best combat I’ve seen in an MMO. However, the game was extremely grindy and repetitive.

Endless Space (2012)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 2 hours

I played this game after Endless Legends (which came out later, but still), and I thought this was like an inferior version of that game, from the races to the mechanics to the music. In a vacuum it might be good.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (2012)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 47 hours

A decent RPG, gets repetitive but is enjoyable most of the time.

Mass Effect 3 (2012)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 51 hours

An excellent game. It felt like Mass Effect 2 with better combat/RPG elements. I don’t understand why people hated the ending; I thought it was fine. Instead, the reason I can’t give it a 10/10 is that it didn’t feel like it improved upon Mass Effect 2 very much.

Spec Ops: The Line (2012)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 6 hours

I can’t tell whether this game is overrated or underrated. Combat-wise, it is a simple pretty boring shooter, but it has a pretty deep plot where you really reflect on the actions you have done. Without giving away too much, I thought the white phosphorous scene was among the most memorable and disturbing in video gaming.

Torchlight II (2012)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 4 hours

It would be a pretty good ARPG in a world without Diablo 3 and Path of Exile, but it just doesn’t compare to them. I had some fun but the combat pace feels really slow (in comparison to D3 and POE), the story is basically as filler as a video game story can be, and the skill system has nowhere near as much depth.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 18 hours

A really solid game. The missions are really fun, but from the strategic perspective it always felt like you were in a rush, though it gets better once you start building satellites.

Batman: Arkham City (2011)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 1 hour

I didn’t play much of it, but it felt identical to Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009), and I couldn’t stand playing a game like that again.

Crysis 2 (2011)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 6 hours

I liked this game a lot more than the original Crysis (2007), as it had much better gameplay, graphics, and story. As a New Yorker, I found the exploration in New York City is pretty amazing. However, I still could not stand the general repetitiveness of fighting the same enemies ad infinitum.

Dead Space 2 (2011)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 10 hours

A very scary and enjoyable game. The environment/atmosphere is amazing. Graphics were fine, and shooting was done well.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 28 hours

Gameplay was not very fun at the start, but it becomes phenomenal once you start building up augments. Excellent story and settings. Good stealth and action. It really gives you many ways to complete a mission.

Might and Magic: Heroes VI (2011)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 80 hours

A pretty interesting premise where you coordinate strategy on a grand map and also run tactics on smaller map. The tactical battles are actually really fun, if a bit repetitive. The campaign was excruciatingly difficult and I gave up somewhere along the Sanctuary campaign (I had beaten the Haven, Necropolis, and Inferno campaigns and some of the missions I had beaten only by exploiting certain AI behaviors). The games are very snowball-y, where the more units you preserve early on, the fewer units you will lose later on. And the computer scales up in power every so often, so if you snowball too slowly, you reach a point where it’s impossible to win.

Portal 2 (2011)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 8 hours

Great game but for me it lacked the intrigue/mystery of the original Portal (2007). And I thought it dragged on for way too long.

Saints Row: The Third (2011)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 32 hours

An awesome game. I played this after Saints Row IV, and while much of the absurdity exists in The Third, it was much more down-to-earth and I liked it less. However, one of the final missions was ridiculously good (the one where “Holding Out for a Hero” starts playing).

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 77 hours

While the game was a pretty solid open-world RPG, I found it to be vastly overrated. I also had one of my worst experiences in video gaming ever. Pretty early on, I unwitting contracted Sanguinare Vampiris and became a vampire, which was super annoying. Trying to live as such a creature, I repeatedly failed to feed on the blood of NPCs, as they would just start attacking me. Finally, I went online to lookup how to get rid of it, and it took a couple hours of maddeningly following online instructions (and once getting glitched and having to start over again) to finally cure myself.

Apart from that, the game is probably okay (6 or 7/10), but the vampire experience was very memorably horrible. I also got glitched on multiple other quests that I couldn’t finish. And the story is not very good. The only thing it has going for it is that it does open-world gaming correctly. (Even so, having played World of Warcraft for 3400+ hours, I did not find a generic buggy fantasy open-world game to be super compelling.)

Assassin’s Creed 2 (2010)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 1 hour

In the not-for-me category. I found the combat pretty uninteresting, the setting uninteresting, and even the parkour/platforming/stealth pretty bland. Also, it had some really weird controls for PC.

Bayonetta (2010)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 4 hours

I played the PC port that came out in 2017, but because of the massive time gap, I’m including it under the original release year.

The graphics and style are really nice, and it also has a good sense of outlandishness in terms of plot and characters. The environments are very good. The combat was cool at the beginning but it soon became repetitive, and some of the “trials” in-game were very annoying. I could not get myself to finish the game.

Bioshock 2 (2010)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 1 hour

Could be good, but I literally could not play it much due to a game-crash bug that would happen as soon as I stepped into a certain area needed for the main story. During the moments when I did play, it seemed very much like the original Bioshock.

Civilization V (2010)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 110 hours

An awesome game. It is one of the few non-Blizzard games I have spent over 100 hours in. There’s just something about building up civilizations from scratch.

Fallout: New Vegas (2010)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 6 hours

I played this game after Fallout 4 and (maybe I’m spoiled but) it felt basically unplayable. I basically wandered around for a while and couldn’t do anything.

Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) (2010)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 8 hours

One of the few console games on this list. Reach was a solid game, though I’m not really that opinionated about it.

Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 46 hours

I replayed the game recently (2017) in anticipation of Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017), and I feel like there’s no way this is the best title in the Mass Effect series so far. In fact, it might be my least favorite (though still miles better than most video games). I forgot how boring the planet resource mining was, or how annoying the hacking/bypass puzzles are. Still, its RPG/combat/sci-fi/plot/character-development/atmosphere/graphics are all insanely good.

Metro 2033 (2010)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 8 hours

I got glitched at the end of a level and didn’t want to replay the whole level. Otherwise, it is a pretty solid post-apocalyptic shooter.

Mirror’s Edge (2010)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 33 minutes

A parkour/platformer. It was super frustrating to play, I died repeatedly in the first level. The controls did not feel very fluid for a game all about running. Then I got to a point indoors where the frame rate dropped dramatically. The graphics and environment was really cool, and the plot was not bad so far.

Starcraft 2 (2010)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 500 hours

It was the only relevant RTS game for a long time. Multiplayer is great, and the campaigns are spectacular. Co-op (with the Legacy of the Void expansion) is also a very underrated gem in video gaming. I can open up the game in 2017 and it doesn’t feel outdated at all.

Vanquish (2010)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 5 hours

A solid game. Simple but really engaging.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (2010)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: 3472 hours

Of all the games I’ve ever played, this one has the most time spent by a long shot. Also, while the original game World of Warcraft was released in 2004, I started playing in late 2010, which was technically during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, but 95% of my playtime and 100% of my endgame play was during Catalcysm. Thus, I’m counting the game as Cataclysm for the purpose of the review, but it’s really a review of WoW in general.

The game is unmatched in terms of quality. It’s a 12-year old game and it still does certain things much better than any game I’ve seen. Having a spell book and being able to drag skills to a menu of hotkeys is amazing—I’m surprised how many newer games have obviously worse control systems than this. The inventory system is 10/10—you just press B and you see all of your items at once and can use or examine any of them while still running or fighting, without having to scroll through menus or lists (*cough* Skyrim, Witcher 3Fallout 4). I guess that’s the advantage of being designed specifically for PC. The UI is just so much better than games released even a decade later.

And it did open-world 7 years before everyone went “omg open-world is awesome” with Skyrim. You could walk from one end of Kalimdor to the other without a loading screen. And Kalimdor/Lordaeron/Outland/Northrend are each much bigger than Skyrim. The classes all feel unique and have tons of backstory behind them (partly because it was based on a lore-rich franchise). And while the graphics are a bit dated, they do enough to maintain a sense of awe and wonder.

The way I describe WoW to people who haven’t played is this: WoW is actually two games in one. The first is a leveling game, in which you get to max level and which feels like every other RPG except it is much more polished and the story is better. That is about 10% of the game. The other 90% is after you hit max level. Then the real game starts, with dungeons into raids.

Most of my memorable experience was during Tier 11, or the first set of raid bosses in Cataclysm. The fights were not trivial and had pretty complex mechanics, which I was unused to in an RPG game at the time. Up to that point, most “boss fights” I was accustomed to were just big things with tons of HP and damage, and to beat the boss, you just get really strong weapons and armor and you win. However, WoW bosses were largely not like this. Sure, they had big HP bars, but they also had plenty of mechanics. There were bosses where even if your group’s gear sucked, you could still win if your coordination was good enough. And for most bosses, even if you had insanely good gear, your whole group would die if you didn’t respond to boss mechanics properly. There were 10-person boss fights where if 9 people played perfectly and the last person made one mistake during a critical time, it was game over for the whole group. And that was the fun part—getting 10-25 strangers on the Internet to communicate and coordinate effectively with one another.

The only problem is that the game is too good, to the point where it is addicting. I spent literally a third of second-semester-freshman/first-semester-sophomore years of college on this game.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 7 hours

Was pretty fun at first but the combat became quite repetitive. Fortunately it was a pretty short game. It had some great levels with Scarecrow.

Dragon Age: Origins (2009)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 31 hours

While the combat was really cool for the first few hours, the game got super repetitive. The RPG elements are ok but plenty of the dialogue is very boring and should be skipped. I could not hold enough interest to finish the game.

Dead Space (2008)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 5 hours

A really scary game. I actually liked Dead Space 2 better than than this one.

Far Cry 2 (2008)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 1 hour

Fits the not-for-me category. I picked this up in 2015 along with Far Cry 4. The graphics/controls felt pretty aged and the malaria was already annoying.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) (2008)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: est. 20 hours

It was good like Melee. I still don’t see why people liked Melee so much over this.

Bioshock (2007)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 18 hours

Had excellent philosophy and exploration of Objectivist themes and also a stunning environment of Rapture. However, some of the levels felt pointless, there was a medium though not a frustrating amount of backtracking, and there was the escort mission.

Crysis (2007)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 12 hours

This game didn’t really feel complete. It had numerous graphics issues even setting it on low (though the same computer could run Crysis 2 with no problem), there were large quantities of basically the same enemies, and the plot was super lacking until entering the alien structure. This game basically felt like a sandbox though I wasn’t expecting it to be one.

Mass Effect (2007)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: 19 hours

Basically a perfect game. Great story, sci-fi, combat, RPG elements, and environments. Exploration using the Mako was pretty cool. Some of the planets—Noveria, Virmire, and Ilos—are still memorable. Saren/Sovereign were impressive antagonists.

Portal (2007)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 3 hours

Despite being a short and simple game, Portal was extremely enjoyable. It had a surprisingly good story given that there were only two characters, one who never spoke and the other who was an AI. The pacing/learning curve was perfect.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 9 hours

Pretty solid, though it had extremely dated graphics/interactions by the time I played it (in 2014). Still, it was fun enough.

Age of Empires III (2005)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 18 hours

I never really got why Age of Empires II was so popular (or why it’s better than III). I thought III was a reasonable game.

Half-Life 2 (2004)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 1 hour

This game is either vastly overrated or it has not aged well. Either way, I had no fun playing this game in 2017. The plot, graphics, and physics system don’t compare at all to later games. One of the physics puzzles, the one where you stack a bunch of cinder blocks on one side of a balance beam, seemed to be bugged, as even after figuring out the stacking immediately, it took a good 10 minutes before I glitched my way across. Even with all the blocks on one side, I could not jump across normally. I also got stuck more than once and had to reload the level.

Enter the Matrix (PS2) (2003)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: est. 20 hours

Had some pretty good cutscenes, even if the best were just taken from the movie, and had pretty cool fights/scenes. Still, I got super glitched even on a PS2 and literally could not proceed with one of the characters due to an infinite load screen.

Rise of Nations (2003)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: est. 60 hours

I always thought this game was better than Age of Empires II, mainly because the UI was so much more modern. The “Conquer the World” campaigns are really fun, and 1v1 skirmishes are great. The different nations were sufficiently different from one another to feel unique.

Ty the Tasmanian Tiger (PS2) (2002)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: est. 30 hours

I remember this as a great platformer/exploration/Australia game for the PS2. It is also maybe the only game with collectibles that I 100%’d, collecting every single thunder egg.

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 500 hours

Had a really good campaign with fleshed-out characters whose moralities are not black and white. Really good multiplayer, and the best map editor I’ve ever seen (better than that of Starcraft II in terms of ease of use). Maybe half the time I’ve spent on this game was in the map editor, learning how to code and do things (and developing Smota and helping out with Battleships Pro). The map editor was good enough for maps like Dota to be created, spawning the entire MOBA genre.

Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) (2001)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: est. 5 hours

I didn’t play much of this game, though I remember not being an FPS player at the time and therefore not being too impressed.

RuneScape (2001)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: est. 50 hours

This was the first RPG game I ever played, and it was pretty cool though super grindy. I also learned market making. Basically, stand at a bank and offer to buy coal for 100 gold a piece, and then immediately offer to sell at 200 gold a piece. People traded a lot, and I collected the spread a lot.

Super Smash Bros. Melee (Gamecube) (2001)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: est. 15 hours

This was basically the ultimate party game for years. Still, I never got why people obsessed that this was better than Brawl.

Diablo II (2000)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: est. 50 hours

Maybe I didn’t go far enough in this game, but I basically never found a really impressive item or got to the part where my character felt strong. Most of my playtime is also without the expansion Lord of Destruction. The game was certainly fun, but I think it is overrated.

Age of Empires II (1999)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: est. 10 hours

Having played Starcraft at the time, I could not understand why people liked Age of Empires II so much. The controls seemed obviously worse than in Starcraft, though I still remember it being ok.

Starcraft (1998)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 100 hours

A very good game. It was my introduction to the RTS genre, and it was a blast. All three races Protoss, Terran, and Zerg felt cool and unique. Controlling units was very difficult at first but it became pretty cool. The map editor was just good enough that many good custom maps were created, and the multiplayer was a really fun experience.

***

 

I’m planning to update this list every once in a while with new games.

I also have a list of movie ratings.

On Reviewing Things

Every year I go through the movies I watched that year and assign a number from 1-10, adding it to my list of movie scores. For example, last year Arrival (10) was the best movie, followed by Star Trek Beyond (9) and Rogue One (9), while the worst was Assassin’s Creed (2). You can see the full list here.

arrival

This year I want to add a list for video games. But this seems much harder to do, for at least the following reasons:

  1. There is so much more variance in the amount of time spent. Most movies are about 2 hours long, plus or minus an hour. But video games can range from one hour to many thousands of hours. I think the shortest video game I completed (depending on what you call a video game and what you call “completed”) was Gone Home in 54 minutes, while I roamed the World of Warcraft for 3472 hours.
  2. There are lots of different goals in video games. Most movies can be graded on the same rubric. But for video games, there is again much more variance. For single-player/story modes, do you count the experience of just going through the main story, or all the side content as well? Do you care about the story at all if it’s a sandbox game? For RPGs, do you count the experience as getting to max level (if possible) or rather the full scope of endgame content? For multiplayer, do you care about the fun aspect or competitive aspect or even spectating? What about graphics/sound? “Art” games? How do you judge the quality of multiplayer when very few people are playing?
  3. Pricing. Movies generally cost about the same to watch in theaters and to rent. Games have lots of pricing models: one-time purchase, free-to-play, subscriptions, microtransactions, etc. It’s tough to compare across different price levels or models. What about expansions/DLC? What about games that start off bad but get better as more patches are made?

This makes me think rating games on a scale of 1-10 is not as meaningful as for movies. But I will probably try anyways.

Edit (3/5/2017): I made the list of video game ratings.

Trump

Like many Hillary Clinton supporters, I was stunned upon learning that Donald Trump won the election. How could the so much obviously worse candidate win? How did the vote go to the candidate who promised to reverse decades of progress in international relations and is openly racist and sexist?

My very very blue Facebook feed was a deluge of people talking as if the apocalypse had just occurred. It was a funeral of collective mourning. Reassurances were made as if to calm the nerves after a global tragedy in which millions had perished. Some people felt that, because of aspects of their identity, they would now be demoted to second class citizens. I saw the hashtag spring forth: #notmypresident. Moving to Canada was on the table. People suddenly cared about how stupid the electoral college was. People were in shock. It was the beginning of the end of America.

And it went deeper than that. To the Left half, it was inconceivable that Trump would gain the vote of a single person, let alone half the American electorate. One person asked who are you, Trump voters? One can blame the social media echo chambers for this, but that is not the point. The real question is, for a liberal who values the rights and dignities of minorities, women, and LGBT people, how can one even begin to empathize with the other half of the nation, the Trump supporters?  The deporables? The racists, bigots, and homophobes?

In this small pocket of the electorate in my Facebook feed, I saw the great disconnect. It was an implicit assumption, an overriding narrative in almost all the posts, that anyone who voted for Trump must be all of these deplorable things: racists, bigots, and homophobes. And then I remembered why, despite voting for Clinton, I am becoming disillusioned with being a liberal. In previous posts I talked about being against the “safe space”/”social justice warrior” movement. Among the many reasons is the following. One of the tenets of of the current social justice movement is that “all white people are racist.” I’ve seen that phrase almost verbatim many times scrolling through Facebook in the past few years. I understand what it actually means, and I can definitely see where someone is coming from if they use that phrase. However, you can see the problem with this approach, right?

I try to imagine I am a random white person who just heard this statement for the first time. And then I am asked by the Left to join them, to sign on the dotted line under the phrase, “I AM A RACIST.” Sound appealing? Didn’t think so. It worries me a lot that the Left’s extreme faction is, for all its good intentions to combat racism and sexism and homophobia, building a wall that shuts out precisely the people who need most to be exposed to some liberal ideas or people. After vilifying big groups of people for so long, you’ve finally alienated them, leaving the alternative of Trump.

Most of the responses I saw after the election will only further this divide. Not everyone did this, but many people wrote off Trump supporters as the basket of deplorables: racists, bigots, misogynists, and homophobes. Can you see how this is a discussion ender, not a starter?

*

This was my attempt to empathize with a Trump voter. The story is not as simple as “all Trump supporters are deplorables.” In the CNN exit polls, for instance, Trump had the vote of 21% of non-white people, 42% of women, and 43% of college graduates. These are all considerably higher than zero.

In this post I pointed at the backlash against the recent social justice movement, but this is clearly not the only reason Trump was elected. I am also still optimistic that Trump won’t be that bad for the world, and I agree with Clinton’s plea that we keep an open mind.