Having done a more thorough review of albums and songs I liked in 2020, here’s some other stuff I enjoyed during our first lockdown year. It was a very heavy-media year, since we didn’t really… go anywhere, starting in March. The furthest from home I’ve been since the beginning of March 2020 is a lawyer’s office about 20 miles away, where I signed some paperwork in a parking lot. So let’s get to it!
In the beginning of the year I was lucky enough to go see a few concerts: the first one featuring Glass Beach & Dogleg, two favorite bands that I had discovered in 2019. It was cool that they managed to come through Portland on a small West coast tour that they did together. In February I also saw Sudan Archives, whom I have loved for a long time and put on a really great show (fronted by Velvet Negroni, who is also really talented).
After the whole shelter-in-place stuff started, there were a lot of people doing spur of the moment live shows on Youtube and Twitch. My favorite of these was The Tallest Man on Earth’s weekly Friday livestream, which I usually watched as a recording on Saturday mornings. It was also a balm to have the usual YouTube channels that share short performances by touring bands like NPR Music and KEXP continue to do so, but with artists performing from home.
I enjoyed watching a number of concert streams this year even if I couldn’t be there myself. In particular I watched full-length concerts by The Tallest Man on Earth, The Hold Steady, and Gorillaz. These were enjoyable! I had never seen Gorillaz live, though I would still really like to.
Because Gretchen has had more time at home this year, only going in to work a few times per week, we decided to institute “Movie Monday”, where we watch a film every Monday evening. This means I watched a lot of movies in 2020! Among the ones that came out in 2020, I particularly enjoyed Palm Springs, Unpregnant, Kajillionaire, and Let Them All Talk. I also had opportunities to rewatch Big Night, Blindspotting, and Michael Clayton, which are excellent movies.
We didn’t watch much in terms of “new TV” in 2020—it was actually dominated by a watch of The Sopranos, which neither Gretchen nor I had ever seen (and which we haven’t quite finished yet– we’re near the end of Season 5 currently) and watching Taskmaster, a British show that we enjoyed so much we ended up putting on a similar production with our friends on New Year’s Eve via Discord (I hope to write about that more later!)
As far as online video goes, there was a lot of TikTok watching, a lot of Among Us videos by Hafu, Polygon explainers and weirdness, Dunkey’s amazing videos, Simone Giertz, and more than enough Hearthstone videos on Youtube and streams on Twitch (though I’ve switched almost entirely to watching/playing the “Battlegrounds” mode that came out in 2019, which is a sort of card-based variant on the popular autochess genre).
I only started playing Geoguessr at the very tail end of the year, but it came after hearing about it from a friend who recommended watching the streamer Northernlion play it. I did, and then I gave the game a try, and I shared it with some friends on our weekly Discord call, and it was a HUGE hit. I’m sure part of it is that it feels good to get a little bit of that feeling of “seeing the world” in a time where we quite literally cannot go do that. But I think it’s also a really good game, and trying out the various modes has been a lot of fun—sometimes playing at the fidelity of just identifying the country quickly can be fun, and sometimes spending longer in locations but trying to narrow your location down to within a couple dozen yards is really intense and fun.
I offered to play Yuppie Psycho on the weekly stream that I do with some friends in Discord because I know they like horror games and it was around Halloween and wow I really dreaded playing this game. I just don’t like horror games! I think this game also had some small problems with unevenness in terms of how it hinted at things you needed to do as well as a really intense obsession with providing multiple endings, which I get is kind of a horror game tradition but also I just didn’t care enough to find everything in the game. Sorry! It had a number of really funny moments and some occasionally really cool aesthetics. It just wasn’t my thing.
Disc Room, though, was 100% my thing. I love games like this, where they can be very difficult but offer basically no consequence for failure, meaning you can just slam your head against them over and over again while you try to play them. I also felt like the secret stuff in this game was really well hinted at, and while I haven’t come even close to 100%ing this thing, I could definitely see myself coming back to experiment and search for more stuff.
The new Paper Mario (“and the Origami King”) is their best one in a while, building on the momentum of the perfectly-fine Wii U game Color Splash. The writing in this series continues to be funny, and I’m glad I saw this one through. The boss puzzle battles are definitely a highlight when it comes to the combat, which I didn’t really like in general, but I appreciate that they’ve continued experimenting and that they’ve largely done away with the resource-gathering aspect of combat (you do have to buy supplies, but it’s pretty easy to stockpile enough and there’s easy warping back to the main shop to refill when you need to).
Wide Ocean, Big Jacket tells a really lovely story and does it with style. I really enjoyed this short narrative game. You can play the whole thing in one sitting and I highly recommend it.
Jackbox 7 is the strongest pack of Jackbox games to come out in a while. It starts with a new version of Quiplash that finally replaces the final round with something bearable, includes three other pretty decent games, but also has one huge standout game– Blather Round, which is a really cool mix of trivia and party game that feels really fun. The biggest downside is the 6-player limit (though I get why they did this… the rounds would be extremely long with 8), but otherwise it’s a near-perfect game and I would love to see this one in particular get broken out with a whole bunch more prompts so I can continue playing this one for a long time.
The full list of other games I finished this year, most of which were with my Saturday night Discord crew: Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, Later Alligator, Neo Cab (a re-play with my friends on Discord, which was fun) Hypnospace Outlaw, Superliminal, A Golden Wake, the Gardens Between, Frog Detective (1 & 2), Full Throttle Remastered, The YAWHG, and Golf Story.
I’ve fallen back down the X-Men comic book rabbit hole with the release of House of X/Powers of X, a pair of intertwined miniseries that, over the course of thousands of years of history and alternate-history, moves the comics forward into a new era with pretty staggering changes to… everything. I’ve been keeping up with the resulting story via the Dawn of X trade paperbacks, which handily keep everything in chronological order and come out just frequently enough for me to keep remembering what happened last.
Lurking is the best nonfiction book about the internet I’ve read in ages; an empathetic, indepth read of the development of our online communication, exploring identity, privacy, intimacy, and how capitalism screwed it all up over the last ~20 years.
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle was the book that broke my COVID-19 summer “I can’t bring myself to read anything” mood; its mysteries had me wanting to get back to my e-reader and find more clues to unravel its central mystery. It’s a murder mystery with a Groundhog Day-style twist, which I found amusing having read this just shortly before watching Palm Springs, which also starts off with a similar premise but turns it on its head quite nicely.
Witchlight was a nice break from the more complicated, weighty X-Men comics I’d been reading all year. It’s a shoujo-style adventure about a witch looking for her family and the companionship she finds along the way. I loved the art in this book.
Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts is the Westing Game tribute that a lot of people have been waiting for. I saw it described online as “Ready Player One but for Boston” and that’s… pretty accurate, but only based on an assumption that Ready Player One is a good book (opinions on that one vary pretty wildly). If you like treasure hunts and self-deprecating Gen Xers and people wildly breaching their profession’s code of ethics, this book is for you.
I read two Boss Fight books this year: Majora’s Mask, which was a pretty decent history of the game and digs nicely into the fandom, unpacking various fan theories about the symbolism in the plot and so forth. Even better, though, was NBA Jam, which was a really great narrative history of the development of the game from its predecessors to its development to its release and sequels/spinoffs/etc. I learned a lot from this one about the history of a pretty major company in the gaming industry’s past.
While the vaccine is rolling out pretty steadily to folks here in the US as of when I’m writing this in January, we haven’t been given any real indication of when it will be available to the general public. I’m trying to stay patient and reasonable about that—I have been working from home full-time for 6½ years, and my trips outside basically consist of a grocery store run every 2 weeks, a pick-up at the comic book shop every ~4-6 weeks, and low-contact food takeout 4-5 times a month. So I anticipate a lot more media in 2021 as well. Right now I’m working on a playthrough of Ikenfell on the Switch and am really enjoying that. Maybe I’ll try to write about this stuff as I finish it rather than doing a post that takes me three days to write at the end of the year!