Included in this article are some of the best and most interesting game related videos that I've seen throughout 2018. Put together with the goal of highlighting some of the best content creators and videos that can enhance your knowledge of or bring up interesting viewpoints on the industry, developers, events that happened this year, or on individual games.
Each section might include a single video, a single video series, or videos that might be from different people but focus on a similar idea or subject. The ordering does not signify better or worse quality. All mentioned creators are worth following and all of them were likely to have produced other content worth viewing on their channel this year. Some videos are from older channels with a large number of followers and supporters, while some are new and could use more support. Many of them are able to work due to the donations of their Patreon supporters, if you enjoy the content and would like to donate this can usually be found in their Youtube video description or linked social media profile.
The Best Games Writing of 2018 can be found here.
Previous Best Video and Video Series Articles
Videos focused on analyzing and discussing the stories of games, their themes, the way they are told, and how and if their mechanics and interaction with the player helps to tell those stories
"It's still relatively rare to see a game use their mechanical foundation the combination of interactivity and repetitive action to deliver an explicit message to the player, which is why NieR Automata is one of the most meaningful and moving games I've ever played. This game has already gotten lots of praise and even more analysis and critique, but 18 months after release I still haven't seen anyone fully explain just what makes this game so special. So here I am, I'm Michael Saba and I produce video essays about the transformative potential of games, movies, and pop culture, a series I call Dreaming In Neon. Come with me if you want to live, because this is a story about the joy of being alive, a story that could only be told by a video game."
How NieR: Automata Tells the Ultimate Humanist Fable (By Michael Saba)
Michael Saba's analysis on how a game of clashing tonal elements, references to and subversions of eastern and western philosophy, themes of attempting to find the meaning in existence, and an understanding that its perspective could only be expressed through video games became one of the best games ever made.
"In this video, I'd like to take Rule of Rose and its convoluted and controversial narrative apart piece by piece. To unravel just how well thought-out, how consistent and coherent its narrative if, if you look at it up close and how much understanding and respect it actually shows for the disturbing themes at the heart of its melancholy tale. I'd like to show you that Rule of Rose is truly an underrated masterpiece of psychological horror storytelling that never stoops to exploitation of dark topics for mere shock value, but that was written with a message of compassion at heart; a message to survivors, to those who, themselves, might have been mistreated, disenfranchised or ostracized at any point in their lives. A message to all those who can find even a little bit of themselves in Jennifer."
RagnarRox explains why Rule of Rose, one of the rarest PS2 games after a moral panic in Europe, is an underrated masterpiece telling a story through its design, writing, and world building focused on exploitative societal structures, bullying, and power abuse. A Lord of the Flies that not only shows the how but why.
"Iconoclasts serves as a reminder of what Celeste aims to say. Celeste takes the player on a pilgrimage through which its protagonist comes to a realization of their personal spirit. Iconoclasts reminds the player that religion is really about that spiritual fulfillment on a person-to-person level."
Hepyrian on the ways that Celeste and Iconoclast explore the nature of faith.
"So this frickin banana picker has no value to anyone in the game, it's all just the principle of the thing, and that's the entire plot of The Secret of Monkey Island."
Innuendo Studios on the narrative themes and philosophy of The Secret of Monkey Island.
"So seldom does a game aim to make the player feel a complex negative emotion. And I often think that this is what hold back a lot of video game writing, why video game writing has a reputation as being less serious than other mediums. Video games will often go for big operatic moments of loss and grief but they will almost never explore the tremendous damage that an empty promise in a misplaced trust can cause."
Noah Caldwell-Gervais covers the themes and characters of the Torment games.
"Far Cry 5 doesn't have a view from nowhere, it's not a completely vacuous nothing, even though it's clear it wants to be that with how much it pulls its punches on its subject matter. But by focusing on empty surface level player empowerment and refusing to take a stance on anything, either through narrative or gameplay, Far Cry 5's more incidental ideas come to define the game's worldview."
Errant Signal looks at Far Cry 2 and 5 and the things that a game ends up saying when it desperately tries to say nothing.
"But in the end, ultimately, this is yet another testament to the author's ability to effectively draw horror from real world issues most games would never dare to tackle. Because why invent monsters, when life is already full of them."
RagnarRox on the psychological horror game The Cat Lady. He covers the story, themes of depression and anxiety, how the game's villains and fear inducing elements are grounded in modern society, and the design choices that improve the mood and narrative of the game.
"David Cage is a bad, thoughtless, irresponsible writer. He takes ideas and imagery with deep history and meaning behind them and incorporates them into his story at the most surface level possible and then turns around and says that it doesn't mean anything at all because he's not actively trying to send a message. The problem is he's sending one anyway, a muddled one to be sure, but a really really bad one, precisely because there's no thought put into it."
Mother's Basement covers the themes, misuse of imagery, irresponsible messages, simplicity of gameplay, and general lack of understanding of world events both in game and in real life found in Detroit Become Human, as well as examining David Cage's own contradictory words regarding his work and the need for writers to have some understanding of the context of what they are writing.
"Where we live will always define our lives to a sizable degree, one way or another, and cloud bank is begging us to ask the question, 'What would happen if the culture of where we live were democratized?' And the answer it comes back with is that culture of such a place would always be changing on a dime to suit the majority, but that also means, by definition, the culture will always be ephemeral, just a temporary distraction before the next thing takes its place. Imagine how often culture changes over decades in the real world, building and expanding on itself until the public fascination with it begins to fade before being inevitable lost to time. Then picture all of that occurring within days of each other. We don't know how many different cloud banks there have been. This is a town that has no history because everything that could denote its history has been painted over a million times."
Codex Entry discusses the narrative, themes, and setting of Transistor and what you have left in a world where nothing ever changes.
"We are granted intimate knowledge of Nico's life and it breaks down normal barriers we may find in a game that doesn't break the fourth wall at all. The lines between the reality of the game and what you're doing sitting behind the computer are rather blurred at this point, making it easy to find ourselves incredibly attached to young Niko after the time we've spent with them. This is similar to how people have grown attached to characters like Sans in Undertale or the Judge in OFF, often growing attached to characters that they've spent a lot of time with. This can even help change a person's perspective on the world at large if your media is far reaching enough."
Red Angel explores the topic of Parasocial Relationships. How players and characters develop their relationship with each other and the world they inhabit in games that address the player as a separate entity from the controllable protagonist.
Interviews and Documentaries
"Intrigued Stein tried the game for himself, he wasn't a gamer, but he couldn't stop playing Tetris. It was a surefire hit, he immediately went to the director of the institute and inquired about licensing. But the director sheepishly admitted that the game wasn't theirs. If Stein wanted to license Tetris, he would have to make a deal with the Soviet Union, but that was easier said than done."
The Gaming Historian tells the story of the creation of Tetris, how the game spread, and the battle to secure the rights.
"The crunch on Darksiders 1 was something I don't ever really want to repeat. Now I look back on it certainly with some fond memories because it was, it was a bit like going to war and winning the war. I think that's what it had felt like, if we had shipped a game that didn't do well or flopped or wasn't something that everybody as a group was collectively proud of it might have felt like going to war and losing and maybe the complete opposite feeling. I think that's always what kept us going was even in the darkest busiest dreary eyed hour was ok it's gonna be a good game we just got to get it out the door."
Gameumentary's Darksider documentary looks at the making of Darksiders 1 and 2, the creation and concepts behind them, how members of the team got into games, the art, and the long hours spent by the young team to ship the final product.
"It seems the government is content to let the people of Havana operate SNET as long as it doesn't abuse its privileges. The "alcohol in a paper bag" of connectivity."
Cloth Map travels to Cuba to learn about their internet and the free home made and maintained network that gamers have created.
"At that same time I remember one of those guys, they came to the studio, they did the tour, they looked at what we'd been building, and his reaction was interesting. It was, this is the best looking free to play game I've ever seen, you will fail."
Noclip's documentary on the history and survival of studio Digital Extremes and the creation of the sci-fi phenomenon that nobody wanted.
"The first Larian team was built in '97 in a small electronics shop which had no windows but one, the entrance window, I wouldn't want to go back there. And our furniture was made of Coca-Cola boxes with the wooden planks on top of it. That was the benches, and we always joked that that was our reserve cash, because you could take the bottles and bring them to the supermarket and they would give you some money for it, and we actually had to use it once."
Gameumentary's documentary focuses on the struggles faced by Larian Studios and their work on the Divinity series over the years before moving onto detailing the creation of Original Sin 2.
"Behind closed doors, Nintendo knew the end would be near for the 8-bit Family Computer and NES, but that the 16-bit machine was not yet ready. So Nintendo of America, with a completed game in hand, spent 1989 rolling out a plan to promote Super Mario Bros 3, in sever stages, for an entire year and release the game in 1990, by which time awareness of the game would be very high and demand for a video game, would be the highest ever."
Gaijillionaire researches the history and stories surrounding a variety of games, consoles, and other forms of entertainment. For the 30th Anniversary of Super Mario Bros 3 he talks about the game's development, Nintendo's brief switch to disks instead of cartridges in the mid 80s, how it was marketed in Japan and in the US, its original US appearance on the PlayChoice-10 arcade system, Japanese myths that influenced parts of the game, and the game's legacy over the past 30 years.
"I reach out to Valve a few times but never heard back. Nobody responded, but I got the message. Half-Life is a difficult topic for them, unfinished business, a story left untold, and asterisks that qualifies everything the company has achieved since. It sort of hangs over their legacy like a rotten smell that just won't go away but the influence of this series won't go away either. It radiates outwards from the blast 20 years ago and its effects can still be felt today in the design of countless games, the work of modders, the legacy of eSports, and the passions of a fandom that still persists today, in spite of the deafening radio silence from its creators. So then i thought, "To hell with it," let's just do the documentary anyway. If we can't talk to Valve then let's talk to all of those people whose lives were changed by Half-Life, the contemporary developers whose work was inspired by Half-Life, and the crazy ones who are attempting to finish the story themselves."
For the game's 20th anniversary Noclip dives into the legacy of Half Life and the community it created that was inspired by it and that keeps it alive.
Systems, Level, and World Design
Videos focused on the design, mechanics, and worlds of games and how they get the player to interact with them
"Not only do I think title is a reflection on a grief told through the story of a world you failed to save, but it also presents an optimistic vision of a post-post apocalyptic world you could choose to build - in one of the games finest side quests From the Ground Up. Of all opportunities in the game this is one that guarantees that, even once you're gone, there is a piece of you in Hyrule left behind."
GAMESD looks at how Breath of the Wild bucks the trend of post-apocalyptic fiction with its most thoughtful side-quest.
"And this is where I hope the epiphany occurs, in Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy frustration is the intended aesthetic goal. You play Getting over It to experience frustration in the same way you read a tragic novel to experience sadness or watch a scary movie to experience fear. Negative emotions are a integral part of artistic experiences, so why can't frustration be as well?"
Eric Taxxon on the games Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy and Celeste, player experienced frustration being a part of the artistic experience, and the message of Getting Over It and how it motivated and inspired them.
"The remake changes the tone, both in the sense of changing the quality of the colors in hue and shade and in terms of the more evasive mood in melancholy. The remake is warmer, more inviting, it asks you to be in awe of it, to photograph it and to share it. To be a tourist in The Forbidden Land."
Amr Al-Aaser on how the changes to mechanics, collectibles, controls, and art style frame the world and characters of Shadow of the Colossuss (2018) in a different way than the original game, how it causes you to experience the game with a different mindset, and what obsession with new tech and remakes can mean for art history.
"And it feels so hollow. And the game does all this to be honest with you, and to show you just how fragile you are. What these fantasies are built on is so simple, so easy to exploit. So if everything about the player stays the game but the game just doesn't pat you on the head, what does that effect, what changes? Well, pretty much everything, it would seem. What reward can you give yourself? Can you provide your own reinforcement if one of the of this scale just stops pretending? Can you do this on your own? To say that this gets to me is an understatement; this game scares me. While barely ever breaking the fourth wall, it aims right at me. It feels so intimate, so personal. It understand me and how precious I am with this medium. It feels like it looks me dead in the eye while it covers us both in gasoline, lights a match and says it won't flinch if I don't. And, my God, I think I'm a coward."
Micah Edmonds' series of videos on the connections games make with the player, both through mechanics and control and through narrative. He covers the mechanical connection the player has to the characters of Ico and the narrative construction for games and the premise and approach Shadow of the Colossus takes to connect the player to the game's world and its character. Micah also talks about game writer (Spec Ops The Line) and author (Significant Zero) Walt William and what he learned about game creation, player fantasy, and the relationship between player and designer from his work and book.
"It's at this moment you realize that the world of Dark Souls is very different to most other games. It's not a linear series of zones - but a complex, maze-like world that branches off into different areas, than loops back around on itself through shortcuts and elevators. It seems to snap together like a fancy 3D jigsaw puzzle, and exploring this world feels like navigating a Metroid map, or a Zelda dungeon."
Mark Brown talks about the world design of the first Dark Souls and how it causes the player to explore and get to know the world that they inhabit and the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of world design.
"In each situation, you're presented with an inherently comedic contradiction, meaning that the game's sense of humour isn't purely a product of Peter's charming witticisms-it's in your actions as well, how you physically navigate Spidey through these moments, serving as a reminder that writing in games goes beyond the text on a screen; it's in how everything surrounding those words is contextualized."
Spider-Man: Bringing Joy Back to Games (By Writing on Games)
Writing on Games discusses how Marvel's Spider-Man and the way that you traverse its world helped rekindle his love for a medium that he had been growing tired of.
"For many people, videos games are one of, if not the, primary source of their media consumption and in-turn is a critical pillar of their cultural awareness. When we consider that games could be the first medium through which younger generations are informed about the events that transpired in the great wars - plus the likes of Vietnam or even the Gulf conflicts - there is a responsibility to acknowledge the very politics of those events and make an assertion as to the ethical and moral issues throughout. This industry's adoration of violence can be problematic, but if it is framed to better inform us of the consequences of such action that can be progressive and in-time a positive for our cultural understanding. While I was rather surprised by how well some of these games managed to address this, I fear it's something that will only get worse over time."
With the arrival of the 100th armistice day, AI and Games looked at the depiction of AI controlled characters in games based off of real world military conflicts and discusses how these kind of depictions can be framed in a way that can enrich cultural understanding.
"Places carry the weight of their past in their architecture and, somehow, Ueda has imbued a wordless history within his own surreal and inhospitable worlds."
Jacob Geller heartfelt video on the architecture of the games of Fumito Ueda. Feelings evoked by the games, what they might say about the world, the longing for places that never existed, and why everything crumbles into the sea.
Music and Sound Design
"You experience Madeline's struggle in climbing the mountain through the challenging platforming, but the theme of anxiety is also explored in perhaps a less obvious way: the music. Composer Lena Raine has put so much of herself and her own personal struggle with anxiety into the soundtrack in order to tell Celeste's story through its music."
Game Score Fanfare on the music of Celeste and how it is used to enhance the themes of the game, the physiological effects of music and how Celeste creates a balance between being stressful and peaceful, and how the game's composer relates to the game's main character.
"In a game, if we want to have the player thin more abstractly, a low frequency is going to be best. Hyper Light Drifter's soundtrack is electric and bassy, the low pitches invite you to reflect on what the wordless story is all about. Is it a statement on society, on the human condition, or simply a sad tale. It's up to you to decide, but the soundtrack will only encourage you to think abstractly about it. On the other hand, Braid's higher pitched violin might simply prime you to think concretely about its mechanics and focus solely on their utility."
Why Frequency is the Secret of Adaptive Music | Psych of Play (By Daryl Talks Games)
Daryl Talks Games channel focuses on the interaction between psychology and video game design. Here he covers the effect that adaptive music and frequency can have on how you play a game and what your focus is on while playing.
"Known for scoring every Final Fantasy game up until 11, I would consider Uematsu to be right up there with Koji Kondo as the two pillars on which the entire culture of video game music rests. Basically, if Koji Kondo is video game Mozart, Nobuo Uematsu would be video game Beethoven. And like Beethoven, Uematsu music feels meticulously crafted to the point where every note feels like it's been placed exactly where it's supposed to be."
8-bit Music Theory's covers the work of self taught composer Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Smash Bros Brawl, Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey) in this three part series. Earlier this year, Uematsu stepped away from work to deal with an illness he has been suffering from.
Videos discussing the processes and theories behind game design
"Miyamoto was one of the first great game designers to see Nishikado's breakthrough for what it was. In an interview with Time magazine, Miyamoto was asked which one game revolutionized the video game industry. His response was: "Space Invaders. Before I saw it I was never particularly interested in video games, and certainly never thought I would make video games." In his first game, Donkey Kong, Miyamoto put Nishikado's design structure to work, but he also made his own important discovery."
Patrick Holleman spent seven years researching and writing six books on game design, this series looks to put the ideas that he discussed in those books into more easily accessible videos.
"But your strongest frames are always the key frames, which act as the foundation for the structure of your animations."
Dan Root's channel focuses on discussing game animation, the above videos focus on the importance of key frames and how they can relay a feeling of energy and excitement that can be lost with more detailed animation and the ways that characters are animated in fighting games to give more power and spectacle to their move-sets.
"Because when developers offer certain options or make certain design choices, disabled people can suddenly find themselves able to enjoy a game that would be otherwise impossible to play. Which means these often cheap and simple choice can open a game up to an entirely new audience of players."
Mark Brown's Designing for Disability series focuses around ways to develop games that will make them more inclusive to people with disabilities.
Long Form Analysis
Videos covering multiple facets of a game from its design, ideas behind and history of their creation, legacy, themes, narrative, and mechanics
"Far cry 2 is not a game about Africa, so much as the amorphous Western idea of a mono Africa. Hazy and anxious and soaked to the bone in blood and sunlight. Not naming the country helps to solidify that dreams-cape sense of where you are, not a real place, but an artificial concept of a place. In this frame, the chaos of combat systems make perfect sense. Of course there are no civilians. Of course every car you encounter on the road pulls a screeching 180 to chase you down until you're dead or they are. Of course nothing you do makes a positive impact on the war if any impact is made at all. Of course your character choice doesn't matter, it could be anybody, it will always be somebody. We see Africa on the news, and it's always on fire, here in the digital dream world of Far Cry 2 we sit among the flames and burn with it."
Noah Caldwell-Gervais looks at the entire Far Cry series, covering Far Cry 1-5 and the spin offs Blood Dragon and Primal. He cover the ideas the games explore with their mechanics, design focuses, stories, antagonists, and by their stated authorial intent. How Far Cry and its Xbox port served as the foundation for Crysis and elements of it being a product of its time. The uniqueness and attention to environment detail in the programming of Far Cry 2, its subversive design, and why it ends up being the subject of academic papers and developer presentations. What happens when you blend the serious and subversive FC 2 with the fun focus of FC 1 to get a more easily marketable title with Far Cry 3, one where the developers now want to use the fun as the uncomfortable and subversive element rather than the mechanics. What the game says about masculinity, what it uses the game of Poker to say about its characters, and how it is remembered vs how the developers wanted it to be remembered. Blood Dragon's shift to a sincere 80's action nostalgia that allows you to have fun while maintaining a harmony of tone and action. How Far Cry 4 is the least ambitious but the most thematically consistent. The pulp horror of the Valley of the Yetis DLC. Why Primal is his favorite of the series, how it makes a graceful transition mechanically to its setting, the enthusiasm behind the game, and what you can do with the limitations of the medium. How Far Cry 5 attempts to bring together all elements of the past games which leads to a disjointed game that fixates on a broken America while refusing to name its subject.
"Games with stories to tell - and I suppose it is a change of pace. No substitute for action, but there's no harm in an alternative. After all, the original Monkey Island came out at a time where most preferred the instant gratification of arcade-style games. The very idea of going for 10 minutes without shooting something was alien - until the precipitation of a new acceptance of adventure games. Ultimately, it's all thanks to Monkey Island, SCUMM, Maniac Mansion - and their creator."
Ahoy covers the adventure game genre, with a large focus on The Secret of Monkey Island and LucasArts, but also covering game development, sales and markets, developers, engines, companies starting to borrow from LucasArts' influences rather than Sierra's in their own adventure games and even in other genres, and gives some history on the rise and fall of genre and technological advancements.
The Game Industry, Connected Industries, and Culture
Videos looking into different aspects of the game industry, companies associated with it, discourse, Youtube, funding, hiring practices, etc
"We keep hearing stories like this over and over again."
People Make Games tells the story of one man's difficult journey into the games industry and where he ended up.
"Gaming culture is largely unable to conceive of this level of socio-economic criticism, of analysis of systemic problems and wider issues with society beyond one person's individual failings, and therefore cannot accurately fathom exactly what is damaging the things they love. Instead, they have to fantasize about their very own Lisa hiding somewhere in EA, trying to kill art like some kind of fucking Disney villain. This is why people hate CAD so much. Not because it's bad, no, bad things come and go all day every day. CAD is such a focus and aggression with millions and millions of words written about how awful it and its creator is because it's an embarrassment, it makes everyone else near it look bad, because as bad as it is, it managed to be honest."
While being hunted by an axe wielding creature, hbomberguy reflects on what art says to and about the people that consume it and the need for self criticism to be a part of media critique. He talks about gaming webcomics, how they can be written and consumed while often holding similar attitudes found in films like The Room, EA's business model, and the unreflective nature of gaming culture and what can be learned from it.
"So, establishing the character isn't the same this as establishing a theme and, similarly, communicating the event of the story isn't the same thing as communicating a theme. Again, themes are the main ideas that text is trying to communicate, to use these terms interchangeably is simply bad practice and it predictably leads to this kind of confusion."
SolePorpoise discusses the original article that lead to the popularity of the term ludonarrative dissonance, what it meant in its original context, how it was frequently misused afterwards, how it contrasts with ludonarrative harmony, and asks if the term is now beyond redemption.
"The true strength of Pathologic's nonlinear storytelling is how it manages to render "The Plague" itself, this ungraspable catastrophe of seminal proportions; a villain that utters no word and can never be confronted in a conversation or a confrontation. Pathologic makes this the actual central figure, the true protagonist and antagonist of the story."
RagnarRox covers the history and effects of plagues and how they have influences our myths, cultures, games, and movies.
"They've all made the same fuckin video. There were more Youtube videos made about these tweets than there were tweets. This outrage isn't real, it was constructed to get clicks using the oldest advertising trick in the book, 'Do what I say because someone you don't like doesn't want you to do it.' The psychology behind this meta outrage industry is pretty sad really."
Shaun covers a topic similar to his Cuphead video that was included in last year's best of list. The industry of Youtubers and tabloid sites attempting to create fake outrage narratives surrounding gaming products, how they all copy each other, why they do it, what it leads to, and how games are marketed. Always a useful thing to be able to spot with Youtube's terrible search and recommendation algorithms. Those kind of videos best summed up by Venture Beat's Jeffrey Grubb, "This has led to a large group of creators on YouTube jumping from one controversy to the next. If they find a topic that reliably gets views, they stick with it until their audience grows old. Then they move on to the next one. If the next controversy doesn’t exist, YouTube creators manufacture one."
"What is this "Great Assumption" I keep antagonizing you with? I hope it's obvious now that it's the paradigm of received knowledge which states that video games are first and foremost supposed to be ludologically gratifying and that a failure to uphold that promise is invalidating. But the more important thing, its consequence, is the inability to deal with the growing number of deviations video games are displaying which the universally accepted paradigm can't explain."
Ludocriticism's critique and defense of Prey (2017) and how it manages to weave together the ludonarrative in a way that hasn't been done in the genre before and the culture of criticism that ends up hurting the ability of critics, players, and developers to critique, engage with, and create games.
"One important thing to remember about art, in my opinion, is that it is not a passive reflection or document of history, but it is rather an agent of history, and the connection between the Hudson River School and Manifest Destiny is a prime example of that."
Polygon looks at the way art has influenced the romanticized image of the American West and how that influences games like Red Dead Redemption 2 by discussing The Hudson River School of Art, Luminism, and philosophy of the sublime with the associate curator of American Art at the New York Historical Society. This was done in the above video by Clayton Ashley as well as in an article by Arthur Gies.