2014 was a messy year. In the public imagination, I think it’s destined to be remembered as a year that showcased some of the ugliest parts of America and the feelings of malaise, anger, and helplessness that have set in over the back half of this year are going to have reverberating effects for a long time to come. Personally, this was a year of big successes and changes, but also a creeping feeling of stasis, lingering dissatisfaction and depression bolstered by the sheer ugliness of the events I saw unfolding on the news, on twitter, everywhere. Even video games, which is how I usually escape that stuff, were shown to be harboring some awful things.
It was rough, is what I’m saying, for everyone, a lot of people way more rough than it was for me. In looking back on this year, though, I want to celebrate the hints of hope and happiness that made some of that day-to-day weirdness easier to deal with. So in the grand tradition of Blink-182, my list is about the small things, the cute, funny, and comforting stuff that I enjoyed this year. Some of it originated from 2014, some of it didn’t. Buckle up, this is about to get real sincere.
Big Hero 6 was an unrelentingly sweet film. It’s a classic story of a boy and his marshmellow robot, and also his brother’s weird science friends and there’s a bad guy who wears a Kabuki mask and looks like Amon from The Legend of Korra and also it’s somehow based on a really pulpy Marvel comic? Okay, it’s also an unrelentingly weird film. Despite that, and despite being somewhat formulaic, it has a ton of heart, and the best moments in this film are some of the most simply joyous moments I experienced in any media this year. Baymax is a funny, cute ol’ robot friend, and I hope he gets a sequel.
Additionally, Big Hero 6 was effortlessly multicultural, taking place in a city dubbed San Fransokyo, a creative blend of East and West aesthetics and culture, with a multi-racial and progressive cast that felt incredibly natural. In a year where representation and cultural sensitivity were debated as publically as they’ve ever been, Big Hero 6 schooled everyone in the most unassuming way possible, swooping in as a light Disney popcorn flick with an easily diverse cast and an easy, respectful synthesis of Eastern and Western narrative tropes and visuals. And there were robots, man. So many robots.
Here’s an Idea: If I could have, I would have just stayed in college forever. Not because I liked being in debt, having an unstable schedule, or having my fate controlled by old white men who got sad if I didn’t talk enough about Derrida, but because nothing beats the pleasure of hearing someone smart talk about something they care about. Learning and being taught are two of my favorite things, and nothing this year scratched that itch as much as PBS Idea Channel. Hosted by the affably incisive Mike Rugnetta (formerly of Know Your Meme, before it became a 4chan colony), every week PBS Idea Channel puts out an eight to ten minute video with more insight and information crammed into it than most hour-long college lectures.
Youtube has become a hub for this sort of entertainment, full of smart little channels putting out educational content, and it’s a great rabbit hole to get lost down sometime. But Idea Channel stands as one of, if not the, best of the bunch; multidisciplinary, creatively covering a wide variety of topics, from IKEA to Adventure Time, and engaged in its audience in a careful, contemplative way. It’s everything your parents like about PBS with the added benefit of being fun to watch. It’s been a fixture of my past year, escapism in the most edifying way. If I did decide to go back to school, it’d be on one condition: that I could major in Ideas.
A friend of mine sent the link for this to me a couple months ago, during roughly the second or third big round of Gamerglate hatemongering (how can you keep track at this point?) exploding on twitter and gaming corners of the internet. It’s a simple, goofy game created in the text-engine twine, a personal portrait of a beloved pet, made general and public for the world at large. So wrote the creator neongray, who says:
“The cat of Cat Petting Simulator is a real cat, and every response to every pet is a real thing she’s done. She loves me, and by extension, she loves you. I don’t know who you are, player, but I want you, for at least a few minutes, to feel loved.”
I don’t know what else to add. The internet’s obsession with cats can get pretty tiring, even for cat lovers, but this game was a tiny love letter, using the bond of a pet and its owner as a way to transmit a feeling of innocent, pure affection from the creator to the player. That’s fucking beautiful. Pet that cat.
Friends who give a shit
I don’t really have a good link for this one. I could link to my facebook page, but I’d really prefer to, uh, not. But this year has been a good year for friends. The people in my life have been wonderful, and it’s been very heartening to be surrounded by compassionate, thoughtful people during some of the beautiful and ugly things that have happened in 2014. I’ve seen a lot of support and a lot of kindness and very little ugly stupidity. When it became a common meme for racist friends to come out of the woodwork during times of police brutality and crisis this year, that never happened in my circle. It was great.
“Twin-Sized Mattress” by The Front Bottoms
This song was my 2014 anthem. As I said above, this year was marked by some unique successes for me: my writing career has started moving upward at a pace that has frankly surprised me, and I’ve made some dear friends and done some work I’m very proud of. But it’s also been a year of doubt, of unease, of wondering if things were going to work out or if my path was at all sustainable.
The Front Bottoms know this fear well. This song, off their 2013 album Talon of the Hawk, captures the juxtaposition perfectly, a story of success and creative joy put immediately in tension with failure and doubt, ending with a runaway friend delivering an honest-to-god-curse:
She hopes I’m cursed forever to
Sleep on a twin-sized mattress
In somebody’s attic or basement my whole life,
Never graduating up in size to add another
And my nightmares will have nightmares every night
It’s what I’m most afraid of: never growing, never becoming what I want to be, just never amounting to much. Stasis. And Brian Sella screams it, bellowing it like an anthem. Taking ownership of it and turning it back around, using a curse as a defiant gesture of power. Singing along, I’m able to pull some of that power. Able to face and control the things that scare me most. May we all do the same.
Jake Muncy is a freelance writer, editor, and poet living in Austin, TX. In addition to functioning as Loser City’s Games Editor, his writing appears on The AV Club, Ovrld, and anywhere else he can convince people to post it. You can contact him by email or twitter, where he tweets regularly about video games, the Mountain Goats, and sandwiches. He has very strong feelings about Kanye West.