Illustration by Kelly Abeln.

Illustration by Kelly Abeln.

It’s 2015, and the world is complicated. In the hunter-gatherer days, you hunted and gathered the food you needed to eat. You knew what your job was, you knew how to complete it, and there was a concrete indication that your job was complete: food.

These days, very few things give us that sense of mastery. Your tweets get a lot of retweets, and yet your life doesn’t get markedly any better. You work hard on a paper and get a grade back on it, but it doesn’t go on to be added to an Official Pantheon of Amazing Papers. One notable exception to life’s lack of clear, finite results? Video games!

Nothing gives me a sense of success like beating the ever-loving shit out of a video game. I get to play it until there’s nothing left to play. I watch the credits roll and sigh with contentment at a story concluded by my hand. I get to look at the box or the app icon and say to myself, Yup, I did that. Here are five games that have made me feel like a goddess among women.

1. The Mass Effect series

Commander Shepard, in Mass Effect 3.

Commander Shepard, Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect (2007), XBox/PS3/Microsoft Windows; Mass Effect Galaxy (2009), iOS; Mass Effect 2 (2010), XBox/PS3/Microsoft Windows; Mass Effect Infiltrator (2012), iOS/Android; Mass Effect 3 (2012), XBox/PS3/Microsoft Windows; Mass Effect Datapad (2012), iOS.

In Mass Effect, you play as Commander Shepard, who can be male or female, and are tasked with saving the galaxy from bad guys called the Reapers. Throughout the games, you have colleagues that you build relationships and have experiences with. You fight, make discoveries, and hang out at the nightclub in the Citadel, a space station where a lot of the game is based. Mass Effect has a complete and full universe that you get to explore. Completing this series felt like graduating college: I sometimes think back fondly on the friends and decisions I’d made during my time as a Commander.

2. The Binding of Isaac


The Binding of Isaac (2007), Microsoft Windows/OS X/Linux;The Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb (2012), Steam; The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth (2014/2015), Microsoft Windows/OS X/Linux/PS4/Vita/XBox One.

This game is now finally available on all consoles, and it’s a Zelda-style, roguelike dungeon-crawler, which means that it’s a different game every single time you play it. (“Roguelike” is a term that refers to games with randomly generated layouts.) At this point, I have played this game so many times that I am pretty sure I have seen every single item, curse, bad guy, and surprise the game can throw at me…but it still manages to surprise me when I come back to it. And I do come back to it: I keep playing this game, even though I’ve beaten it countless times, because I like knowing it so well that even though I’m fluent in all its moving parts, I still can’t predict how they’re going to take shape—it’s just my job to kick its ass every time anyway. (This is a lot of what adulthood is like, in general.)

3. The Oregon Trail


Oregon Trail (1971), MS-DOS.

When I was in third grade, my classroom got a computer. During lunch, we were allowed to play The Oregon Trail, the now-legendary game about settlers trying to make the move to Oregon from the East Coast. It didn’t teach me much about history, but I did learn about dysentery, which you can die of (and earn a GAME OVER for). The class all had to share the game, and we squabbled over it too much to ever make it to the promised land of Oregon. Recently, I found The Oregon Trail on an emulator and have been playing again, all by myself. And you know what? I MADE IT TO OREGON! Child-me reached through the years to high-five adult-me.

4. Neko Atsume


Neko Atsume (2015), iOS/Android.

Did you get caught up in this Japanese cat-care game? It’s almost a non-game: You have a backyard, you set up food and toys and beds in it, and slowly, cats show up to eat and play and nap. You name them, and they sometimes give you special treats, but mostly you just watch them. When I finally had been visited by all of the cats in the game (and given them all names), I felt a sense of calm drifting over me: I have achieved maximum digital cat adoration. Now, nothing makes me feel like more of a success than opening the app every once in a while and seeing a few cats lounging around playing with toys I bought them. (Full disclosure: I had to delete this app recently because I was maybe doing this a bit too much.)

5. The Walking Dead


The Walking Dead (2012), Android/iOS/Kindle Fire/OS X/Microsoft Windows/Ouya/PS3/PS4/PS Vita/XBox 360/XBox One.

The thing about the video game developer Telltale Games is that its story lines and outcomes change based on the snap decisions made within a game. In The Walking Dead, you are faced with zombies going after two characters. You have to choose which character you save—and the entire plot changes based on whom you choose. As you are playing, you get to shape the story; essentially, you are storytelling using someone else’s tools. I find this intoxicating. I’m not interested in all the stories the game could tell; I am interested in the story I am telling. I saved Duck because he’s a little kid, and I felt like he needed saving, so all the things Duck did after I saved him only could have happened in my game. It feels amazing to finish an episode of The Walking Dead and see the sum total of all the things I have done collected in such a neat fashion. Whether I got the “good ending” or the “bad ending,” it was mine to create. ♦