Lake, Unpacking and other indie gems had space to shine while games industry giants put the brakes on, faced charges of abuse – and rolled out lucrative limited edition assets

Read the Observer critics’ review of 2021 in full here

Another year spent indoors should have facilitated another bumper year for video games, that most indoorsy of artistic pursuits. Yet the games industry has shared many of the difficulties that have plagued other creative sectors, where dispersed teams have been forced to collaborate on complex creations. As a result, a clutch of 2021’s big-budget games have been delayed until next year, a situation that has let the sunlight in to draw up more modestly made, independent endeavours.

Games such as Unpacking, which tells its unconventional story about a young woman moving into a series of homes exclusively through the act of unpacking the boxes of her belongings. Or Lake, in which you play as a burnt-out programmer who temporarily becomes a postwoman in her pastoral hometown and, by delivering letters and parcels, readapts to more fulfilling rhythms and connections. These and others titles have provided bright flares of creativity in a psychologically demanding year. Meanwhile, the so-called “forever games”, such as Fortnite, Call of Duty and Destiny, which aim to dominate the game space in our lives via regular and indefinite content updates, have provided a reassuring nightly routine with friends for many.

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