ANNOUNCING: The Video Games Are Good 2023 GOTY Nominees
2023 was a year of peaks. Peak quality. Peak emptied wallets. And sadly, peak exploitation of video game workers.
We can't acknowledge our Game of the Year nominees, our favorite games of a year so recognized for the quality of its offerings, without acknowledging that.
The games on this year's list exemplify the power of creative and passionate individuals all across the games industry from teams of all sizes and share one key quality above all else: artistry.
Per tradition, our Game of the Year nominees were revealed with our biggest video of the year during our annual 24-hour anniversary stream. Share the video, play all of the games on the list, and celebrate these developers!
You'll find the full text transcript below. Enjoy!
The Video Games are Good 2023 Game of the Year Nominees
2023 made two things incredibly clear. The artistry of the games industry is reaching an absolute peak. Almost every week, we saw some wild new Game of the Year contender crafted by a passionate team of artists that’d blow our minds. Hand-in-hand with that though came peak levels of exploitation of the workers making these games for us. The industry has long since skipped past the tipping point for labor protections, and enough is enough. Nearly 7,000 people were laid off in the games industry in 2023, and in the wake of seeing labor movements win workers’ protections across the nation, we have just one thing to say before we can celebrate our favorite games of 2023.
Unionize the games industry. Protect the people who bring these games to life. Unionize. Unionize. Unionize. End of story.
The work that is put into these games in spite of the hellscape that is the games industry in 2023 is still worth celebrating. It’s still worth acknowledging the miracle workers who manage to make games like the nominees that make up VGG’s 2023 Class. These 10 games consumed us all throughout the year and stand as pitch-perfect examples of what development studios with clear visions and seemingly better than usual conditions can create.
So, with the runway clear, our hearts full, and our demands laid out on the table, it is my incredible honor to introduce you to VGG’s 2023 Game of the Year nominees.
Amarantus - Developed by ub4q
If you’ve ever found yourself yearning for a love interest from across a campfire, regretting something you’ve said the minute it left your lips, or secretly plotting your political revolution amidst pals, Amarantus is the game for you. This nuanced, relationship-first revolutionary visual novel stands out as one of the best of the year because of its pure artistry. Starting with its best-in-class writing, Amarantus delivers some of the most nuanced and detailed depictions of human relationships that sat with us long after finishing the game. Tack on a killer post-rock soundtrack, a fascinating theatrical presentation, and a series of the messiest relationships you can possibly dive into, and you’ve got one of the best games of 2023.
And, I mean… Amarantus has a feral knife girl. What other game has a feral knife girl? Uhh. Lemme check my notes. No other game has that. So let’s move on. Let’s go. Put it on the list. Game of the Year nominee.
Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - Developed by Nintendo
So… it turns out when you follow up one of the best games of the last decade with a sequel that offers everything you loved in the first game and adds an extra helping of fascinating creative freedom on top… you end up with one of the best games of the year. Tears of the Kingdom kind of had an impossible task ahead of it. It followed after the beloved formula-changing Breath of the Wild and needless to say, expectations couldn’t be higher. Somehow though, they came out the other end with an even stranger and more fulfilling game with Tears of the Kingdom.
With the addition of the Ultrahand and a “stick this thing to that thing and see what happens” machine-building puzzle-solving style, Tears of the Kingdom becomes a game about creative expression above all else. That alone is worth the price of admission, but the beauty of Hyrule, the emotional culmination of the game’s story, and let's face it: the Korok torture, made it something truly special.
El Paso, Elsewhere - Developed by Strange Scaffold
Strange Scaffold is one of the most fascinating teams working in the industry today. With games about an alien airport being inhabited by talking dogs and an Animal Crossing-like poker game featuring the “Fishy Mob,” Strange Scaffold makes truly unique pieces of art. And their latest, El Paso, Elsewhere, is by far their best.
This paranormal Max Payne-like balances Strange Scaffold’s best strength — their immaculate worldbuilding — with a pitch-perfect recreation of early 2000s third-person shooters. Studio head Xalavier Nelson Jr is all over the project, with his writing, acting, and rapping providing the thumping heartbeat of a game that supersedes its inspirations. It’s a vulnerable project and you can feel the team’s passion in making it bleed through every cutscene, every strained exchange between James Savage and his vampire ex-girlfriend, every slo-mo slug shot out of your gun and into some unknown horror of the night.
Strange Scaffold took every big swing possible and what results is one of the best games of the year.
Spider-Man 2 - Developed by Insomniac Games
It’s no secret that I love Spider-Man. But when you remove that from the equation, Insomniac’s Spider sequel stands out as one of the best superhero games ever released. A lot of that comes down to Insomniac’s attention to detail. Not unlike the Spider-Men in the game, Insomniac treats every aspect of the game with equal amounts of care.
Whether clashing with the beefiest baddies around in a bombastic set piece, or spending a quiet moment on a bench to help calm a lost old man in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sidequest, Spider-Man 2 nails what it means to be a superhero. It nails how it feels to be a superhero. And it features some of the best Spider-Man storytelling in any medium.
And I mean… any game that features Venom looking like and doing stuff like this? That’s an automatic Game of the Year contender, I mean come on.
Videoverse - Developed by Kinmoku
If you’re like me, you’ve got an era of your internet life you desperately wish you could return to. A place that helped you open up and learn things you’d never otherwise be exposed to. Your Gaia Onlines, Tumblrs, Neopets. Videoverse brings you right back to those places with its visual novel-like Miiverse-inspired gameplay and a deep understanding of what made those spaces so special.
As you scroll through forum-like pages, share art in the DMs with someone you may or may not be crushing on, and talk about your favorite games with these strangers, all those long-buried feelings of online adolesence begin to surface. It brings you back to a time when being whoever you were, silly, cringe, or otherwise, just wasn’t stamped out of you by the internet. Videoverse honors the empathetic power of video games as a storytelling medium and the healing potential of online communities like these.
As someone who found the love of their life on Tumblr nearly 10 years ago, it’s hard not to love a game like Videoverse and we really think you’d love it too.
Baldur’s Gate 3 - Developed by Larian Studios
Alright, Larian Studios. Roll for GOTY. Nat 20. Nice. Okay. So you start a video game studio in Belgium, with the innate ability to translate the tabletop experience into video games. You spend decades honing your craft before creating the long-awaited third release in the Baldur’s Gate series. It makes people soooo thirsty for all of the characters, it blows critics’ minds, and it’s such a success that it creates debates between gamers and developers about how games are made and “why isn’t everyone doing it the way you are.” It’s… a lot.
Baldur’s Gate 3 might just be the closest digital representation of the creativity of tabletop gaming, allowing players to truly carve their own unique path through the Forgotten Realms. Sharing stories about this game reveals that no two playthroughs are even close to similar — not unlike stories about tabletop experiences. That level of granularity in roleplaying is one of a dozen reasons it’s a Game of the Year nominee.
Cocoon - Developed by Geometric Interactive
There’s something irresistible about a game that truly stumps you and leaves you feeling the gears churning in your brain. It just works for us. And Cocoon was a game whose puzzles legitimately had me giggling by the time I finished playing because of the ways they broke my brain.
Coming from the mind of one of the designers of indie classics Limbo and Inside, Cocoon is a recursive puzzle game that has you hopping into and out of tiny orbs that hold entire worlds within them. Cocoon has you thinking four layers deep at all times, wondering how the world within a world within a world that’s being carried on your back might help you through some unknowable barrier ahead. It’s weirdly intuitive, the boss fights are surprisingly some of the best I’ve played all year, and it looks and sounds so beautifully alien. Do not skip Cocoon.
Alan Wake 2 - Developed by Remedy Entertainment
13 years ago, horror writer Alan Wake was left at the bottom of a lake, his journey of campy horror seemingly over and done with, never to be returned to. Well, not unlike one of its clearer inspirations, Twin Peaks, Alan Wake has returned and Remedy’s turned everything up to 11 for the sequel. It’s scarier, it’s bigger, it’s louder, it’s more ambitious. It’s everything you’d want a sequel to be.
Following the joint stories of newly introduced FBI Agent Saga Anderson and Alan Wake himself, Remedy straps you into a metanarrative about creative agency and an exploration of the human psyche. They utilize mixed media to great effect, creating some incredibly trippy visuals and its slower approach to horror really digs into your skin. Someone on Twitter called it a “survival horror game for English majors” and that kind of says everything you need to know about Alan Wake 2. PoliSci majors need not apply. This one's for the dorks. Shove off!
Coral Island - Developed by Stairway Games
We’re a farming sim family. Give us some land to till, some turnips to plant, and some villagers to fall in love with and we’re there no questions asked. Coral Island fulfills that brief easily, but it’s in all the ways it twists the formula that make it a Game of the Year nominee. From the Southeast Asian-inspired setting to the conservation-focused narrative, Coral Island finds fun ways to seed its themes into every aspect of the gameplay.
You’re cleaning up trash, you’re healing coral reefs when diving, you’re helping re-establish a town’s image after an oil spill ravages them. There’s a drive to everything that you’re doing that too many other “cozy” farming sims miss the mark on. Harvest Moon started it. Stardew Valley modernized it. And now, Coral Island has added some important layers of intention and diversity to the formula to lift it up to match — and in some ways surpass — those legends of the genre.
In Stars and Time - Developed by InsertDisc5
In Stores and Tone. Oh wait. That’s not it. [REWIND] In Stars and Time is like… cool. … no that’s not a good intro either. [REWIND] Okay… this is the one. In Stars and Time is a time loop RPG for the gays whose Earthbound-meets-Steven-Universe approach to story and characters will make you cry harder than anything you play this year. Nailed it!
In Stars and Time does a lot of things extremely well, like its literal rock paper scissors-based combat system that leans on clever visual cues to keep you engaged in every battle, but it’s the writing that really makes it sing. The feelings that are mined out of these characters and the depth of their stories are so unexpectedly powerful, tackling perspectives we rarely see covered in any media, let alone games. In Stars and Time’s story is devastating, heartwarming, and constantly surprising.
Any game that makes you feel seen or better understood is worth a GOTY nod in our eyes and that’s exactly what this game did for us.
And just like that, we’ve got VGG’s 2023 Game of the Year Nominees. Our 10 favorite games in a year so complimented for the quality of its offerings. To ensure that we’ll get even better games moving forward, we’ll say it one more time: celebrate the games you love as loudly as you can, advocate for real change in the industry however you can, and never forget the humans who bring these things to life.
If you want to find out more about the nominees, stay tuned! We’ll be spotlighting each nominee with a series of streams in December before revealing our winner before the end of the year! In the meantime, you can read about the games we’ve written about at videogamesgood.com and follow us across social media at vgamesaregood to find out when those streams start!
Thank you for watching.