This has been a blessedly great year of media for me, filled with new genres, mediums, and hyperfixations. Last year, I didn’t have much to say about games. This year, I have too much to say about just about everything. This is the year I got into Tolkien, grand strategy games, and early 2000s dubstep. It’s filled with lots of dumb fun, rich dramas, and deep dives. So without further ado, here is some of my favorite media that I found in 2022! As per usual, like half this stuff didn’t even come out in 2022.
Favorite: Severance – dir. Ben Stiller
Starting out with one of the strongest seasons of TV I’ve ever seen, Severance came out of nowhere and seems like a TV show custom made for me. It feels like a season-long episode of old Black Mirror, taking a high concept technology, and following it to all its horrifying ends. The technology in question being a procedure to separate your work and home consciousnesses at a company that resembles Apple, if it had founded scientology. Each episode dishes out more and more of the mystery, and the show is still incredibly satisfying even after you know the answers. All set in an infinite, liminal, underground office complex that perfectly matches its themes. And, unlike most of its Black Mirror contemporaries, it focuses on the workers in this hellish office complex organizing and fighting together, not individually. I don’t know how they’re going to top this next season.
Runner-Up: Andor – dir. Tony Gilroy
I’ve been pretty much completely burnt out on Star Wars for the past five years, so it took a lot to get me to watch Andor. But it’s exactly what people said it is: a hard look at rebellion and insurgency, from the perspective of the individuals who fight through it. It’s unapologetically antifascist and creative with the setting in a way no Star Wars work has been since the 80s. It does this by pulling from the sources of insurgency and anti-imperialism that inspired the original trilogy. I vividly believe in the personal, antifascist struggle that each of these characters go through, and there are several. There’s dorky kid who tells Cassian to read theory, the space anarchists and space communists getting over their infighting, the SUBLIME prison arc exploring individual radicalization. Star Wars has never been better than this.
Love is War 3: The third and best season of the show about brilliant, lovable dumbasses who are totally into each other playing shonen anime mind-game chess to avoid telling each other. The bits keep getting better, there’s an extended rap battle between two characters who know nothing about rap, one of the protagonists clearly thinks he’s in Sailor Moon, it’s great.
Bloom Into You: By far the most emotionally honest look at queerness I’ve seen in anime, and one that lets its queer characters be messy and sometimes shitty and still loved. I’m genuinely amazed this got made.
Favorite: Attack Surface
This is a sort-of sequel to Little Brother, a book that was very influential on my politics, career, and love of sci-fi with complex technology operated by complex people. Where Little Brother was full to bursting with now-cringey techno-optimism, Attack Surface is hard and cynical, burnt out by decades of the tech world getting worse and worse. But like all my favorite works of fiction, it finds a way to acknowledge that cynicism and still find joy and hope in something it loves.
Runner-Up: Tolkien’s Legendarium
These books obviously did not come out this year, but Rings of Power sent me on a kick reading Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and wider lore of the setting. Of course I’ve loved the movies since they came out, but this dive got me to fall in love with details the movies missed, like how often everyone is just writing songs and poetry, singing to each other, creating art, and telling stories. It’s a series in love with creation, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring it. One of my favorite hyperfixations this year.
Isles of Abandonment: A beautifully written book about ecosystems after humans have abandoned or transformed them. It talks about ecosystems with a loving prose that I’ve never seen in ecology writing before, and writes very persuasively about how places move on after human-induced apocalypses. Given that we’re on the precipice of our own, planet-wide one of those, it was weirdly soothing.
The most movie ever made. I’ve seen this movie three times and each of those times was some of the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in my life. It’s chaotic, over the top, achingly sincere, and so, so fun to watch with friends. You have not seen a movie until you’ve seen a shirtless, jacked man throw a leopard at British soldiers as a bludgeoning weapon. Or seen an extended dance battle against colonialism. Or witnessed the greatest friendship in human history where they do squats while sitting on each other’s shoulders.
Runner Up: Everything, Everywhere, All At Once
I don’t have anything to say about this that hasn’t already been said, but Michelle Yeoh rules and only she could have played this part. It spends most of its time as a series of genuinely creative action set pieces right out of the best Jackie Chan movies, but grounds all of it in simply drawn but no less emotionally resonant family relationships.
Weird Al: I don’t like music biopics, but this was the perfect music biopic for me! Weird Al was the first musician I really got into as a kid, so this was an absolute joy to experience. It’s playful with its subject, willing to completely rewrite history for a joke, and perfectly cast with Radcliffe at the helm.
It was an incredible year for games, but my game of the year is still a game from 2014. This was the greatest of my hyperfixations this year. VRChat is like the early internet: messy, strange, full of shit you’ve never seen before (for good and for ill), entirely too horny, filled with folks willing to spill their life story, and packed to bursting with copyright infringement. In a year where Metaverses were exhausting money pits, VRChat effortlessly achieves the dream of a shared virtual space with thousands of worlds to hop between. I’d put on my headset, get into a party with friends, and spend the evening fighting through a Star Wars battle, swinging around with Spider-Man webs, looking for cool avatars in someone’s personal worlds, exploring art installations, going to an actually well produced rave, and talking with someone dressed as Sexy Patrick Star until 2 in the morning. In a year filled with great gaming experiences, VRChat nights with friends were, by far, the most fun I’ve had in a game. I could write ethnographies about VRChat communities until I die, and I really hope I get to.
Runner Up: Elden Ring
The week of Elden Ring’s release has become one of those core media memories for me. I would spend night after night with a dozen or so friends on our Discord server, streaming our games, introducing series newcomers, talking about lore or weapon design, or just exploring. Elden Ring is what I wanted video games to be when I was 10, filled with endless adventure and discovery. Video games as a whole have become more and more about getting stuff and completing tasks, and Elden Ring calmly sidesteps that by giving you a massive world to explore where your discoveries genuinely feel novel. This isn’t Breath of the Wild where you explore a winding cavern to find yet another shrine or seed, this is packed with some of the strangest most beautiful art ever put in a video game. It feels impossible that something this large and this consistent even exists.
Runner Runner Up: Immortality
There were too many good games this year, so here’s another runner up. Immortality is three, live-action movies, sliced up and turned into a detective game. Packed with a love of 60s/70s filmmaking, David Lynch, and – unusually for a video game – Catholic iconography, Immortality feels like a game I’d need an entire seminar to really unpack and understand. It’s incredibly accessible to a non-gaming audience, mostly just being about searching through movie clips and piecing together a mystery. I highly recommend playing this with friends, because the process of uncovering this mystery together is electrifying.
Dwarf Fortress: Dwarf Fortress is the most complicated and systemically rich game ever created, and it’s finally been cleaned up enough to be accessible to strategy game newbies like me. It generates stories complex and interesting enough to put any of its contemporaries to shame, and provides a wealth of systems to learn. Additionally, I love its playful tone, how much glee it takes in killing you, in a way that feels refreshingly non-corporate. This will probably be my GOTY next year.
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord: I am so glad I finally got into these games. It uses the immersive sim ethos of creating rich, complex systems and letting you experience them as an individual. It systemizes the motivations and mechanics of warfare so completely, I think it could work as a compelling political teaching tool. Instead of focusing on the goodness or badness of an individual, it looks at the systems and incentives that push them in various directions. I could probably play this game until I die.
ULTRAKILL: The best of the best movement shooters. It has everything. It’s got the fast-paced retro FPS action I’ve come to expect, but with combo and scoring systems straight out of Japanese character action games. It gives its combat very consistent rules, and follows them to create as much depth as possible, a design philosophy that lets you PUNCH YOUR SHOTGUN BULLETS IN MID AIR SO THEY EXPLODE. Combined with a metal-as-all-hell visual style and soundtrack, tons of infinite modes to play around in, and a goddamn grappling hook, this has become my go-to shooter.
Favorite: Horror in Impossible Places – Super Eyepatch Wolf
My third greatest hyperfixation of the year, after VRChat and LOTR, was The Backrooms, or the greater internet community surrounding liminal spaces. Despite essentially being a collection of creepy pictures and some light horror fiction, I found it strangely compelling, and started watching videos, playing games, reading wiki pages, and eventually writing some of my own. However, something about that setting really spoke to me in a way I couldn’t put into words. Then I saw this video. And it perfectly captured this feeling of being trapped in in-between spaces that appealed to me so strongly. The video captures the beauty and the horror of that space, and dances between them effortlessly in a way that Eyepatch Wolf has pretty much made into a house style by this point (check out his Chainsaw Man video, he kills it). It is strange to feel so seen by a video essay.
Runner-Up: All My Homies Hate Skrillex – Timbah.On.Toast
Out of all the popular mediums, music is the one I really struggle with talking about the most. I have a…rudimentary understanding of the technical side (I played saxophone when I was 13 😎), and I listen to a lot of music, but you ask me to talk about it, I don’t usually have much to say beyond “it sounds cool”. See the music section below for an example of this!
This video isn’t a dive into a particular album, but the UK dubstep scene in the mid to late 2000s. This lets it talk about not just what the music is, but how it affected people and the communities that formed around it. It really helped me get more into a music scene I’ve been adjacent too since 2011!
The Hunger – ContraPoints: ContraPoint’s best and only work this year. Production values are pushed higher than they’ve ever been, with fictional frame narratives, custom made costume pieces, and an emotional core that hits harder than anything else she’s done.
Necessity of Gay Crime – James Somerton: A brilliantly uncomfortable look at intersections of queerness and poverty.
Favorite: Untrue – Burial
The aforementioned All My Homies Hate Skrillex taught me a lot of things, and one of them is how incredibly rad Burial is. His 2007 album, Untrue, is my favorite, created to capture the experience of wandering the city with friends after going to an intense EDM show. I like to take night walks, and this album served as a great soundtrack for several of those this year. I still don’t know how to talk intelligently about music, but this shit rules.
Runner Up: Beach Bunny – Emotional Creature
Beach Bunny is a longtime favorite, so this was a shoe in for me. What happens when the queen of sadgirl music gets happy? Check out Love Song and Oxygen, both really solid songs.
The Hives: I can’t pick a single album here, but I got really into The Hives this year, and they just have banger after banger.
I only saw one play this year, but it was Hadestown and that’s my favorite. I think there is a need to tell stories about fighting against capitalism and losing, and to find solace in those stories. Thanks to Tom for buying me tickets!
And there we go, another year’s worth of hyperfixations and fun! Next year has a lot of great potential on the horizon, from sequels like Spider-Man 2, Dune 2, and Spider-VERSE 2, to newcomers like Starfield and the friggin Barbie movie, which is going to rule and no one can convince me otherwise. See you back here next year!