DDNet Game of the Year Awards 2021! Arthouse Game of the Year

8 mins read

It’s that time of year again, everyone, where we celebrate the best games of the year. Despite being a heavily disrupted year thanks to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, 2021 produced some incredible games, almost from day one, and as a result, our awards this year has the most variety of games ever – almost 50 different titles got at least one award, and as you’ll see as we announce each category, it really is an endless stream of incredible experiences.

This year we had a special, expanded judging panel, with the entire DDNet team participating, but we also invited some prominent people from independent game publications outside the Website to participate, so we could get a broader range of insights and thoughts into the winners from each category. Our additional judges this year included Pete Davison from Rice Digital, Thomas Knight of Nook Gaming, Robert Allen of Tech-Gaming, Matt Ryan from Shindig, and academic and freelancer, @TsuChanJohnson on Twitter. The total judging pool for the awards was ten people this year around, and there was some heated discussion about the worthiest titles in each category indeed!

At DigitallyDownloaded.net we love games as works of art first, and products to be consumed a very distant second. If you look at games in a pure sense, as works of art, it actually changes a lot about them – it changes what you look for in them, and how you look at them. Games-as-art doesn’t tend to get much of a wrap in the broader industry, so we created this award specifically to celebrate those games that work just as well (if not better) as art works, rather than simply being pieces of entertainment.


We really cannot stop rewarding Unpacking at this year’s awards, but that just goes to show how much this game really got to us. It’s such a simple concept, but it moved us, made us laugh, and left us in a reflective mood. It did what a lot of the best artworks do, basically, and did so with an unassuming humility that was a delight to experience.

Art is there to reflect on our lives and experiences, and that’s what Unpacking does. Everyone moves home at some stage. Everyone struggles with the idea that not all of their beloved possessions will fit in the new space they occupy. When that happens, the question then becomes one of triage – what’s important, and what needs to be hidden away and, sadly, nearly forgotten. This is the experience Unpacking taps into, and it’s one of the most relevant and pertinent reflections on life that we’ve played all year.

If Unpacking is a simple game that taps into our emotions and sense of nostalgia, Gnosia is almost the polar opposite. It’s a kind of death game experience, where you need to figure out who among a crew of weirdos is also a villain, with the lives of everyone at stake. Like the best death game narratives, Gnosia will most certainly get you thinking, too, and if you know anything about Game Theory as a philosophical concept, you’ll have a field day analysing this one. 

Gnosia is also wildly entertaining thanks to its cast of interesting, oddball, and humorous characters. It’s also impressive just how interactive it is. Most death game games – Danganronpa and the like – draw you through a pretty linear narrative. Gnosia, meanwhile, has randomisation that keeps you on your toes and leads to a strong emergent narrative that only strengthens its reflections on Game Theory. You could easily write a thesis about how this one handles that. 

Any artwork that can move you to tears is, almost by definition, a powerful piece of art. Sumire made many of us cry (and I really do mean “us” – as in just about everyone I know that played it). It’s not that it’s particularly explicit or tragic. It’s just a perfectly-pitched, deeply emotional story of innocence, loss, regret, love and a lesson in just how little time each of us has on earth. 
Sumire is a short and to-the-point game. It’ll only take you around three hours to complete, but were it any longer than that it would lose a lot of its impact. At some point, the tears would have dried up and you would have become desensitised to it all. Sumire’s greatest strength is that it doesn’t let you get to that point. When every moment is not just a beautiful visual on the screen, but a touching reflection on something very human, you end up with a game that is effortlessly more potent and compelling than most games that last 100 hours. It will stay with you longer, too. How many mammoth games do you forget almost everything about almost as soon as you finish them? You won’t be doing that with Sumire.

The Caligula Effect 2
Much like its predecessor, The Caligula Effect 2 is destined to be a nearly forgotten game. There are rough edges to the gameplay and an aesthetic that is easy to misinterpret, so many people will never look at it twice. And that’s a pity because it’s also one of the smartest, sharpest games that has ever been crafted. The Caligula Effect 2 is so darned philosophical that it belongs on literary reading lists. 

The core theme of the game is that of constructed reality: If we can paint over reality to live a more idealised version of it… should we? With the world becoming increasingly fused with digital technologies via AR and VR, it’s a question that we’re going to be asking more and more, and in many ways The Caligula Effect 2 is a game that is ahead of its time. For now the idea of immersing ourselves in digital worlds so complete and utopic that we lose sense of ourselves is a wild fiction, and it will remain so… until it’s not. 

This is the bio under which all legacy DigitallyDownloaded.net articles are published (as in the 12,000-odd, before we moved to the new Website and platform). This is not a member of the DDNet Team. Please see the article's text for byline attribution.

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