No, it's 1996. We're looking at 1996, not 1997. This page is from the December 1996 issue, but they're doing that thing automakers do with car models. It would help if my copy of the magazine still had a cover.

GAMES was a puzzle magazine initially spearheaded by Will Shortz, who found fame as a crossword editor for the New York Times. It still lives in an extremely-truncated incarnation, minus any of the innovation, ingenuity, or imagination that made it great. It its heyday, it went beyond Penny Press crosswords and word searches to offer full-color photo mysteries; papercraft puzzles you had to punch out of inserts and assemble yourself; contests - some whose instructions and very existence were hidden in puzzles - for which the winners were awarded a prestigious GAMES T-shirt. (I had three.) It paid for an incorporated original art and photography into puzzles; it routinely created entirely new types of puzzles and even board games that could be played with player-made or provided printed-paper counters. Even classic puzzles distinguished themselves with more inventive clues incorporating wordplay or betrayals of expectations requiring an additional level of thought, or new twists (such as the World's Most Ornery Crossword, which offered two sets of clues - one easy, one hard - for the same grid, with solvers folding the page one way or the other to choose between them). It even included news articles on upcoming games and puzzle-based contests, plus features on pastimes such as D&D, mah-jongg, go, and orienteering. I cannot underline enough the care and inspiration immersed in the production of the magazine. It wholly lived up to its tagline: "For Creative Minds at Play." I loved it.

One of GAMES' ongoing features consisted of reviews of board games, with the best-regarded honored in an end-of-year feature called "The Games 100." Eventually, the review team's scope expanded to include what the magazine deemed "electronic games" with the medium's rise to prominence and crossover with the content and audience for traditional puzzles and board games. When Myst was awarded Game (paper or electronic) of the Year in 1994, this apparently caused a big controversy among the readership and editorial staff, leading to the formation of the Electronic Games 100 and GAMES getting into reviewing video games in earnest.

The Electronic Games 100 is fascinating from a modern standpoint, as its priorities and awards criteria are utterly alien. It's written by and for people who would enjoy the mental challenge of gaming but were of a markedly different demographic than EGM: more mature; better-heeled and more likely to own the nineties' extravagance of their very own PC (the PC Master Race mentality is in full force here); not as well-versed in video games as a medium, and decidedly not familiar with its conventions or history. This leads to some pretty...different awards.

We're starting with 1996, the first issue I found in my collection of old magazines that are preserved just absolutely superbly. 1996 was the year of: Super Mario 64; Tomb Raider; Diablo; Quake; Resident Evil; Super Mario RPG; and the first installments of Pokemon. This wasn't as big a year as the ones preceding or following, but those are some landmark titles. What, then, is the game of the year?

I'll start by saying that I didn't know when I started writing that this was going to be as long as it turned out to be. I also didn't know it was going to be this depressing. It didn't occur to me when I started that a history of me trying to communicate with other fans would be, by necessity, a history of me trying to communicate, and that's by definition near the apex of dishearteningly inept.

But I was talking about LunarNet with pandorkful a while back, and it got me thinking about my history of interactions with other gaming fans, both online and offline. "Remember when" may be, as Tony Soprano charged, the lowest form of conversation, but it's certainly one of the most comfortable and, judging from the hits that "mall memories" post of mine gets, crowd-pleasing. Also, Tony Soprano didn't live through the 2020s, which make almost any other time in memory seem paradisical to revisit. Here we go!

In case you saw the Chapter 25 Dead by Daylight announcement and was wondering why they didn't choose this character or that character or any of the more obvious, self-evidently-suitable options:

Despite the "we'll be printing money anyhow with the license, but we want to print double the money, to print Felix money" logic, I have to wonder why the Character Who Would Print All the Money is being held back. Too recent? In-house plans? Issues with representing the affiliated survivor? (Couldn't they just use his wife instead?)

ETA: An outright spoiler, but too good not to share.

ETA 2: Excellent fan-made chase music for the rumored killer by composer Jon Rob.

Roger Ebert once wrote a guide on how to go to the movies where he spoke about how to use input from critics. The best approach, he said, was not necessarily to find a critic whose tastes were in lockstep with your own but to find one whose opinions you could use to judge if you personally would like a movie. His example was a woman who called him up (apparently, the Chicago Sun-Times had dial-a-critic in those days) and asked him what he thought of Ingmar Bergman's Persona. He replied that he found it one of the best films of the year. "Oh, great," said the woman. "That doesn't sound like anything we'd want to see."

In reading GameSpot's description above of Elden Ring's de rigeur completely-unreasonable difficulty level - which can be called only rapturously masochistic, promising ceaseless, limitless agony in every single second of engagement with words that would make a Cenobite proud - I can respond only with an "oh, great" of my own.