I first heard the term "doomscrolling" sometime this summer, when we were firmly in the teeth of the global pandemic, and on maybe our third or fourth crisis of 2020. It's a neat encapsulation of my life over the past four years: anxiously scrolling through Twitter as everyone reacts to the latest terrible thing happening somewhere in the world.
It goes without saying that this is a prime doomscrolling week. In a twist of fate, all of this is happening right in the middle of the next-gen console review period. I had to laugh when Eurogamer's Tom Phillips tweeted that the "upside of playing games on Series X is no longer having time to Twitter doomscroll on loading screens."
No doubt the next-gen console release will be called a relief when they arrive next week; an escape from the relentless misery of 2020. I've written in those terms at various points through the year, describing MLB The Show 20 as a "baseball fan's balm for a painful spring," and calling Animal Crossing: New Horizons "the perfect social game" because it's such a wholesome release from our current world. We've been conditioned to think of video games as an idealized fantasy world in which to escape the cares of our current reality.
But for me at least, reviewing the Xbox Series X hasn't been much of an escape. Mostly I'm thinking about stocking up in case of civil unrest; worrying about the pandemic (my cousin and uncle only just barely recovered from bad cases of COVID pneumonia), and wondering if, after everything, Donald Trump is going to find a way to stay in the White House after January 20. It's a prospect that can't help having a paralyzing effect on my enthusiasm for next-gen consoles—hard to care about console wars and first week sales when your country is descending into authoritarianism.
I say this as someone who has often relied on video games to get through tough times: watching Game Center CX, launching a streaming channel on Twitch, rediscovering old favorites like Monster Hunter: World. Among Us has become a staple in my household in recent weeks, in part because it works so well over Discord. This past weekend, we all got drunk and laughed like lunatics as we accused one another of being the Imposter. While I was laughing, though, I was also thinking about how in another world, we'd probably be playing board games instead.
If games are less of a comfort now, it may be because they are increasingly the prism through which we experience society, both for good and for ill. Celebrities play them. Politicians play them. As with sports, you're not sticking to video games when you stick to video games, because video games are ubiquitous. Over the past decade, an entire class of journalism has emerged around reporting on online communities, simply because they inform so much of the current discourse.
I wouldn't necessarily class this as a bad thing, either. Earlier this year, we launched Branching Narratives, a podcast in which people throughout the games industry talked about their personal journeys. One thing that jumped out at me over and over again was the unique perspectives that people like Austin Walker and Brenda Romero bring to games—perspectives deeply informed by their own lived experiences. Romero is busy working on Empire of Sin, an escapist fantasy if there ever was one, but she also made Train, a board game in which it becomes slowly evident that you are loading Jews into box cars to be shipped to World War II concentration camps.
At their best, games are an antidote to the revanchism that has taken hold over the past four years; the one medium that can truly put you in another person's shoes. We need that, especially now. But as with sports, there are times when gaming feels like its own parallel universe, where dissecting the relative merits of Cyberpunk 2077 or the Super Mario 3D All-Stars Collection is a life-or-death exercise. These are the moments when gaming culture starts to feel more like a cult, and the next-gen transition exemplifies the worst of these tendencies.
Right now, it's all too much. The truth is that I don't much care about backward compatibility at the moment, or whether or not Ratchet & Clank is actually a PS5 exclusive. It feels crazy to me that people are frantically pre-ordering new consoles even as unemployment spikes and the recession looms. USgamer will be taking the day off tomorrow in support of making Election Day a federal holiday, and I plan to use the occasion to get away from my phone, my computer, and my Xbox. Hopefully, Tuesday will come and go, and we won't have to pretend to argue about next-gen consoles in middle of a legal coup d'etat.
However you decide to spend your Election Day, I hope all of you stay safe, and that if you haven't voted yet, to please go out and do so. Good luck to everyone, and we'll see you on Wednesday.
Major Game Releases: November 2 to November 6
Here are the major releases for the week of November 2 to November 6. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Jurassic World Evolution [November 3 for Switch]: Open the door, get on the floor, everybody breed the dinosaur. Jurassic World Evolution has been out for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC for some time now, but simulation games are best on the Switch, in my opinion. Yes, Jurassic World Evolution is a park-building simulator, and the main attraction is un-feathered dinosaurs that make me angrier the longer I look at them. If you're OK with nakey dinosaurs, go ahead and make a deinonychus petting zoo or whatever your twisted heart desires.
- Dirt 5 [November 3 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC]: It's time to get muddy, bumpy, and otherwise scuffed-up with Codemaster's Dirt 5. If you're already a fan, you know that staying on the road is for chumps and grannies. Start your engines and get ready to slop your way through off-road courses in Morocco, China, Italy, Norway, and other locales. You have to contend with changeable weather, too. Don't forget: The icy roads of New York City slide directly into hell.
- Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered [November 6 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC]: Aww, we were joking about that whole "Driving on the road is for chumps and grannies" remark. News editor Mat Olson says Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered is "a real trip to 2010," and he means that in a good way. (Mostly.) "The roads of Seacrest County are back, the spike-strips and other gadgets are still satisfying to use, and the cars max out at unreasonable, imprudent speeds," he writes. "Sound the sirens and start the cat and mouse chases all over again."
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week In Gaming
- If you want Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, you're going to need a PlayStation 5. Many of the games headed to next-gen systems are also arriving on current-gen hardware. The upcoming Ratchet and Clank game is a notable exception. The Lombax's new adventure is admittedly impressive looking and is supposed to run at a consistent 60 FPS despite all the on-screen traffic. I don't doubt more than a few Ratchet and Clank fans will climb aboard the PlayStation 5 for the chance to play Rift Apart—and to learn what the deal is with that mysterious female Lombax.
- Speaking of next-gen, Fortnite is getting several improvements for the new consoles. The upgrades are mostly predictable: Improved visuals with a steady 60 FPS, a "more dynamic world," and 4K resolution. PlayStation 5 owners get an exclusive experience thanks to the DualSense's haptic feedback. Supposedly, you'll be able to feel the vibrations of the guns as you shoot them. Lord in Heaven, I hope the DualSense's battery is prepared for all this activity.
- Spider-Man: Miles Morales has an Into the Spider-Verse suit, and that's rad. The thing that makes this suit really special is how Morales literally becomes animated when he wears it. Into the Spider-Verse is one of the most stylish movies ever produced, and it's awesome to watch Morales move in the same over-exaggerated manner as he swoops through the streets of NYC. Into the Spider-Verse is criminally under-rated, even though it's easily the best Spider-Man movie. Go watch it.
- Did you remember Watch Dogs: Legion is out? I have a feeling it's going to get run over by the new console hype boiling on the horizon, so now's a good time to point out that we reviewed the game. It's…perfectly all right, according to reviews editor Mike Williams. "The problem is the gameplay of Watch Dogs Legion is mostly the same as its predecessors and the missions are quite repetitive overall," he writes.
- Halloween is over, but horror is forever! We wrote down some sPoOOoOoky thoughts for the hauntin' season, and hopefully you had a chance to check them out. If you missed out, here's a gasp-inducing summary. We listed 11 games that feature Halloween and use the holiday to induce a spine-tinging atmosphere. We also asked you what the greatest horror game of all time is, and elected Amnesia as our Game of the Month for October.
Axe of the Blood God for November 2, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
In a continuation of their look back on the most recent console generation, Kat and Nadia examine the outsized impact of the PlayStation 4 on RPGs. From the return of Japan to the "mainstreaming" of RPGs, to VR and "service games," the pair talk about all the way that RPGs have changed over the past seven years. Also in this episode: Cyberpunk 2077's delay, Trails of Cold Steel 4 impressions, and much more! Listen here!