Hello everyone! Been another looong spell since I’ve last posted. If you’ve subscribed to this blog and you’re reading this, I’m grateful you’re still here and if this is the first time you’ve found this blog, welcome, I hope you enjoy your stay here however long or short.
Whatever reason you’re here, I hope you’ll join me for a look back on this past year. I know for many (pretty much everyone) 2020 is a year that we’ll be pleased to see the back of and it’d be all too tempting to simply try and pretend this year didn’t happen at all. But when you face challenging times, it’s important to remember all the moments of joy in between and the many things you have to be grateful for however mundane or trivial they might seem. Instead of celebrating New Year’s Eve, there are some cultures that celebrate Old Year’s Night, to take stock of the year gone by, looking back on all that’s happened and what we’ve learnt from it.
In this Takeaway I’m going to have a look back in a nice, simple way, by choosing some of my ‘top picks’ of the year to help remind myself of some of the many things I’ve been grateful for this year. These aren’t necessarily things that were produced this year, but things that have given me the most amount of satisfaction this year. I hope you will join me in doing the same however your year has panned out. Feel free to come up with your own categories and share them in the comments if you feel so inclined!
Game of the Year – Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch)
With a lot of this year being spent in Lockdown, and with work life presenting numerous challenges, video games have provided an excellent relief and escape, as well as a way of engaging in the kind of experiences that have been harder to find this year, such as exploring new places and interacting with friends and family.
Since me and my partner, Megan, took the plunge and got a Nintendo Switch in May, Animal Crossing has proved a great source of comfort, allowing us to escape the confines of our semi-detached house and set ourselves up on a beautiful island which we have slowly built up into a vibrant and idyllic village community. As well as that, it’s also allowed us to interact with friends and family members by having them visit our islands and even going to visit theirs.
While there have been some other brilliant games we’ve delved into this year, what’s set New Horizons apart is the very low-stakes, ambient comfort. There’s no crisis to resolve, no great evil to overcome, just a lovely island to manage, some quirky characters to befriend, all with a very slow and satisfying pace. While it hasn’t grabbed my attention all throughout the year, there have been many times when things are getting a bit stressful, where I’ve craved the simplicity of island life or wanted to flex my creative muscles and do the kind of home improvement not possible in rented property.
Book of the Year – The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
Having written my Masters dissertation on character building in Tolkien’s works and its applications in the field Outdoor Education, taking inspiration from Campbell’s works, I’d meant to delve fully into this book for a while now, and this year provided me the perfect opportunity to do so.
Though starting to read this book proved quite difficult as it was written in 1949, and I found Campbell’s tone and attitudes at odds with my 2020 brain, I kept on and was rewarded by being guided through some classic myths and legends and their psychological significances, discovering some of the timeless aspects of adventure and storytelling. Reading this has not only changed the way I look at stories, whether they are in books, games, film or TV, but also the way I look at facing challenge in life and the experiences I create for others.
TV Series of the Year – Star Trek: The Next Generation
I can’t believe I’ve only just gotten familiar with the space voyages of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew this year! Megan is a big Star Trek fan and introduced me to it when we found we both had much more time at home than we’d originally planned. We started off watching a few of her favourite episodes and then resolved to watch everything from beginning to end, and we are now making the most of the last season (seven), eager to see what final delights the show has in store for us, but also not wanting it to end anytime soon.
The show has been appealing for so many reasons. Like Animal Crossing, there is a sense of familiarity and comfort that sets in after a few episodes. Like many good TV series, you really come to care for the characters and enjoy their presence in your lives. But on top of that, the show presents us with a future that isn’t the violent dystopia we often see in Science Fiction, but one that presents hope for the future of the human race. Whilst difficulties and challenges still exist and mistakes still happen, it is heartening to see humanity, as part of the United Federation of Planets, interacting with different life forms and different ways of being with curiosity and wonder. A big part of the appeal is seeing how the characters we know and love respond to such diverse situations, with their own unique backgrounds and characteristics coming in to play as well.
It’s been particularly inspiring to the example of leadership set by Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard. It feels like quite a rare treat to follow a protagonist so thoughtful, calm and reflective. One who will take time to understand others rather than leaping to conclusions and balance his duty, his moral compass and his friendship with those under his command so effectively. Picard has been a much needed role model with all the work-related challenges I’ve faced this year and the show’s positive message about humanity has given me hope for brighter days to come.
Walk of the Year – Whirlaw Stones and the Bridestones
This was a walk we went on just yesterday. The snowfall we’ve been having lately and the opportunity to meet up with friends passing through the area combined to allow for a beautiful winter walk and a socially distanced catchup. While we have had one or two walks outside of our immediate area in the Calder Valley in the North of England, this one was made so special by the incredible winter landscape and the great company.
It was a relatively short walk at five and a half miles, but the snowfall forced us into taking our time with it, not that we were in any hurry during this rare opportunity for the five members of our fellowship to catch up with one another. Along the way, we also encountered grouse, a small company of deer and an older walker as we stopped for a snack break close to the Bridestones. We shared stories of our various travels here and there and it made us especially excited for more to come!
Creative Project of the Year – Megan’s Birthday Adventure Game
Like many people this year, I saw lockdown as an opportunity to develop some creative projects and develop skills – the kind of things we’d always said we’d do if we had the time. I’m pleased to say that I’ve been able to develop this blog and my ability to produce content (although that predictably fell away upon returning to work) but I was also hoping to delve into the world of games creation. Whilst this didn’t come about nearly as much as I wanted, I thought I’d use what little I’d learnt and some ideas I had floating about in my grey matter, to create a Birthday Adventure Game for Megan, considering we were still in lockdown and not able to go out and do the kind of things we’d normally do.
I created a story, some activities and recruited friends to fill in as the other characters in the game. On the day, I introduced the game and played the videos our friends had put together, giving her certain quests that she had to fulfill, each one bringing her closer to her ultimate goal of liberating the fictional town of Hampton Ducksworth from the cruel tyrant, Rick Hearth. It was a joy to put together and I was so pleased to see how well it was enjoyed!
And there you have it, my ‘top picks’ of the year! A light reminder of some things to be grateful for and to appreciate in this strange strange year. I hope whatever your 2020 has been like that you have been able to find joy and satisfaction in whatever is important to you. Sometime this weekend, I’ll be doing another Takeaway to look at some of the things I’m looking forward to into 2021 with some anticipated ‘top picks’ of the year to come. If you are so inclined, I invite you to join me with that soon. However you are spending this time, I wish you every success and happiness as we continue to navigate these strange times.
Talk to you soon, my friends.