While 2016 has been a difficult year for many, I want to reflect on my favorite things that helped me get through the hardest days. Our joy and entertainment, our binge-watching Netflix or slipping away for a few hours with a good book, will aid us now and in the coming years. I hope you enjoy my Best of 2016 list – in the comments below, let me know what you think of my choices, and what’s on your best-of list!
Best video game: Stardew Valley by Chucklefish
By far my most-played game this year, clocking in at 129 hours and counting. You leave a dull office job and travel to Stardew Valley, a small, struggling community with a farm you’ve just inherited from your grandfather. By growing, harvesting, and selling crops, as well as caring for livestock, you earn enough money to expand your farm and help rebuild the derelict community center. You can also go fishing and mining to level up your character. The game never punishes you too much, and there are no time limits for the overall goals; this eliminates the boring grind of most farming sims. Despite all the hours put in, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. Pick this up if you liked Harvest Moon! Available on Steam.
Honorable mention: Solstice by MoaCube
A choose-your-own-adventure and visual novel that captivates you with moral decisions and realistic character development. The fantasy story is unique, setting you in a city cut off from the rest of the world by a never-ending blizzard, while its inhabitants struggle to exist under tyranny. What I loved most about this experience was fleshing out these diverse characters and getting to know them through the story. There are queer people of color represented here, which is refreshing and needed. I hope we get similar stories from MoaCube. Available on Steam.
Best tabletop game: Mansions of Madness: Second Edition by Fantasy Flight Games
Before I gush about this game, two caveats: yes, I know H.P. Lovecraft was racist and I understand the complicated fandom that surrounds him. I also understand the potential ableism inherent in the title. I am not a Lovecraft fan myself, but decided to check out this game as it was one of the highest-rated titles this year on BoardGameGeek – and for a good reason! From the moment you start the app (yes, app integration!), the narrative and atmosphere is set with creepy music and sound effects; it’s convincing and engrossing. The game components only add to the atmosphere, making each surprise and clue uncovered a pure rush. I hope they publish expansion stories soon. Available on Amazon.com.
Honorable mention: Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle by USAopoly
This cooperative deck-builder is simple, but full of theme, with brilliant component and game-play design. Each player acts as one of our Hogwarts heroes (Hermione, Neville, Harry, and Ron) fighting against the powers of Voldemort and his minions. There are 7 boxes inside the game, where each box represents the corresponding Harry Potter novel. Players start with box one, and learn the game as you go along, opening a new box as soon as you complete the previous campaign. Each box introduces a new game mechanic, as well as new spells, characters, and components. Hogwarts Battle is perfect for beginner gamers and pros alike. Available on Amazon.com.
Best TV show: Mariah’s World on E!
I love divas, and my favorite of them all is Mariah. I’ve been a lamb (what she lovingly calls her fans) since 1902, and this docuseries gives me life. We all know her taste for diamonds, private his-and-hers yachts, and 7-inch heels, but that’s not why her fans love her. Mariah’s music has been the soundtrack of my life, and her lyrics and melodies resonate with the millions of people who play her records on repeat. Despite her lavish ways, she’s worked hard, both physically and emotionally, to stay in the spotlight – but never compromising her genuine kindness or fan base in the process. She knows exactly what she’s doing, lounging around in her sexy ensembles, with a wink to the camera to let you know she also thinks it’s over-the-top. Mariah’s World is perfect for a glimpse into her personal life, as well as her artistic process and devotion to her work – both as an artist and a mother.
Honorable mention: Designated Survivor on ABC
Mom and I don’t have similar tastes in TV – she’s more a reality show fan (so yes, we both like Mariah’s World!) and a fan of cop/detective procedural dramas. Designated Survivor piqued both our interests, as I gravitate toward disaster/apocalypse genres and she enjoys a good crime show. While I don’t think it’s going to win any Emmys, this is a cheesy but enjoyable show that poses interesting questions about power and government.
Best live theater: The Bodyguard at The Papermill Playhouse
As mentioned above, I love my divas, and Whitney Houston was no exception. I grew up listening to her powerful and resonant voice that hits you right in the gut every time. When I discovered The Bodyguard was premiering at the award-winning Papermill Playhouse, mom and I scooped up tickets; bonus points that Deborah Cox, vocal goddess and actor, was leading the show. From the moment she sang the first song, “Queen of the Night,” I was transported back to the 90s as if I were watching Whitney on stage; it was chilling. My heart swelled as Deborah nailed every song and every note. As soon as the show ended, we raced down to the box office and bought tickets to experience it one more time. Well, we ended up seeing it three times, and have plans to go again when the show tours in Philadelphia. We were also able to meet the stars at the stage door, as they graciously took pictures and signed our Playbill.
Honorable mention: Mariah Carey at The Beacon Theater
Mariah premiered her Christmas show at the Beacon Theater three years ago, and I splurged on front-row tickets. At that time, I was going through a major depressive episode, healing from wounds brought on by the end of a relationship. When the curtain lifted and I saw Mariah standing in front of me, knowing she was also struggling with the end of her marriage, we locked eyes and she smiled; I burst into tears and wept the entire show – tears of letting go, tears of shared pain, and tears of recovery. As she sang Hero, a song proclaiming inner strength and self-love, whose lyrics are tattooed on my arm, Mariah cried along, saying she needed to hear that song, too. That concert was the closest I’ve come to a spiritual experience, and was a crucial step in my healing process. Every year since, Mom and I make our pilgrimage to see Mariah on stage, belting out those holiday classics. And every year, I come home in a wheelchair covered in confetti and sparkles.
Best movie: Batman vs. Superman, directed by Zack Snyder
Yeah, I typed that. I admit it. I even saw it twice in theaters, and I hate going to the movies. Was it the perfect film? Hell no (get off my screen, Jesse Eisenberg), but it ticked off every comic-loving, corny box for me. Handome Clark Kent/Superman (the most important criteria)? Yes, it’s like Cavill was harvested from comic book soil to play the Man of Steel – look at those dimples! Exciting action sequence? Yes, obviously. Random event that will undoubtedly link to other DC films? Of course – fucking Aquaman is getting a movie and Batman vs. Superman made me excited about it! How is that possible? But the best part of BvS is Wonder Woman. Finally. Bad-ass guitar intro, (spoiler) saving the day, yes please – more of that. Admittedly, I am easy to please when it comes to superhero films, particularly DC’s heroes, so this movie hurdled effortlessly over my very low bar. Available on Amazon.com.
Honorable mention: Star Trek Beyond, directed by Justin Lin
Similarly to Batman vs. Superman, I love all things Trek. Nothing beats the original series and Leonard Nimoy as Spock. Nothing beats the deep, moral questions about war and sacrifice from Deep Space Nine. But I think Abram’s Trek holds its own and offers a different but compelling portrayal of this sci-fi setting. Of the films in the trilogy, Star Trek Beyond feels the most like the original series, with excellent banter between characters (those Spock/Bones scenes!) and a needed change in wardrobe. It’s like what TOS could be with a better budget and 2016 tech. The death of Anton Yelchin was tragic, and I’m glad they dedicated the film to him; his Chekov was perfection. I hope we get more from this alternate timeline crew. Available on Amazon.com.
Best comic book: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan
I’ve only heard good things about this, including Lin-Manuel Miranda’s praise, so I figured I would like it. Not only did I like it, speeding through six volumes in a week, but I fell in love with the characters Alana and Izabel. This shot up as one of the best comics I have ever read. It’s bizarre, playful, dark, and full of gratuitous sex. Fiona Staples lends her artistic talent, and it’s stunning. The plot runs head-on into uncomfortable, heavy topics about war, race, and gender that I don’t always agree with, and some character deaths hurt, but ultimately, this was an engaging comic that I now subscribe to. It’s surreal, unlike anything I’ve read, and I’m high-fiving myself for finally catching up with this popular book. Available on Amazon.com.
Honorable mention: Clean Room by Gail Simone
Gail Simone, my favorite comic writer and Tweeter, premiered this twisted horror title this year. It’s grotesque and completely unique in style and story. The comic revolves around a supposed self-help guru who leads a cultish following with promises of a better life, but folks who read her novel are turning up dead. A creepy murder mystery with a science-fiction twist that any fan of Simone should pick up. I’m a few issues behind, but will catch up in the new year. What better way to escape real-life horror than to read fictional horror from one of the best comic writers around? Available on Amazon.com.
Best novel: Borderline by Mishell Baker
I cannot recommend this enough. In fact, Mishell might be tired of me tagging her on tweets espousing my love for this book. But it’s rare to find a disabled protagonist, both physically and mentally ill, that doesn’t fall into the inspirational crip trope or a tragic hero. Millie became physically disabled after a failed suicide attempt, and lives in a care unit for mentally ill individuals. She’s flawed (not about her disabilities, just character traits), but determined and relatable. Set in Hollywood, her story quickly turns into this urban fantasy, involving fairies and other mythical creatures. I won’t spoil any more, but absolutely get your hands or screens on this if you enjoy fantasy and rare, good portrayals of disability. I was also fortunate enough to interview Mishell Baker for Easterseals Thrive! Available on Amazon.com.
Honorable mention: Accessing the Future, edited by Kathryn Allan, Djibril al-Ayad, et al
Accessing the Future is an anthology of short fiction by disabled writers questioning and exploring the idea of disability in the future, especially as it relates to interdependence, technology, and society. This was published in 2015, but I wanted to include it here because it’s an important read that needs more exposure. The speculative nature of the book also lends itself to the theme of emerging technologies and what lies ahead; Accessing the Future leaves us thinking about the possibilities of disability, as well as the hopes and fears of those living as disabled today. Also, the voices within reflect the spectrum of diversity within the disability community. Excellent and necessary read for sci-fi fans and/or disability scholars. Available on Amazon.com.
What was your favorite book, show, movie, or event in 2016? Let me know in the comments, or send a tweet to @geekygimp! See you next year, fellow geeks!