There is something about the clocks going back that I inextricably associate with video games. Perhaps it is the prospect of all those long evenings, hiding from the weather, snuggled up in an easy chair with a joypad and a mug of tea, lost in some fantastical role-playing adventure. This is also the period in which the year’s biggest games are released in time for Christmas, so there is the extra pleasure of discovering new characters, new worlds, as the endless drizzle falls outside.
There are games that simply provide us with beautiful autumn environments. Firewatch envelops us in the rolling, red-tinged forests of Wyoming; the mountain walks in A Short Hike present the soft auburn hues of the season in an almost impressionistic style; and Forza Horizon 4 perfectly replicates the wet, leaf-scattered roads of October country lanes. The richness with which modern visuals capture the reds and oranges of the season, the way HDR technology simulates that particular low, coppery sunlight as it glints across the screen, gives these games the cosiness of an open fire.
But there are also games that capture more than the look of autumn; they are autumnal in their themes and tone. The apocalyptic adventures The Last of Us and Fallout 4 make the most of their rugged settings, using the stark rural scenes to emphasis the feelings of solitude and loss. The quest at the centre of wordless PlayStation title Journey is bathed in burnished orange colours, but it is also a game about the cycle of life that autumn represents; the death and rebirth of nature. One thing I really love about the adventure Life Is Strange is its authentic autumnal setting – this game, about teenage girls discovering friendship amid fear and depression, takes me back to new school years beginning – those worrisome days, walking back home in the low light, breath visible in the cold air, the Wedding Present playing on my Walkman.
When I tweeted about the joy of autumnal games last week, I was inundated with people’s favourite examples. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Night in the Woods, the swirling burgundy leaves in the wind around Ghosts of Tsushima, the Paris of Broken Sword … Video games are nostalgic artefacts anyway – we spend so much time in their worlds, wrapped in their stories and dramas, and I think autumnal video games hit us extra-hard, because this season tells us that the game, like all things, has a course to run, and the end hovers close. As Shakespeare wrote, “This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”
Time is fleeting – autumn tells us this much. And that is what gives games, and everything else we experience, such value.