If we truly are living in a golden age of video games, as some critics have asserted, then 2011 provided the best proof yet.
No single list can reflect every gamer’s taste — I, for example, can’t get down with first-person-shooters, which include blockbusters like the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series — but some games transcend genres to show us the possibilities of immersive digital entertainment.
Here are the 10 games that kept pulling me back this year, despite my need for sleep, food and a healthy emotional relationship with my wife.
10. Catherine (Atlus)
Schizophrenic in the best of ways, this mature game split its time between an eerily subtle (if male-centric) dating simulator and a vexingly fast-paced action puzzle.
9. Dark Souls (From Software)
How to describe this sword-and-sorcery epic? Beyond difficult. Brutally arcane and dour. Improbably detailed. Indescribably satisfying.
8. Infinity Blade II (Chair/Epic)
This iPhone/iPad game makes most mobile games look ridiculously thin and blocky by comparison. A worthy successor to one of the best mobile action-RPGs of 2010.
7. Ico/Shadow of the Colossus reissue (Team Ico)
Two visionary games from the last decade enjoyed some spit and polish for the high-def era — and gained new fans in the process.
6. Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo)
We’ve come to expect a certain level of sprightly inventiveness from the noble Mario franchise, and this eye-popping entry for the Nintendo 3DS satisfies on all levels.
5. Minecraft (Mojang)
Unleashing creativity via pint-sized building blocks, this decidedly retro-looking sandbox game lets players customize their digital environments in limitless and often profoundly personal ways.
4. Uncharted 3 (Naughty Dog)
The third installment of this acclaimed PS3-only series finds Nathan Drake and crew continuing their cinematic, Indiana Jones-style adventures amid platforming, shooting and the most gorgeously detailed environments of any console game out there.
3. Infamous 2 (Sucker Punch)
A PlayStation 3-exclusive, this combat-platformer wasn’t the flashiest game of the year, but its polish and endless playability belie a distinct social conscience in the New Orleans-styled environment of New Marais. Bonus points for the brilliant addition of user-generated content.
2. Skyrim (Bethesda)
Stunning breadth and lavish detail come together in Bethesda Game Studios’ long-awaited fifth installment in the Elder Scrolls fantasy RPG series. The game provides literally hundreds of hours of unique quests and exploration, even if technical glitches stymied some would-be fans.
1. Batman: Arkham City (Rocksteady)
This open-world sequel to 2009’s darkly comic Arkham Asylum ups the ante with solid voice acting and writing, massive setpieces, and an urgency and cleverness missing from most narratives — digital or otherwise.
John Wenzel is an executive editor of Reverb and an A&E reporter for The Denver Post. He is the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum) and maintains a Twitter feed of random song titles and band names @beardsandgum.