No name? No problem!
“Name a game where the protagonist is a mother.”
That was the prompt I read one night on Twitter, the community coming up mostly blank in response. After replying with a few of the games I could remember (The Park, Rakuen, Grandia III, and, jokingly, Silent Hill III), I couldn’t help but think I was forgetting… something. It wasn’t anything in response to the Twitter prompt — the game I was suddenly recalling was where the mother was an antagonist — but the fact that I couldn’t remember the name of the game started to drive me mad.
It wasn’t a game I had played, to tell the truth, but a game that had an ending so bizarrely traumatic that the play-by-play explanation given to me by a friend over a decade ago had been seared into my memory. I could see it in my mind’s eye so vividly… why couldn’t I remember the name?
I knew searching through Google was going to be impossible; “game where nerd’s mother gets really big and you have to destroy her and your girlfriend’s brain is in a jar also there’s a helicopter involved” was just not going to yield any results. Desperate enough to try anyway, I typed a few variations I thought would get some hits, but to no avail. One link stood out from the rest, however; a subreddit called /r/tipofmyjoystick, a polite community of gamers who assisted others find the names of the titles they were looking for. Figuring that another human would certainly remember that uniquely specific description, I quickly typed up what I could recall, pressed post, and waited.
Within hours I received the odd closure I was looking for (The House of the Dead: Overkill for those interested).
Pleased by the results, I decided that I’d try submitting other titles from my childhood lost in the annals of my memory. Some game where you play as a bug, another where you play as a scientist trying to track down your escaped evil clone. Both so vivid in my mind’s eye, but again, not enough for a decent Google search.
Again, within a few hours, names emerged — Bugdom and Dr. Brain Puzzleopolis / Puzzle Madness — names I sincerely never thought I’d hear again due to my fuzzy memories and the sheer amount of games released since. Delighted to put names back to these games, I instantly searched for the titles on YouTube, taking a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Of course, now that I had been helped, I felt it only fair to try to help others, especially considering the politeness of the community. I started reading through posts to see if I knew of the games people were vaguely describing. These things might sound like they’re bound to be laughably unsolvable for the uninitiated, but the moderators have done a fantastic job of ensuring posts are as helpful to other members as possible. Title-seekers must use brackets to convey necessary information, such as platform and year, followed by a bulleted breakdown of potentially pertinent tidbits. They even provide a guide on how to get the best results possible.
It was through skimming these posts that I was not only able to help someone find a more recent title, but, to my surprise, to re-discover titles I would have never been able to find even through posting on the subreddit. Games that I had played on occasion at my grandpa’s house, like the 1995 version of Hover!, or had helped an ex-boyfriend grind while he was at work, like Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth. Even more impossible was the brightly-colored platformer game that I literally would never have been able to describe, yet was an answer offered up on someone else’s post (Crystal Caves). These games I knew far too little about to be able to have a clear picture in my head, let alone articulate.
The most miraculous breakthrough, though, was when someone described a medieval strategy game with a handful of people chiming in their guesses. Obvious standouts where Age of Empires, Total War, and Crusader Kings, but other oft-forgotten titles like Cossacks and Stronghold were suggested. Thinking I’d finally find the game I’d watch my cousin play nearly two decades ago as we sat side by side on our grandparents’ computers, 9-year-old me playing some Disney movie title with him on a medieval RTS, I read over the titles posited, hoping I might find the game I could only describe as “a top down medieval game with bright colors on the map.”
Now, keep in mind that while those other games I’d found from my childhood were cool, they weren’t even in the same category as this game. So desperate was I to find it that I had even considered sending a photo of us playing to my cousin, hoping he might remember the name of the game I’d always wanted to play but at that age could never quite grasp, and, by the time I possessed the ability to do so, had long forgotten its name.
I couldn’t believe my own eyes when I googled a commenter’s suggestion, the screenshots matching what I had in my memory: Lords of the Realm II.
It was like that moment in Ratatouille when the food critic is immediately transported back to his childhood. Suddenly, the game I’d wanted to play for decades that I had seen in my mind’s eye had a name. It has a name! And it’s on Steam! And it’s only $2.99!
And now, thanks to the community’s help, it’s mine.
It’s an odd feeling, being able to finally put names to games I’d been trying to recall for ages. Games that I played once or twice, games that disappeared with old technology, or games that someone else had played and that I hadn’t been able to try for myself before they slipped from my memory. As it stands, the ones that had been burning a hole in my mind’s eye have been answered, that warm feeling of nostalgia making for a delightful weekend; however, I know if I have anymore I can’t remember, I know I’ll be able to turn to the tipofmyjoystick community, their helpful responses giving me back things I thought were lost long ago. Until then, I’ll be trying to help others on the subreddit find their lost games, hopefully giving them what I was gifted in return.