For our final Listmas feature of 2021, I wanted us to do something a little bit non-traditional. Because these past 24 months have been decidedly non-traditional, to put it in a cutesy borderline-offensive understatement. For many of us, our entire ways of living was completely upended. A world forcibly ground to a halt for those who could afford it, whilst those who couldn’t were plunged into uncertainty and fear-soaked chaos by being forced to navigate the deadliest pandemic in recent history just to survive. For the longest time, the mere idea of going outside was terrifying. The news every single day bringing with it ever higher statistics regarding infections and deaths. The isolation seemed to warp people’s brains to a degree that online discourse somehow turned even more heightened and vitriolic. Even now, with vaccines readily available, we seem to be no closer to an end of all this – a deadly combination of incompetent/openly corrupt governance, selfishly ignorant anti-vax tosspots, and the virus’ many mutations and easy transmissibility.
All of this existential anxiety weighs down heavily on a person. To pretend like we haven’t all been collectively traumatised by the last 24 months is to delude ourselves. In such times of trauma, some of us turn to art and media to help us cope with these overwhelming feelings. Take the edge off, process, or distract from the realities of the situation if just for a little while. It’s a valid response and one that I’m fairly certain we’ve all partaken in to some degree – there’s a reason why everybody gravitated towards Contagion at the pandemic’s onset. When the big things are falling apart, you need to find the little things to help keep you going. Maybe the Knicks were having a good season and you wanna see if they make the playoffs. If they weren’t, you could always try getting into baseball.
So, that’s what I wanted this last post of 2021 to be about. The media which helped us, however slightly, navigate through the non-stop dread and confusion of these horrible two years. They didn’t have to originate from the past two years, either. Release dates aren’t what matter. The personal connection that these works provided us, the energy to get out of bed more days than not, and the balm in the face of These Uncertain TimesTM are what mattered. Several Set the Tape staffers offered their hearts up and the results are below.
We’d love to hear from you if there’s anything which helped you push through this pandemic age. There’s no judgement or cynicism here. Everyone gets enough of that everywhere else. Here’s hoping 2022 is the start of an upswing. We’ll still be here, at least. Happy new year. – Callie Petch
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
The Mass Effect series is one of my all-time favourite works of fiction. Not just video games, but fiction on a whole. I picked up the first game on a whim from a supermarket back when my Xbox 360 was still new to me and I didn’t have many games on it. I was quickly drawn into the story, massive world building and lore of the game, and the lovable characters. As the trilogy went on, I just got more and more invested, and came to love everything about it.
It’s been almost ten years since the trilogy came to a close, and as such I’d played the series through several times whenever the feeling took me. But when it was announced that a remaster of the original trilogy was coming out, in one collected volume, I felt an invigoration for the series I hadn’t in a long while. Paying through these games again, with their improved graphics and shine were a genuine delight in a year where there’s been little to find joy in.
I felt like I was reuniting with old friends, people that I cared about even if they were fictional. I got to see those relationships form all over again, got to spend time exploring their lives and their hopes, and I cried when some of them were lost along the way. It might sound silly, but playing through this series again, crying my eyes out as it came to a heart-breaking end made me feel a bit better, and I guess crying over some fictional characters stopped me from crying at the rest of the world; if only for a while. – Amy Walker
Tripping across a free trial for Apple TV+ this year changed the game for my TV subscriptions. A year and a half of not really caring about yet another subscription service and questioning the point of it was all put to rest on day one when my family started Bill Lawrence’s latest sitcom, the now award-winning Ted Lasso. Instantly settling into this heart-warming, feel good comedy from the Scrubs creator about an American football coach coming to England to coach a struggling football team, the show is guaranteed to warm the coldest of souls and have you cheering even if, like me, you couldn’t care less about English football!
Close behind Ted was Mythic Quest, this work-com places viewers as flies-on-the-wall at an MMORPG game developer. Created by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day – and co-financed by Ubisoft, but we’ll not hold it against the show – it’s The Office, but far more out-there. It’s a laugh a minute riot with a soft centre that you don’t necessarily see coming. With a couple of episodes recorded over lockdown that are guaranteed to have you shedding tears, this one-two hit of Ted Lasso and Mythic Quest makes the cost of an Apple TV+ subscription a bargain at twice the price. – Andrew Brooker
READ MORE: 12 Days of Podmas
During 2020 we all spent a lot of time online. For some, it was too much. ‘Digital detox’ became a thing as people wanted to get offline – presumably because they couldn’t face another themed office Zoom conference call or a pub quiz without the pub. Thus, the world rediscovered board games. The UK saw a 20% increase in sales last year, as people discovered that spending all of your time with your loved ones meant either thinking of new conversation topics or finding something else to do instead. For people who already own so many board games that buying more during one of the greatest global economic collapses ever was hard to justify, it meant a chance to get to grips with games that deserved more attention. Now that Netflix had been finished, it was time to properly play Gloomhaven.
A campaign-based cooperative board game set in a fantasy-themed world with a branching narrative first released in 2017, Gloomhaven became the perfect panacea. An interactive, fun world that could be explored by shut-ins. One that allowed you to care about something other than microwaving your post or having to watch daily briefings. Lockdown was the ideal opportunity to play through the contained scenarios, enjoy many online ones, and create some of your own. It’s still being played, along with its expansions and supplements. The only question is when will the long-awaited sequel Frosthaven arrive? Like many games teetering on the brink of being launched, it has been delayed due to global distribution issues. It seems Covid realised how much fun we were all having with board games, and so decided we couldn’t even have that. – Paul Regan
READ MORE: Listmas 2021 – Top TV
Desert Bus for Hope
Even before the pandemic hit, Desert Bus for Hope had been something of a life-raft for me in years prior. Every November, the members of Canadian online sketch-comedy troupe LoadingReadyRun and their various friends/comrades gather together for a charity livestream in which they play the semi-titular unreleased 1995 Sega-CD game for as long as viewers are willing to donate. Since the parody game by comedy magicians Penn & Teller is so unremittingly dull – you drive a bus limited to 40KPH along a straight desert road with no traffic from Tucson to Las Vegas in real-time with no pause button and the bus constantly drifting rightwards, crashing onto the verges resulting in you getting towed back to Tucson in real-time – the crew utilise the typically-week-long experience as a means to get funny and weird. Playing quizzes, building LEGO except the builder is not allowed to see the instructions, random dance parties, mental health talks, auctions of cool nerdy shit, fierce coffee pong tournaments. The event is such a wholesome, silly, inclusive, safe space that I give a full week of my life over to each year.
Therefore, when it became clear that the pandemic was not going to let up in time for the 2020 edition, I was concerned this would be another much-needed constant taken away from me. And when it was announced to be all-virtual, the various shifts each plugging in from home, I was worried the vibe of friends hanging out in a room together would be lost and Desert Bus would end up like any number of uncanny simulacra Zoom specials of TV shows. (Although I completely understood the move; health takes priority in a pandemic.) My worries were unfounded. Desert Bus was still Desert Bus and, in fact, took greater advantage of the shift in production means to play around with the format, invite more guests, and speak even more to the moment of wholesome inclusivity in a world so divided and terrifying.
The hybrid virtual/in-person production of 2021’s event similarly worked gangbusters and, incredibly, both years didn’t stop the sheer enormity of viewer generosity as each event demolished the then-record total for a single year’s donations. Seeing with my own eyes the 2021 total tip over to $1 million raised for Child’s Play… I can’t lie, it warmed my heart so much. In a country led by sociopathic donkeys, as I wake up each day to new stories of a general public’s rapacious selfishness, and especially non-stop platformed transphobia… It’s just nice to be reminded sometimes of humanity’s capacity for goodness. – Callie Petch
James Bond rewatch
‘You can still depend on one man’ declared the trailer for Goldeneye back in 1995, and with the world going through a pandemic since early 2020, the exploits of James Bond 007 became very dependable. As the release date for No Time to Die kept changing to the point that it became hard to keep track, the earlier adventures of the famed British secret agent became a source of comfort. Look, have these films aged well? No. Like so much fiction, they represent their time and the period they were produced in. Yet as grandiose action adventures that reinvented the genre in the 60s and laid down a dynamic language for action cinema, the James Bond franchise remains a brilliantly entertaining one.
To go back as constantly as I have done this past year to the series, eagerly awaiting his new adventure by revisiting past exploits through his filmography and originating novels, has been a source of great comfort. One made even better by introducing the earlier films to a younger sibling who had grown up with the Craig films but who I got to see fall in love with the adventures of Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan. The escapism they offered was much needed, from the lush John Barry and David Arnold music scores; to the elaborate production designs of Ken Adam and Peter Lamont; to the stylishly tough direction from the likes of Terence Young, Lewis Gilbert, Guy Hamilton, John Glen and Martin Campbell.
As the world struggled to get away from a ceaseless pandemic, the ability to sit back and enjoy these spectacular adventures that range from the truly classic to enjoyable even when the series is at its weakest was a comfort blanket that took me to another world where everything worked out in the end, the bad guys were defeated and someone in the British government managed to actually save the day. I guess nobody does it better. – Eamon Hennedy
READ MORE: Listmas 2021 – Best Books
Dead by Daylight
There’s something calming and cathartic about mindless violence and murder when the world is going to shit. A good horror film will calm the soul or a good action flick will make the world disappear into the background for a couple of hours and leave you to relax. But what could possibly be better, than being part of that horror movie with your buddies? Behavior Studios’ Dead by Daylight, a 4v1 horror inspired asymmetric multiplayer game, celebrated its fifth-year anniversary in 2021, getting a ton of new content and a shit load of new players. Myself included.
After years of dabbling and dipping in and out of the game, I spent a big part of this year looking for a new way to waste my time with my friends. Turns out, stalking them around randomised maps, swinging an axe, or a chainsaw, or a knife at them and hanging them, Texas Chainsaw Massacre style, from a big bastard meat hook as bait for the others to come and try to rescue them is the perfect way to forget about the awfulness of the world and quieten your anxieties for a little while.
With recent additions to the aesthetic that include licensed add-ons for Hellraiser and Resident Evil to go along with the Freddies, Jasons and Michaels that already make you jump out of your skin, there’s never been a better time to find a new obsession in DBD. – Andrew Brooker
READ MORE: Irish Folklore Trilogy – Blu-ray Review
As if the stress of being a chronically ill person during a pandemic wasn’t enough, a few weeks into the first UK lockdown my partner had a stroke. A big one. It left him in a coma for weeks, and when he beat the odds and pulled through, he had no idea who I was. This is what a brain injury can do. I had to reintroduce myself to him on every video call. And I had to introduce myself to his family, who had no clue about us. (If you’ve seen The Big Sick, it was something like that, but over Zoom.)
At a time when I desperately needed to hold his hand, needed the comfort of my family and the hugs of friends, I was having to shield, in one room, with the world falling apart around me. I couldn’t focus on anything. I couldn’t sleep. I was barely holding it together. I needed distraction, at all times, but I couldn’t face even the mildest peril in a story.
So I turned to that lightest of touches, the US sitcom. Not necessarily my favourites. No Always Sunny or Arrested Development. Only those where the stakes were low and the stories were of people who loved each other coming together, despite their differences.
In that most serious of times I mainlined comedy, reaching for the relative (if absurd) normality that I was missing. Friends. Superstore. Community. How I Met Your Mother. Cougar Town (ignore the title, Abed was right). The Big Bang Theory. Parks and Rec. Schitt’s Creek. Modern Family. Brooklyn Nine Nine. They played almost back-to-back, day and night. I slept, fitfully. I managed to work. Sometimes I even laughed. Mostly they just got me through another day.
My partner is home now, and even back at work, but he still has a long way to go. I’m on my umpteenth rewatch, and with the pandemic ongoing, I don’t imagine I’ll stop any time soon. – Wendy Attwell
READ MORE: Listmas 2021 – Favourite Films
Is it lazy to make a comment about how this will hopefully be bug-free and ready to play by 2077? Absolutely, that’s why I just did it. The buggy initial release cast a massive shadow over what was possibly the most anticipated game of them all. Gamers the world over talk of how the money men won, pushing the studio to release a product that clearly needed more time in the oven, neatly glossing over that these same gamers were previously kicking up a fuss every time developer/publisher CD Projekt Red delayed it before.
It’s a shame because the game we got really is something special. Okay, maybe not so much if you’re playing on a base Xbox One or PS4. If you were running Cyberpunk on something a little more potent, however, it was clear you were in for a wild ride as soon as the game had you roll your own character, picking out every little customisation right down to the dimensions of your very own digital dong (or binary boobies, virtual vagina, etc – the gender options were… well… not perfect, but a step in the right direction at least).
Night City might well be the most stunning realised game world ever created, exuding a beauty and charm that makes it such a delight to visit and revisit. It’s visually gorgeous, it’s exciting, it’s visceral and you get to spend the entire time with Keanu Reeves! Anyone can put up with the odd glitch for that. – David Claridge
New music Friday
When this current mundane hellscape first kicked off in March of 2020, my Dad had gotten himself into an accident racing motorbikes which left him in a coma for three months and paralysed from the waist down after he was eventually brought out of it. As an additional consequence, I effectively had to move into his home by myself in order to keep it ticking over and to look after his two adopted cats whilst he began the long ever-shifting road to recovery. My being a heavily-depressed, then-unmedicated gender-dysphoric individual lacking anyone to talk to about *gestures wildly* outside of very limited Skype calls, I did not take this uncertain catastrophic upheaval particularly well, especially when those days started becoming ever more interchangeable and endless. Time really did, at a certain point, collapse into meaninglessness.
But one thing which helped keep my head at least slightly screwed-on, particularly throughout 2020 and the absolute worst of my depression, was the constant stream of new release music every single Friday. If there’s one thing I love more than movies, it’s music. And although I lost the experience of gigs for almost 18 months, the stream of excellent recording music did a lot to plug that hole. The joy, the melody, the emotion, the serotonin and melancholy and buzz and release that music can provide… I distinctly remember listening to Future Nostalgia on release day two weeks into lockdown and genuinely crying at the chorus to “Hallucinate;” those high notes Dua Lipa hit combined with the pristine club-ready synths breaking through my numb malaise up to that point. A realisation that there was still something I loved which the world hadn’t taken from me (even temporarily).
READ MORE: Listmas 2021 – Most Played Music
From there, I made a commitment to ensure that, every Friday, I’d check out as many new release albums as possible. This was something I already did pre-pandemic anyway, but back then it had to balance with other commitments – films to watch, writing to do, social events, streaming access etc. – whereas now I had nothing but time. This structure helped immensely; there was always something new to look forward to. New songs to help work through the maelstrom of emotions I was living with each day, to dance around the house with only bemused cat stares to judge my queer autistic arse, to be a constant in a world where all my constants were in flux. 2021 having the world open back up again, plus Dad now being home, means I’ve regressed a bit on that commitment this year. But I’m forever thankful for new music Fridays during those hardest stretches in 2020, and it’s not like I’ve stopped in 2021. There’s always some new classic flying under the radar each week. – Callie Petch