I always liked the idea of snow more than shoveling it or letting it fall into my boots. When I lived in Western New York state — one of the snowiest places in the U.S. — every snowdrift pressed against my front door or patch of slush I’d sink into on my walk to school would make me huff white clouds into the freezing air. “This?,” I’d think, “Again?”
I moved eventually, and I didn’t think I’d miss the snow. Western New York could keep its frozen footpaths. But, recently, the trees have been bare and brown, and the idea of real, piled, unavoidable snow has been getting more persistent. I do miss it, and I’ve been finding solace in video games.
There is a lot of wonderful video game snow. Billowing, twinkling, 8-bit, etc. All with their own distinctive character, style, and crunch. To me, video game snow is perfect for stoking cosy memories of flakes collecting across the windowpane, deep impressions made by your hands or hat when you drop it into a powdery mound, loose like piled sugar. So to help cultivate a wintery mood, as we get deeper into the season but maybe miss the ones that have passed, I collected some of Kotaku’s favourites instances of snow and paired them with a winter poem.
Horizon Forbidden West, Sheerside Mountains
Completing three trials on Horizon Forbidden West’s Sheerside Mountains gives you rewards and a chance to step on some of its good fake snow. While other parts of the game offer thick piles to push through (and 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn had perfect sound effects, like crushing styrofoam in your hand) Sheerside Mountains expose you to dusty flakes, forming a thin layer over the black mountain rock. It looks cold, but isn’t cold enough to freeze any of the area’s glistening creeks — just enough to invigorate protagonist Alloy as she works on her hack-and-slashing.
Poem: “As a fen-fire’s beam / On a sluggish stream / Gleams dimly — so the moon shone there, / And it yellow’d the strings of thy tangled hair, / That shook in the wind of night.” – “The cold earth slept below,” Percy Bysshe Shelley
Red Dead Redemption 2, Grizzlies West
The stoic Grizzly mountain region in Red Dead Redemption 2 is unforgiving, marked by steep cliffs, lonely trees, and subzero temperatures. It’s an empty, angry place for cowboy protagonist Arthur Morgan to ride through. While you avoid turning the mountains’ pristine white red with his blood, you’ll notice that Grizzlies West is particularly frosted, and you’ll need to bulk up with heavy layered jackets and make it through its relentless grey.
Poem: “The man turns and there — / his solitary track stretched out / upon the world.” – “Blizzard,” William Carlos Williams
Octopath Traveller, The Frostlands
Looking at the gleaming Frostlands in role-playing game Octopath Traveller is like looking into a small, shaken snow globe. The area’s falling snow looks romantically like glitter, and everything is softened in despondent bluish light. Its original score, comprised of sweetly plodding piano and a melancholy viola, make its simple, arctic sparkle even more lovely.
Poem: “‘Climbing like the thread / which forms the groove around a snail-shell, / doubling back and forth until where snow begins, it ends.” – “An Octopus,” Marianne Moore
Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Winter
The Animal Crossing games always had some of my favourite snow, simple spheres gliding down like microscopic fairies. New Horizons times its seasons to yours, so playing the social sim in late December — when the game allows snow to collect on fruit trees like icing on a cinnamon bun — feels delightfully like your memories of winter are coming alive.
Poem: “This is a good world. / The war has failed. / God shall not forget us. / Who made the snow waits where love is.” – “The Snow Is Deep on the Ground,” Kenneth Patchen
Donkey Kong Country, Snow Barrel Blast
The 1994 platformer Donkey Kong Country’s Snow Barrel Blast level reminds me of a crisp Hudson River School painting, with tall evergreens and purple mountains ultimately obscured by an incoming blizzard. Its music can be surprisingly foreboding for a game where you throw a gorilla through the air to catch floating bananas, but the absurdity is made both sharper and more serious by its unsmiling environment.
Poem: “As snow fell fast against our hurtling / forwardness — all of it postcard / coloured — shaggy trees flying by — / us hoping for pitch black night and imagining the beauty / of a journey with / no return.” – “Dusk in Drought,” Jorie Graham
Witcher 3, Skellige
The Skellige Isles, like Sheerside, have fine mountain snow, also found sometimes invading patches of the archipelago’s green forest. But in the game’s bright mornings, and with its bittersweet orchestral score, the touch of snow is less an unwelcome guest and more a break in texture, a suggestion that things can be different.
Poem: “The way a crow / Shook down on me / The dust of snow / From a hemlock tree / Has given my heart / A change of mood.” – “Dust of Snow,” Robert Frost
The city in snow-soaked strategy game Frostpunk is surrounded by winter the way a hamper is covered in wrinkled fresh laundry. The game’s air always looks heavy, frosty, and rooftops are caked in bulk snow. But you can never enjoy it; it menaces you. If you perform poorly, the inhospitable cold will kill the last city on Earth.
Poem: “Winter kept us warm, covering / Earth in forgetful snow, feeding / A little life with dried tubers.” – The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot
Metroid Prime, Phendrana Drifts
The Phendrana Drifts area in the 2002 action-adventure Metroid Prime makes me feel like I’m seeing the world from the perspective of an ice cube — it shades everything in a dull refrigerator blue. Its snow is uncomplicated, round white dots that seem to be suspended rather than falling down, and the floury layer that sticks to the ground provides a soft landing pad for armoured Samus to gun down her enemies. The snow is secondary to the action, but it helps that it’s there.
Poem: “I counted till they danced so / Their slippers leaped the town – / And then I took a pencil / To note the rebels down –” – “Snow flakes.”, Emily Dickinson
Batman: Arkham Knight, Gotham City
It starts snowing forever once you complete Batman: Arkham Knight and activate the Knightfall Protocol, a quirk some players are conflicted about that I, personally, love. Arkham Knight’s snow is soft but unobtrusive, tender when you watch it fall from the air, and light as it sticks and forms patchwork on the ground. It’s city snow, a quiet reminder that nature takes over anywhere.
Poem: “I keep that name and I am not the same / A shadow of ice exchanges the colour of light, / Love’s figure to begin the absent night.” –Midwinter Day, Bernadette Mayer
Final Fantasy VI, Introduction
The beginning of 1994 role-playing game Final Fantasy VI shows Biggs and Wedge escorting the magical, mind-controlled Terra to Narshe, a city they plan to raid. The trios march through the dark, snowy night is foreboding in this context, with snow providing both cover for impending bad behaviour and an appropriate chill. Sometimes snow is a specter, cooling us and our memories.
Poem: “Of course there is nothing the matter with the stars / It is my emptiness among them / While they drift farther away in the invisible morning.” – “In The Winter of My Thirty-Eighth Year,” W.S. Merwin
Do you love snow, do you hate it? Let me know.
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