Another Monday, another musing - and this week, it’s a big one. East, or West? This question, albeit deceptively simple, is immensely challenging. To choose means to take sides on a war, and what a war it is! It is a war of design philosophies. It is a war of technological innovation. And, much to my dismay, it is a war without compromise. So I must choose. But how am I to do it, amidst such abundant genius?
History, as they say, is written by the victor. When reflecting on a war, we look to the great triumphs for inspiration, ignoring the ignominious defeats. The implications of this idea for this particular war, then, are clear: examine and detail the great triumphs of both East and West, and from that, extrapolate the victor. A fine way to discern who is better while still giving the other credit, is it not? So for this I shall make a list of the most influential videogames of all time. Yes, it is clichéd.
Before you go about criticizing the idea of a list, saying that it in no way proves anything, keep in mind that current trends in the industry are momentary. Developers, much like the market, have their ups and downs. We must examine the history of both East and West in its totality if we are to truly see who had the greatest influence, and thus, the most skill in game designing.
How might I go about beginning such a monumental task? The first would be to set a limit for the list: eleven games, no more. If I were to look at every single influential videogame ever made, I would never finish this blog in my lifetime. Ten is a standard number for lists, and eleven allows me no compromise. Unless Bioware and Nintendo got together to make a groundbreaking game (which sounds amazing, btw), the winner should have a clear majority. Now, for the most important question: what is the standard for an influential game? If I am to make one that is completely objective, devoid of my personal tastes, we shall lose the zest that accompanies personal adventure and surprise. Also, with something of this nature, being completely objective is an impossibility. Finally, I shall endeavour to list these in descending order of their age, not of their influence. So, without further ado, let us begin.
11 - Shadow of the Colossus (East, 2005)
At once, the flaming begins. Wait! Before you scroll down to the comments to leave a hateful message, give me the chance to explain myself. So, why should Shadow of the Colossus
be on our list when there are so many others that are far more appropriate? Well, let us see. Whenever someone makes an argument for games being art, what example do they most frequently cite? You guessed it: Shadow of the Colossus
, and for good reason. Shadow of the Colossus
is the art game par excellence. It fully utilizes interactivity to immerse, characterize, and underscore thematic significance. It is one of the rare examples of a game that can transcend cultural and linguistic barriers to deliver a story and message that resonates with the human experience. Because of this, we call it “art” - and this is very important. With Shadow of the Colossus
, a paradigm shift in gaming occurs. The medium changes from one of mere “entertainment” to “art”. The power of interactivity suddenly becomes even more enticing. And so Shadow of the Colossus
makes this list, as it, more than any other game, has convinced the gaming (and perhaps non-gaming) populous that videogames are art. It will be interesting to see this new and emerging attitude push the gaming industry to ever-greater heights.
10 - Super Mario 64 (East, 1996)
The phrase, “think outside of the box,” is often touted by those who strive for creativity. Well, in the gaming world, it was Shigeru Miyamoto who informed the world that the square had become a box. That was a terrible metaphor for the jump from 2D to 3D. I apologize. Let’s try something else instead. I, Robot
(the first videogame to use 3D polygons) was the door to the 3D world. It was Super Mario 64
that opened it. After that, the world of possibilities for the industry shined anew. This Nintendo 64 launch title showed everybody how gaming in three dimensions ought to be done. The camera control, the skillful use of the analog stick; both would become staples of modern 3D gaming.
9 - Myst (West, 1993)
Oh yes, we all know Myst
. How many people do we know who have beaten it? Probably none. Here it is: the game that popularized the CD-ROM, one of the most important media devices in modern times; the game that attracted a legion of computer-users to gaming; the game that redefined the adventure genre, and ironically, acted as the catalyst for its “death”. SCUMM could not keep up. Instead of explosive action or copious character interaction, Myst
made a stand as a rather quiet, cerebral game. It set the tone for adventure games to follow, and the rest, as they say, is history.
8 - Wolfenstein 3D (West, 1992)
The influence of this game hardly requires an explanation. Here we see the birth of the first-person shooter, one of the most expansive genres in all of videogames. An what an important genre it is! Without this game, Doom
’s younger, sexier brothers) would not exist. What else would have happened? Without Wolfenstein 3D
, there is no Half-Life
. Without Half-Life
, Valve does not release its engine for modding, eliminating a large chunk of indie potential. Without Wolfenstein 3D
, there is no Halo
. Without Halo
, Microsoft fails to ground the Xbox as a competitive console. Without Wolfenstein 3D
, there is no Duke Nukem
, Deus Ex
, GoldenEye 007
, Medal of Honor
, Call of Duty
, or any of the first-person franchises we know and love today.
7 - The Legend of Zelda (East, 1986)
The Legend of Zelda
- one of gaming’s most enduring icons. What is this games’ most important feature? A big open world, fifteen years before Grand Theft Auto III
would popularize it? A skillful hybrid of action, exploration, puzzle solving, and RPG elements which would lay the foundation for all action adventure games to follow? Nope! What is most important? The ability to save on a console! What would Resident Evil
be if we could not save between intense zombie fights? What would Street Fighter
be if we could not save the characters we unlocked? What would Call of Duty
be if we could not save our online stats? What would any modern role-playing game be if we could not save? To be fair, though, all of us intellectuals would be part of the PC gaming master race, so maybe it’s not all bad. *swirls brandy while pressing the save key*
6 - Super Mario Bros. (East, 1985)
Ah, Shigeru Miyamoto. Once we are all dead and gone, this man will doubtlessly be remembered as one of the great geniuses of the videogame industry. In the face of his massive achievements his errors become tiny specks of dust, flittering around a universe whose size is beyond comprehension. In him, we see the same courage and vision that fueled the great artists of history. Beethoven never stopped composing even after he became deaf. van Gogh never stopped painting, despite his complete lack of commercial success. Just like them, Miyamoto refused to stop creating games in the face of the videogame crash of 1983. The result? The revival of the gaming industry, the creation of the platforming genre, one of the most prolific icons in pop culture, and the establishment of a home console led by one of the biggest and most influential companies today. It all started with Super Mario Bros
5 - Tetris (West, 1984)
It is here a conflict occurs. When Alexey Pajitnov programmed his little puzzle game, he was most certainly living in Russia, which is in the East...but for the sake of this article, we shall call it Western-made. But this minor detail is trifling when examining Tetris
’ influence. Simply put, portable gaming would not the be same without this. Had the Game Boy not included this in its repertoire, the small system may very well have not succeeded, and portable gaming might be a dream that is as pipe-ridden as a Mario game. Tetris
outlined the quintessential elements for a good portable game: fun and easily played in short bursts. It also marked the start of the puzzle genre as we know it today, inspiring games such as Dr. Mario
4 - Adventure (West, 1979)
Before Mass Effect
, and Demon’s Souls
, and Dragon Age
, and Fable
, and World of Warcraft
, and Chrono Trigger
, and Parasite Eve
, and Baldur’s Gate
, and Diablo
, and Fallout
, *inhales* and Ultima
, and Star Ocean
, and Pokémon
, and Phantasy Star
, and Megami Tensei
, and Final Fantasy
, and Dragon Quest
, and Wizardry
, and Rogue
, and countless others, there was Adventure
, a humble little game for the Atari 2600. Although by no means the first role-playing game ever made, Adventure
is what (relatively) popularized the genre by putting an affordable RPG into a widespread console. This game marked the advent of when people would take notice of the brilliant blend of fighting, exploration, and treasure-hunting on their televisions. It opened the door to things such as menu-driven, party based combat, which is a staple of console JRPGs. This also marked the beginning of the hidden easter egg!
3 - Space Invaders (East, 1978)
If we are to look at one arcade game for inspiration, it would be this. Here we see the end of the videogame crash of 1977. Here we see the widespread expansion of the videogame industry. Here we see the groundwork for the shoot-‘em-up genre, and shooters in general. Here we see the popularization of the high score mechanic. Here we see the first killer app for the Atari 2600. Here we see the inspiration for Shigeru Miyamoto. The importance of Space Invaders
can never be understated.
2 - Spacewar (West, 1962)
Two people are sitting alone in a room. It is entirely quiet, save for a few select blips. Ahead of them lies the front panel of a PDP-10. On it rages a war; a space war. To this game we cannot name a single creator. Although Steve Russell programmed it, several other people had a hand in modifying it, making it the classic we don’t really remember today. Here is an impressive achievement of technical prowess. It has two features that make it particularly noteworthy: physics and multiplayer. Without physics, how could any game operate properly? Imagine a Mario game where you’d jump up and keep going up. Without multiplayer, would gaming even be considered a social activity? Imagine a Halo game without multiplayer. I think everyone would agree that these games wouldn’t be the same. Also, Spacewar
is perhaps the first videogame ever to be “enjoyed”. This was, needless to say, a crucial step in the evolution of the medium.
1 - NIM (West, 1942)
What is NIM
, you might ask? Well, according to Wikipedia, it is the first videogame ever created. But let us not confuse ourselves. This spot isn’t for anything specific, as the “first videogame ever created” is an extremely controversial and sketchy topic. So, whether it be Pong
, or Tennis for Two
, or NIM
, know that this spot refers to the first videogame ever made. Does its influence even need to be explained? Here we see the beginning of one of the biggest entertainment industries ever created, and possibly one of the most powerful forms of art. Here stands a testament to the power of man’s mind, creating an interactive experience using the power of his calculations. Here we see one, lone game, gently flickering on a screen, ready to pave the way for one of humanity’s most profound creations.
So in the end, the West won. But does it really matter? Now go STFUAJPG!