Fine. If Jeremy and Amanda want to list their favorite video games of all time, I guess I’ll get in on it too. Like a lot of people my age, my first gaming system was an Atari 2600. After that, we actually got an Atari 5200, then a Nintendo Entertainment System. After that, I stopped with console gaming for a long time. Not that I stopped playing games; I just played them on my PC.
It wasn’t until I was in the market for a blu-ray player that I broke down and bought another console, the PS3, which got me back into gaming on a fairly regular basis, for better and worse.
I have mixed feelings about games. They are surely one of this era’s greatest entertainments, and the sales numbers surely show that. They’re not ‘just for kids’ anymore and have reached heights that me as a kid playing “Lode Runner” on my dad’s Apple II could have never imagined. But I’m also not sure about the validity of them as an art form. To me, art expresses a vision by its creator(s) and games are by nature interactive, meaning that everyone’s experience is different. Also, and this is the big one, games are tremendous time suck. You want to experience time travel? Pop in Skyrim or Tetris or even a Lego game and BAM! before you know it you’re in the future. They are not good for productivity and I have to watch myself when it comes to buying and playing games. I often use them as a reward for finishing a chapter or something. Because I could spend all day every day playing them. They’re like Vegas except you can play in your underwear or less.
Note: I in general don’t like shooters (especially online – ugh), fighting games, racers, platformers, or puzzle games. There are exceptions to all of these, of course, but my tastes lean towards RPGs, Strategy World-Builders, and the newer narrative-driven games. That said, here are six of my favorites. Not in any kind of order. Just games that mean the most to me, the ones I had the most fun playing, the ones that stick with me.
STAR WARS: TIE FIGHTER (LucasArts, 1994)
Being a giant Star Wars nerd, there are inevitably two Star Wars games on my list. Don’t get my wrong. There have been tons of horrible games made from the franchise, but there have also been a handful of brilliant ones. The first on my list is TIE Fighter. I can’t even explain how exciting the release of 1993’s X-Wing was for me. I think the last Star Wars game I had played was The Empire Strikes Back on my Atari. By then I had played Flight Simulator and arcade-y flying games like Afterburner, but X-Wing put me in the cockpit of one of the series’ most iconic ships, sent me on missions for the good of the Rebel Alliance, and let me blow the Empire to hell what felt like (at the time) a very realistic simulation. It couldn’t get any better, but then it did. TIE Fighter took the same mechanics of X-Wing, improved upon them, and let you be… the bad guy! And not Darth Vader or the Emperor or anything like that. Just a simple TIE Fighter pilot, doing this job fighting against what he thinks are the violent rebels trying to take down his government. The gameplay was better than X-Wing and the combination of twitch-based combat and resource management (deciding whether to put your power in your engines, guns, or shields, if you were lucky enough to be in an advanced model that had shields) made and exciting experience that felt decidedly Star Wars. There would be a couple more games in the series, and they were good, but the premise wasn’t visited again until the Jump to Lightspeed expansion for the Star Wars: Galaxies MMO, which was a good space combat game that got overlooked due to its parent game’s major problems. I hope EA (who I think has Star Wars now) revisits something like the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series again, because I would love to get behind the stick of a TIE Interceptor once more, this time in full 1080p with 7.1 Surround. Or, even better, with the Oculus Rift!
THE CIVILIZATION SERIES (Various Publishers, 1991-2013)
I love world-building, resource managing, so-called “God” games. From Populus to the first SimCity to Simpsons Tapped Out on my iPad, I just can’t get enough. The pinnacle of this genre has always been Sid Meier’s Civilization series. Starting off with a single city, the goal is to explore a giant map peopled with other nations, expand your borders through conquest or other means, evolve technologically, feed your citizens, fight wars, and build monuments. With multiple ways to win, every game is different and so fun and addicting. Being able to play as (now with Civ V) dozens upon dozens of historical figures, with each civilization having different strengths and weaknesses, is just the ticket for a history nerd like me who prefers turn-based gameplay to twitch, both because I enjoy having time to think out my strategy and because I my hand-eye sucks. Civilization V, the latest version, with its two amazing expansion packs, is the most-played game in my Steam catalog. I don’t play it every day, but, when I do play it, it ends up being for days. Warning: this game will cause you to ignore your loved ones and you will suffer from the curse of “just…one…more…turn…”.
STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC (LucasArts, 2003)
The other Star Wars game on this list is hardly a controversial call. Widely regarded as one of the best games ever, I can’t disagree. Made by Bioware, the folks that would later bring us the amazing Mass Effect series, KOTOR (as it is commonly called) manages to be a perfect RPG and a great Star Wars game at the same time. By setting it in the way-way-way distant past, thousands of years before the movies, the game developers were able to create a world and story completely unique, one where they didn’t have to worry about stepping on mainstream Star Wars continuity, while still keeping a very Star Wars feel. This game also gave you the ability to make choices, to decide whether you were going to end up as a Jedi or a Sith based on your actions. It felt revolutionary at the time and Bioware would later perfect this with Mass Effect, where your choices not only affected your character but the entire game world. (Thinking about it, I should just mark this spot “Bioware” because I love their games so much.) A must-play game that I think you can still get on Steam. It may seem a little dated now, like all games do after a while, but it is an exciting and deep game that presents you a galaxy far far away that is both familiar and refreshingly new.
MVP BASEBALL 2005 (EA Sports, 2005)
My favorite sports are: 1) Baseball. 2) Baseball. 3) Baseball. 4) Football. 5) Baseball. MVP 05 from EA Sports was the last MLB game they ever put out for the PC. This was important to me because, at the time, I only gamed on my computer. When they announced they wouldn’t be making any more, I was devastated, but soon I was introduced to the world of PC modding. Modding is where people out in the world create new content for existing PC games. This can only be done on PC games because consoles are very insular creatures and their creators don’t want you messing with their insides. But with MVP 05, a great game with a deep franchise mode (I played 20 seasons with my Cincinnati Reds), the modding community allowed you to update the rosters every year, even if EA did not. They improved the graphics as time went on, to try to keep up with more modern games. In fact, nearly a decade after its release, there is still a very healthy modding community for MVP 05. Right now, you can download rosters for the upcoming season, as well as updated uniform designs and stadiums. The MLB: The Show games are great baseball sims, with amazing graphics and animations, but they still aren’t MVP to me. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is and will always be my favorite sports game. I haven’t played it in a while, but I still have my save file in case I want to pick it back up and play season #21. One day I will.
ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM (Bethesda Game Studios, 2011)
Not much to be said about Skyrim. Dragon Warrior. Baldur’s Gate. Fallout. Grand Theft Auto. Final Fantasy. Half-Life. They were all leading up to this, perfecting the pieces that Bethesda would combine into the ultimate (so far) open-world RPG. I have gone out of my way to NOT count how many hours I have pumped into Skyrim because I’m afraid it would make me sad. It’s just… you feel like you can do ANYTHING in this game. You can play for a hundred hours and not see everything. I like the main story, I like the side quests, but mostly I just like walking around, seeing what trouble I can get into. There’s nothing like walking through the woods and coming upon some bandits fighting a bear, knowing that this is not a scripted event but something that just happened, and sitting back until one falls so you can swoop in and take out the other. It’s this “real world” aspect of Skyrim that appeals to so many people. The countless books you can find and read. The deep, deep history and mythology. The detail. It’s not perfect but I think it shows where RPGs can go (can’t wait for The Witcher III, which, for the first time, is going to be completely open-world) and I for one can’t wait for them to get there. I may even play the Elder Scrolls MMO, although I’m not sure. Not really my scene. But if that’s going to be my only chance to return to that wonderful fantasy world, then I might not have a choice.
THE LAST OF US (Naughty Dog / Sony, 2013)
I know this game is super-super new but it can’t be denied. Just can’t. Naughty Dog has been making great games for a while now, with their previous peak being the amazing Uncharted 2, but with The Last of Us they’ve charted (pun intended I guess) whole new ground. I’m not going to talk too much about this game because it is still out there, and viable, and DLC is still coming out, but I will say this: it’s the first game that ever made me cry. The story of grizzled Joel and his surrogate daughter Ellie is a moving and harrowing adventure that you will never forget. Yes, it’s a violent game, sometimes to its detriment, but the characters and the story are so well drawn against a bleak as hell backdrop. And, unlike the also wonderful Bioshock: Infinite, I feel the action in the game, all the killing Joel must do, feels… necessary. I buy it. One knock against Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series is that he is our “hero”, yet the actions pieces deem it necessary for him to kill hundreds of men along his adventure. Same with the new (and surprisingly good) Tomb Raider game. But in The Last of Us, I never felt like I was shooting just for shooting’s sake. These two characters were struggling to survive and every shot fired, every shiv shoved into the neck of a monster, felt necessary to me. I don’t want to get to much into it, like I said. Just play it. It’s the greatest narrative game every made, a perfect send-off for this last generation of gaming consoles. But, be warned, when you see the giraffes, have some tissue ready. You’re going to need it.
Coming up fast on this list is TellTale Games’ Walking Dead series of adventure games. The use of choice in those simple point-and-click episodes is highly effective and instantly engaging. The only reason it’s not on this list is because it is still going on (I’m about to start episode 2 of Season 2). Also, TellTale is working on a Game of Thrones game in the same mold and, if it’s up to snuff with The Walking Dead, it may be the greatest thing of all things and all time.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Tetris, Uncharted 2, TMNT: The Arcade Game, Assassin’s Creed 2/Brotherhood/4 , The Legend of Zelda, Yar’s Revenge, Tempest, Metroid, Metroid Prime, Red Dead Redemption, GTA 3, Vice City & 5, Goldeneye, Final Fantasy, Limbo, Shadow of the Colossus, Age of Empires, Star Wars: Battlefront II, Star Wars: Dark Forces, Dragon Warrior, The Mass Effect Trilogy, Bioshock, Bioshock: Infinite, The X-Com series, Mike Tyson’s PunchOut, AfterBurner (Arcade Version), Baldur’s Gate II, The Witcher 1 & 2, and Ducktales.