Video games are a relatively recent phenomenon, despite the fact that they have been around for at least 50 years and counting. During the half a century when this medium has existed, there have been countless games released that could be considered worth playing, and a long list of games that should be considered as essential.
However, the list of truly important video games is much shorter, limited to just a handful or two of titles. These are the games that changed everything, that signalled the next step in the evolution of video games, and that needed to exist for the video games industry as we know it today to exist as it does.
Spacewar! wasn’t the first video game ever produced, but it was the first of the medium as we understand it to be today. It was original, rather than based on an existing physical game, and employed many of the hallmarks that came to be standard in the industry.
The game, which was originally developed for the PDP-1 system, sees two players taking control of spacecrafts and battling it out against the backdrop of a starfield. The gameplay isn’t the reason Spacewar! is important though; instead, it’s what it represents as the first true video game.
Pong was one of the earliest arcade games ever released, and arguably the first commercially successful video game in history. After the arcade cabinet was successfully tested at just one bar, thousands were sold. Just a couple of years later a home version was developed, and it enjoyed a similarly high level of success.
Pong is an exceedingly simple game, with two players battling against each other at digital table tennis. The gameplay is timeless, and set the template for sports games for many years to come. Its true importance comes in how it sparked the home gaming revolution.
Space Invaders (1978)
Space Invaders is a truly iconic game. The gameplay, the soundtrack, the sound effects, the stylized aliens picked out in too-few pixels; all of this combined to make a game that turned a whole generation of kids into lifelong gamers.
This is the title that turned video gaming from a niche hobby enjoyed by thousands into a mainstream pastime enjoyed by millions. It was commercially successful at the time of release, and has inspired countless other games and game developers (including Shigeru Miyamoto) in the decades that have followed.
Tetris was, and still is, a video game for the masses, being simple enough for anyone to play but difficult enough to challenge even the best gamers in the world. And it’s a game that has continued to entertain long after its popularity should have waned, with updated versions still finding new fans.
This is important for being the killer app that popularized handheld gaming, with a copy of Tetris bundled with every Game Boy sold by Nintendo. It’s also arguably the greatest game ever released, with an addictive quality that has yet to be bettered.
Super Mario Bros. (1985)
Super Mario Bros. is the game that signalled the mainstream arrival of the titular Mario. Despite being a sequel to Mario Bros., this is the game that cemented the characters, level design, and gameplay mechanics that still persist to this day in side-scrolling platformers.
This title sold in huge numbers, holding the title of best-selling game for three decades until Wii Sports took the crown. This is an important game because it introduced Mario to the masses, and set the template for a whole genre.
Doom was not the first first-person shooter, but it was the most influential game in that particular genre. In fact, many consider it to be the basis for all modern FPSs, as the environments, atmosphere, and game mechanics were merely honed over many years rather than abandoned altogether.
Doom changed gaming forever. Without Doom there would be no Call of Duty series, and that is, whether you like it or not, one of the most popular franchises of all time. The Doom series still has fans today, which is an amazing achievement for such an aged game.
Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Final Fantasy VII was the first in the popular Japanese RPG series to employ 3D graphics, and the first to be released in Europe. Thus it heralded a mainstream acceptance of JRPGs in territories outside of Japan. Marking it out as one of the most important games ever released.
This is a game that’s still extremely playable today, with the immersive storyline and addictive gameplay compensating for any visual disappointment. A PC re-release was well-received, and there are countless fans who would love to see a modern-day remake of this epic game.
World Of Warcraft (2004)
World of Warcraft was the fourth game in the Warcraft universe, and by no means the first MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). And yet this is the MMORPG that makes the list thanks to its insane level of popularity that has seen millions of people subscribe to play it month after month, which is what marks it out as being important.
How far into mainstream culture World of Warcraft has managed to creep can be seen by its appearance in countless TV shows and comedy skits. Thus the image of a sad loner playing from their mom’s basement was cemented in people’s minds, even though it bears little resemblance to reality.
Angry Birds (2009)
Angry Birds was one of the first mobile games to make people stand up and take notice of these titles that, on the surface at least, were too simplistic to offer any real challenge. Fast-forward a few years and smartphone owners the world over have joined the ranks of ‘Gamer’.
I was personally addicted to Angry Birds for a time, and I’m not alone in getting fixated on a particular mobile game. The fact they can be played anywhere and anytime makes them easy to pick up and play. And, as a consequence, get addicted.
Minecraft isn’t for everyone, but for those who have fallen for its considerable charms, it’s the perfect video game. Beloved by kids and adults alike, this started life as an indie game before being developed for every platform you care to mention.
With no real goals as such, Minecraft tempts people in with an alternative quality: freedom. Each player can tackle the game how they see fit, exploring, creating, or surviving depending on what kind of mood they’re in. Minecraft broke the rules for video games, and is the most recent truly important title as a result.
It should be noted that we’ve pared the selection down to just 10 games, but there are more that could be considered as eminently important to the industry. Which is where you come in, as we hope to see comments aplenty from readers ready and willing to argue the case for another game to be added to the list.
Please suggest a title and explain why you consider it to be one of the most-important video games of all time. Or simply wax lyrical on the games that did make our list, whether you agree or disagree, and have either fond or hate-filled memories of playing them.
Image Credit: Betsy Weber