Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Funnily enough, just as I was thinking about doing an article about how I used to game, but now I mostly don't, Electronic Gaming Monthly publishes a list of the 200 best video games of their time. This means that the game is evaluated by how it was regarded when it came out. So you can legitimately have Pong at 10th place and call it a day.

And I promise if you keep reading this, more dorky revelations about me will occur.

Anyway, the top 200 is here, but beware! Underneath lies lots of annoying fanboy discussion!

Don't want to go to sites that might scare you? I feel your pain, Sparky.

Here's the top ten, complete with my commentary.

10.) Pong -- Some little gas station in the middle of nowhere South Dakota that I stopped at in middle school had a WORKING PONG MACHINE. It was not very fun. But it gets the "Great Train Robbery" vote for starting it all.

9.) Grand Theft Auto III -- The first game in the series was not well-reviewed by COMPUTER GAMING WORLD (which I used to subscribe to), so I wrote the whole franchise off. Imagine my surprise when I walked in the door of my college apartment and saw my roommate beat up an old woman with a baseball bat, then steal a fire truck and go off to battle fires. The game was thrillingly freeform, full of laughs and unabashedly adult. It's still one of my favorites, and it points to a future where games will be a legitimate way to try out other lives (mostly of crime).

8.) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time -- I have never played this. I watched another of my college roommates play it until the very end. He got very frustrated. We bought him a hint book. I still have that hint book. Is it any wonder I accrued so much credit card debt in college? Anyway, watching him play this was dull, but also soothing.

7.) Space Invaders -- There's something still addictive about this. But that addiction is quickly tempered by the fact that the game is awfully repetitive.

6.) Super Mario 64 -- Here we go. This is a fun game, full of secrets, and it was legitimately revolutionary. Once the Nintendo team figured out how to make 3D fun, there was no looking back. Bonus points: This game may have killed WHOLE GENRES!

5.) The Legend of Zelda -- Somehow, I have never played this either. Libby has completed The Wind Waker, and I played a lot of Link to the Past while in Puerto Rico, but this one has eluded me. Maybe because when I was a kid, the class miscreant invited me over with promises of alligator pits in his basement. Then all we did was sit around and watch him play this.

4.) Tetris -- I am the only person in the world who gets quickly bored with Tetris. It could have something to do with the fact that I'm really, really bad at it. Anyway, my family had a 286 back in the day, and we discovered Tetris BEFORE it hit the Nintendo and Game Boy. They all gobbled it up. I turned to the substantive pleasures of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

3.) Street Fighter II -- Now here's something that's right up my alley! Except not really. For a time, this was in every locally-owned pizza parlor in America and the SAME shifty, overweight teen was standing off to the side, just ready to thrash you as Ryu. I, at the time, was running towards an especially awkward puberty like an out-of-control truck. So, naturally, I always played with that green guy who could electrocute himself. TO THIS DAY, I don't think I have beaten the overweight teen. I should go out to Papa Joe's and see if he's still there.

2.) Pac-Man -- When I was in high school, a close relative spent a lot of time in the hospital. It was a sad, desperate part of my life (except I finally worked up the courage to hold a girl's hand during the same period -- I told you this would be full of dorky treasures!). For some reason, in the hospital, there was a free Pac-Man machine. I got very, very proficient at Pac-Man, to the point where I can still make the game weep when I touch it. But being good at Pac-Man is not much of a skill to brag about nowadays. (Footnote: The hospital stay was ALSO when I completely memorized the Flukeman episode of The X-Files.)

1.) Super Mario Bros. -- This list is a little safe, but if you're going for the game that had the most impact in its time, you can't really go with anything but this. When they write the histories of gaming, this will be the Birth of a Nation. Except, the racism will be swapped out for unfortunate Italian stereotyping. But when this was popular, it was like a seismic shift. The kids on the playground went from talking about, oh, I don't know, whatever we talked about before Mario and instantly started talking about Mario. In the space of a DAY. My friend Andy never even HAD a Nintendo. And he could tell you where all of the warp zones were. Crazy kid.

Final embarrassing admission: When I say I "used to game," what I mean is "I have played the entire Sierra On-line catalog."


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