As a kid in elementary school playing Nintendo for countless hours in the 1980s, I never imagined that it would actually happen, but it has: video games have hit the big time.
Gaming and gaming culture have reached a level of public consciousness that is now shared by film, music, and literature. Video games are seemingly everywhere nowadays – on people’s smart phones in hundreds of millions of homes worldwide, on T-shirts, in the media, and even in university classrooms. They’ve been praised, criticized, and analyzed from every angle, and as this relatively young medium of entertainment continues to mature, so does its place in history.
With video games evolving at a dizzying, yet exciting pace, the need to preserve and appreciate gaming’s rich history becomes more and more apparent. An exhibit at the Smithsonian, documentary feature films, and an increasingly large number of books on the subject are solid testaments to gaming’s important role in culture over the last 40 years. Yet when looking at the history of video games on an individual, game-by-game level, there is a key trait that separates them from their peers in the film and music world. Video games, for the most part, don’t age very well.
Movies have generally followed the same formula of creation since their inception – actors acting in front of a camera with a director calling the shots. Music has followed similar suit since the advent of recorded sounds, and books have been collections of words and sentences on paper for thousands of years. Innovations such as computer-generated special effects, word processing software, and digital recording equipment have allowed practitioners of these mediums to add new ingredients to the pot, but at the end of the day, the process of cooking the meal really hasn’t radically changed all that much.
Video games, however, are another story. Video games are a 100% technology-driven medium. Developers of video games can only create within the constraints that the hardware allows them to. With computer technology evolving at a speed so fast that it is actually difficult to comprehend, a game that pushed the limits of what video games can do can actually be outdated within a couple years of its release. It is a sad, but inevitable, reality of our beloved hobby. While old movies, books, and albums are often products of their time from a cultural perspective, old video games have to deal with being products of their time from both a cultural and technological perspective.
Every once in a while, though, something unusual and special happens. A game is created that seems to defy age and transcends its technological limitations into something that is truly timeless. These games strike a unique balance between presentation, gameplay and mechanics that just hits all the right notes, and forms an experience so pure and enjoyable, that it never gets old. These games continue to be played by successive generations of gamers long after their release, as well as continuing to influence the design of modern games. Here are 10 games, in no particular order, that have broken free of the limitations of their medium, and continue to age as gracefully as a nice Bordeaux.