Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Thoughts On The Video Game Hall Of Fame

Originally written for Forces Of Geek and posted on Thursday 18th June 2015.


Back in April, the National Museum Of Play in New York, also known as The Strong announced that it was putting together a World Video Game Hall Of Fame because everything else has a Hall Of Fame and rightly so, video games should be no exception. That and we all enjoy a good list, right?

Earlier this month, the first inductees to receive a place in this exclusive list were announced and for those who don't already know, the winners were;

World of Warcraft,
Tetris,
Pac-Man,
Pong,
Doom,
and
Super Mario Bros.


Image credit: The Strong National Museum Of Play
You may not have played or even like some of these games, you probably disagree with one or two or believe another game to be more worthy. Though, I think many of us would agree that it's a pretty solid list because each title, whether you like it or not, has affected the games industry monumentally or furthered the idea of what is and can be considered a video game.

Don't believe me or agree? That's fine, but let me explain why I think each of these six titles deserves their place into the inaugural class of the 'World Video Game Hall Of Fame' because obviously my opinion counts more than yours because...shut up, this is the Internet.



Pong


I'll begin at the beginning with Pong. A game that probably took it's name form the game, sorry...sport, Ping-Pong but for legal reasons (I guess?) decided to let the 'Ping' go. Arguably, if I were the one naming the game, I'd have opted for the Ping-centric title as to avoid people associating it with bad smells but I wasn't even born yet so my superior reasoning skills and badass marketing flair hadn't yet graced the Earth with their almighty presence. Those were dark times. So dark in fact, that games were devoid of colour.

However, this simple two dimensional game with it's monochrome hue and abstract resemblance (barely) to tennis attracted the hearts and minds of people who had very limited electrical entertainment back then. Pong's unique selling point above other similar paddles hitting small square simulator titles of it's time was the inclusion of mathematics and science...or angles and speed.

The games creators adapted their game so that the paddles could alter the angle of the ball's return and added a new game mechanic in the form of speed so that over time, as your game progressed it also sped up the square...I mean, uh, ball.

People travelled specifically to play the Pong's first prototype which was situated at Andy Capp's Tavern, yes, hard to believe I know, gamers used to leave their houses to go and play games. That's how revolutionary this game was. Pong was monumental in beginning the arcade era or video games and for that alone, deserves it's place in the Hall of Fame. Without the success of arcade games like Pong - which almost didn't get its funding because the bank thought it was too similar to pinball machines - there would be no home video game consoles today.

A bold statement but ultimately, their popularity ensured we could all sit at home with our consoles and spend hours and hours levelling up characters or exploring new worlds....or simply sniping noobs because we're inherently bad people.

So thanks, Pong! You're the best, even though you do sound like a bad smell.

Pac-Man



Waka-waka-waka...that sound does not just refer to a particular genre of Japanese poetry or a Maori canoe, if you walk into a room of gamers and repeat it over and over, I can guarantee everyone in that room will not only deem you as annoying but they will also associate that sweet onomatopoeic two-syllabled word with one thing and one thing only; Pac-Man. 

This game is so ingrained into popular culture that you can even hear non-gamers utter its name or make references to it. It has such a large brand awareness that practically everyone knows it, whether they've played it or not. That in itself is damn impressive, especially considering that it's now 35 years old.

The character Pac-Man was the first playable mascot-style character in a video game and the game was also the very first to include power-ups (healthy ones, at that!). You can see the influence that it had on the games that followed it in all manner of ways. For example, it is often cited as an influence of many stealth based games because it was the first game to focus on evading or sneaking away from enemies.

It was also the first to include cut scenes, something that is now the norm in games and if you think about it, Pac-Man definitely influenced maze based games and chase levels. It is monumental and with so many 'firsts', if it hadn't been inducted into the Hall of Fame there would have been some serious backlash.

Tetris


Ah, mathematics. You are the foundation of everything, including Tetris. The creators love of mathematical puzzles is how Tetris came into being. Even the games name comes from the Greek word 'Tetra', which translates to 'Four' because that's the number of blocks each shape makes up.

Differing slightly to other inductees, Tetris doesn't hold the same influence on other games as its neighbours but it's simplicity and the straightforward nature of the rules alongside it's Russian folk influenced soundtrack and worldwide appeal make it a worthy addition to the Hall Of Fame.

It was the debut game for Nintendo's first handheld gaming system and there was and is not a Gameboy owner that does not own Tetris. Back when I was a young'un, the playground was full of kids playing Tetris or cheap Tetris knock-offs. It was everywhere. I made mention of Tetris in a recent article because even my grandmother played it (I lent her my Gameboy while she was in hospital so she didn't get bored).

There are studies into Tetris that shows playing it can improve basic brain function and increase cerebral activity as the game progresses. It was one of the first games to be used by clinical psychologists in their research and has been used to conduct experiments in a variety of different fields. That's right, an artificial intelligence scientist who was interested mathematical puzzles created a game that has furthered the cause of science and video games. That's why Tetris gets a place in the hallowed Hall Of Fame.

Super Mario Bros.


Pac-Man might have been the first mascot character in the video game world but there is undoubtedly no other character more well-known across the globe than Mario, the Italian plumber who also dabbles in the better paid business of saving princesses. There is no gaming character who is as memorable and well-known as Mario or as connoisseurs or pretentious types like to refer to him, Jumpman (his original name when he first appeared in Donkey Kong).

Super Mario Bros. held the record for the best selling video game OF ALL TIME...until 2006. Okay, so that's almost 10 years ago but considering the games release was in 1985, that is still mightily impressive.

It's success has been an integral part of Nintendo's continued existence, with so many tie-ins, sequels and spin-off games that it's hard to keep track of. I've often criticised Nintendo for relying too heavily on Mario and his cohorts and for releasing so many titles based on one character however, I can forgive them because Super Mario Bros. popularised side scrollers and platformers.

Thus, Super Mario Bros. is incredibly influential and possibly one of the most important games in history...do I honestly need to make any further case for it's inclusion into the Hall Of Fame? No...I'll move on then.

World Of Warcraft



Of course, the biggest of all MMORPGs had its space in the Hall Of Fame reserved, how could it not? WoW has brought together millions of players all over the world into it's shared universe and created a community unlike any other games community. The first MMORPG to truly bring together gamers of all levels on a shared platform. It's no wonder that Blizzard's signature title is the biggest selling MMORPG.

It has forged lasting friendships and even relationships, not just in-game but outside it. Sure, it's also destroyed a few relationships but really...any couple who can't game together really weren't that strong together to begin with. I think this game really is special, it has created bonds between people who might not otherwise be able to socialise without their digital avatar. The fact that since 2004, it has had upward of 10 million players is astounding especially when you consider that it's subscription based. That many people think WoW is good enough to warrant paying roughly $15 a month for and that is a testament to itself!

Talk to any WoW player or veteran and you'll discover that their in-game avatar is an extension of themselves. One of my idols, Felicia Day (who is a huge fan of the game), created a web series based upon the lives of fellow guild members which is centric to the show. It was the first time I'd seen geek culture being represented honesty and without the unfair bias that it is associated with in most traditional media.

WoW is monumental for Ms. Day, it shaped her experiences so in a way, even though I've never played it (because I know it will consume my life), I owe an awful lot to WoW because without it, I would never have stumbled across Felicia Day's The Guild or even known about web series, meaning I would never have created my own series or begun filmmaking...personally, for me it seems, World of Warcraft belongs on this list.

Doom


Doom is to first person shooters what Super Mario Bros. is to side scrolling platformers, without it's success, many of the FPS games today might not exist. Doom was so influential to its genre that it spawned a phrase in the games industry that described the many imitators that followed it, 'Doom clones'.

It was the first successful game of it's type to truly immerse the player. John Romero even stated that he wanted the DOOM marine to remain unnamed specifically because he wanted the marine to be the player.

Can you imagine a world without Half-Life 2, GoldenEye 007, Duke Nukem or the Halo series? No Call of Duty's or Battlefield games? Without Doom, that world might be the one we live in. If you've never played Doom, while I'd usually recommend searching it out, a new shiny version has recently been announced by Bethesda and Id Studios during E3 this year. The trailer they showcased looks awesome so if you've never played Doom or experienced it's iconic weaponry, be sure to play it when it's released.

What strikes me as interesting is that even the most influential titles can be excluded from history, due to public opinion, specifically, violence. Depending on who you talk to and when you talked to them, Doom is either one of the most forward, progressive and important video games, effectively birthing the FPS genre or its a gateway to desensitisation responsible for mash shootings and countless other horrific acts of violence to which it is erroneously attributed.

This is possibly the most important point, the other titles on this list all seem obvious but Doom's presence into the first wave of Hall Of Fame inductees instills confidence within me as the key component of eligibility seems irregardless of controversial fallout or frankly unrelated prejudice. It implies that this Hall Of Fame has a healthy future ahead of it which will catalogue those titles which have changed the face of video games regardless of how they may have been received by contemporary media at the time and non-gamers.

What do you think? Are the games on this list worthy of their inclusion into the first wave of Hall Of Fame inductees or are there games that you think should have taken their place? You know where the comments section is...

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