Thursday, August 13, 2009

Toronto Star names top games of the decade: what do you think?

As part of its "Century So Far" series, the Toronto Star asked three writers to name the 10 most important video games of the last decade. Their picks: The Sims, Counter-Strike, Brain Age, Everquest, Dwarf Fortress, Bejeweled, Grand Theft Auto III, Guitar Hero, Halo 2, Wii Sports.

What do you think? I'm betting you're already scratching your head over a couple of entries, and no doubt have your own suggestions. But on the whole, it's a creditable effort. The Sims, Guitar Hero, Brain Age, and Wii Sports engrossed countless millions who'd never been interested in a video game in their life. Bejeweled gave a generation a new way to fill boring hours at the desk. Counter-Strike and Halo 2 helped birth today's multiplayer shooters, while Grand Theft Auto III spawned a generation of open-world wonders like Crackdown and Infamous.

Dwarf Fortress is certainly the oddball of the list -- if you've never heard of it, it's a bizarre Sims-style management game that gives players control of the destiny of a Tolkien-style colony of burrowing dwarfs. Name-dropping it is an instant passport to hardcore gamer kudos, but the interface is a black and white, text-only affair that seems to regard ease of use with the same suspicion its dwarfs regard goblin invaders. It's brilliant, inspiring, and utterly engrossing, but even after pouring an easy hundred hours into its uniquely detailed and cripplingly addictive gameplay, I'm not sure it even qualifies as a game, let alone one of the top ten of the last decade.

And Everquest over World of Warcraft? That's a tough one. There'd be no World of Warcraft without 1999 release Everquest blazing its trail, but the meteoric rise of Warcraft to its nigh-unassailable position atop the not inconsiderable mound of online world games perhaps deserves more credit.

Dwarf Fortress

Is this really one of the best games of the decade?

More than that, though, five of the games are crammed into the 1999-2001 period, and only Wii Sports and Brain Age represent the 2006-2009 years. Have the last four years really been such a poor period for video games? Come back in 2015, and I think the games of the Xbox 360, Wii, and PS3 generation will start looking more attractive. Witness the creative storytelling in BioShock, Call of Duty 4, or Braid, or the fusion of social networking and gameplay in LittleBigPlanet, or the new wave of cottage-industry development houses turning out games like World of Goo or iPhone money-spinner Trism. You can only really judge historical impact once, you know, it's had a chance to happen.

But never mind all that. Where's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, anyway?

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