If you're reading this, then you've probably been on the internet longer than I have. It also means that you are, at least in some volume, interested in video games, (unless you got here accidentally.) If you fit into both categories, there's a good chance you've seen a list titled "The X Greatest Games of All Time" somewhere along your travels. Even though you might not always agree with the criteria, you can usually understand what the list's compiler was thinking when giving a game its rank, or deciding to include it all. Sometimes these lists can be very comprehensive. GamesRadar's list of the "Top 100 Video Games of All Time" felt like a trip through an online game museum. Nearly every critically acclaimed game you could think of was up there. Mass Effect, Uncharted 2, Bioshock, Super Mario Galaxy, Secret of Monkey Island, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy Tactics, Sonic CD, and so on. It obviously helps that they had 100 spaces to use.
Initially, it seemed fair enough that for a while I even formed some of my game-playing habits around it, wanting to see how many of the "classics" I could find and finish. It's what motivated me to play Earthbound, for instance. And although game rankings are often counterproductive and ultimately arbitrary, an unranked list of must-play games might be a useful tool for a scholar, or just plain newbie trying to get a comprehensive sense of what video games are all about without wasting time.
I've noticed an interesting (which is a nice of way of putting it, really) and subtle trend among these lists, and it has to do with the kinds of games that get on there. Not even GamesRadar managed to avoid falling into it. It looks like they've covered everything, but look again. The problem isn't what's on the list, but what isn't.
No, on second thought, the problem is also what's on the list. They were trying to compile a list of the greatest games ever made, but it seems like they were just putting in the most fun games ever made. Donkey Kong Country is on there, and so is Tetris, in the #2 spot no less, (although it has since shifted,) but there isn't anything in there that falls outside of this narrow definition of quality. What's worse, everybody seems to be doing this. I'm not going to say that Tetris isn't a wonderful game, or that being fun somehow diminishes a game's quality in and of itself, but where are the lists with Gone Home, Dear Esther, or Proteus in their numbers? Those deserve recognition, too. But as it is, those games are often not even considered games at all. In the end, these lists wind up representing not what the greatest games are, but what most of us think the greatest games are, a tribute to our flawed priorities, a relic of our questionable values. Braid managed to get on at #35 (as of today,) but as per usual it was for reasons that would make (and have made) its creator most upset.
Um...it had nice music?
By the way, this isn't the 20th century anymore. We have the internet, and information, valuable information, is distributed in ways that would have been unimaginable half a century ago. That doesn't mean that any of it isn't legitimate. This is an age where an online propaganda video makes instant headlines. The internet is a part our lives now, and what you find there matters just as much as what you see on a television screen or buy from an online store, sometimes even more. Dys4ia and Jelly no Puzzle are as much games as Super Mario Bros. and Portal, and they aren't to be overlooked when it come time to figure out which games are the best of the best.
We can do better than any of this, and it's time we as a whole recognized that there are many different places a great game can come from and many different ways for a game to be great.
Personally, I'd like to see a list with Papers, Please included.
Is there a game you would like to see on a "Greatest Game" list that probably won't be? Is it for any of the reasons stated above? Sound off in the comments below.
Also, this is on my blog.