I’ve been meaning to do this for a while – make a list of some of the greatest, most important games ever made. Sure, it’s hardly an original idea, but I think it’s got its value. The idea came back into my head recently when I read this article from 2008 by Simon Parkin. It’s a really nice piece of writing, and it talks about the kind of situation that a lot of us are all too familiar with, but part of it frustrated me: “Who are we kidding? There’s not one Schindler’s List amongst our eight thousand Pearl Harbours. We’ve nothing of worth. Even if we do have something to say to the world, I’m not sure we’ve come close to articulating yet.”
I know that was probably intended merely as a fleeting, despairing thought rather than a real, serious representation of the author’s views, but it’s a thought that’s expressed time and time again, either explicitly or implicitly, when we talk about games. And that’s annoying. Games are frustrating. They’re juvenile. They’ve got nothing to say and maybe one day they’ll grow up and become a respectable artistic medium.
Sometimes it’s almost impossible not to fall back on this kind of thinking. Like when you’re face to face with the amoral, cut-throat jingoism of Call of Duty: Black Ops, or Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno – a timeless allegory of life, evil, and sin condensed into ten hours of hack-and-slash culminating in a boss fight against the devil (where I spent half the fight thinking ‘Am I going mental or did they put a giant, flaccid cock on the devil’s character model?’). And people, including many games critics, are often extremely dismissive of games as a medium. The story is pretty good for a game. The problem with this is that it seems this dismissiveness is so strong, and often so automatic at this point, that we sometimes ignore the medium’s great achievements. The great games.
I’m extremely critical about the state of the medium. And I think it’s important to be critical about the things that we suck at. But it’s also important to remember the successes – the moments that make you unselfconsciously think fuck yes, videogames.
And that’s what this project is for. I want us to stop dismissing games all the time. I want us to be able to say “x is a great game” without feeling a little embarrassed. I want us to stop feeling like we should be comparing games to other mediums and finding them somehow wanting, childish, or pointless. I want us to be able to say “the dialogue is extremely well-written”, or “the characters are well-realised” without mentally adding “for a videogame” even though we really think the dialogue is extremely well-written, or the characters extremely well-realised. I want us to get rid of the worry that maybe Tetris is a bit of a waste of time and that we should be getting some fresh air, or reading War and Peace, or learning Latin.
And I think that’ll only come if we can step back and talk enthusiastically about the great things this medium can do. It might not do great things as often as we’d like, or as often as it perhaps should, but when it does it’s our job to point that out, celebrate it, and maybe be a little bit smug about how much better our medium is than all those other bullshit, worthless, waste-of-time ones.
So welcome to The Great Games, I guess. It’s a place where I can write about some of the games that I think are really special. Games that I think stand up and that we should be able to show as defining examples of the medium to people who don’t play games. And if they don’t like them or they don’t get them then we shouldn’t be embarrassed, just as someone who loves films doesn’t feel their skin crawl when someone watches Blade Runner in silence before getting up, announcing “Well, that was a piece of shit”, and leaving the room.
These are the great games. Sorry, The Great Games.
I may never actually get around to posting about any.