If the movie Pixels, released earlier this summer, accomplished anything it was to show us that video games are now an ingrained part of popular culture. Video game characters such as Donkey Kong are as familiar to people as Darth Vader. Children and adults today know Pac-Man as well as they know Harry Potter. And increasingly video games influence other entertainment genres such as movies, television shows and music videos. And with video game technology advancing all the time and sales continuing to grow, the influence of video games is likely to become stronger in coming years. With this in mind, we look here at the 10 most influential video games of all time and how they have helped to shape popular culture through the years.
10. Space Invaders (1978)
The original arcade hit, Space Invaders was released in 1978 and helped to both put video games on the map and make the local arcade a popular hangout for teenagers. Originally published by company Taito and later by Atari for their 2600 video game console, Space Invaders spawned modern gaming and inspired a generation of designers and programmers to make cool and exciting video games. Essentially an alien invasion simulator, Space Invaders is also credited as the first shooter video game, and it was the first video game to save a player’s high score and allow them to enter their initials into the game next to their high score. This created heated competitions between players and led to lineups at the arcade. A host of copycat games followed including Centipede and Galaga. And when released in Japan, Space Invaders was so popular it caused a shortage of the 100 yen coin back in 1979.
9. Tetris (1985)
Still one of the most addictive video games of all time, and arguably the hardest to put down after you start playing it, Tetris was first released in 1985 and became a phenomenon when published for the Nintendo Game Boy in 1989. Created by a Russian programmer named Alexey Pajitnov, Tetris was developed as a video game for adults. Video games up to that point had been marketed squarely at kids and teenagers and focused on characters and action adventures. Tetris is credited as being the first puzzle video game and an intellectual one at that. Legend has it that Alexey Pajitnov got the idea for Tetris while playing Solitaire one day with a deck of cards. And while industry insiders originally balked when they learned that Nintendo planned to issue an adult game for its new Game Boy platform, the move proved to be brilliant, as it attracted parents to their children’s video games for the first time. A whole slew of similar puzzle games followed such as Puyo, Puzzle Bobble and Bust-a-Move.
8. Doom (1993)
The modern first person shooter started with Doom released in 1993 and the game has inspired a legion of video games that followed it, including Halo, Killzone and Call of Duty—to name only a few of the more popular titles. Initially published by id Software, Doom also introduced a number of new features in video games, including three dimensional (3D) graphics, third dimension spatiality and multiplayer gameplay. Doom is also one of the most popular video games of all time, producing several sequels and spin-offs, as well as a series of novels, a board game and even a 2005 movie that featured Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Since its release in 1993, Doom has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and become a touchstone in the video game universe. Without Doom many of the top titles sold today would not exist. Doom was the first video game to feature a space marine as the main character and introduced the horror concept to video games as players battle demons and zombies.
7. SimCity (1989)
The first open ended video game that allowed players to design and create a city from scratch, SimCity has been extremely influential and continues to be popular with gamers to this day. Without SimCity we would not have video games such as Moonbase, Pharoah or the phenomenon that is Minecraft. Aimed at a sophisticated and primarily adult audience, SimCity enables players to act as the mayor of the town they are building and construct their city from the ground up, starting with development zones for either residential or commercial properties. Along the way, gamers have to raise money through taxes, ensure there are utilities such as electricity, water and even garbage collection, and keep the residents of their city happy. About the most exciting and dangerous thing that can happen to a city in the game is an occasional earthquake. And while this might sound a bit boring to some readers, SimCity has proven to be addictive to many gamers who like the control and mental stimulation it provides them. SimCity has been adapted to many different platforms over the years, including the Nintendo DS and iPhone.
6. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991)
The first Street Fighter, developed in 1987 by Capcom, set the template for the modern fighting video game. However, the original Street Fighter suffered from a number of glitches and poor controls. By the time of the 1991 sequel, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, the bugs had been worked out and it was this title that showed the way for future video games that pitted one character against another in a one-on-one fight. Originally an arcade only game, Street Fighter II was not the first game in this genre. However, the version of Street Fighter II that made it to home consoles included a number of innovations such as fighting combinations and special moves. The game also introduced competitive multiplayer combat between two players and popularized the notion that gamers could select a character from a number of different options, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Without Street Fighter II, we would not have the Mortal Kombat or Tekken video game series. Revenues from the Street Fighter video game series have topped $4 billion worldwide… and counting.
5. Grand Theft Auto/Grand Theft Auto III (1997 and 2001)
The first Grand Theft Auto video game, released in 1997, introduced gamers to the open world concept. Grand Theft Auto III, released in 2001, showed the true potential of open world video games, as it provided a rich and immersive game play experience. First released for the PlayStation and Microsoft Windows, Grand Theft Auto featured several new and radical concepts. First, it allowed gamers to play as criminals who roam around fictional U.S. cities committing crimes such as robbery and even murder. These were not superheroes. Second, it featured an open world with non-linear play that allowed people to choose what they wanted to do in the game. These ideas were taken to new and even more influential heights with the release by Rockstar of Grand Theft Auto III in 2001. The third version of the game offered a huge open world and immersive play, as well as plenty of side-missions and mini-games. Grand Theft Auto III inspired a legion of clones, including Saint’s Row, Crackdown and True Crime. To date, the series has sold more than 150 million copies and has featured voice-over contributions from notable Hollywood stars such as Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. Even singer Phil Collins has been featured in the Grad Theft Auto series.
4. Tecmo Super Bowl (1991)
Sports are a huge segment of the video game industry today, with EA Sports publishing hugely popular titles such as its annual Madden football and NHL hockey games. And modern sports games can trace their lineage and popularity to 1991’s Tecmo Super Bowl, which was the original sports video game sensation. Created for the first Nintendo, Tecmo Super Bowl allowed gamers to play NFL football and control star players such as Joe Montana and Bo Jackson. It also featured new and fun concepts such as broken plays and professional team rosters. It was also the first game that allowed players to track statistics for the players they used in the game. And in a move that changed video games forever, Tecmo Super Bowl was the very first game that included licenses from professional sports teams and an entire league—in this case the NFL. These licenses are now common in all sports video games, but it was Tecmo Super Bowl that paved the way.
3. Super Mario Brothers (1985)
Cited as the video game that invented platform-style gaming, the original Super Mario Brothers, published in 1985, placed the first Nintendo gaming system on the map and catapulted Nintendo to the top of the gaming industry. Created by Japanese video game design legend Shigeru Miyamoto, the character of Mario was spun-off from the hugely popular arcade game Donkey Kong, which was also created by Shigeru Miyamoto. A fun side scrolling video game aimed at kids, Super Mario Brothers combination of obstacles, puzzles, exploration, music and controls proved hugely popular with younger gamers and set the template for video games for years to come. The characters of Mario and his brother Luigi have also become pop culture staples and spawned countless other video game titles, as well as everything from movies to bed spreads, backpacks and lunch boxes. Several polls list the original Super Mario Brothers as the most influential video game of all time, and some game reviewers have dubbed it the “Citizen Kane of video games” for its influence.
2. Pac-Man (1980)
The first blockbuster video game and a cultural phenomenon in the 1980s, Pac-Man endures to this day and is familiar to everyone around the world. The game, developed by company Namco, was an arcade smash and one of the hottest titles on the Atari 2600 game console. It also spawned the equally popular game Ms. Pac-Man and led to a merchandising craze in the 1980s, with Pac-Man appearing on t-shirts, hats, cups and backpacks. There was also an animated Pac-Man television show, a hit song called “Pac-Man Fever,” gameplay books and board games. Pac-Man was the original video game rock star. The game survived the video game crash that occurred in 1983 and some version of it has been featured on every video game platform to come out since the early 1980s. Surveys show that Pac-Man has the highest brand awareness of any video game character among American consumers, having been recognized by 94 percent of them. Pac-Man is also part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
1. Pong (1972)
Looking at Pong now, it seems laughably simple. It is literally an electronic game of table tennis or “ping pong” with two medium sized blips on opposite sides of the screen representing paddles and a little blip that travels between them representing the ball. But although it seems prehistoric now, Atari’s Pong, released in 1972, was the first video game and spawned everything that came after it. In that respect, Pong is as influential as the Macintosh computer, the Walkman, the VCR and the Windows operating system. This simple game literally changed the home entertainment landscape forever. Pong was a sensation in arcades during the 1970s, which until that time mostly featured pinball games. In 1975, Pong was miniaturized into a home console that allowed people to play the video game in their houses on their own television sets—the first time this had happened. Pong literally brought video games into people’s homes for the very first time. The console showed companies what was possible and led to everything that followed, including the Atari 2600 and Nintendo gaming systems. For inspiring and influencing all the video games that we have today, Pong gets the top spot.