Were I to somehow graphically represent the landscape of my life as a gamer, I think what I would find would be large swatches of tillable flatland dominated by an occasional and completely incongruous mountain, sort of like putting a half dozen Mount Everests right in the middle of South Dakota. I have played an absolutely incomprehensible number of video games in my life, but it seems as though the time I invest in a handful of that number dominates my nostalgia. Lost are most of the entirely average games, which I enjoyed for a smattering of hours before dismissing into obscurity, and as I think back on my years I find that there are a few standouts.
How do you judge your favorite all-time video games? Like Rob Gordon of High Fidelity fame, I am happy to rank my memories and feelings into some easily digestible list, and like Nick Hornby's erstwhile, vaguely postmodern anti-hero I do not necessarily do so in an arbitrary way. It may be emotionally inviting to define the best games I've ever played in a gut check response, a list that is ever fluid as the tidal forces of my mood was and wane, but in some kind of empirical analysis, credit must be given to these Dakotan Everests; these games that rise from the plateau and eat away days, weeks, and even months. So, I offer for you the five games that most engrossed and monopolized my gaming days, and invite you to do the same.
Yes, it's a trite exercise, but like many of the games to follow, a simple yet thoroughly enjoyable endeavor.
5) Diablo 2 – Stay A While and Listen – Position five was the most up for grabs for my personal list. From here on out, it's easy to track the dominating titles of my gaming life, but this slot seemed potentially available to any number of options; the last of the second tier perhaps. By putting the restriction on this list that it must be a single game rather than a franchise, the choice became clearer, and Diablo 2 snuck in for the five spot.
Were I to allow franchises instead, this would easily be the domain of Civilization, and I point that out because an honorable mention is warranted.
But, Diablo II and its expansion still seem as inviting now as they did when released, and the truth is that only the very softest of nudges would find me reinstalling the game and leveling up another Sorceress or Necromancer. As much as I may join the chorus that despises Act III and its perpetually annoying pygmy adversaries, this is a game I've played again and again, both online and off. I've been through all three difficulties, felled Mephisto more times than I care to count, enjoyed the silly onslaught of the cow level, and tried dozens of builds.
An addicting and simple experience with limitless replayability.
4) Everquest"”SoW Plz– I remember with some nostalgia my first steps in Qeynos, and the amazing potential of this persistent and three-dimension world laid out before me. Then there was the rat killing, the gnoll killing, the bear killing, killing some skeletons and crocodiles, being killed by giants while killing skeletons and/or crocodiles, and so on and so forth. Why couldn't I quit you Everquest? It's a question that I couldn't answer for, oh, let's say a few hundred hours of playtime.
Credit where credit is due: the game was consistently iconic and laid the groundwork for a successful genre. From the plains of Karana to the Desert of Ro to the Field of Bone to Velious and Luclin, I've spent more time in individual zones of EQ than I have spent in most games. Unbelievably this is a game that continues to survive if not flourish with a new expansion – the 14th I believe – freshly released, and everytime I hear of some new content waiting to be plumbed there is this coppery taste of fresh desire in the back of my mouth.
You never totally fall out of love with your first.
3) World of WarCraft – You Are Not Prepared – Strange as it may seem to some who've known me over the past few years, WoW only ranks as my third most played game of all time. Admittedly that could change over the years, as World of WarCraft draws me inexorably back to its comfortable and familiar bosom time and again.
It is a triumph of MMO design, and the kind of experience that somehow manages to improve with age. The game does so many things consistently right that there's just no good starting point to begin singing its praises. Time is meaningless in the world, and despite the Sisyphean nature of the genre, Blizzard has applied such master touches to the gameplay that it demands acts of Herculean will just to log off for the night.
Coupled with an outstanding community of WoW players born from the site, thus making even the most tedious of quests entertaining, it's easy to pretend like there are no other games on my computer.
2) Counter-Strike –Go! Go! Go! – How many times have I played Dust and Office in my life? So many times that I can imagine easily the architecture of those levels, perhaps could even draw them with my eyes closed.
For as much as the greatness of the WoW community fuels my desire to play that game, the flotsam that made up much of Counter-Strike's public community fueled my desire to play that game and kill them. I was never great at CS, and on the occasions that I played against the truly gifted I was reminded soundly of that fact, but I was good, and more importantly I knew the levels, knew how to squeeze off short accurate shots, and how to not accidentally flash bang my own teammates. Counter-Strike is a game that rewards repetition and practice, and for years it was a consistent outlet for my destructive desires, in frankly unhealthy ways.
And, while much of my time with the game was spent stewing in the fog of fury that can only be born from being AWPed one too many times, it also defined some of my greatest gaming moments: planting the bomb as the last player alive, and then defending it against the four enemies remaining; slowly picking off a handful of enemies to win the match; the lucky grenade that bounces just right to wipe out three enemies; rescuing the last hostage under a hail of bullets, and so on.
1) Subspace/Continuum – I've Taken J12 – This last game will only be vaguely familiar to a select few, but it takes my number one spot by a healthy margin. I played Subspace for something like three-and-a-half years, and virtually nothing else, a bizarre statement of fact considering what a terribly simple game it is. Keyboard controlled spaceships on a flat 2D spacemap engage in combat while collecting power-ups, and yet sometimes it is the most simple of concepts and implementations that attract us the longest.
The beauty of Subspace, or Continuum as it is now known in the small niche of the internet where a few thousand people still play, is hard to describe, in part because it eventually became so player defined that the original game was little more than a concept on which people created new playstyles, new rulesets and new experiences. But, the game mechanics are fundamentally sound, and environments with a sense of momentum make pulling off a particularly squirrely and successful maneuver feel very rewarding. To know the moment of making just the right thrust to slip between obstacles while dropping the perfectly placed bomb which destroys a persistent pursuer is to know joy.
This game came to me in the aftermath of first acquiring consistent and reliable internet access that wasn't paid for by the minute. In this heady environment of unfettered access to the digital ether, this game begged me to play into the wee morning hours, which I was only too happy to oblige.
It is, I admit, trivial this casual journey through addiction and obsession, but these are the games that have defined who I am as a gamer. I see their influence in the games that continue to attract me, and those that do not. The idea that someday one of these games will be usurped by the obsessions yet to come fuels my fire for gaming.