The term “video game” is defined as “an electronic game that involves human interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device”. When people hear the words, it seems to conjure different meanings for individual people depending on their game playing backgrounds. Despite what people may think when they start talking about video games, they’d be surprised to learn that they have, in one form or another, been around a long, LONG time – almost seventy years!
Over this rich and long history, we have been blessed with some truly awesome, genre-defining titles that have left an indelible mark in video game history. I wanted to create a definitive list of the very best most influential game titles across all types of video games from each decade going back all the way to the beginning. So let’s take a walk through video game history and explore the Best Video Games of the Past Seventy Years:
1940’s – Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device (1947)
The great-great granddaddy of all video games, the Cathode Ray Amusement Device (CRTAD) is the earliest known interactive electronic game to use a cathode ray tube (CRT) and meet the basic definition of the term “video game”. Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann built the game from analog electronics in way, WAY back in 1947. It was never marketed or sold to the public, which is why many people are totally unfamiliar with it or the fact that it is the predecessor of all modern video games in ANY format.
This thing was bulky and heavy and had “gameplay” that could only be appreciated by full pocket protector-wearing, slide rule-type engineers but despite its simplicity and lack of public awareness, its mark in history is a big one in that it would serve as an inspiration to the later video game developers that would ultimately usher in the modern video game age.
To play, one turns a control knob to position the CRT beam on the screen. To the player, the beam appears as a dot, which is supposed to represent a targeting reticle or scope. The player then has a limited amount of time in which to move the dot so that it is over an “enemy” airplane target, and then to fire at the airplane by pressing a button.
1950’s – Tennis for Two (1958)
Another purpose-built, one-off video game ancestor, Tennis for Two was developed in 1958 on a Donner Model 30 analog computer and simulates a side-view game of tennis or ping pong using an oscilloscope CRT and a hand-held controller. American physicist William created Tennis for Two to cure the boredom of visitors to Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he worked – it was never released to the public.
He learned that one of Brookhaven’s computers could calculate ballistic missile trajectories and used this ability to form the game’s foundation. Players interacted with the ball using a held-held analog aluminum controller to click a button to hit the ball and a knob to control the angle. Hitting the ball also emitted a sound from the game circuitry. Tennis for Two was designed in about two hours and assembled in about three weeks with the help of Robert V. Dvorak. Though there was no direct connection between the two games, Tennis for Two was a predecessor of Pong—one of the most widely recognized video games as well as one of the first widely available to the public.
1960’s – Spacewar! (1962)
Spacewar! is one of if not THE first digital computer-based video games. Steve Russell, Martin Graetz, and Wayne Wiitanen of the fictitious “Hingham Institute” conceived of the game in 1961, with the intent of implementing it on a DEC PDP-1 minicomputer at MIT. It took approximately 200 hours of work to create the initial version.
The basic gameplay of Spacewar! involves two armed spaceships called “the needle” and “the wedge” attempting to shoot missiles at one another while maneuvering around the gravity well of a star located in the center of the screen. Each ship has a limited number of missiles and a limited supply of fuel. Each player controls one of the ships, and must attempt to simultaneously shoot at the other ship and avoid getting pulled in by gravity and colliding with the star.
Spacewar!’s influence on many popular games to follow is undeniable and elements from it have been incorporated in some of video game’s biggest, most memorable titles such as Asteroids and Star Control. In 2007, The New York Times reported that Spacewar was named to the “Game Canon” list of the ten most important video games of all time and selected by the Library of Congress for preservation.
1970’s – Adventure (1979)
Adventure is a groundbreaking video game for the Atari 2600 video game console released in 1979. In the game, the player controls a square avatar whose quest is to hunt through an open world environment looking for a hidden magical chalice to return it to the yellow castle. The game world is also populated by roaming dragons that can eat the avatar and a bat, which randomly steals and hides items around the game world.
Adventure was conceived as a graphical version of the 1977 text adventure Colossal Cave Adventure. It took developer Warren Robinett approximately one year to design and code the game, during which time he had to overcome a variety of technical limitations in the Atari 2600 console hardware. In this game, he introduced the first widely known video game “Easter egg”, a secret room containing text crediting himself for the game’s creation that could only be revealed by finding and dragging an invisible dot to the room’s location.
As the first console action-adventure fantasy title and with more than a million original copies sold, Adventure is one of the best-selling Atari games of all time and is the grandfather of the action-adventure and fantasy genres. It was the first video game to incorporate the fog of war (seen in the catacombs) and the first to allow the player to use multiple portable on-screen items to solve puzzles. It was followed by multiple official and unofficial sequels, and it has been included in numerous Atari 2600 game collections and is considered the best Atari-generation video game.
1980’s – Super Mario Bros (1985)
Super Mario Bros is a platform video game internally developed and published by Nintendo in 1985 as a quasi-sequel to the 1983 game Mario Bros. In Super Mario Bros, the player controls Mario and in a two-player game, a second player controls Mario’s brother Luigi as he travels through the Mushroom Kingdom in order to rescue Princess Toadstool from the evil bad guy Bowser.
Super Mario Bros and the terms “pioneering” and “highly influential” are often heard in the same sentence along with “The Greatest Game of All Time” since it nearly single-handedly resurrected the crashed American video game market of the 1980s and popularized the side-scrolling platform video game genre. In addition, the game has also sold enormously well and was the best-selling game of all time for a single platform for almost thirty years at over 40 million units sold.
1990’s – Doom (1993)
Doom is a 1993 science fiction horror-themed first-person shooter (FPS) video game by id Software. It is broadly considered the most significant and influential game in the video game industry, for having rung in the popularity of the first-person shooter as well as pioneering many of its gameplay conventions that are considered the norm for this type of game.
In Doom, players assume the role of an unnamed space marine, who became popularly known as “Doomguy”, fighting his way through hordes of invading demons from Hell. With one third of the game distributed as shareware, Doom was played by an estimated 10 million people within two years of its release, popularizing the FPS.
In addition to popularizing the FPS genre, it pioneered immersive 3D graphics, networked multiplayer gaming, and support for customized additions and modifications via packaged files in a data archive known as “WADs”. Then cutting edge level design, arsenal of available weapons, lighting effects, positional stereo sound, sneaky enemies, and designed-in jump scares all served to popularize the title to a level not seen before and impressive even by today’s standards. For many years after Doom’s release, any FPS released was considered and referred to as a “Doom clone”.
2000’s – Bioshock (2007)
Bioshock is a first-person shooter video game developed by 2K Boston and published by 2K Games. BioShock is set in 1960, in which the player guides Jack, after his airplane crashes in the ocean near the bathysphere terminus that leads to the underwater city of Rapture. Built by the business magnate Andrew Ryan, the city was intended to be an isolated utopia, but the discovery of ADAM, a plasmid which grants superhuman powers but also psychosis, started the city’s turbulent decline.
BioShock includes elements of role-playing games such as character development and giving the player different approaches in engaging enemies such as front-on assault or stealth, as well as offering the player the moral dilemma of choosing to save or kill characters. Additionally, the game incorporates elements from the bio-punk and survival horror genres. BioShock received much critical acclaim and was particularly praised by critics for its morality-based story and immersive environments in a highly unique underwater setting and is considered to be one of the greatest video games of all time. It is frequently referred to as the spiritual successor to System Shock.
2010’s – The Last of Us (2013)
The Last of Us an action-adventure survival horror video game developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. The player controls Joel – a man tasked with escorting the young Ellie across a post-apocalyptic United States.
The Last of Us is played from a third-person perspective and players use a variety of firearms and improvised weapons as well as stealth to defend against hostile humans and zombie-like creatures infected by a mutated strain of fungus. “Listen mode” allows players to locate enemies through a heightened sense of hearing and spatial awareness. Players can also customize weapons and items using items scavenged from the environment.
It was highly acclaimed by many reviewers for its characterization, subtext, and exploration of the human condition. The Last of Us became one of the best-selling PlayStation 3 games, selling over 1.3 million units in its first week, and over eight million units within fourteen months and is considered to be one of the greatest video games of all time, winning over 240 “Game of the Year” awards from numerous gaming publications, making it the most awarded game in history.