When I think about video games, I often get the Prince song “1999” stuck in my head, particularly the lyric, “Two thousand, zero, zero, party over, oops, out of time.” This seems like a weird thing to say, but if you think about it, video games took a drastic turn in a different direction after 2000. When I think of the big video games that defined my childhood, I think of games like Super Mario Bros.; games that brought me into my tween years are games like Final Fantasy IV (known as Final Fantasy II in the US) and Tekken 3 in my teen years. From NES to SNES to N64/PS1, there was a marked improvement in games and graphics, but nothing like the huge jump in graphics and quality that we saw from the original PlayStation (released in the US in September of 1995) and the PlayStation 2 (released in March of 2000) and the Xbox (released in 2001). When the gaming technology made that huge leap, developers went all in and really upped the ante; suddenly games were becoming more epic and larger than life now that games could use graphics and voiceovers to help tell their stories instead of just relying on character dialog.
If not for this leap in technology, and the innovation of game developers in the first decade of the 2000s, I don’t think we would have the kinds of games we have today. It’s important to appreciate that our gaming past still continues to mold our gaming future; and, so, here are 5 video games that I feel helped to break the mold of gaming as we knew it and helped to shape the world of gaming as we know it today.
5. Guitar Hero (2005)
Before Guitar Hero, music games were pretty much all but unheard of in North America. Sure, there were die-hard fans of games like Dance Dance Revolution, but the music in games like DDR and Guitar Freaks did not leave the game open for a wide reception. With the release of Guitar Hero came a game that brought us the fun of Japanese-style music games with a wide variety of popular rock music that made the game accessible to a much larger North American and European audience. Guitar Hero made way for Rock Band, which added even more instruments, and both game series have continued to push each other’s limits since then, making each sequel even better than the last. Of course, we all know that the best music game is The Beatles Rock Band, but that’s another subject entirely and may be a somewhat biased opinion considering my unparalleled love of all things Beatles and Paul McCartney.
4. Silent Hill 2 (2001)
Silent Hill 2 was a refreshing look at the genre of horror video games. Instead of just shooting zombies, Silent Hill 2 was a more nuanced game that played on the use of psychological elements to scare the player. This is one game that is still difficult to play in the dark, because it’s just scary. Not only was James Sunderland‘s adventure in Silent Hill pulse-racing and generally creepy, but it was also unique in that the story dealt with what can be considered taboo subjects such as rape, incest, and domestic abuse. Thanks to Silent Hill 2, we now know that some of the best horror games are those that mess with your head.
3. Half-Life 2 (2004)
A somewhat unique game, Half-Life 2 stands out amongst its First Person Shooter brethren. If games like Halo can be considered shoot-to-kill, Half-Life 2 can be described as think-to-kill. The game is unique in that it’s a FPS that made the player think. It was full of puzzles that relied on physics (and, really, it’s no surprise that this game was a predecessor for Portal) and had a story that was thoughtful and well-written. Sure, we want to shoot things when playing FPS games, that’s a given, but Half-Life 2 added an extra dimension that made gamers and video game creators alike rethink the potential of their FPS games.
2. World of Warcraft (2004)
World of Warcraft changed the way that MMORPGs were both played and perceived by the world. Before WoW, most MMOs were like Ultima Online — which consisted of more solo-play where you sometimes ran into other people in a sprawling world — or like Everquest, which was played in small groups, overly difficult and unfriendly for newbie players, and automatically made people think that the players were weirdos or freaks. World of Warcraft made being a beginning player less intimidating by making friendlier tutorials within its starting areas, and took the idea of “massively multiplayer” to an entirely new level with complex quests and dungeon areas that required large groups of players to come together. As well, World of Warcraft has made playing MMOs a lot more mainstream; MMO players aren’t given quite as many strange looks anymore — and even the least geeky gamers and most unlikely people (the kind you would never think would play any kind of games at all, let alone a fantasy RPG) can be found playing WoW.
1. Portal (2007)
Portal was an amazing game that made a huge impact on the gaming world — not just because of its combination of a first-person platform puzzle game and a homicidal computer, but because it changed the way that games are sold. Although a relatively “short” game, the game is a prime example of “quality over quantity.” The cake may be a lie in this game, but the value isn’t. You can still get Portal and its sequel through Steam without forking over a lot of dough. I have no scientific or factual evidence to back this up, but I’m pretty sure you can get Portal for free or for like a dollar or something absurdly cheap every single time Steam has one of its huge summer/winter/we-like-selling-stuff sales.