As others have noted, there is a challenge going on right now among MeFightClub members to name the best game. EVAR. MeFightClub is a group of grown-ups (in both the sense of age but more importantly in maturity) who play games (and who sometimes say EVAR). The community was started around Valve’s multi-player shooters so there is a real love for those. But more generally the community reflects my gaming interests: PC-centered, mature (not in the R-rated sense but in the sense that rejects the 13-yo boy’s aesthetic common to much gaming), and most of all fun.
But this challenge has been… well … challenging to me. Try as I might I just can’t bring myself to name one best game EVAR. Part of the problem is that I am just not that decisive and just not that attached to a single game. I am also hung up on the criteria I should use and it is made all the more difficult because one must compare games across three decades when the underlying technology has changed so much. So should you reward Doom for revolutionizing a new genre of games or do you favor a more modern FPS because it looks and sounds better? Do you give a nod to a game that was technically innovative and ahead of its time, like Command HQ was for the Real-Time Strategy genre, or favor the game that introduced those ideas to the masses like Dune II, Warcraft, or Age of Empires? Do you go with a game that made you smile for days after you finished it, like I did with Portal, or award the game that sucked up the most time? For me that might be Ultima IV, one of the Civilizations, Railroad Tycoon II, or most recently Team Fortress II. Like I said, I can’t commit to just one game when I can’t even commit to just one criteria.
But in thinking about this problem I keep coming back to one central seed of a thought that has been growing until I realized it is the only answer I can provide. The most important thing isn’t a single game or a genre or a company or a designer. To me the most important period was when computer gaming grew up to embrace all of the things I currently love about gaming: PC-centered, mature, and fun. That era I would argue is the early-1990s.