There’s been a bit of discussion of late on the MeFightClub board about the Most Important Video Game Ever (thankfully no one insisted on going all meme-ish and spelling it Evar).
Easy, I think, it’s got to be the first video game ever made, right? So off I pop to Wikipedia and start looking around. I was surprised by what I found. Did you know that the first video game was made in 1947? Neither did I…
Comparing an analogue-controlled cathode-ray tube based game to modern digital electronics may be pushing the definition of “video game” a little to most people, but even if you wait for digital electronics to come along, you still only have to wait until 1951.
Reading through some of the historical stuff on Wikipedia was interesting, but I struggled to connect to any of these games. Yes, I played a bit of chess when I was younger (I was terrible at it, didn’t have the patience), but other than that, the first game in the list that I recognised was Pong.
Unlike some of the older members of MeFightClub, I personally didn’t play much in arcades when I was younger – we were lucky enough to have a computer at home from a fairly early age. That said, Pong didn’t pass my brothers and I by completely – we had a “console” of some sort (I have no idea where it was from) which, as I recall, included several other bat-and-ball type games selectable via toggle switch. I actually had the opportunity to play on an original Pong arcade machine at PAX East earlier this year, against fellow a MeFighter, K. Who promptly kicked my arse six ways from Sunday, so screw Pong.
Being too young to really see the original genesis of games (that’s genesis, not Genesis, smartarse), the question sent me thinking along another path – what was the Most Important Video Game to Me.
Ah. Now, there’s a question…
Most important game to me?
My introduction to (then 8-bit) gaming came via a Sinclair Spectrum ZX 48K, co-owned with my brothers. Those of you old enough to remember the days of 8-bit will recall the tape-playback loading that most machines used, the interminable load times, the then-groundbreaking graphics capabilities (since surpassed by my wristwatch), and the fun. I remember several games on the Spectrum, but I’m torn between the Jet Set Willy games (complete with “In the Hall of the Mountain King” soundtrack), which lead to a genre of games involving annoyingly enforced precisely timed, pixel perfect jumping / hazard avoidance, and Laser Squad, a tactical turn-based squad shooter that lead to games like X-Com.
Jet Set Willy / Laser Squad
Stepping over the Spectrum +2 (a 128K version of the same computer, really – at least, the games were practically the same) brings us to 16 Bit computing. One of my friends had an Atari ST; my brothers and I went for the recently-released Commodore Amiga 500. This was quite a step up from the old Spectrum; stereo sound and a massive 4096 colours! I remember many great games; F/A 18 Interceptor and F-19 Stealth Fighter introduced me to Flight Sims; the original Sim City and Carrier Command to Builder/Strategy games; the original Monkey Island games to Point-and-Click Adventures, to name a few.
F/A-18 Interceptor / F-19 Stealth Fighter
Sim City / Carrier Command
The Secret of Monkey Island / Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
But my favourite game on the Amiga? I think it has to be Frontier: Elite II. I never really played the original Elite, although I saw it running on the BBC Micro, but I loved Frontier. On top of the great graphics and gameplay, Frontier introduced a new aspect to computer gaming that I hadn’t really realised before – social interaction. While Frontier was never multiplayer, most of my friends had either Amigas or Atari STs. At one point, my friends and I would trade tips and information each day at school, information hard-earned from our games as a dozen or so of us played simultaneously but separately the night prior.
Frontier: Elite II
Was Frontier the most important game ever to me? No, but as I thought about it, I began to realise what was I found important.
The Amiga 500 and it’s successor in my household, the A1200, lasted a fairly long time and gave me a lot of fun, before being retired in favour of the PC. I’ve written before about that switch over, which was largely driven by the original X-Wing – coincidentally another space combat game. X-Wing itself easily qualifies as a potential “Most Important Game Ever” for me, both for bringing me to my gaming platform of choice (the PC) and including that all-important social aspect, as I played with my friend G.
Star Wars: X-Wing
In a similar timeframe, however, came another great PC game – Doom. Doom was the first major launch of an FPS (at least, the first I paid attention to – I played the earlier Wolfenstein games, I seem to recall that I thought they were amusing enough at the time), but more importantly, it had multiplayer. It was never feasible to play “online”, as local calls were sadly not free in the UK at the time, but lugging a PC around to a friend’s place was possible – usually to my friend G’s place, as it happened – and proto-LAN parties emerged courtesy of the famed Null-Modem cable. A half-dozen of us would hotseat Doom and Doom II deathmatches, laughing like hyenas as we shotgunned, chainsawed and rocket-launchered each other to death.
Doom gave way to Quake, an internet connection courtesy of my university, and proper online gaming. QuakeWorld was great, but not really earth-shattering. That took the invasion of wierd beings from Xen, destroying the Black Mesa compound and really ruining Dr Freeman’s day. Half Life was a superior FPS, both in terms of gameplay and story, but again it was in multiplayer it really shone – laser guided missiles were superb ways to level the playing field, and again, LAN parties brought the opportunities to blow my friends to pieces. Definitely another candidate for Most Important Game.
I’ll pause at this moment and answer the question that has probably occurred to the most astute of you – so far I’ve mentioned computers but no consoles. This is basically because my first console was the original X-Box, and the second it’s follow-up, the X-Box 360, which still sits under my TV at home. While extremely accomplished machines, my original X-Box spent most of it’s life running XBMC rather than anything endorsed by Redmond, and the 360 rarely gets fired up for much beyond the occasional blast on Rock Band or Lego Star Wars – entertaining, but hardly critical.
Half Life and it’s sequel, however, provided the platform for perhaps two of the most important games in my gaming career, and they’re both important for the same reason – because, while the gameplay was great fun, the social gameplay that came with both is what kept me playing.
The first was Counter Strike. I played it for hours, usually with the same group – mostly online, plus the occasional LAN party. My friends who played Counter Strike I knew at first online; I met them at the occasional LAN party but for the most part they were usernames, avatars, icons and voices. Oh, and targets. Great fun.
Th second was Team Fortress 2. A similar story, I managed to find the right group of people to play with. Again, it’s not just the gameplay, but the community built around the game – I love playing Team Fortress 2, but I only play it with my friends from MeFightClub.
To me, the most The Most Important Video Game Of All Time, to me, is Team Fortress 2 (big surprise, huh?).
Team Fortress 2
But it’s not just the game.
It’s the players.