Mario, Pac-Man, and the Doomguy: they couldn’t have picked better. The Strong, a museum that collects and catalogs “the history of play” have curated the world’s first video game hall of fame. A total of 15 finalists announced last April were considered, and while the contenders they beat out forged legacies on their own, it’s difficult to imagine popular culture without these six.
Not actually the world’s first video game, it was the first arcade game that set everything in place. For awhile, Atari was video games, and it was all due to Pong. Its minimalist design (because two lines and a dot were all that could be achieved) and equally simple challenge forged an icon.
This past April was the release of Mortal Kombat X, and for all its beautifully rendered characters and dynamic environments that runs 60 frames per second, it’s still following Pong: two players on each side of the screen going head-to-head. Forty years later, this simple concept is still going strong.
Pong may have introduced the world to video gaming, but Pac-Man made it a phenomenon. Released in 1980, this bright puzzle game featuring a round yellow head guzzling balls and cherries who had a debilitating fear of ghosts created what was almost gaming’s Mickey Mouse.
While Pac-Man kept the budding home console market growing, Pac-Man invaded the physical world with licensed t-shirts, lunchboxes, toys, and other merchandise. Video games were now more than video games: They could be franchises.
Although the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991, in 1984 a game all about building created a sensation. The infectious, catchy folk music played in digital tunes underscored the escalating challenge. You just couldn’t get that elusive “I” piece in time. The game didn’t pit players against each other or even artificial intelligence, they were pitted against fate.
Created by Alexey Pajitnov in Russia, the game spread to eastern Europe before it was ported to PCs in North America and Europe. But its packaged release on the GameBoy by Japanese developer Nintendo made Tetris a globe-trotting game everyone on every corner of the globe played. And literally every corner, as Tetris did for handheld portable gaming what “Pong” did for the home console.
Speaking of Nintendo…
‘Super Mario Bros.’
In 1983, video games were dead. But as Atari dumped their wares into a landfill, across the Pacific a young savant named Shigero Miyamoto was engineering its revival. And he would do it with the help of a plumber with a penchant for mushrooms.
Possessing bright colors and a quirky personality, Super Mario Bros. and its packaged deal with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was the adrenaline injection video games needed. It was a gamble that paid off in spades, creating gaming’s biggest mascot since Pac-Man. Nintendo’s success with Super Mario Bros. and other titles in the franchise spawned everything from movies to Saturday morning cartoons, and inadvertently created the industry’s journalists
Thirty years later, Mario is still jumping on Goombas and riding high.
As the video games industry grew older, so did its audience. The horror/sci-fi game Doom was aimed for a mature audience and popularized the first-person shooter to the delight of action junkies who craved a little more danger than evil turtles.
The influence of Doom is immeasurable. Although it didn’t invent the first-person shooter, it rocketed the genre to sky-high success. No Doom means no Halo or Call of Duty, which has grossed more money than practically anything else in entertainment.
Doom is also responsible for the growth of the modding community. It has been reimagined into everything from a wild west setting to Ghostbusters, and modding has become an integral part of gaming culture. A recent attempt to remove its democratic nature was viciously criticized.
Perhaps most importantly, Doom and other violent games of its time ignited discussions about the lasting impressions of violent video games on the human psyche. Not totally unwarranted, but hey — didn’t Pac-Man devour ghosts? A few more pixel resolutions and that could be as graphic as a shotgun to the face.
‘World of Warcraft’
The digital utopia that once only existed in science-fiction became a reality. At the dawn of social networking and a more ubiquitous high-speed Internet, millions of gamers assumed an identity and united with millions more to form friendships and rivalries that spanned the globe.
While other massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) have come before and since World of Warcraft, its blockbuster success have made it a focal point in the ever-changing way we think about online and offline identities and the shrinking of global community.