Important Games of the 00s

January 18, 2010
By | 9 Comments

What makes a game important?  Is it commercial sales, the ways a game showcases how skilled a designer or studio is at their craft, the visceral response a game gives you, the player communities spawned by a game, the ways designers construct character/story/space, or the ways that games open up new genres, new modes of play, or new sectors of the industry?  I’ve selected the games below for the reasons I just listed, and I’m hoping that you have additional criteria and games you’d like to add.
  • Wii Sports: Wii Sports made my mom buy the game console before me.  Effectively launching the Wii and showing us all the joys of the Wiimote, it made me feel like I was sitting in front of the NES in my Spiderman PJs trying to save the princess again.
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves: Debates about whether embedded or emergent narratives are better and what role carefully crafted stories will play in games will continue to be staged.  After playing Uncharted 2, most critics agreed that well-designed embedded narratives will have a place in the industry, even as social gaming and virtual worlds continue to grow.  Now, if only that Twitter gaffe had never happened.
  • Guitar Hero: Amplitude and Frequency were brilliant early experiments in music game design, but GH proved that music games were going to be a cultural and economic force.
  • World of Warcraft: The most recognizable MMORPG (MMOG if you prefer), WOW spawned player communities and intimate connections.  While those who doubted the potential viability of virtual communities had to eat crow, debates over gold farming signaled divides in the global gaming industry.
  • Deadspace: The sound design in this survival horror game is amazing — ambient, atmospheric and more than a little unnerving.  The use of sound files to communicate information to the player and the in-game interfaces are additional stellar features of this game’s design.
  • Mirror’s Edge:  Taking parkour games to the next level, Mirror’s Edge is beautiful to look at (and listen to) and vertigo-inducing for some players.  This platformer gave us one of the most interesting women characters in a long time and an alternative to the Lara Croft type of female avatar.
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: Okay, I’m probably going to get in trouble for selecting this GTA and not another one, but this incarnation of the franchise raised the most concerns about cultural visibility.   The music, the sandbox play, and the gritty urbanity made every GTA a success, but Carl Johnson made debates about race and games visible.
  • Anything by Valve (Portal, Half Life, Half Life 2):  Where to begin?  From Ken Birdwell’s account of the cabal design process on Half Life to the modding communities that were spawned, Valve has taken an interesting approach to design and to interacting with players.
  • Katamari Damacy:  A surprise hit that’s spawned more than a little cosplay and some not-so-great sequels, Katamari Damacy surprised everyone by being a transnationally successful game.  Even though your father treated you like dirt, it was still fun.
  • Halo franchise: Let’s be honest.  If it wasn’t for Halo, would millions of people have Xboxes or go online to play?
  • Braid/Flower/World of Goo: These independent games game us an interesting take on the time manipulation mechanic, the sheer poetry of flower petals in the wind, and the zaniness and originality of goo balls.  They also illustrated the potential diversity of games allowed by digital distribution and XBLA, WiiWare, and PSN.
  • The Sims franchise: Even though Chuck Klosterman expresses ambivalent feelings about his character’s materialistic tendencies in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, The Sims drew tons of players and their avatars into plenty of awkward situations.  The franchise also illustrated the commercial potential of sandbox games, cemented Will Wright’s position as a design guru, and proved that gaming was no longer a boys’ club.

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9 Responses to “ Important Games of the 00s ”

  1. Noel on January 18, 2010 at 8:50 PM

    I don’t play it, but I know enough people who do: Farmville. I mean, we talk about the Wii as a casual gaming platform, but what’s more casual (and if my Facebook feed is any indication, more addictive), than this simple app that also demands a fair amount of a player’s time to be successful?

  2. Christopher Lucas on January 18, 2010 at 9:44 PM

    Thanks for the list and commentary – I suspect this will be a road map to the next five years of my life with my kids. Well, maybe not the GTA.

  3. Jonathan Gray on January 18, 2010 at 10:56 PM

    As you predicted, I balked a bit at your choice of GTA, Ben. Vice City allowed drivebys to Hall and Oates, and GTA4 is the one that got the massive press for being revolutionary, but your rationale for choice is sound. It’s also the only GTA with three cities, not just one.

    All your other picks are solid, though I curse you for introducing me to Mirror’s Edge, which I hadn’t heard of. Just watching the trailer made me wince. I thought Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was hard enough to play as a vertigo-sufferer!

    Perhaps my only additions, though I question their “importance,” and am perhaps adding them for personal reasons, would be Star Wars Lego (since every franchise is now being Lego-fied, and its fun multi-generational gaming), and Shadow of the Colossus (since it’s just so beautiful, looking like a PS3 game on the PS2).

  4. Myles McNutt on January 19, 2010 at 12:02 AM

    If I had to make a single addition, I feel as if it’s necessary to include some form of handheld game on this list (especially considering that the DS and the Game Boy Advance were perhaps THE dominant force in gaming over the past decade). However, when it came to picking that game, I drew a blank: so many of the successful titles have been holdovers from past franchises (Mario Kart, Super Mario Bros., Pokemon, etc.) that selecting one of them doesn’t feel distinctively of this decade.

    However, Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! (Best. Title. Ever.) has to be the choice: it solidified the DS’ position as a lifestyle system, and managed to make us all believe for a brief moment that people would en masse start using video games to learn (turns out they wanted to use them to lose weight instead – c’est la vie).

  5. Kit Hughes on January 19, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    I might add Foldit ( or NASA and Microsoft’s joint venture Be a Martian (, both of which attempt to harness the potential of large gaming networks to generate massive quantities of scientific data. While I think both are actually extremely tedious as games, they point to some pretty interesting possibilities for future data generation and evaluation.

  6. Kyra Glass on January 19, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    I’d like to add Kingdom Hearts both as a DS as well as a Playstation game and as a spectacular example of convergence and the Disney franchise.

  7. Racquel Gonzales on January 19, 2010 at 3:03 PM

    I was happy to see your shoutout of Valve’s games as a whole and not just Portal because Half-Life definitely began their experimentation with movement and manipulation of game spaces. Plus, a scientist gets to be the hero, what’s not to love? In regards to Halo, I couldn’t agree more (Halo: Combat Evolved prompted my switch from Nintendo consoles to Xbox), but I differentiate “online gaming” via Xbox Live (and through consoles) from online gaming played on PCs, the latter of which precedes the “00’s”.

    I am tempted to add many games onto the list for personal and academic reasons, but for the sake of space, I’ll only propose Bioshock, which raised the moral questioning possibilities for video games to the larger public. While Bioshock is not the first game to present moral choices and implications, it was significantly received in such a popular, yet resonant way outside of gaming circles (I’m curious how the film will be received). Plus, it contains one of the most revealing and self-aware moments of video gaming boundaries in the technology’s history, a moment that prompted discussions and debates about the limits of the medium itself.

    All in all, great list Ben!

  8. Matthew Ides on January 20, 2010 at 4:10 PM

    Good list. Here are some that I find important because of their social and cultural effects.

    I think the Call of Duty titles must be added. I have had students whose parents allow them to stay home from school to play the new releases in this series. The COD titles also map onto the development of America’s Army in the 00s (developed by the US military) – sophisticated recruitment devices that labor to tie together games, masculinity, and combat.

    While released in 1999, Dance, Dance, Revolution and its titles made way for wii and the guitar games of the 00. DDR became a party game of the early 00s. In a similar vein, Rock Band is extremely popular with groups of people and individuals often use it as a way to organize an event. For example, a group of friends recently went to a New Year’s party in which they dressed in black-tie and played Rock Band together.

    Lastly, a general category – Browser Games – and in particular online sites like Kongregate that feature small developers and their hordes of browsers apps.

  9. Sean C. Duncan on January 22, 2010 at 5:42 PM

    Wii Fit should make the list here if just for the fact that it’s the second best-selling game in history, isn’t even two years old, and comes with a pretty hefty price tag (not to mention hefty weight). IMHO, the Wii phenomenon’s most significant impact has been on redefining who counts as a “gamer.” While not terribly interesting as a game per se, Wii Fit has broadened consideration of what a game system like the Wii should be for — both to new demographics (women over 30) and in terms of uses (exercise machine).

    The Wii Fit makes me wonder how significant the “exergaming” genre might become in the future, as a genre appealing to different sets of players — and those with more money to spend on games — than the stereotypical pimply teenage boy.