Thanksgiving is a day that reminds us to be thankful for everything we have. On that day, we are thankful for family, for shelter, and for everything that we have that we may take for granted.
And as gamers, it’s time to give thanks for how many awesome video games we have.
However, the games we play today are built on the backs of others that came before. Certain games have made their mark in history, forever changing gaming landscape. Since we love the games made today, we must be thankful for the games that came before.
These games are listed in no particular order. After all, it is practically impossible to quantify the impact these games have had, and I could write a book of content on how each of these games uniquely influenced one another in various ways. Ultimately, we all are just thankful for them and the impact they’ve had on the industry.
It’s hard to believe how something as simple as Tetris could be so monumentally important. Developed in 1984, Tetris is one of the key reasons why video games are as popular as they are today. Its simple, yet surprisingly addictive gameplay kept players hooked. People tried to get their score to be as high as possible, often competing against one another for bragging rights.
In 1989, Tetris was bundled with the Game Boy, and Tetris is still, to this day, the best selling Game Boy game. Without Tetris, it could be argued that mobile gaming would not be as popular as it is today. Its fun and accessible on-the-go gameplay attracted a lot of customers for Nintendo, and it opened up a realm of possibilities for companies and developers across the world. If you appreciate how culturally popular video games are today, you have to give thanks to Tetris.
Super Mario Bros.
We couldn’t talk about influential video games without mentioning Mario, could we? As the face of Nintendo, Mario could also be considered the face of all of gaming. Even people who do not play video games are at least familiar with the character and his signature hat and mustache.
Released in 1985, Super Mario Bros. was the first of its kind, and it revitalized a dying video game market. So, not only did Super Mario Bros. change the very way developers made games, but it is possible that without its influence, video games would have died out long ago. The most amazing thing, though, is that even though it was made over 30 years ago, Super Mario Bros. is still fun to this day. The mechanics of the game set the standard for video games, so it isn’t difficult to enjoy it even today.
Although Wolfenstein 3D is credited as one of the first big first-person shooters, Doom truly popularized the genre. One reason was that it simply refined the systems introduced in Wolfenstein 3D; combat was faster, animations were cleaner, and the controls were tighter. Also, Doom was one of the first games to ever successfully implement multiplayer into a first-person shooter. It is hard to imagine a world where the multiplayer for Call of Duty or Halo didn’t exist. Doom may not have given birth to the first-person genre, but it certainly raised and nurtured it.
Another reason the game is so influential is because of its content. Doom is one of the most controversial games ever made, with detractors labeling it a “murder simulator”. It was the center of one of the first free speech issues in video games, and I’m happy to report that video games won the debate. Without Doom championing the same rights to use violence as films and literature have, video games might be very different today. Although there is another game that also was a champion of free speech, but more on that later…
Grand Theft Auto III
To say that Grand Theft Auto is a juggernaut of the gaming industry would be an understatement. Grand Theft Auto V has earned more money than any film, book, or game ever has due to the universal appeal of its incredible, vast open-world. However, it was Grand Theft Auto III that started it all.
Before it, developers generally used levels to organize and create their games. Even when there were more open areas, there wasn’t necessarily much to do in them. Grand Theft Auto III changed the industry when it gave players an entire city and allowed them to do whatever they want. There were different missions, activities, cars, and guns to find all over town, and that was something that had never been seen before. So, if you have played an open-world game, or even a game with elements of an open-world, thank Grand Theft Auto III.
Mortal Kombat is another case where free speech won the day. Even though we can watch the fatalities of the original game and not even blink, it was a big deal back then. Video games were thought to be for children, so Mortal Kombat worried people. The idea was that if kids can rip out spines in a video game, they will become more violent people in the real world.
Of course, this isn’t true, and, despite significant support for the game to be recalled, Mortal Kombat became incredibly popular. Mechanically, Mortal Kombat popularized the concept of a finisher: a complicated, elaborate way of killing an enemy. We see a version of this in every fighting game, but we see elements of this in many different games across all genres. So, although it seems weird to celebrate Mortal Kombat on Thanksgiving, you have to give thanks for it and every game after it.
Resident Evil is monumental for a couple of key reasons. First, although it did not invent survival horror, it surely perfected and popularized it. When someone thinks of survival horror, it is not Alone in the Dark they think of, but Resident Evil. Developers, to this day, take cues from the resource management, puzzle-solving, and horror elements of the original Resident Evil.
Second, the popularity of Resident Evil is something that cannot be underappreciated. Resident Evil was only the first in a vast series of games that, for the most part, have been incredibly successful. The game was also adapted into a movie, which itself had sequels. All of this brought attention to the series for gamers and non-gamers alike. This kind of positive attention for video games is important, and we must be thankful that even the average movie-goer has heard of Resident Evil, a series that began as a video game first and not the other way around.
Super Mario 64
We take them for granted today, but 3D video games are hard to make. A lot more detail is needed in a 3D world than a 2D world, mechanically and environmentally. That’s why when it came time to jump from 2D to 3D, many game series came to an end as the transition failed.
That wasn’t the case for Mario, though.
While other gaming mascots died in the jump to 3D graphics, Mario’s transition was flawless, setting the standard for 3D platformers for years and years to come. You could have sworn that Nintendo had done this before, since the mechanics and levels were so incredibly well-designed. Super Mario 64 is still one of the best platformers ever made to this day. It plays great today, but playing back then felt revolutionary. When you played Super Mario 64, you knew there was no going back.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Nintendo is one of the greatest video game companies for a reason: the strides they have made for the industry have been tremendous. As was the case with Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time blew people away with its 3D mechanics. More specifically, people were dumbstruck when they saw how large Hyrule was. The fact that there was a massive (for the time) 3D space to explore at-will was unprecedented, and, of course, everything was executed flawlessly.
Despite being mechanically refined and having a near-perfect 3D world, Ocarina of Time did something else revolutionary: consequence. The way Link interacted with the world and the people in it had drastic consequences. When you traveled in time to a later Hyrule, you would see how your actions have affected people years later. This idea was completely new, although today we live in a world when many games emphasize the concept that your actions have consequences. See, it was Ocarina of Time that introduced that idea, changing games forever.
Gears of War
Gears of War has had a far larger impact on games today than most people know. Today, it is taken for granted that in third-person shooters, your character takes cover behind a waist-high wall. It is the very foundation of combat systems for games like Uncharted, The Division, and many, many more. Gears of War didn’t invent cover-based shooting, but it refined and popularized it. The modern third-person shooter simply didn’t exist before Gears of War.
As well, Gears of War made great strides for HD gaming. The game’s graphics were incredible for the time, and it kickstarted an emphasis on graphics by developers and consumers that has persisted to this day. Additionally, the drop-in co-op for both the campaign and multiplayer modes were, although not unheard of, certainly significant. Since Gears of War invented the modern third-person shooter, its multiplayer has been an influence on many others in the genre.
P.S. Thank you, Gears of War 2, for popularizing the concept of a horde mode.
Nintendo, have you ever taken a break from being innovative? Although many of the concepts I discuss here are credited to the Metroidvania genre, Metroid was, in fact, the game that started it all. There were many concepts that Metroid introduced that seem so simple in games today. First was exploration, the idea that there were paths the player could take that do not lead to their primary objective but rather to secrets and treasures.
Second, Metroid invented one of the most important gameplay loops. A player would receive an upgrade, become more powerful, and be able to access or discover new areas using their new powers. This would often involve going to past areas and discovering new paths and secrets within their old halls. This seems like a simple concept today, but games used to have a very linear progression. Backtracking was practically invented by Metroid, and the utilization of new powers to do so was just the radical icing on top.
So, these are ten games that this Thanksgiving we should be thankful for. When you are playing the newest titles, remember the games that came before, blazing the trail for these new, wonderful titles.
What do you all think are some of the most influential games in history? It was hard to decide which games to put on the list. There were just so many that have changed the industry forever and for the better. Let us know in the comments below of any titles you think of and Happy Thanksgiving!
I am an English (Writing Specialization) major at the University of Nevada, Reno, and I also LOVE video games. I’ve been playing everything I could get my hands on since I was a kid playing my Nintendo GameCube. When I’m not playing the latest titles or replaying Dark Souls for the umpteenth time, I am usually trying to write my novel or write and edit for clients as a freelancer.