64 Important Games From Video Game History

Spacewar 1961

I’ve spent some time over the last week helping my good friend and fellow game designer Jeremy P Bushnell compile a list of historically important video games.

Jeremy has been teaching a Writing course at Boston University on the topic of “Playing Games: How Video Games Work and What They Mean.”

In his discussions with the students about the concept of historical analysis: analyzing video games based on how they “fit” into the context of a developing timeline of games, he had a chance to create an initial list of about 40 games.

This list was then passed around between our friends and associates as well as being shared with his two classes of about forty students total.  Jeremy encouraged his students to confront and challenge the games on this list as well as suggest ones they felt should be included.  They even got to write persuasive papers as an assignment to get a game included on the list.  If the argument was convincing enough they even received some extra credit for making the list.

Jeremy and I discussed some of the more convincing papers and kicked our thoughts back and forth on what made these games historically significant. It was a lot of fun and very interesting to get to consider where videos games have come from (with Spacewar in 1961) up through to the present day.  It was a challenge to pick games not for being good or popular necessarily but for their historical significance.

The finished list (reposted with permission) now stands at 64 chronological games (a nice power of 2) and includes justifications for why each game was included:

    64 Important Games From Video Game History version 2.0

  1. 1961     Spacewar, first digital game / first shooter / first two-player game
  2. 1971     Oregon Trail, landmark educational game (designed in 1971, produced in 1974, re-released in 1985, 1992, 2001, 2008, and 2009)
  3. 1972     Pong, first commercially-successful arcade game / first sports simulation, also first digital game released for the home market (1975)
  4. 1974     Gran Trak 10, first racing game
  5. 1976     [Colossal Cave] Adventure, first adventure game
  6. 1976     Breakout, landmark arcade game
  7. 1977     Night Racer, first first-person racing game
  8. 1978     Space Invaders, first commercially-successful shoot-em-up (160,000 copies sold)
  9. 1978     Atari Football, landmark sports simulation game
  10. 1979     Asteroids, landmark shoot-em-up
  11. 1979     Adventure, first action-adventure game
  12. 1980     Zork, landmark text adventure game
  13. 1980     Space Panic, first platformer
  14. 1980     Pac-Man, landmark arcade game (350,000 units sold)
  15. 1980     Rogue, early graphical adventure game
  16. 1981     Donkey Kong, landmark platformer (60,000 units sold), also the first game to tell a complete (embedded) narrative
  17. 1982     Pole Position, landmark racing game
  18. 1983     Intellivision World Series Baseball, first 3-D sports simulation, also the first sports simulation to use multiple camera angles to emphasize action
  19. 1983     Ultima III, landmark PC role-playing game
  20. 1983     Lode Runner, landmark platformer, plus an early game permitting the creation of user-generated levels
  21. 1983     Pinball Construction Set, an early game permitting the creation of user-generated content
  22. 1984     Tetris, landmark abstract puzzle game
  23. 1985     Gauntlet, landmark multi-player game
  24. 1985     Super Mario Bros., landmark 2-D side-scrolling platformer (forty million copies sold)
  25. 1986     Air Warrior, first multi-player online game with graphics
  26. 1987     Earl Weaver Baseball, landmark sports simulation
  27. 1987-8    Street Fighter / Street Fighter II, landmark one-on-one competitive fighting games
  28. 1987     The Legend of Zelda, landmark adventure game, also the first home cartridge to permit saving, also a good early example of a game which permitted non-linear play
  29. 1989     SimCity, landmark developer simulation
  30. 1990     Microsoft Solitaire, landmark casual game
  31. 1990     Minesweeper, landmark casual / puzzle game
  32. 1990     John Madden Football, landmark sports simulation
  33. 1991     Civilization, landmark turn-based strategy game
  34. 1991     Neverwinter Nights, first multi-player online role-playing game to display graphics
  35. 1991     Final Fantasy IV, landmark console role-playing game
  36. 1991     Myst, landmark adventure game (six million copies sold)
  37. 1992     Wolfenstein 3-D, first commercially-successful first-person shooter
  38. 1992     Mortal Kombat, landmark fighting game
  39. 1992     The Incredible Machine, early physics game
  40. 1992     Dune II, first real-time strategy game
  41. 1993     Doom, landmark first-person shooter, also a good early example of an open-source game
  42. 1995     Command and Conquer, landmark real-time strategy game
  43. 1996     Quake, landmark first-person shooter, also a good early example of a game utilizing an online multiplayer mode
  44. 1996     Super Mario 64, landmark 3-D platformer (eleven million copies sold)
  45. 1996     Resident Evil, first survival horror game
  46. 1996-8     Pokemon Red / Pokemon Blue, landmark RPG (eight million copies sold), also a good early example of a game with innovative multiplayer mechanics
  47. 1997     Lego Island, first open-world game
  48. 1997     Ultima Online, landmark multi-player online role-playing game (250,000 subscribers)
  49. 1998     Dance Dance Revolution, landmark rhythm game / exercise game
  50. 1998     Half-Life, landmark first-person shooter (eight million copies sold), also a landmark example of an open-source game
  51. 1998     Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, first commercially-successful tactical shooter
  52. 1998     Metal Gear Solid, first commercially-successful stealth game
  53. 1998     Starcraft, landmark real-time strategy game
  54. 1999     Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, landmark extreme sports simulation
  55. 1999-2000    Counter-Strike, landmark mod, also a game making central use of online multiplayer technology
  56. 2001     Bejeweled, landmark puzzle / casual game
  57. 2001     Gran Turismo 3, landmark racing game
  58. 2001     Grand Theft Auto III, landmark open-world game
  59. 2002     The Sims, landmark life-simulation game (sixteen million copies sold), plus a game making central use of user-generated content
  60. 2003     Diner Dash, landmark time-management game
  61. 2004     Halo 2, landmark in online console gaming (four million subscribers)
  62. 2004     World of Warcraft, landmark multi-player online role-playing game (over eleven million subscribers)
  63. 2005     Guitar Hero, landmark rhythm game
  64. 2006     Wii Sports, landmark sports simulation (forty-five million copies sold)

Your comments and arguments are welcome!



  1. LoneStranger says:

    I think this list is pretty good, however, I think you are missing Ultima IV. It was groundbreaking in regards to the choices that the character made affected their virtue, and how the NPCs reacted to the player. Your eight virtue values changed whether or not you stole, allowed fleeing monsters to go, lied, and so on. In order to beat the game, you had to follow what was ‘right’ to become the Avatar, and not just attack everything and take anything you came across, as it was in earlier RPGs.

  2. Raphael L says:

    I must persist that Super Smash Bros. deserves to be on this list. Although my first argument was a bit crude, there is no denying that this game became a staple “party game.” Smash Bros. both revolutionized the fighting genre and created its own specific genre. While it took nods from the classic fighting games with the combos and large scale attacks, the grand value of the game comes from the more revolutionary aspect. These are–up to 4 players fighting, the damage percentile, kills and death score system, and simplified controls. The 4 player option and simplified controls is what what made it a landmark game. The damage percentile ushered in a new method of understanding damage in a game. It provided excitement and gave an exaggerated and fun perspective to death. You could essentially take infinite damage. Kills had to be forced off. For these reasons, this game should be on the list. If anything simply because everyone has played some incarnation of the series.

  3. Porter says:

    That’s a history lesson and a half. I’m disappointed to not see Super Mario World on there, best selling SNES game with 20 million copies sold. I actually just did an article on how important the classic games are a little while back, the above is yet another reason why.

  4. jjwallace says:

    great list of games, i would have to say commander keen would have been a good add. Well, i love that game but actually it was not a landmark at all 🙂

  5. Dave "HybridMind" Evans says:

    @video games: The sandbox style gameplay of the GTA series is quite monumental!

    @LoneStranger: While I personally agree about Ultima IV deserving a spot it ended up not making the cut when we finally tried to place a cap on the game. I feel good enough that Ultima III made it on this list as I felt strongly that at least one early Ultima game should be there. Thanks for leaving your detailed thoughts on it though. There will likely be some slight revisions to this list and you make some good cases.

    @Raphael L: Thank you for leaving your points regarding ‘Super Smash Bros.’ I was never super familiar with that game (having only played it a little bit) and I wasn’t involved heavily on that particular game making this list or not. That was mainly on Jeremy’s side. I’ll have him check out your comment for sure!

    @Porter: Yeah, crazy amount of history in this list! It really boggles my mind for sure. I never played ‘Super Mario World’ but 20 million copies sold is quite an amazing number. I’ll mention that to Jeremy. I did enjoy reading your article on classic games too. I’ve been playing a lot more classic games these days and really finding it recharging when taking a break from my own development.

    @jjwallace: Ah, ‘Commander Keen’ is great. It is probably landmark in some type of Shareware fashion and was a solid series of games but I don’t believe it had any nominations for the list if I recall correctly.

    Well, thanks for leaving your thoughts everyone!

  6. Teri says:

    Is there any way for you to find out which game came first: Diner Dash or Betty’s Beer Bar? I seem to remember that Betty came out before Flo…but I could be wrong.

  7. Dave "HybridMind" Evans says:

    @teri: Games on the list noted as landmark are not necessarily there for only being first in a concept but sometimes for having both been early enough in a certain genre and reached a much larger audience then their peers.

    Regarding which came first would just require an in depth search since cursory googling does not reveal it. Perhaps the websites of the creators would have that info? Let us know if you find it.

  8. Teri says:

    Ok! I found the answer by checking the developers sites. BBB was made in 2003 and Diner Dash in 2004! I KNEW I was right! Thanks for the nudge towards the developer’s sites!

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