5: Spacewar! (PDP-1, 1962)
It’s hard to think of a game with more far-reaching influence than Spacewar! It really was the daddy of them all. Starting in around 1959 researchers at MIT began to experiment with coding games on the wardrobe sized PDP-1 computer. After three years of spare-time tinkering Spacewar! was born.
The hardware had a shade less working memory than one of those birthday cards that plays a tune when you open it. Somehow, with those limited resources, Steve Russell managed to code a two-player space combat game that featured a lot of the tropes (artificial gravity, missile dodging, hyperspace jumps) that would make Asteroids such a coin-gobbling smash in the early 1980s.
Ever wondered what the first video game was like? Grab a friend and play it here.
4: The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time (N64, 1998)
A game so influential that it repopularised the humble ocarina as an instrument, the Zelda series is one of the biggest ever. Its hero Link does that trick of showing up in dozens of other peoples’ games that only digital megastars can pull off. Ocarina Of Time, in particular, garnered some of the most consistently impressive reviews of any game to date.
The sheer depth of gameplay fostered an online community of hint-swappers almost before online communities were invented. The delicately nuanced, context-sensitive music track has been much imitated too.
The Zelda series is an excellent rebuff to critics of videogames who suggest that gaming promotes violence, and short-term thinking. To do well in the Zelda series, players must learn to play the long game, to undertake side-quests where the eventual reward is not altogether clear, and of course to memorise tunes that horses might like.
A game series of near incalculable reach, it’s one of those rare properties that parents might feel safe letting their kids play, if they could only put down the controller themselves.
3: World of Warcraft (PC, 2004)
World Of Warcraft is big. Very big. As the first of the Superstar MMOs it has a virtual ‘population’ of around 8 million, as well as an economy that puts some real nations to shame. The active population actually peaked in 2010 at somewhere over 12 million.
Like quite a few of the entries here World of Warcraft wasn’t the first of its line. Just the best realised. World Of Warcraft’s near-perfect, and widely-imitated, control system means that citizens of Azeroth can pick up virtually any other Real Time Strategy title and be playing in moments. It’s such a perfect imitation world that WoW has already had its first crime-wave, and its first pandemic.
Besides. World Of Warcraft is the game that gave us Leeroy Jenkins. There’s a legacy that will never die.
2: Pac-Man (Arcade, 1980)
What did Pac-Man ever do for us? Well, apart from anything else, it inspired Marcus Brigstocke to coin the a classic joke about the influence of videogames on young minds: “If Pac-Man had affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive electronic music.”
Pac-Man was the single most successful arcade game ever and the revenues it generated encouraged investment in early consoles. It sold over 7 million copies on the Atari 2600 and was one of the key titles of that first big wave of videogames. Pac-Man still sells as a mobile game today. The lesson? Graphics can come and go, but a good addictive gameplay mechanic never dies.
1: Doom (PC, 1993)
Ask someone who doesn’t play computer games what a computer game looks like, and they’ll probably describe Doom. It is by no means the first First-Person Shooter. There had been experiments in that direction since the mid-70s. Videogame aficionadi will point to Wolfenstein 3D in particular as having done most of Doom’s tricks before Doom did. But Doom’s the one that people remember.
If all it had done was add the word ‘deathmatch’ to gamers’ vocabularies, it would have earned a place on this list, but Doom did so much more. It was more than just a predictable shooting gallery of pop-up cacodemons. The dynamic, treacherous environment gave a real sense of place to those anonymous corridors.
There were slicker shooters to come. Doom 3, notably, rebooted the property and retrofitted a coherent plot and some terrifying lighting. But nothing will ever quite achieve the original Doom’s impact. At least 10 million people played that first shareware chapter of Doom. Many of those players went on, through Doom’s add-on WAD files, to become games designers themselves. Doom was the Sex Pistols of videogames.
Pick your winner
So you've read through all 35 games without skipping to the last page (if not, naughty you). But we want to know what your absolute all time life-changing game is, so vote below. And if we've missed your favourite out (we're only human after all) then let us know in the comments below. But play nice.