The voting for the Smithsonian American Museum of Art’s exhibit, the Art of Video Games, concluded a few weeks ago. There were 240 games entered as nominees, but only 80 of them are going to be featured in the exhibit next year.
The exhibit will show games from five different eras:
- Early Gaming – 1970s – early 1980s
- 8 Bit – 1983-1989
- Bit Wars – 1989-1994
- Transition – 1995-2002
- Next Generation – 2003 – Current
Several commercially successful platforms (sorry Atari Jaguar fans) were chosen to represent each era. For each platform, 12 games were nominated and broken into 4 genres: action, target, adventure, and combat/strategy. For each platform/genre combination 3 games were nominated but only one could win.
I tried to make a nice table for this, but it ended up being tricky. The results broken up by era first, and then by platform. The four genres run horizontally, with the winners of each marked with a cute little star (). My own personal votes have the logo next to them. Sometimes they line up, sometimes people voted for the wrong games.
Okay, that makes it sound more complicated that it is. In any case, here are the results of the voting.
|ERA 1 (1970s – early 1980s)|
|Atari VCS||Target||Space Invaders||Missile Command||Yars’ Revenge|
|Adventure||Adventure||Pitfall!||E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial|
|Action||Tunnel Runner||Haunted House||Pac-Man|
|Combat/Strategy||Combat||Star Raiders||Video Chess|
|ColecoVision||Target||Carnival||Zaxxon||Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom|
|Adventure||Alcazar: The Forgotten Fortress||Gateway to Apshai||Pitfall II: Lost Caverns|
|Action||Donkey Kong||Jungle Hunt||Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle|
|Combat/Strategy||Evolution||Star Trek: Strategic Operations
|Mattel Intellivision||Target||Demon Attack||Star Strike||Space Battle|
|Adventure||Advanced Dungeons and Dragons||Swords and Serpents||Thunder Castle|
|Action||Microsurgeon||TRON: Maze-Atron||Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man|
|Combat/Strategy||Armor Battle||B-17 Bomber||Utopia|
The results of the first era didn’t surprise me much. Space Invaders was absolutely huge, as was Pacman. Pacman is probably the most recognized of any game in the United States; It’s hard to find a bar that doesn’t have some variant of this game in it, even now. Although that isn’t the Atari VCS version, I still feel like it is deserving of a place in the exhibit. I admit I haven’t played most of these games, as they are a bit before my time (a bit, get it?). I do have fond memories of the tank battles with my brothers in Combat and getting eaten by alligators in Pitfall!, so I’m glad to see that they made the cut.
|ERA 2 – 8-BIT (1983 – 1989)|
|Commodore 64||Target||Attack of the Mutant Camels||Paradroid||Raid on Bungeling Bay|
|Adventure||Wasteland||The Bards Tale III: Thief of Fate||Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders|
|Action||Impossible Mission||Boulder Dash||Jumpman|
|Combat/Strategy||M.U.L.E.||Little Computer People||Sid Meier’s Pirates!|
|Target||1943: The Battle of Midway||Top Gun||Life Force|
|Adventure||Final Fantasy||The Legend of Zelda||Shadowgate|
|Action||Mega Man 2||Super Mario Brothers 3||Metriod|
|Combat/Strategy||Archon: The Light and the Dark||Desert Commander||North and South|
|SEGA Master System||Target||Fantasy Zone||After Burner||Missile Defense 3D|
|Adventure||Phantasy Star||Heroes of the Lance||Ultima IV: Quest for the Avatar|
|Action||Shinobi||Mickey Mouse in the Land of Illusion||Marble Madness|
|Combat/Strategy||Gain Ground||Spy vs. Spy||Rampart|
It’s funny, although we had a Commodore 64 that I remember playing, I don’t recall any of these games. The names alone make me feel like I’m missing out: Attack of the Mutant Camels , The Bards Tale III: Thief of Fate, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Little Computer People? All sound like fun. I’ve also read a bit about the economic simulation M.U.L.E., but haven’t played it either. I voted for Archon in the NES platform, even though I played it on the Commodore 64 (or maybe it was the old Amiga, I don’t recall).
The NES games I do remember playing. The Legend of Zelda is a shoe-in for its category, with its iconic characters (*grumble grumble*) and clever use of weapons. In fact, just putting “Zelda” or “Link” in the title seems to be a sure-fire way to be in this exhibit. Regardless, it’s an absolute classic and a must-play if you have an NES. So much so that I still remember getting stuck in that damned repeating brush maze, even though I haven’t played the game for over a decade. The NES action genre is a tough one to choose: the Mega Man, Mario, and Metroid series are all well loved. I had to go with Super Mario Brothers 3, not only because I want to have a raccoon tail so that I can fly, but there was even a movie made to advertise the game (review of The Wizard will be coming… at some point). Wait, how does having a raccoon tail allow you to fly? I would have liked Metroid to win if it were any game other than Super Mario Brothers 3. That game has amazing atmosphere, and one of the coolest heroines ever. She can turn into a ball. Plus, the metroids are genuinely creepy as they have a desire to eat your brains, they’re basically aliens and zombies. *shivers*
I’m not a big Sega fan, but Marble Madness was the first game that I played that mixed a great physics engine with maddening level design. And Spy vs. Spy, you play a spy, black or white, laying traps for the other spy. Its versus mode was the ultimate game of who can screen-cheat better. Classic hyjinks and a ton of fun.
|ERA 3 – BIT WARS (1989 – 1994)|
|SEGA Genesis||Target||Gunstar Heroes||Viewpoint||Ranger X|
|Adventure||Phantasy Star IV||Flashback: The Quest for Identity||Shining Force 2|
|Action||Earthworm Jim||Sonic CD||Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker|
|Combat/Strategy||Herzog Zwei||Dune II: Battle for Arrakis||Nobunaga’s Ambition|
|Target||Gradius III||Star Fox||Super SmashTV|
|Adventure||Chrono Trigger||Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past||EarthBound|
|Action||Super Star Wars||Super Mario World||Donkey Kong Country|
Ah, the classic duel of consoles. Looks like I nailed the Genesis games: Earthworm Jim is one of my favorite shooters, second only to Jazz Jackrabbit on the PC; Dune II is the first real-time strategy game, so of course I had to vote for it on account of it spawning an entire genre.
The SNES I played only a little: I chose Donkey Kong Country for its great graphical style and fun missions, and those minecarts were quite the ride; Starfox I played some and liked, though I’m more familiar with its Nintendo 64 incarnation. Chrono Trigger is one of those games that I have played only a little, but liked and would have preferred over yet another Zelda game. Oh well.
|ERA 4 – Transition (1995 – 2002)|
|DOS/Windows||Target||Star Wars: TIE Fighter||Crimson Skies||Diablo II|
|Adventure||Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn||Grim Fandango||Fallout|
|Action||Deus Ex||DOOM II||Unreal|
|Combat/Strategy||Starcraft||Uplink: Hacker Elite||Command and Conquer|
|Nintendo 64||Target||Pilotwings 64||Star Fox 64||Goldeneye 007|
|Adventure||The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of
|The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask||Paper Mario|
|Action||Super Mario 64||Banjo-Kazooie||Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire|
|Combat/Strategy||Worms Armageddon||Tom Clancy’s Rainbox Six||Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber|
|SEGA Dreamcast||Target||Toy Commander||The Typing of the Dead||Rez|
|Adventure||Shenmue||Phantasy Star Online||Skies of Arcadia|
|Action||Jet Grind Radio||Sonic Adventure||Crazy Taxi|
|Combat/Strategy||ChuChu Rocket!||Panzer Front||Rhapsody of Zephyr (The War of Genesis)|
|SEGA Saturn||Target||Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei||Black Fire||Wing Arms|
|Adventure||Blazing Dragons||Dark Savior||Panzer Dragoon Saga|
|Action||NiGHTS into Dreams||Tomb Raider||Clockwork Night|
|Combat/Strategy||SimCity 2000||Blazing Heroes||Command and Conquer|
|Sony Playstation||Target||Einhander||Colony Wars III: Red Sun||Point Blank|
|Adventure||Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete||Final Fantasy VII||Grandia|
|Action||Metal Gear Solid||Crash Bandicoot: Warped||Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee|
|Combat/Strategy||Final Fantasy Tactics||Carnage Heart||Command & Conquer: Red Alert|
Making me choose between Starcraft and Command & Conquer was a cruel, cruel move. In the end, I had to go with C&C, not because I think it is the better game, but because of its unique use of live-action, full-motion video sequences between missions. This is something that not many games use, and I think it should be in an exhibit about the history of games, simply because it shows an attempt to move games closer to a more traditional medium. Starcraft is excellent and has such a huge following and is one amazing, if not the best, esport. It thrived in Korea for over a decade as a way of life. So I don’t have hard feelings on this one.
Diablo 2 is a solid action-RPG, though I’m a little suspicious of its placement into the “target” genre, particularly since it ousted one of the best space-simulations out there, TIE Fighter.
One game that I really wanted to see represented was Jet Grind Radio. It’s such a great game, with unique graphics, a groovy soundtrack, and a focus on non-violent (but hyjinks-filled) gameplay. It is right up there with Deus Ex for games that I wish made it through this era. Deus Ex is a perfect blend of RPG, action, suspense; it’s just a great game from start to finish. Sure, it has its flaws, but any game that gives players so many ways to overcome adversaries is OK in my book.
I didn’t play much Nintendo 64, but I did thoroughly enjoy Goldeneye 007, with a bit of Mario 64 thrown in for good measure, so I’m glad to see they made the cut. Finally, I don’t believe that I need to mention to gaming goodness that is Final Fantasy VII. I was a bit sad to see that its strategy spin-off, Final Fantasy Tactics beat out Command & Conquer: Red Alert. Red Alert was one killer game that I know I’ve played through at least a half-dozen times. It has Einstein!
|ERA 5 – Next Generation (2003 – Current)|
|Microsoft Xbox||Target||Panzer Dragoon Orta||Xyanide||Sniper Elite: Berlin 1945|
|Adventure||Fable||Indigo Prophecy||Shenmue II|
|Action||Halo 2||JSRF: Jet Set Radio Future||Psychonauts|
|Combat/Strategy||Steel Battalion||Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell||Sid Meier’s Pirates!|
|Microsoft Xbox 360||Target||Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2||Ikaruga||Assault Heroes 2|
|Adventure||Mass Effect 2||Limbo||The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion|
|Action||Gears of War 2||Halo 3||Bioshock|
|Combat/Strategy||Halo Wars||Darwinia||Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II|
|Modern Windows||Target||Shatter||Everyday Shooter||fl0w|
|Adventure||World of Warcraft||Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic||Fallout 3|
|Action||Half Life 2||Portal||Call of Duty: World at War|
|Combat/Strategy||Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty||Age of Empires 3||Minecraft|
|Nintendo GameCube||Target||P.N.03||Star Fox: Assault||Alien Hominid|
|Adventure||The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker||Tales of Symphonia||Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door|
|Action||Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time||Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem||Metriod Prime 2: Echos|
|Combat/Strategy||Battalion Wars||Pikmin 2||Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance|
|Nintendo Wii||Target||Boom Blox||Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy||Sin & Punishment: Star Successor|
|Adventure||The Legend of Zelda: Twilight
|Super Paper Mario||Monster Hunter Tri|
|Action||Super Mario Galaxy 2||Metriod Prime Trilogy||Disney Epic Mickey|
|Combat/Strategy||Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’
|Little King’s Story||Battalion Wars 2|
|Sony Playstation 2||Target||Silpheed: The Lost Planet||Espgaluda||Gradius V|
|Adventure||Final Fantasy X||Kingdom Hearts II||Okami|
|Action||Tony Hawk’s Underground 2||God of War||Shadow of the Colossus|
|Combat/Strategy||Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty||Tom Clancy’s Rainbox Six: Lockdown||Armored Core 3|
|Sony Playstation 3||Target||Flower||Super Stardust HD||PixelJunk Shooter|
|Adventure||Dragon Age: Origins||Final Fantasy XIII||Heavy Rain|
|Action||Uncharted 2: Among Thieves||Call of Duty: Black Ops||LittleBigPlanet 2|
|Combat/Strategy||Brutal Legend||Command & Conqer: Red Alert 3 –
|Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution|
Okay. If you want upsets, look no further. Let’s start with the gorilla in the room: World of Warcraft lost out to Fallout 3?!?! This is hard to believe, and a bit of a shame. From a cultural perspective, World of Warcraft has orders of magnitude more influence than Fallout 3. It has millions of subscribers and even much of the non-gaming general public knows about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing Fallout 3, in fact, it was one of the first games I ever blogged about, but World of Warcraft has been the MMO to topple, and is an iconic piece of early 21st century culture. There is an entire media-creation culture surrounding World of Warcraft as well, consisting of thousands of hours of machinma, hundreds of original songs about the game, and tons of original art about the game. Heck, there has even been a South Park episode about it.
Some of the other winners turned out to be surprises: Final Fantasy X losing to Okami? FF10 is the reason to own a Playstation 2. Gorgeous music (I’ve got the super-duper soundtrack, something like 100 tracks, amazing!), heart rending story, and a solid combat system. It’s funny; this is one of those games (along with Mass Effect 2, which I am glad to see made it) where I feel the combat is weak when paired next to the storytelling.
And not to be too much of a Blizzard fanboy, but I’m surprised that Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty lost out to Minecraft. I feel like SC2 is pristine representation of strategy games, but I haven’t tried out Minecraft at all, and I know it’s gotten rave reviews and is highly addictive. It’s definitely one that I’ll have to take a look at. Still, I am sad to see one of my favorite games ever absent from the exhibit.
Overall, I tried to approach the games from a historical perspective: if people in 2200 found a vault with these 80 games, would they be a good representation of the technology, of the types of games that were being produced, and of what people played? With the possible exception of World of Warcraft being absent, I think so. Mostly because, as far as I can tell, no massively multiplayer games made the cut. This is surprising and startling to me, considering that MMOs are hugely popular, highly lucrative, rapidly growing, often criticized and scrutinized by the media, and, most importantly, pervasive throughout our culture culture. Still, the exhibit will have World of Warcraft available to play, so I suppose I can’t get too bent out of shape about it. Let’s hope the next time they choose to do this exhibit this can be remedied.
There were a few games that very much surprised me, but even when the games that I would choose didn’t make it, often it was another game of high value, so I remain highly excited for the exhibit and will definitely be heading to Washington D.C. next year.
Well, that’s about it. This turned out to be one mega-post. And holy cow those tables took a long time to build and style. I hope that you all find them useful.
I’ll be seeing you in DC!