Category Archives: writing

The top 100 most-influential videogames (2014 edition).

Back in 2014, I contributed a list of the 100 most influential or important video games for a book called 100 x 100 in the USA or 10,000 Things You Need to Know: The Big Book of Lists in the UK. The book seems to have sold very poorly, so I’ve reproduced the list here.

The games are listed chronologically, with a second list after them clarifying where they sat in my putative top 100, back in 2014. Intriguingly, the final edition probably has a different list, as the US publisher pushed back on me to add Duck Hunt, Paperboy, Street Fighter 1, Double Dragon, Sonic The Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat, Clash of Clans, and Candy Crush Saga… and we compromised on some of them, but I can’t remember which.

Anyway, here’s the list:

Continue reading The top 100 most-influential videogames (2014 edition).

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Why don’t we just… use games for good? – Big Issue North

As an art form, video games have come a long way since 1958’s Tennis for Two, but the medium still retains certain problems. Like books and movies, some popular games are violent or prejudiced, whilst others seem addictive.

That said, there are some games that are outright good, even educational. Organisations like Games For Change create and distribute these games to promote awareness of humanitarian issues. Zachtronics creates commercial games that combine entertainment effectively with learning. These range from Spacechem, a puzzle game that teaches the players about chemical reactions, to Infinifactory, a production line simulator, right up to TIS-100 and Shenzen I/O, which teach players about programming.

Beyond puzzles though, other genres have been adapted to be educational. Microsoft has released Minecraft: Education Edition for teachers, which uses the original game’s crafting, digging and open world exploration to promote creativity, collaboration and problem-solving. You might be sceptical, but a national survey in the US found that 71 per cent of teachers who used digital games in the classroom reported that they had been effective in improving their students’ mathematics learning.

Beyond the classroom, games also have a unique advantage in teaching philosophy. Unlike other media, games are interactive – the player always gets to choose what they do, to some degree. That means they’re extremely useful for getting people to live through the consequences of their philosophies. I’ve heard them called “social science petri dishes” for that reason.

For example, Papers, Please (PC, Mac, iOS) is a game about working in passport control on the border of a totalitarian state. Players have to keep track of a changing bureaucratic system to keep their job and provide for their family, whilst constantly being presented with ethical dilemmas. Is it worth losing your job (and perhaps life) to allow a political dissident to escape? Like the Democracy series of government simulators or the global disaster simulator Fate of the World, it’s a wonderful way of helping people understand the structures and complexities of modern political systems.

On the level of practical ethics, there are nuanced non-violent games like That Dragon Cancer, To The Moon and What Remains of Edith Finch, all of which deal with loss and grief in different ways. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Soma, on the other hand, manage to combine science fiction and horror with a thorough-going investigation into what it means to be human and what creatures are of moral worth. Even the popular Bioshock series raises questions about free will, utilitarianism and identity.

Of course, it’s easy for me to just assert these things. But games are a form of media that have become a moral guide to the millennial generation, who have grown up with them. US whistleblower Edward Snowden has asserted that games provided him with a moral structure that informed his actions – that they taught him that anyone, no matter how weak, is capable of confronting huge injustice. He told the journalist Glenn Greenwald that, in games, “the protagonist is often an ordinary person, who finds himself faced with grave injustices from powerful forces and has the choice to flee in fear or fight for his beliefs. And history also shows that seemingly ordinary people who are sufficiently resolute about justice can triumph over the most formidable adversaries.”

With the advent of massive virtual worlds, games and simulations could be the dominant entertainment form of the 21st century. If they are to be so, we have to recognise and encourage their educational and moral components – to make them games for good.

Daniel Griliopoulos is the co-author of Ten Things Videogames Can Teach Us: About Life, Philosophy, and Everything (Robinson, £10.49). He is also the lead content editor at the technology company Improbable

Source: Why don’t we just… use games for good? – Big Issue North

Ostrava: In the Shadow of History – Geographical

On the edge of Ostrava there’s a sharp-sided hill. If you stood on it, you’d have a view over the old city, and you’d marvel at the number of smokestacks you saw. They’re all shapes and sizes and surround the old town centre like widely-spaced fence posts. If it was wintertime, you’d also marvel at how the hill you’re standing on is free of snow, while all around is white satin. Putting your hand on the ground, you’d find it oddly warm.

Like the old buildings and the smokestacks, this hill – called Ema – is a symbol of Ostrava’s inescapable past. It’s formed of the waste from the ironworks in the town’s centre. The last slag was dumped on Ema in 1993 and despite that 22-year gap, it’s still hot. Beneath the streets of Ostrava lies a massive anthracite deposit that made the area the ideal location for iron smelting, and which had been exploited for more than 200 years.

Source: Ostrava: In the Shadow of History – Geographical

The Witness, Five Years On; A Retrospective | SMTG

Five years after I first played it, Blow has let go and The Witness is out. There are now got 600+ puzzles and the world has been remodelled inch by inch. And this is the first time I’ve seen it since then. So how does the game live up to the goals of 2011’s Blow? And was it worth the extra $5.2 million he’s spent on it since then…? (Warning: contains mild spoilers).

Source: The Witness, Five Years On; A Retrospective | SMTG

Far Cry Primal preview: a familiar game with a Tomb Raider twist | TechRadar

Far Cry Primal isn’t, on this showing, a smart or an innovative game. It’s definitely more of the same with a new skin, much like Blood Dragon was, but without that expandalone’s cheesy humour. What it does have is a new old world to explore, a visceral proximity to its killings and an unusual, simple story to tell – man’s ascent from prey to predator, first-hand.

Source: Far Cry Primal preview: a familiar game with a Tomb Raider twist | TechRadar