The 80 Most Influential Video Games of All Time

Back in 2011, I had the chance to count down the most important games of all time for 1up, not too long before it closed its doors. The article is still up, but who knows for how long? So in the interest of preserving some of the ideas and turning it into a kind of living document.

Here’s my list of criteria, which I think is a good start to the conversation:

  • Did the game change our understanding of what games were capable of? ’s free exploration was a major change from the linear levels of previous games.
  • Did the game establish or change a major game genre? is widely recognized as the progenitor of the real-time strategy genre.
  • Did it change how the industry and the rest of society viewed games? became the single most-referenced game in society when it became a hit.
  • Did it create or popularize a new technology? and both pioneered the effective use of 3D characters and environments, one of the most important technical changes in game history.
  • Did the game change how we played games? and the Wii in general represented a massive change in the interface of gaming. Now every major console has some manner of motion control. (
  • Did it change the business of games? I assigned less weight to this than others might, but it still needs to be taken into consideration. was an important enough game on its own, but it also almost single-handedly created a market for the Game Boy.
  • Is it still relevant today? Certain games were extremely important in their genres, but less relevant today. Flight sims, for example, used to be one of the most popular computer game genres, but only makes this list.
  • How old is it? When in doubt, I preferred the early version of games to their sequels. You could make an argument that was as important as , but came first. Likewise and . On the other end, only one game on this list is less than five years old, and I think its influence on the industry is self-evident.
  • Is the game considered great? This is the least important aspect of influence, but it still counts a tiny bit — perceived quality makes people keep talking about games and revisit them. Still, I would never argue that is the best of its series, nor that Farmville (#22) is better than Civilization (#26). Influence is not the same as quality.

What this criteria should do is present a list of games that manages to provide a somewhat idiosyncratic and personal but still comprehensive easy-to-read history of games.

Off the list:

One on One (55)

Initially included as a nod to licensed sports games, I felt like that was covered by the ranking of .

Command & Conquer (56)

Between , , and , I’d perhaps overrepresented RTS, a relatively niche genre in overall popularity outside of its esports appeal.

Maniac Mansion (47)

Having both this and was an odd decision. I’ve merged them and given slight priority to for its role in turning Tim Schafer into Gaming’s Ambassador.

Last game off: Candy Crush Saga

80. BioShock (NR)

Given its popularity and acclaim, it’s somewhat surprising that isn’t more important. But its main claim to fame at this point is the subgenre of violent-games-about-being-games.

79. Canabalt (NR)

The rise of mobile gaming has included the endless runner genre as a major player.

78. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

The emblematic game of the bombastic mega-series has both some of its most-remembered single-player missions (nuke!) and the leveling up systems that have become commonplace in shooter multiplayer.

77. Assassin’s Creed

The free-movement parkour-style action adventure has become a set subgenre, and the Ubisoft Game of collect-everything takes up a lot of space in the gaming discourse.

76. Jet Grind Radio (59)

Maybe it was a stretch when I posted it initially. Maybe it’s still a stretch. But I can point to and say “WELL SOMEBODY REMEMBERED!”

75. Gears of War (NR)

didn’t invent the cover-based shooter, but the way it utilized its mechanics and designed its levels around the concept popularized and solidified the concept, which has been important for shooters ever since.

74. Brain Age (NR)

The Nintendo DS was the device that proved that touchscreen interfaces could work for a mass audience, paving the way for tablets and phones and so on. The biggest benefit — the touchscreen allowed non-traditional gamers an easy way in. Hence , a game aimed specifically at older players, became a mega-hit in the early days of the handheld.

73. Snake (NR)

The biggest story I missed in my 2011 piece — the importance of mobile gaming. What game demonstrated the viability of phones as a game platform more than that 1990s cell phone staple, ?

72. RoboTron 2048 (NR)

This was the last game off the list in 2011. It’s my favorite “classic” arcade game, so that was not my preference, but at the time, I couldn’t justify it for making the twin stick shooter alone. So thanks, and , (and thanks, expansion to 80 slots) for letting me put a fav in.

71. Dwarf Fortress (NR)

The rise of the survival strategy game recently — games like and can be traced back to , and can be seen as attempts to update the famously impenetrable game. , along with , also serves as an example of a different kind of indie mega-hit.

70. Elite (NR)

, like , was one of the last games left off the list, basically on the grounds that it hadn’t had relevant new games of its genre released in years. One and one later, it’s back!

69. League of Legends (NR)

Here’s the explanation: $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. (See , below.)

68. The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall (NR)

In 2011, I don’t think I even considered an game — something of an oversight with dominance over the latter part of that year. Their importance in pushing forward a model of open-world gameplay is fairly evident, but I picked specifically for its importance in remaking the role-playing genre in the middle of the mid-1990s collapse. What came out of that, alongside and , was a focus on intricately created and developed single characters. could easily have been just a fluke, but made it a theme.

67. Depression Quest (NR)

I can’t decide if I feel weirder about having on the list or not having it. On the one hand, it’s probably the most famous of the personal games and Twine games which have grown increasingly important critically in the past four years. On the other, its fame is in large part because it was chosen as a symbol by harassers who wanted to destroy it. But that’s part of the history of gaming now.

66. Braid (NR)

No game illustrated the rise of the “indie” label of the 2000s and the surge of clever pixellated platformer puzzlers more than Braid.

65. Metal Gear Solid (54)

Do I have anything new to say about the series? I don’t think I do.

64. Indianapolis 500: The Simulation (49)

Still incredibly important at a technical level for bringing 3D models into vogue, but when was the last time a racing sim had mainstream appeal?

63. Mortal Kombat (NR)

As with , I didn’t include this initially because of a similar earlier game in the genre, namely, . But commenters convinced me of its importance tonally and culturally. For years it was the dominant image of video games to their critics.

62. Secret of Monkey Island (60)

I’m combining this one with as the LucasArts Adventure on the list, and moving it up. Part of the reason I went with is that it’s the game that launched Tim Schafer’s career as a gaming ambassador. His Double Fine has proven increasingly important in the game industry with their switch to smaller games instead of AAA blockbusters, and their embrace of Early Access and Kickstarter.

61. World of Warcraft (NR)

Another one I was talked into by commenters. At the time, I hadn’t played at all, but having done so now, I can see the polish and design that popularized, especially in terms of cooldown based combat as something increasingly important in both multi- and single-player games.

60. Goldeneye (53)

I discovered, when searching for the original list, that my ranking of is included on its Wikipedia page. I’m not sure how many of these made it Wikipedia, but I hope that one of them is for a game I’ve actually played. (There are only nine that I haven’t played in some form or another.)

59. Dance Dance Revolution (52)

Essentially the only games keeping motion sensor-based gameplay alive are ’s successors, and .

58. Super Mario Kart (51)

At this point, can you say that is the most consistently important franchise for Nintendo consoles and handhelds? Regardless of anything else, one of these will come out, and it will almost single-handedly make the system worthwhile.

57. Wing Commander (48)

Chris Roberts has made a rather triumphant return to viability since the 2011 list came out. But I wish there were more single-player campaign-based space sims like as opposed to the open-world . I am clearly in a minority here.

56. Angry Birds (NR)

Mobile games! Kind of a big deal now. was the biggest deal of all of them. Still is, aside.

55. Knights of the Old Republic (57)

The BioWare model of high-production, single-player character with chatty party members is not going away. ’s consistent game of the year awards in 2014 justify an improvement.

54. Sonic the Hedgehog (50)

I’m honestly not sure if the widespread online exposure of the, ah, robust fan community for in recent years helps or hinders its status as an important video game. So I’m keeping it in roughly the same place.

53. Battlezone (43)

I honestly can’t remember why I rated initially.

52. Counterstrike (NR)

I’ve separated out from thanks to , but it honestly deserves its own slot regardless. Nearly two decades later, is still one of the most-played games on Steam, and has become/remained the dominant esport first-person shooter.

51. Deus Ex (58)

Cyberpunk and RPG/shooters are not declining in popularity at all — and this one-time cult hit even got a big-budget sequel. Up the list you go, .

50. Microsoft Flight Simulator (40)

The longest-running series in gaming history, cancelled in the past four years. RIP.

49. Spelunky (NR)

One of the big stories of the past four years is the rise of the roguelike, or rogue-like-like (ugh) or the procedural death labyrinth (better). Regardless of the terminology, Spelunky, the procedurally generated platformer, was one of the key games in the movement, and gets the nod above and .

48. Metroid (46)

’s spot on the list is safe; my only real debate is whether might be the more influential game in the series.

47. M.U.L.E. (42)

remains more of an influential idea than a direct gaming influence — but the release of suggests the idea still has power.

46. Eastern Front (41)

Did I intentionally have in the 41 slot? That was perhaps a little too cute to maintain.

45. Diablo (45)

The release of , and have only solidified ’s influence.

44. Wii Sports (21)

Really not sure what to do about this one. Sure, motion control games that aren’t dancing games have almost totally collapsed, but does that mean we ignore that for a long console generation they were important?

43. Team Fortress (NR)

There are stories of the id team looking at their stats for multiplayer and noticing that more people were playing the class and team-based mod than the deathmatch and were so associated with. But the modders hit upon a different idea: people wanted to play multiplayer that pushed them into different roles, so working as a team brought success. This was basketball or football, instead of tennis or golf. This didn’t just change multiplayer conceits in first-person shooters, but eventually led to team-based dynamics in massively multiplayer RPGs and games like with their rigid class dynamics.

42. Medal of Honor: Frontline (44)

Military shooters: not going away.

41. StarCraft (39)

The burgeoning esports market is built in part on the still-updating as one of its pillars, and that’s built on the original .

40. Resident Evil (NR)

Somehow, fell off my original list during the process of editing and honing, which was an embarrassing omission. Survival horror, you have a proper home now.

39. Street Fighter II (38)

remains in roughly the same spot thanks to fighting games stabilizing as a steady esport, though niche in the wider population.

38. Guitar Hero (37)

Has totally supplanted as the most important instrument-based rhythm game? was so good and so dominant that it basically shut the genre down for three years. It’s back now, though. I’m still giving the nod to for its initial importance…but only barely.

37. Tomb Raider (36)

A well-received reboot has Lara Croft back on the map, albeit in the slightly surprising role of feminist hero in the representation wars.

36. FarmVille (22)

Not many games have plummeted in importance like , now more notable for popularizing F2P mechanics than the genre-defining event it once seemed to be. And I’m okay with this.

35. Dragon Quest (33)

The popularization of a distinctly Japanese RPG style — still important.

34. Dune II (20)

The near-collapse of any real-time strategy game of the conventional sort not made by Blizzard over the last four years has illustrated that the once-dominant genre may have lost its luster.

33. The Sims (35)

When medieval grand strategy games like cite as an influence, it’s fair to say that its importance hasn’t disappeared.

32. Bejeweled (32)

Wanna match some 3s?

31. Myst (29)

As traditional adventures, a genre that helped put off the shelves, are making a major comeback, I kinda wanna know what ’s might look like.

30. SimCity (24)

For several games on this list, having a sequel in the last couple years has helped raise awareness of their influence. For SimCity, well, it didn’t turn out quite so happily.

29. Wolfenstein 3D (30)

Another series whose sequel didn’t necessarily enhance its original influence. It’s cool that it’s found a niche as a bizarrely awesome alternate history World War II shooter, but its importance remains in genre and technology.

28. Pokemon (28)

Not much movement from here, but the next time I do this, with Nintendo’s movement into mobile gaming, things might change.

27. NHL ’94 (27)

Sports games are still an underdiscussed but essential part of gaming.

26. Rogue (31)

Everyone wants to make a roguelike these days, it seems.

25. Civilization (26)

If anything, grand strategy games are even healthier today than they were in 2011.

24. DOTA (NR)

How important is ? Well, it single-handedly made me need to separate mods from their original games, thus shaking up the top of the list. This little single-map mod spawned an entirely massively popular esports and regular multiplayer genre. This is where the money is.

23. Pac-Man (34)

I definitely had too low originally. For years, it WAS video games in the wider culture.

22. Halo (23)

While the series has stalled a bit post-Reach, its influences on shooters in general remain strong, for better or for worse.

21. EverQuest (13)

Since I added to this list, takes a slight hit. The lack of staying power for non-WOW MMRPGs has also hurt its standing.

20. Final Fantasy IV (17)

I think that, in the last few years, we’ve finally moved past “JRPGs are terrible/dying now.” But it’s probably better to be controversial than it is to be forgotten. Handhelds still going strong, though.

19. Fallout (19)

The recent rise of Kickstarted classic-style RPGs serves as a continued conversation with the model of RPG.

18. Pitfall! (18)

Is this low? I feel somewhat unconfident about

17. Mystery House (16)

I thought to myself “really?” when I saw so high, but then I remembered that the combination of graphics and text is REALLY IMPORTANT.

16. Pong (25)

Like , I underrated the sheer power over the culture of “what is a video game?” that represented from its appearance.

15. Tetris (15)

A rock-solid continued presence in the top 20 should be no surprise whatsoever.

14. Half-Life (7)

Part of the reason I’d rated so highly was its mods, particularly . With it separated into its own spot in the list, falls a little. Still critically important in its pioneering use of in-game storytelling, AI, and being associated with .

13. Adventure (14)

is SO IMPORTANT that it’s the only video game to spawn a genre title after itself that’s not embarrassing. Sorry, (Roguelikes and Metroidvanias.)

12. Dungeon Master (4)

I still find important for all the reasons mentioned, but it was my most iffy high choice, and a slide was pretty much inevitable. Still, thanks to , it’s back!

11. Minecraft (NR)

Even in 2011, I probably should have included this one. Its popularity has only skyrocketed since. Crafting is everywhere now. Blocky graphics, everywhere. has helped turn streaming into a phenomenon. And if you think it’s important now, just wait til the generation of kids that’s grown up playing it grows up and starts making games like the 80s generation brought platformers back a few years ago.

is the only game that has a chance of breaking into the top 2 next time I do this.

10. The Legend of Zelda (10)

I feel like has stalled somewhat in the last four years, with excitement built around rereleases, and ’s initially positive reviews sinking over time with the growing disdain for the WiiMote.

9. Spacewar! (12)

Brendan Keogh dug up this Rolling Stone article about competitions in the 1970s. Very cool.

8. Quake (5)

Just like falls slightly thanks to the separation of its most famous mod, . But still, increasing multiplayer, mod support, and 3D-polygonal graphics make it one of the most important even without that.

7. Ultima III (11)

I have since written on how the series as a whole is the most important of all time. Separating it out would make for a longer list, but probably also include , and . Not even could match that.

6. Grand Theft Auto III (9)

The ridiculous sales numbers for GTAV illustrate the series’ continued viability.

5. Wizardry (8)

Role-playing games: still kind of a big deal.

4. Mario 64 (6)

gets to double-dip with multiple games in the same series because, well, it’s friggin’ .

3. Space Invaders (3)

I have nothing new to say about . Still essential.

2. Super Mario Bros (2)

Go on, hum the theme song with me.

1. Doom (1)

I have not grown any less confident in putting over at the top in the last four years.

Contributing writer @TheAVClub, freelance game critic. Owner of #twokitties, tabby & black. Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/rowankaiser

Contributing writer @TheAVClub, freelance game critic. Owner of #twokitties, tabby & black. Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/rowankaiser