December 26, 2010

2000s were a quiet decade for video games

GameFAQs just completed a round-robin tournament of "who would win in a fight?" among 128 video games released during the 2000s. These were the most popularly nominated before the tournament began, and each match was decided by a survey with tens of thousands of respondents.

And the game of the decade is Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, which came out so long ago -- fall 2000 -- that even I have played it, and I mostly tuned out during the boring 3D-soap-opera era of video games. If you did too, you apparently didn't miss much.

The past two holidays that I've visited home for, I've seen my brother dither away at least four hours a day on Grand Theft Auto IV multiplayer, one of the most hyped games of the past 10 years. Most of the gameplay reduces to killing someone and waiting near the area where they will re-appear, just to kill them right away when they do. Whether he's the dorkmeister doing the camping or he's on the receiving end of it, watching this "game" puts me right to sleep, and my brother too looks like a zombie playing it.

In its repetitiveness, it's not very different from the mindless marathons of leveling up that keep me away from role-playing games like the Final Fantasy or Pokemon series. No skill or challenge involved -- just logging enough hours.

I wonder who would win in a similar round-robin tournament for games of the 1990s and '80s. My bet for the '90s would be Super Metroid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Super Mario Bros. 3. For the '80s, it would come down to Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario Bros. 2, Metroid, and Tetris. Sadly, most video game players these days are into the putz-around-with-nothing-to-do-and-never-die style, so Ocarina of Time would probably win both the '90s and a tri-decade contest.

It's surprising how little innovation there's been in video games since the 3D era began. All of the top contenders for Game of the Decade or of All Time trace back to characters, storylines, and game concepts developed during the golden age of the late '80s and early '90s. Of course during this time there's been little or no innovation in rock music, rap music, etc., so it's not the fault of video game makers or players -- it's a really broad blandness in the entire culture. It makes you wonder what it would have been like if video games had been invented in the late '50s along with rock music. There, we went from singles-band Beatles to album-oriented Guns N' Roses. But video games only started to mature much later, and so had only a handful of years to create before the whole culture came inside from the playground and began taking a really long nap.


  1. Lest it turn into a Miyamoto fest, I would add Street Fighter II and the original Mega Man series as potential winners from the 90's. The former was ubiquitous entertainment at birthday parties and although there was basically no innovation within the Mega Man series, it was a pretty good concept (yes, the first two games were released in the 80's).

    I pretty much no longer keep up with video games at all but I was surprised that so much of the stuff developed for the Wii was ordinary activities that are more fun to do in real life. I would have thought there'd be great opportunity to develop more combat-oriented games that couldn't be safely duplicated in real life, but if there were any that achieved popularity, I have not heard about them.

  2. Great take.

    Donkey Kong Country would definitely be near the top of a 90s contest, as would Chrono Trigger.

    As an avid RPGer in my youth and atavistically so today, it doesn't surprise me that the best performing RPG games in the FAQ tournament were released early in the decade as well. Final Fantasy IX hit in 2000, and FFX came the following year. Basically, the formula was the same that made the series the RPG series of the modern video gaming era, with all the enhanced cinematics, character development, and emotional investment that newer hardware systems allowed to enhance and expand on a core that existed as far back as the late 80s. The newer additions in the series (11 through 13), each deviating from the original formula, were all duds.

    Technically, it wasn't a round robin tournament btw (to be the nit picker).

  3. I downloaded the original Zelda's ROM and played it using the FCEUX emulator. It was still fun even though I had played Zelda decades ago, and I am now an "adult". The Zelda ROM is only 130 kilobytes! Despite being a featherweight, it still more fun to play than many games that weigh in the gigabytes. Sins of a Solar Empire, I am looking at you.

    It does seem that many "adult" games today are easier than the "kids" games of the 1990s/1980s. Do "safe times" make designers "decide" people actually want these easy games, or do people in "safe times" actually want easy games? Or *shudder* do the people in "safe times" lose their made-gamer skills, and actually find difficult games almost impossible to play?


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