Friday, April 24, 2015

Importance of Game Canon

Henry Lowood of Stanford Univeristy

How important is it to acknowledge game canon? It depends on who you ask. Some years back Henry Lowood, a professor at the Univeristy of Stanford, gathered together a group containing Stanford, the University of Maryland and the University of Illinois to undertake a project of preserving the history and culture of video games. Lowood has cited cultural and historical significance to the games that he and his group chose, basing his canon off a model originally made by the National Film Preservation Board, which creates an annual list of films to be added to the National Film Registry. Lowood and his comrades came up with this list of 10 games that, in their opinions, believe to carry the most significance.

Lowood and Company's Game Canon
Spacewar! (1962)
Star Raiders (1979)
Zork (1980)
Tetris (1985)
SimCity (1989)
Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990)
Civilization I/II (1991)
Doom (1993)
Warcraft series (beginning 1994)
Sensible World of Soccer (1994)

(Green = What Steven Vitte agrees with)

While there are some games on this list that I do agree with when it comes to significance, I don't agree with all of the choices Lowood and company have made, and there's one good reason why. Video games from their very inception are subjective. It's up to the gamers themselves what they consider to be rich video game history and what's forgettable video game history. I honestly don't think I need to have confirmation from early day gaming pioneers, as much as I do respect them, what is officially "canon" in video game history. I can determine for myself what is culturally and historically significant in gaming history. 

Running down this list, I will first cover the games that I do agree with Lowood and and company on. A group of early computer programmers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created the first competitive multiplayer game in Spacewar!, which was also the first action game. This game was created way back in 1962 and I can definitely see the significance behind this game. The same would apply for Star Raiders.

When talking about Zork, however, I have a hard time believing that it actually "moved the needle" in the Video Game Industry. Just because Zork was the first of its kind as an adventure game doesn't automatically make it significant. Did the game itself have lasting value to the point where people can still play a descendant version of it today? I'm not sure about that. In all my time as a gamer, I have never heard many glowing reviews of Zork specifically, and not even by gaming historians, but that's my subjective look at it.

Tetris, SimCity, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Doom are all great choices. When gamers, young and old, look back at gaming history, these are some of the first games that pop into their minds, and it's easy to understand why. For the most part, these games are simply fun. They are easy to get into and the learning curve for these games is never too big for those who are just getting acquainted with them. Tetris has a simple concept. SimCity is a simulation, giving you a wide variety of options. Super Mario Bros. 3 keeps you on your toes while you heroically explore new areas. Doom pretty much started the shooting game craze where people just wanted to make like John Rambo or John McClain and blitz through bad guys.

Civilization I and II are games I'm skeptical about. Again, just because you are the pioneer of a gaming genre doesn't mean you are automatically successful or legendary. These days I really don't hear much enthusiasm surrounding the Civilization series, and for a gaming franchise to truly become memorable and long lasting, you don't want gamers forgetting about what you contributed to gaming. Civilization probably fits in this situation unfortunately.

The Warcraft series and Sensible World of Soccer are choices that I absolutely disagree with. If you want to think about long-term positive impact on the Video Game Industry and measure just how much good these games did for the industry, then I believe that we aren't dissecting these two choices enough. I have never heard of Sensible World of Soccer. Never. It was a surprise for me to even see this game on this list. How is it memorable in gaming history if hardly anyone can recall it today? More importantly, why should we remember it?

The Warcraft series pretty much spawned a gigantic boatload of MMO's and RPG's that mirror each other, and not in a good way. If you talk about World of Warcraft, then you'll get to talking about EverQuest. From there, you will probably be talking about similar games like Phantasy Star Online, Final Fantasy, Suikoden, etc. Once you have seen one of these games, you have most likely seen them all. I don't see how we can look back at the Warcraft series and think to ourselves "Hmm... Warcraft contributed so much to the industry! Look how super creative it was!" Nope. Not buying it.

Overall, the importance of game canon comes down to a matter of opinion. Everyone has their own taste of what games they like to play. Everyone eventually comes up with their own "head canon" as to what games are the most significant in the history of the Video Game Industry. Here is what I consider to be my own canon of video games, so to speak.

Steven Vitte's Custom Game Canon 
(Subject To Change Whenever Appropriate)

Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
Sonic 1
Sonic 2
Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Mario 64
Beetle Adventure Racing
Goldeneye 64
Mario Party 1-3
Tekken 3
Pac-Man
Frogger
Dig-Dug
Tetris
Timesplitters 2
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
Sly 2: Band of Thieves 

One of many versions of Tetris

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island

Sonic 3 & Knuckles

Tekken 3

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