The most important lesson I gleaned from this project is that while the lists are shallow, they’re actually a ton of work. Just compiling and sorting a list of 64 takes a long time, and writing a couple of paragraphs about each one takes even longer. The final product is about 10 or 12k words, but the work involved felt more like 50k. It’s one thing to write 10k words on one topic, but quite another to keep changing topics. Every couple of paragraphs you have to stop, do a fresh round of Google searches to get the history and context right, then scrounge up some kind of screenshot, then write the words. Then spend hours endlessly fussing with the orderingHey! This game is a big deal. It should be near the top of the list. Actually, I have less than 100 words to say about it. Maybe it should be further down the list..
Having done all this, I’m surprised these “Top X” lists get done at all. Not only is this kind of labor intensive in a hours-worked-to-words-written sense, but it’s actually really tedious work.
But the other thing I learned from all this is that these lists really don’t mean anything. My list isn’t really meaningful except as “List of Top 64 PC Games Played By Shamus Young that He Felt Like Talking About.” There’s a bit of value in that from the standpoint of trivia and curiosity, but it tells you more about me than it tells you about videogames.
Sorting the list into “order” was the most ridiculous and arbitrary part of the process. I’d make a bunch of seemingly-sensible decisions: Hm, Famous Game A should be above Fun Game B. But that puts Famous Game A above Landmark Game C, and that can’t be right. I’ll move Landmark Game C up by trading places with Popular Game D. Oh, but fankids will bitch at me if I put D that low.This sort of re-ordering is probably how I ended up screwing up the numbering on the final entry. You can literally do this forever. At some point you just have to stop shuffling and live with what you’ve got, which is how I ended up with good-but-not-remarkable Tomb Raider in my top 8 and the (personally) annoying BioShock several slots above personal-favorite Saints Row. People whined about the positioning of items in the list, but I couldn’t bring myself to care because I wasn’t happy with it either. The premise inherently silly.
If you locked me in a room and asked me to make another list of 64 without letting me refer to this one to refresh my memory, I’m sure I’d come up with a different list. Sure, a lot of the same titles would appear in both lists, but you’d end up with a different ordering and different rationale for their inclusion and position.
I think the problem is with the concept of “Top Games”. The framing is wrong. It pretends to be something definitive, which is impossible and puts reader expectations on all the wrong things. I couldn’t even come up with a useful ordering when I’m the only contributor. The problem would be even worse if this was the work of a staff of writers.
Having said that, I don’t think lists are useless. This was actually a lot of fun. We got to look at games that don’t get a lot of attention these days, and we got to contrast games that rarely end up under the microscope at the same time. I’d actually like to do something like this again in the future, but I wouldn’t want to call it a “Top Games” list.
Probably the best approach is to just call the listI think a numbered list is a really useful way to limit the scope of an article. ANY limit is going to be arbitrary, so “ten” or “fifty” is just as good a limit as any other. “N games of category X that I want to talk about.” If I ever do this again, I probably won’t waste time with the “top” idea but will choose entries based on some other criteria. (Shooters, BioWare games, platformers, pre-2000 games, etc.) Too many videogame conversations are focused on the hot new releases, and retrospective lists are a good vehicle for looking back. This hobby is changing so ridiculously fast, and the constant focus on new and upcoming releases is good for publishers and bad for our understanding of the medium.
As promised, below is a list of the games featured in the header images. Games are listed left-to-right.
- System Shock.
- Lurking Horror.
- Adventure for the Atari 2600.
- Don’t Starve.
- Adventures of Willy Bemish.
- Deus Ex 2.
- Catacomb 3d.
- Doom 3.
- Bejeweled 3
- Leisure Suit Larry and the Land of the Lounge Lizards.
- World of Warcraft.
- Secret of Monkey Island.
- Thief. (2014.)
- DOTA 2.
- The Path.
Witcher 2. Actually, that’s the first Witcher. Huh.
- Thief 2.
- Diablo 2
- MARLOW BRIGGS AND THE TINY SLICE OF SCREENSHOT.
- The Old Republic.
- Fallout 3.
- Lord of the Rings Online.
- Starflight 2.
- Champions Online
- Skyrim. (That’s Mercer Frey in the screenshot.)
- Silent Hill Origins.
- DOOM. (Title screen.)
- Champions Online.
- World of Warcraft.
- Jedi Outcast.
- Left 4 Dead.
- Metro: Last Light.
- Kerbal Space Program.
- Saints Row 4.
- Borderlands 2. (From “too Close for Missiles”, the sidequest that makes fun of Top Gun.)
- Space Quest III. (Monolith Burger.)
- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.
- Mass Effect. (That’s the first appearance of Ashley Williams.)
- This one is a trick. Yes, that looks like Agent 47, but it’s actually Saints Row The Third.
- Rage. (Loading screen entering the Wasteland Garage.)
- BioShock Infinite.
- Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People. (I’m pretty sure this screenshot is from the Homsar Reservation in Strong Badia the Free.)
- Champions Online.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
- Allan Wake.
- BioShock Infinite. (Yes, again.)
- Batman: Arkham City.
- I don’t know. Probably Call of Duty.
- ET for Atari 2600.
- Desert Bus.
- Tom Braider.
- City of Heroes.
- World of Warcraft.
- Saints Row: The Third.
- Guild Wars 2.
- Crysis 2.
- Dungeon Keeper 2
- Master of Orion 2.
- Haberdashery Fortress 2.
- Civilization V.
- Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.
- Thomas Braider, Adventurer Extraordinaire!
- Duke Nukem 3D.
- Deus Ex: It Gave Me Orange. I Wanted Lemon-Lime.
- Star TIE FIGHTER Wars.
- Pac-Man Super Championship Turbo Edition Remastered Ex++. Something like that.
- Diablo 2.
- Burnout Paradise.
- Wolfenstein 3D.
- Quake 3 Arena.
- The Secret of Monkey Island: The Remake: The Title Screen.
- GTA: San Andreas.
- No One Lives Forever 2.
- Silent Hill 2.
- System Shock 2.
- Sim City 4.
- Sim City.
- Grim Fandango.
- Spec Ops: The Line.
- Guild Wars 2.
- Quake 4.
- Alan Wake.
- Max Payne 3.
- Dead Space 2.
- Dark Forces.
 Hey! This game is a big deal. It should be near the top of the list. Actually, I have less than 100 words to say about it. Maybe it should be further down the list.
 This sort of re-ordering is probably how I ended up screwing up the numbering on the final entry.
 I think a numbered list is a really useful way to limit the scope of an article. ANY limit is going to be arbitrary, so “ten” or “fifty” is just as good a limit as any other.
Even allegedly smart people can make life-changing blunders that seem very, very obvious in retrospect.
Skyrim Thieves Guild
The Thieves Guild quest in Skyrim is a vortex of disjointed plot-holes, contrivances, and nonsense.
Best. Plot Twist. Ever.
Few people remember BioWare's Jade Empire, but it had a unique setting and a really well-executed plot twist.
Overused Words in Game Titles
I scoured the Steam database to figure out what words were the most commonly used in game titles.
Final Fantasy X
A game about the ghost of an underwater football player who travels through time to save the world from a tick that controls kaiju satan. Really.