Nerdsworth Academy

Voting is Over: Winning Games of the Art of Video Games Exhibit

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Hey all,

The voting for the Smithsonian American Museum of Art’s exhibit, the Art of Video Games, concluded a few weeks ago. There were 240 games entered as nominees, but only 80 of them are going to be featured in the exhibit next year.

The exhibit will show games from five different eras:

  1. Early Gaming – 1970s – early 1980s
  2. 8 Bit – 1983-1989
  3. Bit Wars – 1989-1994
  4. Transition – 1995-2002
  5. Next Generation – 2003 – Current

Several commercially successful platforms (sorry Atari Jaguar fans) were chosen to represent each era. For each platform, 12 games were nominated and broken into 4 genres: action, target, adventure, and combat/strategy. For each platform/genre combination 3 games were nominated but only one could win.

I tried to make a nice table for this, but it ended up being tricky. The results broken up by era first, and then by platform. The four genres run horizontally, with the winners of each marked with a cute little star (Winner). My own personal votes have the TMZ Vote logo next to them. Sometimes they line up, sometimes people voted for the wrong games.

Okay, that makes it sound more complicated that it is. In any case, here are the results of the voting.

ERA 1 (1970s – early 1980s)
Atari VCS Target Space InvadersWinner Missile Command TMZ Vote Yars’ Revenge
Adventure Adventure Pitfall!Winner TMZ Vote E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Action Tunnel Runner Haunted House Pac-Man WinnerTMZ Vote
Combat/Strategy Combat WinnerTMZ Vote Star Raiders Video Chess
ColecoVision Target Carnival Zaxxon Winner Buck Rogers: Planet of ZoomTMZ Vote
Adventure Alcazar: The Forgotten FortressTMZ Vote Gateway to Apshai Pitfall II: Lost Caverns Winner
Action Donkey Kong WinnerTMZ Vote Jungle Hunt Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle
Combat/Strategy Evolution Star Trek: Strategic Operations
Artillery DuelTMZ Vote
Mattel Intellivision Target Demon Attack Star Strike Winner Space BattleTMZ Vote
Adventure Advanced Dungeons and Dragons WinnerTMZ Vote Swords and Serpents Thunder Castle
Action MicrosurgeonTMZ Vote TRON: Maze-Atron Winner Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man
Combat/Strategy Armor Battle B-17 Bomber Utopia WinnerTMZ Vote

The results of the first era didn’t surprise me much. Space Invaders was absolutely huge, as was Pacman. Pacman is probably the most recognized of any game in the United States; It’s hard to find a bar that doesn’t have some variant of this game in it, even now. Although that isn’t the Atari VCS version, I still feel like it is deserving of a place in the exhibit. I admit I haven’t played most of these games, as they are a bit before my time (a bit, get it?). I do have fond memories of the tank battles with my brothers in Combat and getting eaten by alligators in Pitfall!, so I’m glad to see that they made the cut.

ERA 2 – 8-BIT (1983 – 1989)
Commodore 64 Target Attack of the Mutant Camels Winner Paradroid Raid on Bungeling BayTMZ Vote
Adventure Wasteland The Bards Tale III: Thief of Fate WinnerTMZ Vote Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders
Action Impossible MissionTMZ Vote Boulder Dash Jumpman Winner
Combat/Strategy M.U.L.E. Little Computer PeopleTMZ Vote Sid Meier’s Pirates! Winner
Nintendo Entertainment
Target 1943: The Battle of Midway Winner Top GunTMZ Vote Life Force
Adventure Final Fantasy The Legend of Zelda WinnerTMZ Vote Shadowgate
Action Mega Man 2 Super Mario Brothers 3 WinnerTMZ Vote Metriod
Combat/Strategy Archon: The Light and the DarkTMZ Vote Desert Commander Winner North and South
SEGA Master System Target Fantasy ZoneTMZ Vote After Burner Winner Missile Defense 3D
Adventure Phantasy Star Winner Heroes of the Lance Ultima IV: Quest for the AvatarTMZ Vote
Action Shinobi Mickey Mouse in the Land of Illusion Marble Madness WinnerTMZ Vote
Combat/Strategy Gain Ground Spy vs. Spy WinnerTMZ Vote Rampart

It’s funny, although we had a Commodore 64 that I remember playing, I don’t recall any of these games. The names alone make me feel like I’m missing out: Attack of the Mutant Camels , The Bards Tale III: Thief of Fate, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Little Computer People? All sound like fun. I’ve also read a bit about the economic simulation M.U.L.E., but haven’t played it either. I voted for Archon in the NES platform, even though I played it on the Commodore 64 (or maybe it was the old Amiga, I don’t recall).

The NES games I do remember playing. The Legend of Zelda is a shoe-in for its category, with its iconic characters (*grumble grumble*) and clever use of weapons. In fact, just putting “Zelda” or “Link” in the title seems to be a sure-fire way to be in this exhibit. Regardless, it’s an absolute classic and a must-play if you have an NES. So much so that I still remember getting stuck in that damned repeating brush maze, even though I haven’t played the game for over a decade. The NES action genre is a tough one to choose: the Mega Man, Mario, and Metroid series are all well loved. I had to go with Super Mario Brothers 3, not only because I want to have a raccoon tail so that I can fly, but there was even a movie made to advertise the game (review of The Wizard will be coming… at some point). Wait, how does having a raccoon tail allow you to fly? I would have liked Metroid to win if it were any game other than Super Mario Brothers 3. That game has amazing atmosphere, and one of the coolest heroines ever. She can turn into a ball. Plus, the metroids are genuinely creepy as they have a desire to eat your brains, they’re basically aliens and zombies. *shivers*

I’m not a big Sega fan, but Marble Madness was the first game that I played that mixed a great physics engine with maddening level design. And Spy vs. Spy, you play a spy, black or white, laying traps for the other spy. Its versus mode was the ultimate game of who can screen-cheat better. Classic hyjinks and a ton of fun.

ERA 3 – BIT WARS (1989 – 1994)
SEGA Genesis Target Gunstar Heroes WinnerTMZ Vote Viewpoint Ranger X
Adventure Phantasy Star IV WinnerTMZ Vote Flashback: The Quest for Identity Shining Force 2
Action Earthworm Jim WinnerTMZ Vote Sonic CD Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker
Combat/Strategy Herzog Zwei Dune II: Battle for Arrakis WinnerTMZ Vote Nobunaga’s Ambition
Super Nintendo
Entertainment System
Target Gradius III Star Fox Winner Super SmashTVTMZ Vote
Adventure Chrono TriggerTMZ Vote Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past Winner EarthBound
Action Super Star Wars Super Mario World Winner Donkey Kong CountryTMZ Vote
Combat/Strategy SimCity WinnerTMZ Vote Syndicate Act Raiser

Ah, the classic duel of consoles. Looks like I nailed the Genesis games: Earthworm Jim is one of my favorite shooters, second only to Jazz Jackrabbit on the PC; Dune II is the first real-time strategy game, so of course I had to vote for it on account of it spawning an entire genre.

The SNES I played only a little: I chose Donkey Kong Country for its great graphical style and fun missions, and those minecarts were quite the ride; Starfox I played some and liked, though I’m more familiar with its Nintendo 64 incarnation. Chrono Trigger is one of those games that I have played only a little, but liked and would have preferred over yet another Zelda game. Oh well.

ERA 4 – Transition (1995 – 2002)
DOS/Windows Target Star Wars: TIE Fighter Crimson Skies Diablo II WinnerTMZ Vote
Adventure Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn Grim Fandango Fallout WinnerTMZ Vote
Action Deus ExTMZ Vote DOOM II Winner Unreal
Combat/Strategy Starcraft Winner Uplink: Hacker Elite Command and ConquerTMZ Vote
Nintendo 64 Target Pilotwings 64 Star Fox 64 Goldeneye 007 WinnerTMZ Vote
Adventure The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of
Time WinnerTMZ Vote
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask Paper Mario
Action Super Mario 64 WinnerTMZ Vote Banjo-Kazooie Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
Combat/Strategy Worms Armageddon WinnerTMZ Vote Tom Clancy’s Rainbox Six Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber
SEGA Dreamcast Target Toy Commander The Typing of the DeadTMZ Vote Rez Winner
Adventure Shenmue WinnerTMZ Vote Phantasy Star Online Skies of Arcadia
Action Jet Grind RadioTMZ Vote Sonic Adventure Winner Crazy Taxi
Combat/Strategy ChuChu Rocket! WinnerTMZ Vote Panzer Front Rhapsody of Zephyr (The War of Genesis)
SEGA Saturn Target Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei Winner Black FireTMZ Vote Wing Arms
Adventure Blazing Dragons Dark SaviorTMZ Vote Panzer Dragoon Saga Winner
Action NiGHTS into Dreams Tomb Raider WinnerTMZ Vote Clockwork Night
Combat/Strategy SimCity 2000 WinnerTMZ Vote Blazing Heroes Command and Conquer
Sony Playstation Target Einhander WinnerTMZ Vote Colony Wars III: Red Sun Point Blank
Adventure Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete Final Fantasy VII WinnerTMZ Vote Grandia
Action Metal Gear Solid WinnerTMZ Vote Crash Bandicoot: Warped Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
Combat/Strategy Final Fantasy Tactics Winner Carnage Heart Command & Conquer: Red AlertTMZ Vote

Making me choose between Starcraft and Command & Conquer was a cruel, cruel move. In the end, I had to go with C&C, not because I think it is the better game, but because of its unique use of live-action, full-motion video sequences between missions. This is something that not many games use, and I think it should be in an exhibit about the history of games, simply because it shows an attempt to move games closer to a more traditional medium. Starcraft is excellent and has such a huge following and is one amazing, if not the best, esport. It thrived in Korea for over a decade as a way of life. So I don’t have hard feelings on this one.

Diablo 2 is a solid action-RPG, though I’m a little suspicious of its placement into the “target” genre, particularly since it ousted one of the best space-simulations out there, TIE Fighter.

One game that I really wanted to see represented was Jet Grind Radio. It’s such a great game, with unique graphics, a groovy soundtrack, and a focus on non-violent (but hyjinks-filled) gameplay. It is right up there with Deus Ex for games that I wish made it through this era. Deus Ex is a perfect blend of RPG, action, suspense; it’s just a great game from start to finish. Sure, it has its flaws, but any game that gives players so many ways to overcome adversaries is OK in my book.

I didn’t play much Nintendo 64, but I did thoroughly enjoy Goldeneye 007, with a bit of Mario 64 thrown in for good measure, so I’m glad to see they made the cut. Finally, I don’t believe that I need to mention to gaming goodness that is Final Fantasy VII. I was a bit sad to see that its strategy spin-off, Final Fantasy Tactics beat out Command & Conquer: Red Alert. Red Alert was one killer game that I know I’ve played through at least a half-dozen times. It has Einstein!

ERA 5 – Next Generation (2003 – Current)
Microsoft Xbox Target Panzer Dragoon OrtaWinner XyanideTMZ Vote Sniper Elite: Berlin 1945
Adventure Fable WinnerTMZ Vote Indigo Prophecy Shenmue II
Action Halo 2 WinnerTMZ Vote JSRF: Jet Set Radio Future Psychonauts
Combat/Strategy Steel Battalion Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell WinnerTMZ Vote Sid Meier’s Pirates!
Microsoft Xbox 360 Target Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 WinnerTMZ Vote Ikaruga Assault Heroes 2
Adventure Mass Effect 2 WinnerTMZ Vote Limbo The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Action Gears of War 2 Halo 3 Bioshock WinnerTMZ Vote
Combat/Strategy Halo Wars DarwiniaTMZ Vote Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II Winner
Modern Windows Target Shatter Everyday ShooterTMZ Vote fl0w Winner
Adventure World of Warcraft TMZ Vote Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Fallout 3 Winner
Action Half Life 2 Portal WinnerTMZ Vote Call of Duty: World at War
Combat/Strategy Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty TMZ Vote Age of Empires 3 Minecraft Winner
Nintendo GameCube Target P.N.03 Star Fox: Assault WinnerTMZ Vote Alien Hominid
Adventure The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Winner Tales of Symphonia Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door TMZ Vote
Action Prince of Persia: The Sands of TimeTMZ Vote Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem Metriod Prime 2: Echos Winner
Combat/Strategy Battalion Wars Pikmin 2 WinnerTMZ Vote Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Nintendo Wii Target Boom Blox Winner Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy TMZ Vote Sin & Punishment: Star Successor
Adventure The Legend of Zelda: Twilight
Princess Winner TMZ Vote
Super Paper Mario Monster Hunter Tri
Action Super Mario Galaxy 2 Winner Metriod Prime TrilogyTMZ Vote Disney Epic Mickey
Combat/Strategy Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’
Treasure Winner
Little King’s StoryTMZ Vote Battalion Wars 2
Sony Playstation 2 Target Silpheed: The Lost Planet Espgaluda Gradius V WinnerTMZ Vote
Adventure Final Fantasy XTMZ Vote Kingdom Hearts II Okami Winner
Action Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 God of War Shadow of the Colossus WinnerTMZ Vote
Combat/Strategy Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Winner Tom Clancy’s Rainbox Six: Lockdown TMZ Vote Armored Core 3
Sony Playstation 3 Target Flower Winner TMZ Vote Super Stardust HD PixelJunk Shooter
Adventure Dragon Age: Origins TMZ Vote Final Fantasy XIII Heavy Rain Winner
Action Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Winner Call of Duty: Black Ops TMZ Vote LittleBigPlanet 2
Combat/Strategy Brutal Legend Winner Command & Conqer: Red Alert 3 –
Commander’s Challenge
Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution TMZ Vote

Okay. If you want upsets, look no further. Let’s start with the gorilla in the room: World of Warcraft lost out to Fallout 3?!?! This is hard to believe, and a bit of a shame. From a cultural perspective, World of Warcraft has orders of magnitude more influence than Fallout 3. It has millions of subscribers and even much of the non-gaming general public knows about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing Fallout 3, in fact, it was one of the first games I ever blogged about, but World of Warcraft has been the MMO to topple, and is an iconic piece of early 21st century culture. There is an entire media-creation culture surrounding World of Warcraft as well, consisting of thousands of hours of machinma, hundreds of original songs about the game, and tons of original art about the game. Heck, there has even been a South Park episode about it.

Some of the other winners turned out to be surprises: Final Fantasy X losing to Okami? FF10 is the reason to own a Playstation 2. Gorgeous music (I’ve got the super-duper soundtrack, something like 100 tracks, amazing!), heart rending story, and a solid combat system. It’s funny; this is one of those games (along with Mass Effect 2, which I am glad to see made it) where I feel the combat is weak when paired next to the storytelling.

And not to be too much of a Blizzard fanboy, but I’m surprised that Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty lost out to Minecraft. I feel like SC2 is pristine representation of strategy games, but I haven’t tried out Minecraft at all, and I know it’s gotten rave reviews and is highly addictive. It’s definitely one that I’ll have to take a look at. Still, I am sad to see one of my favorite games ever absent from the exhibit.

Overall, I tried to approach the games from a historical perspective: if people in 2200 found a vault with these 80 games, would they be a good representation of the technology, of the types of games that were being produced, and of what people played? With the possible exception of World of Warcraft being absent, I think so. Mostly because, as far as I can tell, no massively multiplayer games made the cut. This is surprising and startling to me, considering that MMOs are hugely popular, highly lucrative, rapidly growing, often criticized and scrutinized by the media, and, most importantly, pervasive throughout our culture culture. Still, the exhibit will have World of Warcraft available to play, so I suppose I can’t get too bent out of shape about it. Let’s hope the next time they choose to do this exhibit this can be remedied.

There were a few games that very much surprised me, but even when the games that I would choose didn’t make it, often it was another game of high value, so I remain highly excited for the exhibit and will definitely be heading to Washington D.C. next year.

Well, that’s about it. This turned out to be one mega-post. And holy cow those tables took a long time to build and style. I hope that you all find them useful.

I’ll be seeing you in DC!


    Sunhawk said: 17 May 2011 at 23:30

    Thanks! They took quite a bit of doing, let me tell you!

    I’m thinking about making them available on a table-only page.

Rick Levine said: 26 September 2012 at 23:05

Nice job on the tables. I’m glad that you liked Microsurgeon (I designed and programmed that game for Intellivision and TI 99/4a), though it lost to TRON.

    Sunhawk said: 29 September 2012 at 03:12

    Hi Rick,

    Microsurgeon’s premise alone differentiates it from just about every other game out there, which is why I’d choose it over the highly influential TRON. The only thing that remotely comes to mind is the old movie Inner Space.

    Thanks for reading!

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