I suppose it was only a matter of time. Halls of Fame have been spreading around the world and across all industries since the first one in Rome, called the Forum Augustum, established by Caesar Augustus in the first century A.D. (or C.E. if you’re politically correct). I think Caesar would have appreciated the Baseball Hall of Fame even without knowing the game — a place to honor those who made America’s pastime glorious. But then you get to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, followed by the Utah Aviation Hall of Fame and Insurance Hall of Fame, and it’s pretty clear just about anyone or anything can have such a place.
Well, there’s a new one. The World Video Game Hall of Fame has inducted its first six honorees. As The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y., explained, the games “span multiple decades, countries of origin, and gaming platforms, but all have significantly affected the video game industry, popular culture, and society in general.”
I feel a sense of deep-seated ickiness at all this. At least for most others, the inductees are human rather than binary code. Even those honoring racehorses have mammals as their inductees. But I guess this is all just part of artificial intelligence taking over the world and eventually enslaving us all. I can only hope AI does a better job than the Republican party, which appears to lack natural intelligence. But I digress.
The initial class of inductees is composed of “Pong,” “Pac-Man,” “Tetris,” “Super Mario Bros.,” “Doom” and “World of Warcraft.” On the whole, these are pretty sound choices.
It wasn’t the first video game, but “Pong” was the first video game to have widespread appeal. We had a variation at my house when I was a teen. Hooked up to my brother’s TV (because my parents didn’t want it in the family room), it played not just video tennis (“Pong”), it also played video hockey (which was “Pong,” but there was only a two-inch strip at the ends where the puck had to go in order to score a goal) and video bumper pool (the video hockey game with six little things in the middle that the ball or puck would bounce off). I had discovered girls at about this time, so my concentration here wasn’t all that.
This was a simple maze game that had 1980s kids searching high and low for another quarter. I never saw the appeal of it. Pac-Man races around eating energy pellets and getting chased by ghosts. Given that the Soviets had just entered Afghanistan, the board game Risk should have sold better.
Speaking of Soviets, this little gem came from behind the Iron Curtain, written by a programmer who probably learned programming without a computer. It’s a cute game of fitting odd-shaped pieces into limited space — excellent preparation for living in a New York apartment. One simple thing made this take off. Nintendo (once upon a time, THE video game company) packaged it with the Game Boy hand-held system in 1989. I was there when the Game Boy came out. It was like an iPhone release with free tequila jello shots.
“Super Mario Bros.”
Believe it or not, by 1985, video games were getting boring. Mario changed that by bringing a character into the game. Like him or not, this little Italian plumber, known originally as Jump Man in “Donkey Kong” (a game I never liked either), breathed new life into gaming. Indeed, Mario became the face of gaming. He has been in more than 200 different titles and is the lead character in a stage play “Jump Man: A Mario Musical.” God, how I wish I were making that up — I’ve actually seen the show.
I didn’t think much of “Doom” as a game. But it did generate a lot of nonsense about violence in society and video games’ role in making people violent (Pop quiz: What video game console did Hitler have as a boy? I rest my case). What makes “Doom” important is the technology, separating the game’s basic functions (the gaming engine) from artwork and the other stuff that makes a game unique. This meant you didn’t have to code for a lot of basics anymore; you could recycle or tweak existing gaming engines.
“World of Warcraft”
The massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) has brought gaming to a new place with 10 million active subscribers (down from a peak of 12 million in 2010), and 100 million accounts created since it was launched in 2004. No matter how you measure it, that’s a lot of geeks and nerds spending serious money. It was an improvement on Dungeons & Dragons with polyhedral dice, but only because you didn’t have to do your own bookkeeping any more. Otherwise, it’s still a 1970s game (I said I discovered girls in that decade, but they hadn’t discovered me yet, and I had some time to fill).
If your favorite didn’t make this year’s class, there’s always next year.
“Anyone may nominate a game to the World Video Game Hall of Fame,” The Strong said in a press release. “Nominations for the class of 2016 will be accepted through March 31, 2016. Final selections will be made on the advice of journalists, scholars, and other individuals familiar with the history of video games and their role in society.”
For more information, contact the people at The Strong Museum of Play.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.