The Penny Arcade Report has a brief article where two of the editors explore video gaming's canon
; specifically, what should be in it.
That's a question I've been pondering as well, lately. About a year ago now, I picked up a book called 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die
, which takes quite the expansive view of the topic of gaming canon. Since video games are the new medium of our age, building a canon is as important to our culture as having one for movies or, say, science fiction.
Dozens of movies have come out so far this year, and movie aficionados watch many of them. But of the movies that came out in the first nine months of 2013, how many of them will be watched, say, 30 years from now? There is too much new, current material to experience. Reaching back into the past, you only pull forward the truly exceptional or iconic. Video games will work the same way, only moreso. It would take a lifetime of leisure to experience all 1001 games in that book, even if you only skimmed them. For every Pong that can be experienced in a single sitting, there is a Disgaea that can be devoured for days worth of hours.
As Ben and Andrew touch on in their article, modern video games are built off the tropes and experiences of previous games and the prevailing culture of those times. At best, those kernels silently enhance our current games; at worst, they are arbitrary and blemishing. They mention Bioshock as an example that fits both sides of the coin, and I say that Bioshock: Infinity continues in that fine tradition.
Stephanie and I are game collectors; we own a lot of video games. Of our collection, which ones will our children be drawn to? Which ones will we force them to play? (This, of course, assumes our kids follow in our footsteps rather than falling in love with any hobby besides the one that their dumb parents are obsessed with)
Which games belong in a video game history museum? (One is in progress, btw
) If there were a video game class in school, what would be the homework?
You should probably start small: What games belong in the JRPG canon? The Super NES canon? The Nintendo canon? From there you can find a few shining gems that can work out to a general list.
Let's start super narrow: What belongs in the Super Mario Bros. platforming series "reading list"? I'm going to take the same tack my literature professors did in college: It's okay to give the student an excerpt from the text as a representative sample, and hope that something sparks their interest enough to complete the entire work. That actually works better in video games than in most literature, especially games that are as narrative-driven as Super Mario (that is to say, not at all). Here we go!The Arcade era:
Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Mario Bros. (arcade): Try each of these games once or twice. Donkey Kong for the nascent creativity in storytelling, DK Jr. for the creativity in level design, and Mario Bros. for the creativity in freeform cooperative/competitive multiplayer.The original games:
Super Mario Bros.: Play the first sixteen levels. You'll see an underground level, an underwater level, a mushroom platform level and a bridge level, meet Lakitu and Hammer Bros, have opportunities to play with stars and fire flowers, find beanstalks and trampolines and balanced platforms, and maybe kick a koopa shell and run behind it.
Super Maro Land: Play several levels and think about how the gameplay was changed for the Game Boy's limited processing power. There are only twelve levels, so it's actually not very long.
Super Mario Bros. 3: Play as much of the game as you can (at least the first three worlds). Mario 3 introduces flying, sliding down hills, minibosses, world maps with multiple paths, and really a lot of the iconic enemies that weren't in the original Super Mario Bros. Some concepts, like the Kuribo's Shoe, get only a single level!
Super Maro World: Play selected levels--at least all of Yoshi's Island, a couple of the ghost houses, a couple of levels with "obvious" secret exits, maybe one of the levels that changes dramatically after finding one of the P-Switches.The offshoot games:
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island: Play the first three worlds, first in a single playthrough stage-by-stage, then going back to get perfect scores on levels 1-1 through 1-8. The game revolves around experimenting with throwing eggs and finding all the secrets. How is this different from traditional Super Mario gameplay? If you are feeling brave, give "Poochy Ain't Stupid" a try after unlocking it.
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3: Play through the first two worlds. How does the dash mechanic change the gameplay and the nature of the challenges presented to the player?
Super Mario 64: Play selected levels and note how the goal of the gameplay changes in 3D--a more leisurely pace, an emphasis on collecting and completing (or even discovering) objectives. Compare/contrast to Yoshi's Island's goals of finding red coins and flowers in each level.Modern day:
New Super Mario Bros. Wii U: Play selected levels and see how Nintendo synthesized elements from the original series with ideas from the offshoot games. Play the same levels by yourself and then with other people together. Think about in what ways the game becomes more and less difficult.Capstone project:
Choose either Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, or Yoshi's Island to play through completely.