In any medium of art or entertainment, there are devotees of the art-form and there are those who just don’t get it. It doesn’t matter how good your product is: if a person has no time for the particular style or genre in which you chose to execute it, then that person is unlikely to think much of your masterpiece. It’s no use telling your friend that he simply must listen to The Flying Burrito Brothers’ first album if he can’t stand country rock, just as someone who thinks that cubism is a bunch of hogwash is never going to happily embrace the work of Pablo Picasso. So it is with games: turn-based strategy fans greeted the arrival of Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise on consoles with excitement whilst many others turned a blind eye. Similarly, there will be millions of gamers waiting with bated breath for Halo: Reach to land on store shelves later this year but plenty of people won’t have the slightest interest in another online space marine shooter.
Every now and again, however, a game comes along that is such a brilliant execution of the laws of its particular genre, or that possesses such universal appeal, that it’s possible to believe that absolutely anyone could enjoy it. Or, at least, anyone who has ever enjoyed a videogame. So, without further ado, here are the five games that this writer thinks everybody should play. If you’ve played the lot and didn’t like any of them, then it’s probably safe to say that gaming’s not the hobby for you. On the other hand, subjects don’t come much more subjective than this one and there are bound to be those whose own Top 5 would bear little resemblance to this one. Please feel free to suggest the games that you think would stand more chance of converting a non-gamer to the cause!
1. Half-Life 2
Valve’s masterpiece carries a number of obstacles for the intrepid non-gamer to overcome. It is very much a videogame and conforms to many of the rules of the traditional linear shooter (the fact that it wrote a lot of those rules itself is another matter). Furthermore, the sci-fi schlock of its storyline is geekier than the Starship Enterprise’s IT helpdesk. So, if you don’t like shoot-em-up videogames and you don’t like sci-fi, you might think that Half-Life 2 isn’t for you. But you’d be wrong. As geek-tastic as the story is, it’s told with such brilliant pacing and such depth of characterization that you’d need to have a very cold heart indeed not to be sucked in to such a point that you find yourself choking back tears and whooping with joy along with your NPC companions. In case that’s not enough, there’s the fact that as a tour-de-force of level design and action, Gordon Freeman’s epic journey still stands alone as quite possibly the finest game of its kind. Oh, and did I mention that there’s a gravity gun? What’s not to like?
Some people like to argue about whether or not videogames can be called art. BioShock is often cited as an argument in favour and well it might be: the underwater world of Rapture is a positive cornucopia of atmosphere and delicious visuals. But who really cares about all that? Even if you left aside the profoundly moving storyline and philosophical bent of the choice-based gameplay, you’d still be faced with one of the most fun shooter/action/adventure games ever created. If a non-gamer doesn’t care for BioShock, don’t even bother advising them to play Halo, Killzone, Gears of War, or Drake’s Fortune: they will probably hate them.
3. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
If, on the other hand, you did care about the “games as art” debate, Metal Gear Solid 4 would seem a sensible choice to stick into a disbeliever’s pipe with the instruction to smoke it. The fusion of live video and traditional rendering techniques is as well executed as the combination of archaic design elements with psychedelically confusing plot lines is fascinating. For all its lack of pace and at times maddening complexity, MGS4 is as close as the videogame industry has come to producing a product comparable to all-conquering TV shows like Lost or The Wire.
4. The Secret of Monkey Island
Some games seek to excite you, others to scare you, surprise you, or challenge you. A small sub-class of games seeks to entertain the player primarily by making him or her laugh. And why not? Comedy is extremely popular as a genre within all sorts of media: TV, film, theatre, literature, and even music all have their classic comedies. Unfortunately for the game-as-comedy, many people seem to need to overcome a mental block of sorts in order to allow themselves to find a game funny, as if they require to be convinced that humour can exist within a virtual world. At least, that’s one way of explaining why comedy is not a particularly popular genre of videogame. Another possible explanation is that there just aren’t many funny games. Lucasarts can lay claim to having produced more than most as well as having made some of the very best. The recent downloadable re-release of the hilarious granddaddy of adventure games, The Secret of Monkey Island, makes now as good a time as ever for a non-gamer to dip a toe into its murky pool of dark humour.
5. Super Mario Kart
Forget motion control and online multiplayer lobbies. If you want to open somebody’s eyes to the joys of multiplayer gaming, the best starting point is to sit them down in front of a SNES with two pads, one friend, and one copy of Mario Kart. Later installments in Nintendo’s flagship racing series may have made improvements but the original still stands out as a perfect example of simple and yet subtly nuanced multiplayer gameplay. Whilst you can’t fail to work yourself up into a banana skin-induced steaming rage at some point over the course of a game of Mario Kart, it’s pretty damn hard not to come away with a big, stupid grin on your face too.
Do you agree with this Top 5? Which games would you recommend to a non-gamer wanting to give our hobby a try?