My Top 10 Games


There’s a tweet going around about the games that are your personal top 10 video games of all time. It’s been fun to think about, especially as I’ve never really been a huge gamer. But looking back, there have been a bunch of games that have been a huge influence on how I’ve thought about stories and speculative fiction over the years. Here’s my personal top-10 list.

10. Titanfall 2

I really wanted to like the original Titanfall, but I really don’t like online games. It’s just not an experience I enjoy. But Titanfall 2 was fantastic. I love the story, love the gameplay mechanics, and I REALLY love the fantastic mechs. I’m bummed that there doesn’t appear to be a third game on the horizon. This feels like a world that could really challenge Halo, and I’d love to see more of this world.

9. Mario Kart / Super Mario Odyssey

When I bought my Nintendo Switch, I quickly bought Mario Kart on Megan’s advice. It quickly became a good game that we could all play as a family, and something that we could cart along on family trips for when we had downtime or something. I also picked up Super Mario Odyssey, which we’ve also played quite a bit. I haven’t beaten this game, but I’ve had a lot of fun watching Megan and Bram play it.

8. Diablo 2

When I worked at Camp Abnaki, there was one year where we had a shared computer in the equipment room. It was an easy assignment that left a lot of time for playing, (or playing after hours), and I spent a lot of hours at Camp, and later, when I got my own computer, playing through this. I’m not sure that I ever actually beat the game, but I did have a lot of fun leveling up my character.

7. Sim City 2000

Who doesn’t love Sim City? I love building epic cities in this, and all the fiddly bits that it requires, from raising / lowering taxes to playing with crime rates, roads, and zoning. I’ve played a bunch of mobile apps, but none of them really compare to this one.

6. Age of Empires

When I got my first computer, one of the games I got hooked on in high school / college was Age of Empires. That shouldn’t be a surprise — I studied history, and loved this take on it, building up civilizations and destroying my neighbors. I haven’t been able to play it for years, but I’ve been thinking of taking out my old computer to give it a spin.

5. King’s Quest VI

My friend Laura Hudson’s game list reminded me of this one, and it brought back a flood of memories. I’m pretty sure that this game came with our first Compaq computer in the mid-1990s, and I spent hours and hours exploring the Green Isles and reveling in its mashup of mythologies and fairy tales. I recently went and watched a play-through on YouTube, and was struck at how funny and clever it is. This was a hard one — it took me forever to finish it.

4. Pokémon Go

I missed the boat on Pokémon when I was a youth. Kids at summer camp played it, but I thought it was kind of dumb — I only played serious games like Dungeons & Dragons (where we accidentally exploded a moose). But when Bram got into the franchise via friends at daycare and school, I started playing the game with him, and it’s been a good motivation to get out and walk around quite a bit more.

3. Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

This was probably the first video game that I ever really played, aside from the occasional visit to friends’ houses. My parents bought me a Game Boy, and it came with Zelda. It took me an embarrassingly long time to beat it, but I loved the game, and cried when I finally finished it. I went and replayed it just before Breath of the Wild came out, and it holds up nicely. I’d wanted to see a BOTW-style remake, but I’ll certainly be playing the 3D remake that’s coming later this year.

2. Halo / Halo: Reach / Halo: ODST

Halo was the first time I really got into gaming. It came out when I was a summer camp counselor at Camp Abnaki, and every summer for years, I played with my friends while we had downtime. I love military science fiction, so the power armor and FPS thing works for me, but the controls and gameplay were intuitive, the design was great, and it’s a neat story in a much larger narrative. I’ve since really gone on to love Halo: ODST for its story, as well as Halo: Reach for enriching the backstory. I’m a bit more lukewarm on Halo 3, but I do really enjoy Halo 4, especially its guns. Halo 2 and 5 are a hot mess, though.

1. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I can’t begin to imagine just how many hours I’ve spent playing this game. Not just in beating the main story, but just wandering around and exploring. This is a game that rewards curiosity, and walking, running, and riding across this fantastic version of Hyrule never feels like wasted time. I played this a lot with Bram, who watched and helped me with the puzzles and shrines, an experience that I’ll treasure forever. On top of that, the design and artwork is stunning, the gameplay is incredibly good, and the shrines and quests are wonderful.

Happy Birthday Halo!

Nine or so years ago, I worked as a counselor at a summer camp in northern Vermont, a job that involved long hours working with kids nearly twenty-four hours a day. Counselors worked under the supervision of village directors, who had their own cabins, and generally allowed use of the building as a break room for those couple of hours that we had off when we weren’t teaching classes or had some down time with no responsibilities. Where I had been introduced to Dungeons and Dragons while a counselor in training in 2000, I was introduced to Bungie’s Halo: Combat Evolved, something that suddenly appeared in each of the four villages, and something that everyone seemed to play.

Growing up, I had never really played video games at home – I’d played games on friend’s consoles at their homes. Halo was an eye-opening experience, one that appealed to me greatly after watching people play. I was drawn into the story, a tiny snapshot in a greater story that was both interactive and exciting at the same time. Where most of my friends had grown up on video games to various extents, I’ve never been all that great at them, and consequently, found myself playing the campaign over and over, playing the multiplayer sections when we organized major Halo tournaments late in the evenings. As a result, I’ve long enjoyed the first game, and when the black Xbox gave way to the white and error-prone Xbox 360, I found myself missing the game, but made the jump over to Halo 2 and 3 as they came out, as a whole variety of games exploded out of the gate.

Halo is a franchise that I suspect will continue to grow to the point where it rivals Star Wars or Star Trek, the standard bar for science fiction franchises and success. The first game, a decade old, has done some impressive things over its lifetime: each of its sequels have been pretty popular, to the point where midnight releases are the norm for new entries, and a growing body of fans have begun making their own Spartan armor costumes. 343 Industries have also continued to publish books that continue the series along in the moments that you're not behind the visor of Master Chief. Quality-wise, they run the gambit from pretty standard fare, to some pretty impressive stories by some very good authors. Then, there's the movie to consider, which has languished in development hell for the past couple of years. It's going to be made - the franchise has already proven itself with a vibrant fan base that it's grown - it's just a matter of Microsoft working with other companies over financial matters. I've also got few doubts that a Halo movie, if properly handled (or even improperly handled), will make whomever films it a lot of money that will further bring the series into the public's eye. If the live action commercials that they've released are any indication, it'll be something to see.

Halo, for me, stands out amongst a lot of other military science fiction stories. Like the Star Wars franchise, the first game doesn’t do anything other than drop you into the middle of a decades long conflict with little bits and pieces of a much larger story along the way, hands you a gun and has you play through the story. While the sequel games, novels and comics really flesh out the story, the first game was something special. I appreciated the somewhat realistic approach to the military that the game brought in, and the balancing between a contemporary story (that's really only gotten more relevant as the United States has been in a decade long war), and against some of the epic tropes of space opera. Like Star Wars, the Halo franchise seems to have pulled in influences from everything from Larry Niven's Ringworld or Iain M. Banks Culture series to Ridley Scott's Alien. The result is a product and story that checks all the boxes without feeling like there were boxes to be checked in the first place.

Yesterday, I picked up the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary edition, and for the first time in years, played the original Halo. It's a little clunky with the new graphics at points, but my memory of the game came flooding back as I blew through the first couple of levels: It's really stood up excellently, even after all these years. It's a good reminder of the start (and something I'd hoped would happen eventually - an HD reboot), as the franchise continues forward. Hopefully, in ten years, the series will still be going strong.

D&D & The Games Night

One of my best memories from my time at YMCA Camp Abnaki was late night Dungeons and Dragons sessions with me and a couple of other friends. Collectively, we were known as the Geek Squad (this was prior to the Best Buy computer repair group), because together, we were interested in all things science fiction, fantasy and Monty Python. During the camp season, we would gather from ten and go until midnight, when we were given a couple of hours reprieve from the campers, and escape into a fantastical world that one of our number, Sam (who was inevitably the dungeon master), had come up with. From 2002 until 2006, when we were all together, we would play this fairly regularly, with other staff members coming and going, but always with the core group of the three of us. Sadly, in 2007, we didn't return to camp, and since then, the Camp has been without the Geek Squad, for better or worse.

In the ensuing years since that time, we've gotten together when we can; Sam lives in Massachusetts, I live in Vermont and until recently, Blackwell lived in New York City, making regular gaming sessions difficult. Oftentimes, when we met up, we didn't have the time to play. Then, in June of last year, Sam got married, with Blackwell and I on his wedding party, and with another close friend in attendance. The night before the wedding, we sat down, ordered pizza and cracked open the books and resumed the same game that we had left off a couple years ago, jumping in with little difficulty. That opened the floodgates for us, and in the time since last June, we've gotten together to play our game, and start several of our own. In the past two months, I've made the trip up to Burlington to gather with several of my friends, where we continue with whatever story we worked on last week.

I see the actual game of Dungeons and Dragons as something exciting, something that augments storytelling and makes me think creatively - and I'm just the player. This past week, I've begun a game with a larger group of friends, with an incredibly fun world that Blackwell has put together, a game that has made me think about how worlds work a bit more. Upon my return home last night at midnight, I promptly cracked open my red notebook with several story ideas that clicked over the course of the night. In most of their cases, I'll likely do nothing with them, but a couple others are things that I want to expand, and make my own stories in my own worlds.

As I've begun to write more and more, the importance of the numerous story elements such as setting and story have been impressed upon me. While I have yet to write any sort of serious fiction, the thought has crossed my mind, and my notebook is slowly filling up with story ideas as I come across interesting ideas and situations that I think would be interesting out of context. However, playing some of these games with friends have been more helpful, as I'm literally forced into the mind of whatever character I'm inhabiting. Purposefully, I've worked to create characters out of my element, people who are very different from me, and I'm appreciating the challenge of helping to contribute to the story as needed.

Beyond the practical elements that D&D provides for me on a potentially professional or cogitative level, there's another oft-overlooked element that I feel requires attention. D&D brings people together. No, let me rephrase that. D&D brings geeks together. As a population group, we're an intelligent, dysfunctional and at times, anti-social group of people, and in particular, I've found that I like getting together with friends. Our encounters tend to be hilarious, fun and overall, a good way to spend an evening once a week. While at camp, Sam and I taught a class called Fantasy Gaming, where we helped to reinforce a lot of the same elements that I've found positive about the game. We taught things such as team building, social interaction for kids who might not otherwise be comfortable in a sports class, and a way to get their creative juices flowing with story ideas. Our class was immensely popular amongst campers, and staff members alike.

I don't understand the bad rap that D&D gets, although I can see where a number of short-minded individuals would get the idea that it's a tool of evil, simply for incorporating fantastic elements. The game is much more than that. No, I see the game as a way to build worlds, characters, and stories. I'm already looking forward to my game later this week.

Geek Cred

Geeks like stuff. Lots of it, from books, to memorabilia to collectibles. We hang onto old comic books, with the hope that they'll one day be worth the millions that a good copy of Action Comics #1 fetches at auction, or out of nostalgic whimsy, looking back on the rosy days of our childhood, when out crushes and favorites weren't hampered by a modern, cynical viewpoint. Over this past winter, I bought an X-Box 360 Pro from a fellow 501st member. The price was good, and it's been something that I've had my eyes on for a while. Many of my friends are gamers, and there's a number of games that I've enjoyed playing over the years, but I've never gotten any good at almost all of them, simply because I never had a regular opportunity to play games.

This purchase, not counting my computer, marked the first gaming system that I acquired since my very early childhood. My first was a classic Game Boy. It was gray, green and darker green screen and only had a couple of buttons. I had just a handful of games for it: Tetris, Return of the Jedi and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. I loved all of those games, especially Zelda, and played it through high school, when the more advanced gaming systems began to hit the market.

I still have my old Game Boy; it's sitting on the bookshelf across the living room from me, unused, out of the way, out of batteries. Every now and then, I'll fire it up and walk around the Koholint Island. When thinking back to my childhood's geekier moments, this game inevitably played a larger part. I remember very clearly the day that I got it, and promptly, the disappointment at struggling to complete some of the earlier tasks. It would be years before I actually finished the game, not for the lack of trying. It was an exciting game, and for that reason, I still have the unit sitting here around my apartment.

While I've been in the loop with gaming in the years between first getting the Game Boy (probably 1991 or 1992, when I was 7 or 8, making this particular unit 18-19 years old - still in good working order, although the screen is blacked out on one side) gaming has exploded in so many ways. Graphics, story, gamplay, etc have changed so much during that time, as has technology. Comparing the Game Boy to my phone, it's simply amazing to see what has changed in the years since. And, considering the error rate in the X Box 360, my Game Boy is considerably more reliable.

However, I don't believe that improvements in graphics and computing power are necessarily better, and for this reason, I wouldn't trade this particular piece of my childhood for anything. It's a milestone item from my own childhood, something that lends itself a certain amount of geek street credit, as my friends have pulled it off the shelf to stare at it, not having seen one in years.

Thinking back to the things that I've accumulated over the years, there's other similarly geeky things that I've found and held onto that I would hold up as pinnacles of my own geekiness. A battered and tattered copy of The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame, Vol 1, edited by Richard Silverberg remains one of my favorite books of all time, although at this point, I'm a little afraid to read it, considering that the book is quite old and somewhat falling apart. I've been tempted to buy a new version of it, but haven't, out of money, attention and the realization that there's something to the stories that just wouldn't live up to my memories of them outside of that copy. The same thing applies to my old copy of Ringworld, with its gorgeous cover. A toy Space Shuttle that sits on the window sill above my sink is quite a bit more durable, but equally seeped in memories from the past.

Someday, maybe I will be able to set aside space, time and energy to properly take care of these artifacts from my childhood and from the history of geek-things, putting them under glass to preserve them for others who will hopefully see them and appreciate their impact and meaning in the greater scheme of things. Certainly, other people around the world have put such things into museums, for their cultural impact has been far-ranging and great, inspiring generations of people to live out their fantasies of being able to create and recreate treasured stories from their childhoods.

World Domination to Hippy Music

Just passing the time right now. My brother's off to a lesson, so I can't really go anywhere at the moment. Yesterday, I went into school to try and fix up some of my class schedule, got a couple of new classes that I can sign up for, bringing me back up to full time student status. I'll now have insurance. I guess that means I can get injured again. I also sought out one of my professors and asked him about the study abroad program, and he was very encouraging. I'm really hoping that this will happen.
I also ran into a couple of friends and people that I know. Good to see that I know some people already. The freshmen arrived on campus yesterday, and the Corps of Cadets freshmen (Rooks) arrived last Saturday, the 20th.
World Domination: I learned how to play Risk this summer, finally. I'd been meaning to learn how to play for a couple years now, and when my friends Sam and Dave bought a set, I finally figured it out. It's a very fun game, and I taught my sister how to play this afternoon. She's a good player, expecially for her first time, even though I took out a couple of her continents in a couple of turns. Now I'll need to get my brother to play, before he leaves for college.
The time that Keelia and I were playing, Phish, Rane, Carbon Leaf and Led Zeppelin came on my playlist while playing. Ironic.

Keelia also got her Driver's permit yesterday, acing the drivers test. She's the last one in our family to start driving, and she's pretty excited about it. Vermont's laws are kinda weird when it comes to driving. At 15, you can get a permit, and you have to drive with someone 20 or over with a valid driver's license. At 16 or 17 you can get your license, but you can't drive with anyone but family members, and only adults to begin with. 3 months later you can drive with sibblings, and after a year, you can get your regular operator's license. It's weird.

Now, back to scanning my computer for viruses and other annoyances.