10 Most influential video games of all time

Ian Chaddock

BY Ian Chaddock

28th Jan 2023 Life

10 Most influential video games of all time

Influential video games, from Tetris and Super Mario Bros to Call of Duty 4 and Minecraft, changed gaming forever 

Since the dawn of video games, there have been games that have taken huge strides forward and pioneered new genres, making them quite literally "game changers". 

Ian Chaddock looks back at ten of the most influential video games in history...

1. Pong (1972)

10 Most influential video games - Screenshot of Pong (1972)Pong was the game that made video games popular

There were other games before Atari's Pong, but it was the first commercially successful game and has to be the starting point for a list of the most influential video games. It was important for its impact on both arcades and gaming in general.

"Pong is in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, due its cultural impact"

It may have been a very simplistic representation of a ball and paddle game (based on table tennis), but it put Atari and video games in the minds of kids and adults worldwide. It’s even in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, due its cultural impact!

2. Tetris (1984)

Screenshot of the original Tetris game released in 1984Screenshot of the original version of Tetris, released in 1984

Pac-Man may have introduced a maze-action game format in 1980, but it was Tetris four years later that pioneered the puzzle video game format. Created by Soviet software engineer Alexey Pajitnov, it’s straight-forward but addictive. Everyone has played the game where you move different shaped blocks as they fall down the screen slowly so that they build up and delete when you have a complete row. The old Russian folk song used in the original version was infectious too.

The monochrome version on the Nintendo Gameboy is one of the best-selling video games of all-time, with 35 million copies sold worldwide.

3. Super Mario Bros (1985)

Who would have thought that an Italian plumber and his brother, created by the Japanese games company Nintendo, would change the landscape of gaming forever? It’s hard to believe that this stunning game came out only a year after Tetris (and two years after the original Mario Bros arcade game) with its amazing character design, control responsiveness and engaging gameplay.

"Super Mario Bros influenced future games developers and Mario went on to become a global entertainment icon"

It was one of the most influential games ever, inspiring not just gamers but future games developers. Mario has gone on to become a global entertainment icon, with countless games and even The Super Mario Bros Movie hitting cinemas soon. The godfather of side-scrolling platform games.

4. Street Fighter II (1991)

Street Fighter II video game screenshot of Ryu fighting DhalsimDifferent playable characters, such as Ryu and Dhalsim, with varied fighting moves made Street Fighter II a hit

A revolution in the arcades and a blueprint for beat ‘em ups, Street Fighter II was the pioneer of competitive gaming. Facing off against a friend on this game in a busy arcade (or at the back of a bowling alley, in my case) was peak early 1990s, choosing fighters (each with different moves), such as Ryu, M. Bison, Dhalsim, Blanka and Chun-Li.

Button-bashing and special move controls were two different techniques, but it always got those watching the fights as fired up as the players. Capcom’s arcade machines raked in billions and more than 14 million cartridges were sold for the SNES and Mega Drive versions too. Round one… fight!

5. Doom (1993)

Screenshot of the video game Doom with the player firing a gun at a demonDoom saw you using weapons to fight demons in hell but also pioneered a multi-player first-person shooter mode

Blasting through hell’s demons, Doom was both edgy and one of the frontrunners of first-person shooters. Wolfenstein 3D may have come a year before, but Doom took the shooter genre to the masses. It even introduced “modding” (with players able to customise levels) and multi-player “deathmatch”—something which would become standard in later first-person shooter games.

Amazingly, in late 1995, it was estimated that more people had the game installed on their computers than who had Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 95. Leading to multiple sequels and wannabes, Doom is still the dark overlord of 3D first-person shooter games.

6. Grand Theft Auto III (2001)

Controversial and exhilarating, Grand Theft Auto III introduced the mainstream to open-world gaming, with a diverse cast of characters and the freedom to explore (and destroy) in a “sandbox”. Leaving behind the top-down perspective of the first two games in the series, GTA III allowed players to explore the whole of the fictional Liberty City from a third-person perspective. Its depictions of violence and sex led to outrage but also huge success.

Nothing less than a cultural phenomenon, it was proof that notoriety, a fun, crime-filled storyline and amazing open-world gameplay was a winner. Free to roam and cause carnage, no wonder it’s been a blueprint for open-world video games that followed. Rockstar Games smashed it with GTA III.

7. World of Warcraft (2004)

Screenshot of the popular online fantasy video game World of WarcraftWorld of Warcraft introduced massive multi-player online gaming in a fantasy world

A revolution in online gaming, World of Warcraft may not have been the first role-playing video game, but it was the most popular for a long time. Set in a massive fantasy universe, it allowed multiple players to not only embark on quests together or against each other online (in first- or third-person perspective), but also to create their own character avatar.

The fourth game in the Warcraft series, it erupted and at its peak in 2010, it had 12 million subscribers online. With multiple expansion sets released, its longevity is almost as impressive as its huge earnings over the years. WoW made it clear when it asked you to “choose your allegiance”.

8. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)

Screenshot of the first-person shooter game Call of Duty 4: Modern WarfareCall of Duty 4 was one of the most popular first-person shooter games ever

Nothing less than a gaming phenomenon, Call of Duty 4 was a massively influential video game. It was so popular, in fact, that it pushed video games into the multi-billion dollar industry that it is today.

The fourth instalment of the series, it broke away from the Second World War setting of the earlier games to be set in modern times, with corresponding weapons and equipment. Immersive and intense, it was another huge multi-player hit. Official Xbox Magazine said it was an “instant classic” and X-Play said that although it didn’t revolutionise the shooter genre, it came “close to perfecting it”.

9. Minecraft (2011)

Minecraft won over the world, one child at a time. A game where children’s imaginations are fed as they can build a world that they want to see is nothing less than inspiring. It changed what was possible with video games.

"A game where children can build the world that they want to see is nothing less than inspiring"

With players exploring a 3D, blocky world, you can extract raw materials, craft tools and items and build structures. With spin-offs and influenced games galore, Minecraft has become one of the best-selling games ever, with over 238 million copies sold by 2021. The sky is the limit!

10. Pokémon Go (2016)

Using Augmented Reality (AR) technology, this game allowed players to see virtual Pokémon in a real-world environment, leading to a revolution in gaming on mobile devices. Funny face filters and games like Minecraft Earth and Wizards Unite followed in its AR wake.

Hugely popular, successful and addictive, Pokémon Go uses GPS for players to locate, capture, train and battle virtual creatures in the real world. It’s won five Guinness World Records for its success as a mobile game and has become a “social media phenomenon,” bringing together people from all walks of life. You’ve gotta catch ‘em all!

Honourable mentions: SimCity (1989), Super Mario 64 (1997), Final Fantasy VII (1997), The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), Metal Gear Solid (1998), Wii Sports (2006).

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