My Thoughts on Top Ten Lists

Charles Zinn
6 min readFeb 27, 2021

I’ve never sat down and created a top ten list for video games. I’m not talking about an annual list that people publish every year. I’m referring to a top ten list of the best video games ever. Its really hard to sit down and try to narrow every video game into ten spots. Are we including arcades from the 1980s? What about games on the App Store? Does this include multiplayer games such as Fortnite or PubG? What about indy games such as Getting Over It? What even constitutes a good game?

I think a general consensus among most gamers would be landmark games such as like Mario 64, Silent Hill 2, Legend of Zelda. But, even here how does one rank them? A lot of video games tend to be drastically different from one another in every way. Some of are story-driven games like The Last of Us. Others are side scrollers such as Super Mario Brothers. You even have a game series like Call of Duty which is a first person shooter.

Its hard to compare them because there is not much to compare. Its easier if it was a top ten list of the best side scrollers. Or a top ten list of the best horror games. These tend to have similar stories, themes, and gameplay mechanics. Even then, things get tricky. What about a game like Left 4 Dead? Its a first person, multiplier shooter that revolves around zombies. Would it be considered a horror game? Or, would it be considered more of a first person shooter? Would it just fall under the umbrella of the zombie genre? Or would it be more of a multiplayer game? When categorizing a game like Left 4 Dead, where does it fall under a top ten list?

As you can see, video games are so complicated, its really hard to compare them unless they are under similar IPs. Its easier to create a list of the best Mario Games then it is to create a list of the best Nintendo games.

The reason why I bring this all up is because I started thinking a lot about my own top ten list. I realized quickly that not only making a top ten list would be insanely difficult, but I could easily make a lot of people mad.

If you don’t know me, I never grew up with Nintendo. I grew up with PlayStation 1 and 2. For me, it was Spyro, Kingdom Hearts, Metal Gear Solid, Hitman. I watched my dad play through horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil because I was too scared to play them myself (I’m still scared to this day). Any PlayStation game that looked slightly interesting I played. It didn’t take long until I had a collection of at least 40 to 50 Ps1 and 2 games (to be honest, most of them were missing covers, and some of the them didn’t work).

But, even then, there were games I never picked up. I never played through any big name games like the Final Fantasy series. For me, I played what I wanted to play. I liked Simpsons: Hit and Run, so I spent a lot of hours playing it. I never thought, “Oh no, I’m missing out on the newest Final Fantasy game! I should quit playing Simpsons.” I didn’t care. If I liked a video game, it was because it was fun, not because it was popular.

The point is, I’ve never grown up with Mario, or Legend of Zelda, or Halo. Chances are, if it is a Nintendo or Microsoft IP, then I never played it. So, if I made a top ten list, it wouldn’t be surprising that it would be dominated by mostly Sony titles (or cross platform titles). This is where my fear would stem from:

“How could he not include Mario 64! Where is Halo on this list? Why is Kingdom Hearts on this list but not Final Fantasy??”

So, of course, I suppose you wonder what would be on my list. Well, I’m not going to make a definite top ten list, but here is a selection of games I really love. Telltale’s Walking Dead, Kingdom Hearts, Life is Strange, Skyrim, The Last of Us, and Undertale. These aren’t in any list of any importance, but this is just a taste of video games that I love. If you focus very closely on these games, you’ll notice a trend between them all.

All these games are story-focused. They revolve around characters and their relationships with one another. They’re very emotional games. Sure, they can have really fun and interesting gameplay, but what draws people into these games are the story and the characters.

Do you see a problem now? For me, what gets me invested into a game is one that has a story. Not just any story, but a story that pulls at the player’s heartstrings. This is problematic if its a game like Mario, which is heavily invested in gameplay, and barely has a story to it.

This begins a sort of dichotomy. Personal tastes vs. objectively good games. I am a proud Switch owner, and I’ve been playing through Super Mario 3D All Stars recently. Let me tell you this, I’ve been having a blast. After spending a few hours on Mario 64, I can see that it is an objectively good game. That’s not just my opinion either. Its a video game that completely changed the whole industry by introducing the world of 3D to everyone. Not only that, but its been decades since the game has been released, and people still find enjoyment from it to this day.

When analyzing a game, its important to look at it from a perspective that’s not your own. Sure, I’m drawn to story-driven games, but when looking at a game like Mario 64, I need to look at it from a different perspective. Its not a story-driven game, but a gameplay-driven game. It is a 3D platformer, and the first 3D platformer made. This is where objectively analyzing games matters. Look at the game from the genre it came from and try to judge it from that genre.

But, if you gave me the chance to play through Mario or the Last of Us, I’ll probably pick the latter. But why? Well, this is because of personal tastes. My tastes have always been to games that have a good story, and good characters. If a game can make me cry and feel emotions I haven’t felt before, then that is a game that sticks with me for a long time.

That is what matters. For me, a good video game is a game that I’ll remember weeks or months after playing it. It must be a video game that sticks with me. So far, the only video games that have managed to do that are story-driven games. A good story-driven game builds a connection between the player and the characters. If its a REALLY good game, then it can leave the player with emotions he never felt before.

Does that mean any game that isn’t a story-driven game sucks? Of course not! This is where personal tastes and objectively analyzing games comes together. I can appreciate the artistic beauty of Mario 64 and its impact it has had on the gaming industry while still retaining my deep love for story-driven games. Sure, if I ever made a top ten list, Mario 64 may never be on it, but that’s not because its not a good game, it just doesn’t fit my personal tastes. After all, it a list of MY top ten favorite games.

For other people, they may find enjoyment out of first person shooters. So, it wouldn’t be surprising if Halo or Call of Duty was one of their favorite video games. Others might be drawn to stealth games, so maybe their favorite video games is Hitman. Others might love horror games, so their favorite ones would be Resident Evil or Silent Hill.

This isn’t to discredit good games, but personal tastes matter so much. I’ve learned to embrace my personal tastes. That doesn’t mean I can’t play gameplay oriented games (of heaven forbid, enjoy them) but I should take pride in my tastes and celebrate that.

The great thing about tastes is that they continue to evolve and change over time. Maybe ten years will go down the road, and my opinions will completely change. That’s okay! That’s not being hypocritical, it just means that I’m continuously exploring my tastes.

I hope if there is one thing you take out from this post, its this. Don’t be pressured into liking something that doesn’t interest you. And don’t feel shamed for liking something that a lot of other people don’t like. Your interests, tastes, and desires are what make you unique.

It look me a long time to figure that out, but I’ve learned to jump off bandwagons, and judge a video game based on its quality, and not what everyone else is saying about it.

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Charles Zinn

Writer, reader, and habit maker. I write articles on book reviews, lifestyle, and writing.