Video games have come a long way. From the 2-dimensional, monochrome simplicity of early arcade titles like Pong, all the way through to the hyper-realistic sensory assault of modern games like Call of Duty. Where gaming was once the sole preserve of children and nerds, it is now emphatically mainstream; the biggest titles have massive budgets, and it’s socially acceptable for men and women of all ages to pick up a controller and bash some buttons.

In some parts of the world, such as South Korea, gaming dominates popular culture, and even in societies where serious gaming is less widespread, the rise of smartphones has truly brought video games to the masses. We’re now well into the 5th decade of video game evolution, and one can only begin to imagine what possible developments await us, but let’s save looking to the future for another day. In this article, we’re going to look at 5 games (1 for every decade) that deserve a place in the history books.

1. Space Invaders

Release date: June 1978

Genre: Fixed shooter

Without doubt, the release of Space Invaders was a seminal moment in the history video games. Hot on the tails of Star Wars, released a year earlier, this game captured the zeitgeist perfectly, and delivered such direct, intuitive and addictive gameplay that it’s still fun to play 34 years later. It’s pretty much impossible to overstate the influence this arcade classic has had on the video games canon.

2. Super Mario Bros

Release date: September 1985

Genre: Platformer

Another pivotal juncture in the world of gaming, Super Mario Bros popularised the side-scrolling platform format, and cemented Mario’s place as the most recognisable video game character of all time. It also made the Nintendo Entertainment System the must-have console for kids around the world. Set in a brilliantly idiosyncratic universe of magic mushrooms, anthropomorphic turtles and ‘warp pipes’, Super Mario Bros was described by Metal Gear Solid creator – Hideo Kojima – as the “Big Bang of our gaming universe”.

3. Final Fantasy VII

Release date: January 1997

Genre: RPG

12 years after Mario took the gaming world by storm, Final Fantasy VII was released on the Sony Playstation. One thing remained unchanged – Japan was still leading the way in game development – but things moved an incredibly long way during that period. Compared with a title like Super Mario Bros, the Final Fantasy VII gameplay was infinitely more complex, the graphics were on a completely different level, and the story was crafted with unprecedented attention and care. The emotional depth and sense of total immersion was something most casual gamers had never experienced before, and, in that way, it fundamentally redefined how people related to games.

4. Half Life 2

Release date: November 2004

Genre: FPS

There’s no way this list would be complete without a first person shooter. Today, the highest-grossing games are all essentially based on running round shooting things, but none of them have broken as much ground as Half Life 2. Everything about this game was impressive, much of it revolutionary, with incredible attention to detail devoted to every element, from the graphics and sound to the physics and artificial intelligence. Half Life 2 was named game of the year in 39 different recognised awards, and remains unmatched in its narrative vision and artistic execution.

5. Minecraft

Release date: November 2011

Genre: First-person sandbox

And now for something completely different… This list ends with a game that’s graphically retrograde, with a poor excuse for a story and primitive AI, that was designed by one Swedish programmer and developed by his indie company Mojang. Although inspired by earlier titles Infiniminer and Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft was a completely new concept to most people who played it. The 3D sandbox gameplay is based on building objects – everything from weapons to massive architectural wonders – using textured cubes from the game environment. An unexpected viral hit, Minecraft essentially forces players to find their own purpose for playing, offering a level of freedom that’s intimidating for many – Minecraft abandons the reassuring linearity we’re used to and puts the ball in the player’s court. Some say it’s overrated, others are hopelessly addicted. For us, the most exciting thing about Minecraft is that it proves that indie games can be successful, and points to a future not entirely monopolised by the EAs and Activisions of the world.

So, do you agree with our top 5 games, or do you think we got it horribly wrong?!

Thanks to Futureworks – the UK’s centre of excellence for games design courses – for providing this post.

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