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The decade's best video games, from 'World of Warcraft' to 'Brain Age'

Video games often get overlooked when it comes to entertainment, for some strange reason. NPD says that 70 percent of Americans contribute to this billion-dollar industry, which has contributed some of the more ubiquitous technological advances of our day, including wireless accessories, online communities, downloadable content and more.

This decade's list of the most important software titles (in no particular order) all factored into making gaming a rival to music and film as the everyman's entertainment of choice.

1 World of Warcraft (2004; PC, Mac): Almost five years after being released, this Blizzard effort is still defining what massively multiplayer online role-playing games can be. It created a vast realm based on a pre-existing Warcraft universe and went one step further by letting you play it with all your friends — all the time. Like an old pen-and-paper version of Dungeons & Dragons, WoW allowed you to inhabit a character of your own creation and grind through experience levels and quests, but you weren't alone. The mythology is what set this title apart from other MMORPGs and proved that if you can hold gamers rapt from the beginning, they'll keep coming back.

2 Halo: Combat Evolved (2001; XB, PC, MAC): Microsoft's Xbox was brand new when a launch title about a space marine battling aliens hit the scene. Something about the quality of Bungie's graphics, audio and storyline made Halo a champion from the beginning. Half-Life 2 is often credited with reinventing the first-person shooter in 2004, but it was Halo's cinematic presentation that redefined the genre and kept the Xbox alive through its first iteration.

3 Wii Sports (2006; Wii): Before Wii Sports, you could head to a Dave & Buster's and play boxing or running games that used infra-red to control onscreen movements, but this console pack-in brought that magic home with a TV-mounted sensor and a couple of gyroscopes. It was the introduction to an entire generation of kids that said, hey, maybe playing games at home didn't have to mean sitting on the couch — now you could swing a bat, play golf or go bowling.

4 Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2006; 360, PS3, Wii, PC, Mac): It's not just the excellent multiplayer; a stage in which a helicopter gunner must evacuate a platoon, rescue the pilot of a downed Apache and then meet an unfortunate end when a mad terrorist detonates a nuclear device — the player continues to control the character during his doomed final moments as he dies of radiation poisoning — was and is still unspeakably more powerful than anything Modern Warfare's sequel could cook up. Thankfully, it's as close as most of us will ever get to a battlefield.

5 Guitar Hero (2005; PS2): It's appropriate that the decade that saw the birth of the iPod also bore this grandpappy of music games. Guitar Hero went all out in securing the licenses for rock songs that every gamer already knew, and that was the key to its success. Who wouldn't enjoy playing Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water with a 3/4-scale Gibson SG?

6 Grand Theft Auto III (2001; PS2, XB, PC): While most sequels started going to 3D about this time, the idea of an open game world where you were allowed to do whatever you want between missions, including ignoring the storyline completely, was a mind scrambler. The fact that many of the extracurricular activities included stealing cars, abusing prostitutes and killing police officers didn't make for any lack of news coverage.

7 The Sims (2000; PC, MAC, PS2, XB, GC): Game guru Will Wright wasn't content with simply creating a metropolis in his SimCity. No, he wanted to see what the populace of those cities were doing, every hour of every day their entire lives. Turns out, it was not much, and we loved it. Maybe it says something about our capitalist zeitgeist that we need ever more avenues to consume durable goods and advance on the corporate ladder, especially when we can't achieve those things in real life.

8 God of War (2005; PS2): While we wait for God of War III to hit the scene in March, we can reminisce fondly over beheading deities, traveling to the underworld and GoW's true contributions, quick-time events and the resuscitation of the platform adventure game.

9 Resident Evil 4 (2005; GC, PS2, PC, Wii): A fresh, action-oriented structure based on a new, over-the-shoulder perspective (which has since been adopted by dozens of other titles) was a refreshing break from fixed cameras and wooden controls. It's too bad RE5 couldn't recreate the magic, but for a brief, shining moment, this installment showed action games could still be scary, too.

10 Brain Age (2006; DS): The DS stylus and dual touchscreens were an innovation that had yet to prove themselves. Along came Brain Age, which ostensibly could increase mental acuity with a daily 15-minute playthrough with Sudoku, word puzzles and math problems. Throw in having to write and draw on the screen, plus use the built in microphone to answer questions, and Nintendo showed that playing video games was more than sitting slack-jawed and staring at the screen, even on the go.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at [email protected]

The decade's best video games, from 'World of Warcraft' to 'Brain Age' 12/23/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 5:36pm]
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