The plan for my PhD is taking a bit of a different tack, to take advantage of an incredible opportunity that will remain cryptically-alluded-to for now. I need to go deep on video game design, and I’ll be approaching things from a teachy-learny perspective so ideally I need to spend some quality time with key video games that are exemplars of experiential learning. I’m thinking it doesn’t need to be full-on Oregon Trail you-have-died-of-dysentery, but should include games that pioneered approaches to teach in some way. Things like the deceleration curve path in Forza Motorsport 5 et al. that guides you through difficult turns on a track, or the time-rewind-retry thing in Braid that lets you iterate on a plan until you solve it, or the try-stuff-until-you-figure-it-out exploration of Portal.

So. What are the must-play video games in various genres/platforms/eras?

responses posted as comments to the post back when it was on WordPress…

  • Atari 2600: Combat - banking bouncing shots off walls to hit opponents hiding behind obstacles
  • NES: Metroid - I don’t know if this was the origin of the rocket jump, but it’s right up there
  • SNES: Z-Zero - supposedly zero-friction racing
  • PS1: Battle Arena Toshinden - one of the first truly 3D fighting games, where you could circle your opponent
  • PS2: Shadow of the Colossus - gorgeously rendered open-world style game that only had boss battles; Katamari Damancy - singular gameplay mechanics in a bizarre story with catchy j-pop background tunes
  • PS3:Portal2 - team-up problem solving; Little Big Planet - true ragdoll physics in a unique world

I would suggest starting with Constance Steinkuehler’s work, particularly on Lineage (and Civilization? trying to remember if that was her). Then you should find a way to get to GLS - the Games, Learning, and Society Conference.

Fantastic! Thanks! I’ve played a couple - LOTS of Combat back in the olden days. Multiplayer pewpew felt kind of like science fiction back then…

That’s awesome. Thank you. Her work on the ethnography of gaming communities, and applying formal research methods sounds fascinating!



  • Marathon First real FPS experience on a computer. Somewhat slow speed made it laggy and not as smooth as say Duke Nukem 3D. Introduced different head-to-head game play options (Arena Mode, etc.) But also as a story, evolving of the computer intelligence and wondering if you had any free will, that was cool. Heavy use of environmental controls, info pads for telling the story.
  • Of course—> Myst Some puzzle solving, but the puzzle and cut scenes set this apart from all other games when it came out.
  • Sim City 2000 Simulation/world building game. I had played original Sim city, but this one kicked it up a notch by awarding you with bigger buildings you could plan for (the Arcology). The whole thing is a total artwork with the background music, and disasters that occasionally would kick in.


  • Gunship Similar to B17 Bomber, setup for missions at the beginning, lots of multimode interruptions and sub-game plays (firing the cannon, managing damage). Firing different weapons for different targets.
  • Duke Nuke’em 3D My second real FPS shooter for me (skipped Doom and Wolfenstein gen). And intro’d me to the cooperative Multi-player Universe, Lan Party phenomenon.
  • Deus Ex This was a great mix of mission planning (use of weapons, improving weapons with mods) multimodes of play (interruptions like having to pick locks, hack ATMs in the immediate mission). Also great story overall with a Bandersnatch style 3 paths leading to different endings. A design tour-de-force, from the skins of characters to the game maps and cut scenes.
  • Half Life On the surface of it, a very normal alien invasion FPS, but the story! OMG. Does that evolve throughout, and also the puzzle solving too. But that kind of wears thin because so, so, so many maps you have to work out and Boss battles are incredibly hard too. But the variety of the boards, the alien world (Zen) again top notch. Same for the follow up Half Life 2.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV - As open world games go this was my first one, and I discovered all the side missions one could ever achieve to get trophies/badges aside from just completing all the missions. This too, was an eye-opener as each part of the bigger map unfolds and all the boroughs of Liberty City open up one at a time, you start to recognize where you are and can drive without the GPS anymore, just using visual landmarks alone.
  • Black & White Utterly unique simulated world with multiple game modes. World building, 3rd person skirmishes with your creature stand-ins, and also spell-casting to temp increase your creature’s abilities (casting miracles to convert villagers to be your loyal followers.

Sony PS

  • GTA V Very similar to the other GTA series, but now you play 3 different characters whose storylines intersect at critical moments throughout the story. Possible different paths to different endings. Biggest map so far, biggest open world with more natural varied terrain than previous GTA, so open world is bigger than ever.

My family was a little late to the home console game phenomenon. And then we only got the Radio Shack clone of the Intellivision. Upside to late adoption was things were much price reduced. B-17 Bomber required the add-on Voice Synthesizer Module (which may have cost as much as $90 new) and then you only got voice synthesis feature with 4 games (B17 Bomber, Space Spartans, Tron: Solar Sailor, Bomb Squad). But it was definitely a step up in sophistication (game controller had number pad, 4 firing buttons, and the “joystick” thumb disk). I enjoyed it thoroughly at the time.