new challenger

I make games. I also play them. I talk about both activities here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Quick question.

Humanity has an obsession with greatness. I'm told that Americans in particular seem particularly occupied with determining the best of something (quite frankly, I've yet to meet the culture that doesn't have the same tendency, so, yeah). Just recently, Michael Phelps was anointed as the greatest Olympian ever. With regard to entertainment, it's widely considered that Hollywood makes the best movies in the world, and Citizen Kane is considered to be Hollywood's greatest movie. However, it's just as commonly argued that Bicycle Thieves holds the title for the world's greatest movie. James Joyce's Ulysses and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita are oft cited as the greatest novels ever written. In the world of television, the debate over greatest series ever rages admirably, with the most recent contender being The Wire, hot on the heels of The Sopranos garnering the same praise during its recent run.

What about videogames? Well, we have Super Mario Bros. And...that's about it. Sure, occasionally you'll hear someone mention that Ocarina of Time has the highest Gamerankings score, or they'll cite a Famitsu survey whereby crazed, deranged souls vote Final Fantasy X to unnaturally great heights. Sometimes the non-enthusiast American press, in an effort to appeal to domestic audiences, will shower praise on Will Wright's The Sims (mostly, it seems, because of its phenomenal sales). But generally speaking, Super Mario Bros. stands alone as videogaming's undisputed champion.

That disappoints me.

It's not that I disagree - if anyone asked me what I considered to be the greatest videogame ever, Super Mario Bros. would be my response (actually, I would say Super Mario Bros. 3; it is functionally superior to the original Super Mario Bros. in almost every way). It's just that, well, Super Mario Bros., within the scope of videogaming, is a really old game. It was released just eight years after the first mainstream home console - the Atari 2600 - hit the scene. Does it freak anyone else out that in the two-plus decades since its release, the gaming industry has not surpassed one of its most primordial offerings?

I told you it was a quick question.

Thanks for reading.


  • At 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Does it freak anyone else out that the best music ever was made by a long-dead European? That since Nabokov, we haven't come up with a better novel?

    Given such a small temporal and creative sample size, I wouldn't be surprised that no game has yet matched Super Mario Bros. 3. Give it time :)

  • At 4:41 PM, Blogger omar kendall said…

    Ah but here's the thing. Your music example is a bit off; rarely is music assessed in terms of the medium of a whole - it'd be the equivalent of saying, "the best words ever written." You're much more likely to hear, "best rock band ever" or "best rock album ever." Note that the picture I attached to this article was not chosen by accident; the concept of "greatest rapper ever" is one of the most hotly-debated designations in music. LL, Rakim, KRS-1, Biggie, Tupac, Jay-Z, and even Lil' Wayne - rappers from every era of the young genre - have all been suggested as possible custodians of that title. That in the genre of rap, which is a musical form younger than the video game, you can have a half dozen or more legitimate contenders to the "greatest" title only serves to prove the point I was trying to make - Super Mario Bros. has disturbingly little legitimate competition.

    Your second example - the greatest novel - is also a good example of my point. Nabokov published Lolita in 1955, a good nine hundred years or so into the life of the novel form. Lolita and Ulysses are, then, relatively new challengers to the "greatest" crown, considering how old some of their competition is. It's a testament to the continuing improvement of the form that they've been able to best nearly a millennium's worth of competition - it proves that novelists are getting better.

    Are we getting better at making games?

  • At 8:44 AM, Anonymous teslas ghost said…

    I haven't heard anyone talk about SMB being the 'best game ever' in a long long time. For people in their late 20's and early 30s, that list would probably contain the likes of OOT, MGS and other standards. As for the younger generation, undoubtedly it would be Halo, GTA SA or something from that era.

    I don't believe Citizen Kane unanimously holds the title of best movie except amongst pipe smoking movie historians - in the same way I don't think SMB is considered the best videogame of all time outside of a vocal minority. Games is just like any other genre.. there are no definitive 'best ofs', just shortlists and these lists are defined by age, culture and locale.

  • At 12:00 PM, Blogger omar kendall said…

    You bring up an issue that I have a definite opinion on: that is, who is suitable to give criticism and who isn't.

    I've addressed this superficially in previous posts; I might dedicate a post to it at some point.

    Probably not, though.

  • At 8:43 PM, Anonymous daniel's beard said…

    why the hell didnt you use LL Cool J's "The G.O.A.T" album cover as your image? it would have fitted perfectly

  • At 8:54 AM, Blogger omar kendall said…

    I was trying to be subtle (and I was actually listening to this particular album recently). I even named the post "Goats!" Ah well.


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