Gaming literacy is an intangible that core gamers point to as proof of the burgeoning prowess of video games (as a medium), but it also illustrates the precarious position games have put themselves in as they try to carve out a niche among old media standbys. Gaming is a medium driven forward by technology-something that can not be said by books, television, film, or music. Certainly arguments can be made for the adoption of 3D, or the jump to digital and high definition picture, but gaming has dealt with similar paradigm shifting events with greater frequency and intensity then any other medium could lay claim to.

The gaming literacy movement, if you could call it a movement, has tasked itself with providing a roadmap for would-be players to traverse which points to games deemed significant in the overarching history of video games. Be it the introduction of a certain mechanic, or implementation of a noteworthy technology, these games act analogous to the curriculum in a college history course. Unfortunately, the arguments that center around what games to include often devolve into disputes colored with the taint of nostalgia, making the lists often bloated and confusing in the process.

Understanding where certain elements in design philosophy originated is important, but by this token it should be more important to look at a product that expounded and perfected the ideas set forth by earlier titles. Should a gamer play Super Mario 64, or jump straight to Super Mario Galaxy? Does one need to understand the significant influence Super Mario 64 had on game design to enjoy those elements in the more polished setting of Galaxy? It is questions like those that make the gaming literacy movement simply fall apart. When one begins to look at games within a per-game basis it becomes impossible to gain any traction in legitimizing games as artful medium. I don’t really want to delve into the games as art debate, but as soon as someone argues that to truly understand a game you have to play the 30 other games that it borrowed elements from, something has gone wrong.

The significance of any one video game, especially when separated from nostalgia, is subject to an exponential curve of diminishing returns.  It’s hard to go back to games that are five years old, let alone those from the infancy of the industry. The games that everyone knows are the games that are important. I guess I should repeat that as it is the main point to be made with this piece, the games that everyone knows are the games that are important.  You should know Pac-Man because it is Pac-Man. Galaga because it is Galaga. etc. etc.

In the case of games, the newest is typically the best. Because of the nature of the industry, the following statement will always ring true, no matter when it is said: “Now is the best time to be a gamer.”

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