Top 100

Woke up this morning to find a package on my doormat from Tom at Eurogamer containing the next game I’m to review for them. He’s addressed it to “C-Monster”. Which is such a moment of extreme cuteness that it restores my faith in humanity. Doesn’t take much.

Yesterday I spent in the beer garden of the Boater locked in mortal (er) discussion with the usual suspects. We were trying to compile one of Gamer’s yearly traditions, the Top 100 Best Games Of All Time. It’s always problematic, with the same debates with different spins emerging to be quashed. Do you count a game’s mods when including it? (A: No, because it’s not the developers works. That’s like saying Windows XP is the best game ever as it allows playing everyone else’s games). Can you include mods themselves? (A: Yes, if they’re good enough). Can I include X: Beyond the Frontier? (A: No, don’t be fucking stupid).

A lot of the arguments revolve around how intellectually vague the remit of the exercise is. To this day, I’m not exactly sure what the Top 100 actually *means*.

You see, there’s lots of more coherent approaches to Top 100 games. In terms of magazines who only have done it as a very occasional article, the approach usually taken is “the Greatest games of all time”. In other words, you include not only how good the game is to play, but how innovative and important it is in terms of the development of the form. For example, when Edge did theirs it was very much this model. The problem with that is that if you do one more regularly than once every five years or so, the list calcifies. In terms of overall importance and greatness, that list doesn’t change significantly in a twelve month period. And if it does, it really does undermine the article.

The alternative is “our favourite games” model, which simply selects the Top 100 games which the writers like *right now*. Historical import doesn’t really matter, just your current love. If you were going to play something now, what would it be? This tends towards the gloriously pop mafly nature of games, with lots of turn around as the latest Slightly-better-than-last genre game appears. And that’s not even considering the shifting population of the magazine writers. This is the model Amiga Power seemed to use. Its problem is that if it’s being completely honest, it’s also going to be cheerfully dismissive of a minority of writers (and readers) tastes. You also end up with quirks like Gravity Power at number 2, just because all the writers love it, when in the world outside the magazine’s bounds most gamers couldn’t even name it.

There’s a third method which is a logical extension of the second one. Rather than a Top 100 which is argued for by the staff as a whole, the Top 100 is produced by a opinionated single writer. Only magazine I know who ever did this was Your Sinclair, where Stuart Campbell wrote his gleefully personal take on the history of the Speccy. That it was one man’s work meant that it tended not to be confused with the editorial opinion of the magazine as a whole (despite being labelled the offical YS Top 100) and stressed that it was the start of a dialogue. That is, if Stuart could have his own, then so can everyone else. It’s second strength is that it removes the chance of bland list created by simple compromise. Problem with this is that it too can’t be repeated to often, meaning that Gamer couldn’t use it. Equally, the PC is such a wide and long-existing form, the number of writers who have been around long enough and have expansive enough tastes to perform the role are strictly limited. Of the current Brit game press, only Richard Cobbet comes to mind as someone who mixes both absolutely encyclopedic knowledge with the voliciferous beliefs required to make an entertaining list.

Gamer is quieter, less explicitly controversial and self-indulgent, magazine than Amiga Power, so while the list features a fairly hefty subjective component, it also tends to make tokenistic gestures to genres not many writers like but we consider important. While this is done for the best reasons, it does tend to make Gamer’s lists fall between the two poles. Its number one position will never be held by Doom (as it would if we did a pure List #1 style) or the modern equivalent of GravityPower (if we did it as a pure List #2 style). Afterwards, people seemed more pleased with this list than last one. A better reflection of the PC, is the sort of phrase that people stated.

Which reveals the nature of the PC Gamer Top 100. It’s a mirror of what the magazine thinks the PC is this year, where we are and what we’re going. The list is, essentially, this is what everyone’s playing and this is what everyone’s thinking about. Last year, KOTOR appeared at #3. While a great game, I think it more reflected the tone of last year, where multiformated console games were increasingly part of our idea-space. Genres which were PC only were being bastardised to go on a joypad too, and it was important we recognise while this is happening, it’s better that it happens *well*. This year’s list seems to do a similar reflection of where we are and what we want, but in the considerably altered world of the last twelve months.

Or that’s the justification I’m sticking to for now.

What the Top 100 really does is actually sell a dream. If you really love games, the idea that people can actually sit around for a day and argue intensively about their merits is a seductive fantasy. What most amazes new writers who turn up for their first time is that this idea isn’t just an image sold through the text. It actually happens. The dream’s real. And that, more than anything, is the Top 100’s greatest triumph. That it happens.