When Games Were Still Just Games: Returning to the Roots

A lot of games these days take themselves too seriously. All too often, developers half-heartedly attempt to provide some grander justification for their gameplay mechanics to provide alleged immersion or believability for the player. Usually, this added contextualization comes in the form of a narrative setup of some sort. Braid, for example, is a game that places heavy importance on its philosophical undertones defining the meaning of Tim's time-traveling abilities. Modern Warfare games try utilize (relatively?) realistic settings in order to draw the player's attention and make them care about where they're fighting. The extent to which individual games naturally do this varies and while it's certainly good and necessary that some games push those boundaries, personally, sometimes I just want a game that's a regular game. I like games that have nothing more than pure, undiluted gameplay, relying on just that to make or break the entire experience. It's what games consisted of at the very beginning and, ultimately, something they can never break away from completely. This is therefore a list of games that, in my opinion, celebrate pure gameplay-driven experiences and nothing more.

To clarify what actually qualifies for this list, here are a few bullet points of what I usually keep in mind as I figure out which games make the cut:

  • Story is entirely tertiary and detached from the gameplay. At most, a game that's on this list will have a small amount of story, but is not fleshed out to the point that it is necessary to enjoy the game at all. More often than not, these are games that mostly have premises that are fleshed out briefly in an instruction manual or in an attract mode of some sort. If any part of the actual gameplay involves someone mentioning that you're doing a mechanic for a greater good of some sort (ie: parkour running in Mirror's Edge to "take down the man"), that disqualifies the game.
  • Production values aren't outrageous. Beings as these games make gameplay the sole star of the experience, they don't necessarily have to go out of their way to be grandiose if it won't make the act of playing the game any better. This doesn't mean that games that make this list can't look or sound great; it's just prioritized a lot less in the greater scheme of things. More likely than not, this also means that the games on this list were produced by small teams; games with such focused scopes often don't need a lot of people to bring them to life.
  • The game was released in 2000 or later. This list is meant to focus on relatively modern games that still adhere to the spirit of being gameplay-driven, like what was commonly seen in the 70s and 80s. While a lot of games in the 90s exhibited those same traits, they're just a bit too dated to really qualify as belonging in the sort of time period this list wants to address. These games are an antithesis to modern trends and were released right alongside them. I want to celebrate that .

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