Pokémon: Crystal
2001, Nintendo
Game Boy

In the beginning, there were starter Pokémons: Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle. These “pocket monsters” needed to be collected and trained to fight against other species. Then the cool kids got Yellow for its access to animé celebrity Pikachu. But I remember playing the Crystal version on my Game Boy Color for the first time and reading Professor Oak’s question: “Are you a boy or a girl?” The shock! The joy! The complete lack of dignity as I ran screaming to my mother and exclaimed, “Mommy, I can be a girl! I can be a girl!” No matter how many Pokémon characters are added (I still know the original 151), I will treasure the moment when someone cared enough to ask for my proper gender. (And obviously we have a ways to go—what if you’re not exactly a boy or a girl? But this was a good start.) —Jessica Smith

Super Mario Bros. 2
1993, Nintendo
NES, SNES, Game Boy Advance, Virtual Console

Here’s a tragic story for you all: I was never allowed to play video games as a kid. According to my parents, they were expensive and promoted idleness and desensitized one to violence and other stupid reasons that were TOTALLY UNFAIR, MOM AND DAD. Anyway, I grew up missing out on that part of early-’90s pop culture, a void that would later be filled by a roommate who owned all the best old Nintendo gaming consoles. Super Mario Bros. 2 (if you don’t have one of those old systems, you can play it online) is my favorite, due in no small part to Princess Peach. She’s no damsel in distress held captive by Bowser, but a character that the player can choose to embody. Peach’s dress gives her the ability to float, letting her jump the farther than the male protagonists. Basically, her girly outfit helps saves the day. —Anna

1986, Nintendo
Nintendo ES

It’s the year 2075 and you, Samus Aran, are a bounty hunter and one of the first female protagonists in an action-adventure game (thanks in no small part to the popularity of Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien). Your mission? To defeat the Space Pirates before they destroy the planet Zebes with Metroids, which are nasty little jellyfish-like creatures that sap the life from living things and use it as their own. Maybe I’m a sucker for the ’80s, but I love the eight-bit technology and Lego-sized pixels of the original. —Jessica Smith

Sonic Advance
2002, THQ
Game Boy Advance, Nokia N-Gage

I’ve never met another Amy Rose in person, and for a very long time I’d never even heard of one. Sure, I’ve met other Amys, but double-names are a package deal. You can imagine, then, how gratifying it was for an 11-year-old me to find that not only did another Amy Rose exist, but also that she was a pink-haired porcupine who carried a hammer with a heart on it and wore red go-go boots. That’s a pretty awesome creature to share a name with. Amy Rose was the only female character you could choose on Sonic Advance, but as far as I was concerned she might as well have been the only choice. I played the shit out of that game as her, ignoring Sonic, Tails, and a little red guy named Knuckles completely. Sonic Advance is great for many reasons, one of which is the Tiny Chao Garden, an extra Tamagotchi-like game in which you raise adorable little critters from eggs and then take care of them. As far as the actual adventure mode goes, it’s far less nurturing of its cute inhabitants. You work through levels by whacking the life out of cartoon crabs, monkeys, and robotic ladybugs with your pink heart hammer, which comes to seem a lot less dainty after about two minutes of this kind of brutality. Although she’s also called “Emi Rozu” in the Japanese version and, occasionally, Rosy the Rascal in the Sonic comic books (wait, can this be my new nickname?), I’m so glad that what seems to be the only other Amy Rose around is such a badass little queen of a character. She’s also total style inspiration—does anyone know where I can find a pair of crimson knee-high boots? —Amy Rose

The Longest Journey
1999, Funcom

The life of an art student can be rough, especially if you’re 18-year-old April Ryan, who fears for her sanity when she wakes up in Arcadia, a world of magic and monsters and other things we only dream about. To protect the balance between her native Stark and this mysterious new place, April soon discovers she must grapple with the forces of logic and chaos (like pretty much every teenager ever). Impressive on all fronts, this point-and-click experience is endowed with beauty and brains. From the stunning landscapes to the devastating plot, The Longest Journey proved itself not only to casual gamers, but also to those with the authority to hand out such honors as Adventure Game of the Year. —Jessica Smith

Nancy Drew Interactive Mystery Games
1998-present, Her Interactive
Mac, PC

These games were the shit when I was in middle school (also high school, though I tried to be too cool to admit it). As Nancy Drew, girl detective extraordinaire, you interview suspects, find clues, and solve puzzles to figure out the latest whodunit. Each game is a different mystery taking you to a different spooky location, including an abandoned amusement park and a snowed-in mansion. The best part is that unlike a lot of games geared toward young adults, these mysteries are effing HARD. Some of my strongest memories from eighth grade include my friend and me sharing a computer chair in her basement, intensely discussing what step to take next (“No, we’ve already interrogated the creepy janitor, let’s go visit the abandoned warehouse!”). —Anna

Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider II, and Tomb Raider III
1996-1998, Eidos
Sega Saturn, PlayStation, PC

This game introduced the kick-ass, somersaulting heroine Lara Croft. Yes, her proportions are rather exaggerated and her clothes quite skimpy, but you can’t blame her—it must be quite hot and sticky in the various jungles and tombs she explores. And that’s one of the most exciting thing about this game: the world exploring and puzzle solving. Lara travels the world solving mysteries and defeating her adversaries. There’s a lot of swimming underwater and climbing walls and riding speedboats in Venice and snowmobiles up mountains. As a bonus, players have the ability to lock Lara’s butler in the cupboard back at her mansion. —Naomi

2002, The Adventure Company
Nintendo DS, PC, PS2, Xbox

Set in steampunk Europe, this elegant game sends you off as Kate Walker, a corporate lawyer hired by a financial firm to finalize the takeover of an automaton factory in France. Things derail when the factory’s heir is discovered to be not only alive, but wandering northern Asia in search of the last woolly mammoth. Silly as it sounds, Kate’s globe-spanning sojourn is spectacularly rendered and the endeavor becomes more plausible as you travel around in a series of steam engines in search of Hans Vorarlberg. Aside from the puzzles, which I grind my teeth over, Syberia plays seamlessly. —Jessica Smith

The Path
2009, Tale of Tales
Mac, Windows

What would happen if Little Red Riding Hood stayed on the path and never met the wolf? Nothing interesting, that’s what. The Path is a creepy modern take on the fairy tale. You begin by choosing a character—there are six, all sisters. Then you are put on the path, and instructed to stay on it. You can walk all the way to grandmother’s house if you want to, or you can leave and find your wolf. Along the way, you’ll learn more about your chosen character and explore some exquisitely creepy surroundings (accompanied by an equally creepy soundtrack). The wolf, when you meet it, will add to your character’s story, and add a bit of mystery as well. This is not a typical game—it’s more of an interactive storytelling experience. Rush through it, and you’ll miss what makes The Path special. But keep in mind, this is a horror game, and if you are easily triggered by suggestions of violence or freaked out by spooky movies, it is not for you. But if you love fairy tales, mysteries, and breaking the rules, you’ll be as addicted to this game as I am. —Rachael

Mischief Makers
1992, Nintendo
Nintendo 64

Two months ago, I bought a used Nintendo 64 off of Craigslist and set out to find my favorite video game from childhood, Mischief Makers. Although I haven’t come across it yet, the day I do will be one of utter jubilation—this game totally rules. You play as Marina Liteyears, a futuristic warrior, or as she’s called in the game, an Ultra-Intergalactic-Cybot G (awesome). She starts the game as the robotic maid of a character named Professor Theo, but her position of servitude doesn’t last long. The two are visiting a bizarre planet called Clancer, and when the professor is kidnapped by the evil and mysterious Empire of the planet, it’s up to Marina to rescue him. This entails jetting around the planet and beating up enemies, which appear to be some kind of cartoon cyber-ghosts. In each battle, Marina is pitted against hulking mecha-beasts deployed by the Empire that are roughly three times her size. Although on paper this doesn’t sound like the kind of game I’d be into—I’m more of a Super Mario girl—this game has enough quirkiness to make even me interested in warring with intergalactic robo-monsters, not to mention a fetching and feisty heroine that acknowledges the idea of female submission early on before turning it on its ear. I think it’s time for me to redouble my efforts on eBay to find this gem. —Amy Rose

2007, Valve
Mac, PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Besides being a brilliant, physics-savvy first-person masterpiece, Portal introduced one of the most recognized voices in artificial-intelligence history. While everyone else was playing shoot-’em-up games like Call of Duty, I was arguing with a psychotic, pessimistic, and by the way female, system named GLaDOs. As Chell, the protagonist/gun-wielding badass, I blazed my way from room to room with strategic shots of lasers and despite her multiple attempts to end my life, I fell in love. The only thing better than the original is the sequel, which just intensified the Stockholm Syndrome. —Jessica Smith

Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Deluxe
1992, Brøderbund
Mac, Windows

It was a very big deal when my family finally purchased a computer with a CD-ROM drive. This was the early ’90s, mind you, and a CD-ROM drive was the biz—you could look things up on an electronic encyclopedia, print out banners and birthday cards using Print Shop, and, most important, play CD-ROM games like The 7th Guest and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? These were exciting developments for those of us in olden times, as we had tired of playing with our pet pterodactyls and churning butter. I spent many hours fake-flying all over the world, trying to track down Carmen Sandiego by way of her V.I.L.E. henchmen, who would steal on her behalf and lead me into a race against time and various geographical challenges. It was a learning game, sure—the only way to defeat the henchmen was to pay close attention to the clues given in each city, so that one could make an informed decision about where to fly next—but it was also extremely fun, and though I never actually caught Carmen Sandiego herself, I always sort of admired her, as she was tough, smart, and fearless, and the game challenged you to be the same. —Pixie