36266-alex-kidd-in-miracle-world copyAlex Kidd in Miracle World
1986, Sega
Sega Master System, Wii (Virtual Console), Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network

Alex Kidd in Miracle World was the most important video game of my childhood, because it’s the only one that I ever came CLOSE to finishing. It’s about a kid named Alex who goes around punching pterodactyls and collecting money, which he uses to buy things like magic flying wings and also motorcycles and helicopters. At the end of each world he gets to eat a well-deserved burger that lets him move on to the next level, but sometimes the eating is interrupted by a henchman who challenges him to a very stressful game of rock-paper-scissors. I think there are 12 levels in total and I got to something like level 8, which I still feel very proud of. The problem of course is that back then videogames were all YOLO about playing, so once you lost all your lives, YOU LOST ALL YOUR LIVES and you’d be forced to start back at the very beginning, which was the most depressing thing ever. “I MADE IT TO THE LAVA CAVE!” I would scream at the television, “YOU CAN’T JUST SEND ME BACK TO THE BEGINNING!” But it could. And it did. I downloaded this game on my Wii last year and I am proud to inform you guys that that damn Lava Cave STILL gets me every time and that I still yell at the TV in the same way. Some things never change. One day, Alex Kidd…ONE DAY, we shall make it to the end. —Laia

2012, Thatgamecompany
PlayStation 3

This is one of those games to which no description of the plot or the gameplay can do justice. You’re a tiny robed figure wearing a scarf, traversing a desert in search of a far-off mountain. You have two things you can do: jump and sing. That’s it. There are no tutorials, no backstories—it’s just you and the desert. But Journey is incredibly haunting and beautiful for its stark loneliness, its lovely soundtrack, and the visual richness of the worlds you pass through along the way. I didn’t even realize until after the game was over that the other robed figures I’d encountered were other players (Journey has an unusual multiplayer aspect that drops other gamers in and out of your game at random, and it’s your choice to cooperate with or ignore them). They had kept me company as I made my way through this beautiful, desolate landscape, and when I saw their gamertags listed at the end of my own game, I realized I was crying. I was never really alone. —Emily G.

164454Katamari Damacy
2004, Namco, Now Production
PlayStation 2

About five years ago, I pretty much LUNGED at my husband when he had the chance to buy a PlayStation 2 from his boss, and he could not understand why I wanted this system so badly. It was for one reason alone: Katamari Damacy. I had played this game at a friend’s house ONCE when it was first released, and had dreamed about it ever since. It is a MASTERFUL puzzle game because it is just so easy: the only goal is to roll stuff onto a sticky ball to replace all of the stars the King of All Cosmos has destroyed in a make-believe kingdom. I was deeply, emotionally attached to this game, and I feel like it may have brought out some latent OCD? One of the first levels involves rolling up stationery (pens, pencils, erasers, etc.); the first time rolled up every pencil, I cried. I mean, I dropped the controller, clapped my hands, and actually welled up. It meant so much! I could make new stars! I would become laser-focused on not just rolling up stuff the way you’re supposed to—I had to find every single example of each specific item: erasers, coins, etc., and I would have a visceral response if I saw one in a corner that I missed. My heart would beat really fast, and I would get Hulk-smashing mad if I didn’t get it before my time ran out. When I eventually won the game, I sold the system, and I never played another video game again. I know what they turn me into, and it’s not pretty. —Danielle

Animal-Crossing-Wild-WorldAnimal Crossing: Wild World
2005, Nintendo EAD Group No. 2
Nintendo DS

It’s always been hard for me to read: when I was younger I couldn’t capture the letters on the page in the correct order to form words in my mind. At school, while other kids would be flipping through easy-read chapter books, I would just stare blankly out the window. For my tenth birthday, I received a pearl-pink Nintendo DS and the game Animal Crossing: Wild World. In this game, you create your own character and a virtual world for them to live in, and give them activities like paying off debt, talking to neighbors, designing clothes, catching fish, and selling stuff. A huge component of Animal Crossing is talking to other characters; but all that talking happens in written words on the screen, and I found this very difficult at first. I couldn’t get through crucial points in the game because it was so hard for me to read what the other characters in my town were saying. But I loved them all so much that I desperately wanted to know what they were trying to tell me! That was the first time I really had a reason to want to read. I was forced out of my comfort zone every time I went into the world of Animal Crossing, and little by little I realized I was starting to understand more words, and then sentences. I read because I was engaged in completing the mission of building the perfect town filled and creating connections with the other characters. Animal Crossing helped me become a confident reader and even write stuff, like this tribute. Thank you, Animal Crossing! —Kendra

tumblr_mdjyf32X1p1qm7yocJewel Mania
2012, Team Lava
iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

I never used to play many video games. At parties, I’d stare at my glassy-eyed friends sitting on the couch, holding controllers and whooping loudly while they blew up zombies or drove around pretend racetracks, and judgily think, This is boring. Here we are, real live people, hanging out with each other, and you guys want me to watch you play a game on TV. Rude! Then I got an iPhone, downloaded a horrible, wonderful, completely addictive game called Jewel Mania, and was never seen again without my phone in one hand and a desperate, beady look of intense concentration on my face. WHO’S RUDE NOW? You guys, Jewel Mania. I am more invested in this game than I have been in some relationships. I play it before I go to bed each night and every morning on my train ride to work. Basically, all you’re trying to do is line up a row of three matching jewels over and over in a grid, but things don’t stay simple for very long. Each level is different, building on skills you learned in the previous one, and IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BEAT. I cannot beat it. And what’s embarrassing is that the game is clearly designed for children: the main characters are cartoon kids, and each time you line up the matching jewels, they shout encouragements like “Way to go!” The sense of achievement you experience when you successfully pass a level is INSANE. When I finally conquered level 46 I literally stood up in my seat on the train and shrieked “YES!” You realize the achievements of your life have meant nothing until Jewel Mania. But here’s the agonizing part of the game: you only get a certain number of tries to pass a level. When you’ve used up those tries, Jewel Mania decides you need to take a break, and forces you to wait a half hour before you can play again. If you don’t play for a while, you can save up turns, meaning that morning and evening are the best times to play, because you’ve got a whole day’s worth of tries saved up. AUUUGHHH Jewel Mania can take weeks, even months to finish, and I’m on level 59 and I have been for three days and THIS GAME IS DESIGNED TO RUIN YOUR LIFE. —Krista

2001, Harmonix Music Systems
PlayStation 2

Before Guitar Hero, there was a way cooler and stranger game called Frequency. It’s also a music-simulation game where you mash buttons to the rhythm of a song, but while Guitar Hero is basically a party game, Frequency is more meditative and personal, plus it has way more interesting music. You play all the instruments as you plunge deeper and deeper into a psychedelic tunnel that looks like it came out of Tron. I started playing it at my cousin’s house when I was 16 (I wasn’t allowed to play video games at home). At the time, I didn’t have much interest in music. I mostly listened to Linda Ronstadt and the Dixie Chicks, because that’s what my mom listened to. Music was just something to have on in the car, or in the background while you did homework. But after I played Frequency, I finally understood why people get so into music. The game was super addictive, so you’d get to know the songs really well—not just because you were hearing them, but because you were actually making them happen. Plus, the game featured tons of wild bands I’d never heard of before, like the Jungle Brothers, Powerman 5000, DJ QBert, No Doubt (I was 16 years old and had never heard of Gwen Stefani!), and the awesomely named Danish house-music remixer Funkstar De Luxe. My favorite discovery was a band called Freezepop that wrote songs specifically for Frequency; in fact my very first internet purchase ever was a Freezepop CD I got on eBay—because I couldn’t find it at Barnes & Noble (my neighborhood was so vanilla and my upbringing so sheltered that I thought Barnes & Noble was where people went to buy music). Check out “Science Genius Girl,” the first song that made me feel cool just for knowing it. I don’t know if I’d ever have gotten to experience that feeling without Frequency. —Maggie

hauntedmansionThe Haunted Mansion
2003, High Voltage Software
PlayStation 2, Xbox, Nintendo GameCube

I’ll admit, I’m not really into video games. I just don’t understand why everyone gets so worked up over a game? But then when I was in fourth or fifth grade, me, my cousin Pauline, and my brother, Malcolm, got a hold of this game for the Xbox. I figured we would try it and not get through it and then I would be bored by it. Oh my god, I could not have been more wrong. All three of us were instantly so completely devoted this game, which is based on the Haunted Mansion Disney ride (yay!) and the Haunted Mansion movie starring Eddie Murphy (eh, not so good). You play a groundskeeper who has to help the good spirits in the house ’cause some evil man with a goatee is keeping them from being happy, or something. Anyway, every room in the mansion is an entirely different game or puzzle to complete. From fighting giant spiders on a collapsing staircase to trying to get through a constantly changing maze to battling a shit-ton of gargoyles in three minutes, every level is unique and genuinely difficult! All the while you’re running around this creepy mansion where you’re constantly running into this girl with no face who screams at you and being attacked by beheaded knights! One level, which forced us into the closet of an eerie “Children’s Room,” was almost too scary for Pauline and me to play. We all got really into helping these ghosts get their mansion back. We would sort of do anything for them. Like dedicate hours and hours and, oh my god, so many hours to beating this game. I have never been so emotionally invested in a video game! We were all head over heels crazy in love with The Haunted Mansion—we screamed, cried, and physically hugged the television screen on multiple occasions. —Hazel

dc2Dance Central 2
2011, Harmonix Music Systems
Xbox 360

When I bought my sweetie his beloved X-Box Kinect for Christmas, I imagined my only involvement would be include sitting on the couch cheering on his dragon-slaying while I read Jezebel or cranked out work on my laptop. My world changed when we discovered Dance Central 2, our own homegrown nightclub disguised as a video game. This is the best and most invigorating video game I have EVER played. When I come home from work I get to laugh with my sweetie as we choose funky avatars and dance like we mean it, then look at photos and watch instant replays of our sprinkler dance and running-man freestyles. I get a fantastic workout and end up in a great mood. We’ve been dancing to Bananarama’s “Venus,” Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair,” and lots more, mastering new moves in Break It Down mode, performing the choreography on our own in the Perform It phase, and then facing off in Dance Battles where we compete with all of our hearts until (of course) I win every time. —Jamia

8a58ccfb-ec6c-498d-ba81-edec6b71e920 copySpider Solitaire
1998, MobilityWare
iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, Microsoft Windows

I love solitaire (and all card games) and hate spiders, so I should have known that I was going to have passionate hatemance with this game from its name alone. I play this extreme version of solitaire (here are the rules) on my phone and it regularly keeps me up past my bedtime. Like, I go to the bathroom to wash up and the next thing I know I’m sitting in the corner in my pajamas still trying to win a four-suit hand (you can play with two to four suits on my app, depending on what kind of challenge you like) at three AM because then I will feel like I’ve accomplished something that day even if nothing else went my way. It’s probably wrong that I’ve made this game such a source of self-esteem, but if I find myself yelling and shaking my phone too much, I just take it down to two suits and try to beat my best score or best time. Spider Solitaire is beautiful in the many ways you can challenge yourself, even if it will totally deprive you of sleep. —Stephanie

ff8ff8Final Fantasy VIII
1999, Square Product Development Division 1
PlayStation, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Network

When I first got this game for Christmas 1999, my focus was mostly on the protagonist: a brooding steampunk hottie named Squall Leonhart. Thirteen years later, I felt a hankering to play it again, but after a deep excavation of my closet back home, my PlayStation was nowhere to be found! That’s when I acquired the PC version of this game, so that I could relive my pre-teen glory days. Final Fantasy VIII is set in a futuristic world much like ours, infested with tons of wacky three-headed monsters to kill and corrupt politicians to overthrow. Squall, a young mercenary soldier, is in for the ride of his life when he meets Rinoa, a spunky girl with a ragtag team of freedom fighters. They have a mission for him: oust the warmongering president of Galbadia and bring on the revolution! But the mission takes a turn for the weird when they realize that it’s not just any old revolution; behind the scenes, an evil sorceress is using them all as pawns in her game to take control of the universe. The pop ballads are catchy, the female protagonists aren’t one-dimensional, and the romances between the characters are so incredibly awkward they’re endearing. And while FF8 is chock-full of sweet CGI animations, most of the battle scenes are choppy, pixelated, and just so 1999. If you can’t get your hands on the CD-ROM, get yourself an emulator and an ISO version of the game online! —Suzy X.

150559-Final_Fantasy_X_(USA)-1-thumbFinal Fantasy X
2001, Square Product Development Division 1
PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita

I played Final Fantasy X about seven years ago, and to this day I still count it as one of the more emotional growing experiences of my life—right up there with school dances, losing a pet, and saying goodbye to my family when I left for college. As a developing artist, I connected to the game’s dreamy aesthetic, ethereal environments, and the gorgeous conceptual art by Yoshitaka Amano, and I also came to relate to the characters, who go through a lot of heavy stuff during the course of the game, like learning how to make personal sacrifices for the greater good, the overwhelming loneliness of being thrown into a giant and mysterious world where you know no one, dedicating your life to a noble cause that turns out to be something entirely different from what you’d thought, and losing someone you love. All of this hit really close to home for me, as an adolescent grappling with who I was going to be in life and what I had to contribute to the world. By the end of the game, I felt as if I had lived a lifetime and had received some answers to these profound questions. I recommend this one for gamers who like large game arenas, beautiful visuals, epic story lines with plenty of side quests, and turn-based RPGS with customizable character skills. It’s just a bonus that you might cry a lot at the end and think about it for the rest of your life. —Allegra

KPMKawaii Pet Megu
2010, Feynman Co., Ltd

While I was in Japan I noticed one of my friends playing this game on the subway. It’s basically a digital pet you take care of. Were you around for Tamagotchi in the ’90s?? Well, this is pretty much the 21st century version. You quickly get really invested in the health and happiness of your Megu, mostly because the difference between a happy Megu and a sad Megu will break your heart:


Since my mother plans on never letting me get a pet this digital pet app will have to do. —Dana

oregontrail1The Oregon Trail
1971-2011, Brøderbund, The Learning Company, Gameloft
Android, Apple II, iOS, BlackBerry, Commodore 64, DOS, Facebook, Java ME, Nintendo DSi, Nintendo 3DS, Wii, Windows Phone 7

The greatest delight of my grade school years (which took place in the ’80s because I’m old) was when we went to the computer lab to “learn” about history by playing Oregon Trail. Since Laura Ingalls Wilder was my idol at the time, this game was the world I wanted to live in. The Ingalls family never went to Oregon, but they were pioneers, fording rivers in covered wagons, getting all manner of nasty diseases, and SURVIVING, which is basically the whole point of Oregon Trail. While other kids played solely with the purpose of killing their players so they could write pepperoni (which no third grader could ever spell right) on their tombstones in mockery of this commercial (hilarious joke, guys), I was totally distraught if Ma or Pa died of dysentery. The days that I successful navigated around the rocks in that last river and made it to Oregon before computer lab time was up were seriously the best days of my young life. —Stephanie

organtrailOrgan Trail
2011, The Men Who Wear Many Hats
iOS, Android, PC

When I discovered Organ Trail last summer, it brought back my intense love of The Oregon Trail (the graphics have an awesome old-school Apple II quality) and upped the ante times a million because in this version you’re not trying to get your wagon across a river, you’re trying to get a broken-down station wagon across the post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland that the United States has become. Instead of hunting buffalo for meat you’re taking out zombies to grab canned goods, which there never seem to be enough of. Also, not only can your passengers (whom I name after characters from The Walking Dead—the show, not the game—now) break their arms and fall ill, or they get bit by zombies and you have to decide if you are going to kill them or attempt to keep them alive until you reach safety. While I’ll never go back in time and travel the Oregon Trail, my house is in close proximity to three cemeteries, and you never know when the zombie apocalypse might happen, so it’s a good thing I’m keeping my skills sharp. —Stephanie

steamworkshop_collection_1351709070_collection_brandingNun Attack
2012, Frima
Android, iPhone, iPad

I am bad at games like Call of Duty or whatever because they trigger my anxiety, so my bloodlust is never sated. I downloaded Nun Attack to my Android on a whim and promptly spent my phone’s entire battery life playing it during Hurricane Sandy. The premise of the game is simple: team up some cool nuns, get them fitted with guns, fight zombies and demons, collect stuff, and perform miracles on the way to defeat the Boss (a nun who went to the dark side). You can level up, switch team combinations, and all that jazz, and it’s very fun and addictive. Even if you’re bad at shooter games you will be good at this one, because it requires less precision and attention to how much ammo you have less and more strategic thinking as to which combination of nuns is most effective. I’m quite attached to this game because (a) it’s the first time I’ve had fun instead of a panic attack while playing a fighting game, so I get to burn up some of my aggression, and (b) because it got me through the nervousness of not being able to call my parents for a few days after the hurricane. —Arabelle

2mo5w6cTomb Raider: The Last Revelation
1999-2011, Core Design
Dreamcast, PlayStation, Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Network

When I was younger my brother and shared the 1999 PC version of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, the fourth game in the Tomb Raider series. But I quickly found that I couldn’t cope with this game. The beginning of level 1 was easy enough: Lara Croft, the main character, would run and jump and dive into pools, grunting and whining and occasionally getting chased by pigs. The trickier bit came when you had to get her onto a swing rope—you had to make her run, leap into the air, and then move onto the rope at the right moment. It was nearly impossible. Most of the time Lara plummeted to the ground and it was painful to hear her body crunch, to watch it crumple. As soon as her life bar started declining I would go into a panic. I WAS LARA, AND I WAS DYING IN EGYPT, ALONE. I’d gotten so far, and going right back to the beginning of the game was soul-destroying. On the rare occasion I’d make it to level 2, my stress just got worse: the game was in almost pitch darkness, leaving me running around blindly throwing flares into corners as wild dogs attacked me. That’s when I gave up for good. This game was making me a mess. (P.S. The only time I saw the last level was when my brother was using cheat mode.) —Caitlin

MarioPartyBoxMario Party
1998-2012, Hudson Soft, Capcom, Nd Cube
Arcade, Nintendo DS, Game Boy Advance, Wii, GameCube, Nintendo 64

As a kid I used to play this game at my cousins’ house each Christmas. I wasn’t very good at it, but I loved spending the holidays that way with my family. I loved it so much, in fact, that my father ended up buying the game for me and my sisters to play at home. What’s great about Mario Party is that it is like a board game (with a die and everything!) and that you can play inside many beautiful-looking worlds—my favorites are Yoshi’s Tropical Island (Yoshi is awesome), Mario’s Rainbow Castle (rainbows and castles, lovely), and Peach’s Birthday Cake (pink cake, yay!). The first time I played, I chose Mario’s Rainbow Castle and I ended up crying because I lost and I wasn’t invited to climb the rainbow with the winners. Now that I’m 23 I can say I’ve definitely improved my kills—sometimes I even win, earning the title of Super Star! I love getting to see the win I like to see the super star on top of Peach’s head (because she is my favorite character and the one I always choose to play with) and reading the words YOU ARE THE SUPERSTAR.

Mario Party (U)  snap0000

—María Fernanda