Stand O Food 3Stand O’Food 3
2011, G5 Entertainment
iPad, iPhone, Windows, Mac

This game has turned me into a monster. Every time my boyfriend tries to talk to me while I am playing it, I snap at him to “HOLD ON! WAIT UNTIL I’M DONE WITH THIS LEVEL!” The game is incredibly simple: as dashing burgermeister Ronnie, you pile on the elements of sandwiches, lasagna, and pies as quickly as possible to serve customers to amass profit to upgrade your restaurant to amass more customers. But it takes an immense amount of focus and quick-decision-making to execute this objective, especially as you move up in levels. Some of the lasagnas are piled seven or eight elements high, with high-def fish and pasta and spinach and mushrooms, and you have to add extra sauces in order to increase your profits. If your customers are kept waiting too long, they become visibly angry—their faces turn red and they shake their fists in damnation—and if they get to that point, you’re mere seconds away from their giving up and frustratedly stomping out the store. (Naturally, the game is set in Los Angeles.) Lost customers = lost profits, therefore it takes longer to make your restaurant nicer by buying high-end air conditioners and decorative flowers (which keep the customers happier for longer). It’s a food-motivated game of speed and concentration, and while it’s totally addictive, it can also be somewhat stressful if you are the kind of person who places a high value on winning in video games. Highly recommended, but in moderation: I currently have a stiff neck from looking down at the iPad for hours, playing Stand O’Food 3 and ignoring my sad dude. —Julianne

coversfwdfSuper Meat Boy
2010, Team Meat
Xbox Live Arcade, Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

For hours, I forcefully helped Meat Boy, a crimson block of animated flesh, rescue his paramour Bandage Girl from the evil clutches of Dr. Fetus. Always a perfectionist, I surrendered to Super Meat Boy’s addictive world with an intensity I rarely apply to anything other than work, school, or live-tweeting ABC’s Scandal. My smug familiarity with some of the game’s influences like Minesweeper, Super Mario World, and Zelda turned out to be my Achilles’ heel. I thought the game looked pretty easy, but most of the stages require meticulous precision. When you finally beat a level because of your painstaking dedication to evading hellish obstacles like bubbling firepits, eroding earth, deadly lasers, and all sorts of cannonballs and knife-like apparatuses, you see an instant replay of all your failures to date before you get a win screen. If this is not a metaphor for the importance of resilience in life, I don’t know what is. If your parents won’t let you play video games because they are a distraction, tell them that this one is a big lesson in discipline and persistence. —Jamia

ms_pacman2Ms. Pac-Man
1981, Bally/Midway/General Computer Corporation
Arcade, Game Boy Color, Xbox, Xbox 360, iPhone, Windows, etc. etc. etc.

Ms. Pac-Man is a tricky little mistress. During the first level of the game, you think our circular yellow heroine is all leisurely and easygoing—the joystick that controls her movements seems so pliable, and chompin’ up little circles feels like the easiest thing in the world. It totally lulls you into a false sense of virtual security! By the second screen, though, you begin to understand that the game is way wilder than you had originally thought. All of a sudden, the moment you try to ingest an enemy-ghost, the little guy reanimates and kills the shit out of you! In order to clear levels and possibly even eat up a few bonuses in the form of wayward fruits and pretzels, you have to remain vigilant as hell and be totally attuned to the game—your brain, your eyes, your hand, and the joystick have to be one continuous apparatus whose only goal is to eat pixel after pixel of white dots. Yell at anyone who even comes close to entering your peripheral vision as you play this game, because when you do, no other beings matter besides you and Ms. Pac-Man (as if you’re even separate from one another at that point). —Amy Rose

ultimatemortalkombat3Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3
1995, Midway
Arcade, Sega Saturn, Mega Drive/Genesis, SNES, Game Boy Advance, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, iOS, Windows

Mortal Kombat has been part of my life since I was old enough to realize I had older brothers who liked to play video games and drop dictionaries on my head. I’ve played versions of the game on my eldest brother’s Super Nintendo, on my second grade Game Boy Pocket, and as a drunk teenager at a suburban Dave & Busters on a Friday night. In each version, the game is the same: you’re a jumpsuit-wearing ninja fighting another ninja on a weird flying platform in the sky. According to the internet, the existence of ninjas fighting on floating platforms is due to a complicated mythology involving kung-fu enemies from different planets. The plot makes no sense to me, but the plot doesn’t really matter—the game’s glory stems from its simple 1990s arcade premise: Pay attention to your enemy’s every punch and kick—or die. I know this sounds simple (OK it is simple), but if you don’t pay attention to your nemesis’s every punch and kick, you will fly (FLY!) off the screen and DIE. That’s why I have made one rule for my gameplay: Never ever, ever play Mortal Kombat with a date or a crush. The one time I played a similar fighting game with a cutie, my eyes strayed from my avatar, and my opponent (read: my dream boy) beat me big time. —Mitchell Sunderland

Robot-Unicorn-Attack-logoRobot Unicorn Attack
2010, Adult Swim
Adobe Flash, iOS, Android

I discovered Robot Unicorn Attack about three years ago, when I was working as a costume designer for my first feature film and one day when I was sitting in the costume department waiting for a scene to end so we could eat lunch one of the actors, who was about 13, showed me the game on his iPhone. “You need this game in your life, Dana,” he said. “It screams you!” Well that little kid somehow read my soul, ’cause I quickly became addicted to Robot Unicorn Attack. It’s about a robot unicorn who is running around trying to collect fairies (so me, right?). You control the unicorn, and you’re just straight-up running the whole time, catching butterflies and stars—but you have to stay on high alert because if you make contact with any of a number of obstacles, or fall off the edge of the platform you’re running on, the unicorn explodes and its (crying) head flies off. So you don’t want to make ANY MISTAKES. What’s more nerve-racking is that as you keep playing the game speeds up, and so does your heart rate. The game is beautifully colorful, and the cheesy ’80s background song (“Always” by Erasure) always gets stuck in my head! —Dana

sonic-dash-artSonic Dash
2013, Sega
iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

OK, so maybe Sonic Dash is a direct rip-off of Temple Run, that game where you run and jump and slide your way through a jungle in order to avoid getting mauled y skeleton ape-beasts. But somehow this game is far, far more addictive—I’ve been getting so into making Sonic race around loops and attack enemy crabs and collect rings that I play it while attempting to disembark from subway cars because I don’t want to look away. Sonic Dash is so good it makes you not want to mind the gap. It makes you value obtaining the max amount of rings possible and fucking up spike-crabs over your own goddamn life! I’m pretty sure this is going to be the death of me, so please do not do this yourself. Get the game, but play it in stationary places, because you won’t be able to look away, guys. —Amy Rose

Cooking Mama-CoverCooking Mama 2: Dinner With Friends
2006, Office Create
Game Boy DS, Nintendo DS, iOS

I’ve tried playing this game in order to wind down in the evening, but instead of getting to turn off my brain before bed I have to be hyper alert to ensure that I won’t burn my bananas foster! You use your stylus/buttons to cut vegetables, knead bread, stir a mix, plate a meal, boil, roast, and bake within a specific time period. You can choose among several different international recipes, but no matter what you pick, it’s just like IRL cooking in that you have to pay attention to what you are doing or you’ll risk ruining a dish. There are also cooking competitions where you harness your newfound cooking abilities in order to gain prizes (outfits for Mama, new recipes, new kitchen backgrounds, etc.). And if you stop paying attention for even a second, you can count on burning your rice croquettes and kissing those prizes goodbye! By now my boyfriend KNOWS he can’t talk to me while I’m playing it. —Allegra

2009, Zynga
iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android

This isn’t a game where you have to be really fast or you’ll die, but it is one that involves NUMBERS, and for math-challenged people like me it takes a LOT of intense furrowed-browed concentration to figure out where to drop these numbers that come on little disks that…I’m right now realizing that there’s no easy (or medium-difficulty) way to explain how you play Drop7, so let me just say this: If you are bad at math but you have maybe a slightly obsessive-compulsive love for puzzle-style video games and you like Bejeweled and/or Tetris and/or sudoku, this game might make you feel smart. If you’re already good at math, I bet you’ll be really good at Drop7, and I would like you to tell me how to get past 282,352 points. —Anaheed ♦