This year marks the end of the second decade of the 2000s. In honor of this, we thought we’d take a look back at our decade with an end-of-year series.
The internet loves lists, especially year-end ones, and we’ll feed that love a little bit this December. We’ll be hosting seven lists of expert Decade-Best picks. We’ve done movies, and you can look forward to writing, television, music, traditional visual arts, and one surprise list at the end. Each will include philosophers working in these and related areas, but also other academics whose work concerns these topics and people working in the relevant media. But up today: games!
We asked our experts to rank their top five games of all kinds, so let’s see what the 2010s gave us to play with.
Our contributors are:
- Christopher Bartel, professor in Philosophy at Appalachian State University
- Thi Nguyen, associate professor in Philosophy at Utah Valley University
- Brock Rough, independent scholar
- Grant Tavinor, lecturer in Philosophy at Lincoln University, New Zealand
- Marissa Willis, independent scholar
Christopher Bartel is Professor of Philosophy at
Appalachian State University and author of the forthcoming book
Video Games, Violence, and the Ethics of Fantasy: Killing Time (Bloomsbury).
- Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment, 2017), video game
There is a lot I could say about how fun it is to play Horizon Zero Dawn, but the more important point is to look at the gender politics. The 2010s saw both an increased call for games and the gaming industry to become more diverse, and a nasty backlash from misogynistic trolls known as “GamerGate”. At a time when other gaming studios are fearful of angering the trolls, Horizon Zero Dawn presents a richly textured matriarchal society fighting to rebuild after an environmental apocalypse. The main character, Aloy, is a young woman who discovers a world of powerful women—including warchiefs, scientists, master craftswomen, and religious leaders. For video games, this is an enormous step.
- Dragon Age: Inquisition (BioWare/Electronic Arts, 2014), video game
For fans of fantasy RPGs, the Dragon Age series is a touchstone. Inquisition seeks to balance combat gameplay with positional strategy, offers a world rich with history and mythology, and engages with current debates over gender and sexuality.
- Portal 2 (Valve/Electronic Arts, 2011), video game
This first-person puzzle-platformer features Chell, a young woman trapped in a collapsing and long abandoned laboratory. Armed with a portal gun, Chell navigates the crumbling environment by opening trans-dimensional portals that allows her access to distant spaces. Portal 2 forces the player to think about how to move through the 3-dimensional space in new and challenging ways.
- September 12 (Newsgaming & Gonzalo Frasca, 2010), video game
A game about how violence begets violence. In the war on terror, you launch bombs at terrorists in a crowded Middle Eastern city. But as the bombs inevitably kill more civilians than terrorists, the civilians become radicalized and morph into terrorists. Freely available from Games for Change.
- Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar San Diego/Rockstar Games, 2010), video game
A story of betrayal and redemption in the Wild West full of gunfights and train robberies. While there are some problematic elements, this game holds a soft spot for me as it was the game that sparked an awareness of the philosophical potential of video games.
Thi Nguyen is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah Valley University. He has
worked extensively in the philosophy of games, and is a founding editor of
the Journal of the Philosophy of Games.
- Apocalypse World (D. Vincent Baker and Meguey Baker, 2010), tabletop rpg
The pinnacle of indie tabletop role-playing. This game perfects a dozen RPG trends and launches a dozen more. This is role-playing as improvisational theater, where the players create the world on the fly, and every incentive pushes the players to invent more, wilder, and better narrative.
- Dominant Species (Chad Jensen, 2010), board game
Wild, intense board game of surfing the edge of pure chaos. Each of you controls an animal kingdom, evolving your way through an ever-changing environment. You can throw glaciers at each other. Intellectually brutal, pure in-your-face pleasure.
- Dream Quest (Peter Whalen, 2014), video game
The nauseatingly difficult graphical eyesore that launched a thousand prettier, dumber imitations. It’s a rogue-like, where you battle your way through four procedurally generated levels, with perma-death. And it’s a deck-builder, where you level your character by making painful choices about which cards to add. Absurdly juicy.
- Root (Cole Wehrle, 2018), board game
Root distills hardcore asymmetric war-gaming into a crisp, fascinating hour of play. Each side plays by different side, with different rules. There’s the Marquise de Cats, a bourgeois industrialist. There’s the Woodland Alliance—underground freedom fighters trying to win the sympathy of the people. The Roost are a dogmatic bunch of aristocratic warlords, who get crazy powers as long as they stick to their obsolete campaign promises. Somehow simulates complex economics and geopolitics in a zippy, easy-to-learn, fun-as-hell package.
- Spyfall (Alexandr Ushan, 2014), card game
Hysterical ultra-simple party game of bullshit and bullshit detection, that is possibly the hardest I’ve ever laughed in a game. Almost all of you are on a team together, except one Spy. The Spy is trying to figure out what everybody else knows, and everybody else is trying to identify the Spy. A dance of sly questioning, concealment, bullshitting, and passing hidden information in plain sight.
Brock Rough has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Maryland, College Park.
His dissertation work, as well as published articles and book chapters,
focused on the nature of games and whether they can be artworks.
- Factorio (Wube Software, development 2012, early access release 2016, version 1.0 release planned for September 2020), video game
Perhaps surprisingly, this is the only video game on the list, because most of the great video games of the decade aren’t games in a proper sense. In the game, you are tasked with building an ever-expanding factory and automating it along the way, which organically creates logistics puzzles along the way. This is the most addictive game I’ve played all decade (and likely the next decade as well).
- Risk Legacy (Rob Daviau, 2011), board game
The first of the recent “Legacy”-style board games in which permanent decisions like destroying cards, affixing stickers to the board, and writing on parts of the game components impact future plays. The base game fixes all of what used to be frustrating about a game of Risk.
- Gloomhaven (Isaac Childres, 2017), board game
It’s the greatest hits of a game of Dungeons & Dragons, without the complicating necessities of having a consistent group of the same people meeting each week or even needing a Dungeon Master to run the whole thing.
- Splendor (Marc André, 2014), board game
A stripped down economy building game disguised as a card game. It’s supremely balanced and an excellent introduction to the current board game renaissance.
- Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (Steel Crate Games, 2015), video game/board gameA wildly stressful and zany asymmetric cooperative game about defusing cartoonish bombs built out of increasingly clever puzzles. It’s a hybrid game that uses a videogame interface for the bomb defuser while the other player uses a physical “bomb-defusing” manual to guide their partner, it’s one of the few games that as fun to watch others play as it is to play itself.
Grant Tavinor is lecturer in philosophy at Lincoln University in New Zealand. He writes on
videogames and digital media. His book, The Art of Videogames, was published in 2009.
I can’t hope to give a list of the five best games of the 2010s, but I do know the games that consumed my spare time.
- Minecraft (Mojang, 2011), video game
Minecraft has seen continuous development to become a deep experience in which one can become lost for days, months or years, all despite its apparent simplicity. The game is surely the videogaming phenomenon of the 2010s.
- Elder Scrolls Online (ZeniMax Online Studios/Bethesda Softworks, 2014), video game
The 2010s saw an explosion of online social gaming. Thursday night is now game night, and in recent times I’ve been playing healer in Elder Scrolls Online as my party delves dungeons in the world of Tamriel. The banter is often as epic as the boss fights.
- Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (Santa Monica Studio and The Chinese Room/Sony Computer Entertainment, 2015)
The unlikely genre of walking simulators also emerged in the last decade, a good one being Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. The game is quiet and there isn’t a lot of action, but there is a stylish presentation of a mysterious world to explore.
- God of War (Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment, 2018)
In contrast, the 2018 God of War reboot is a polished narrative-driven action game that shows what HD videogaming is capable of when enough talent and money are thrown at the medium. A set piece fight in the first hour of the game is a stunning presentation of cinematic gameplay.
- Battlefield 1 (EA DICE/Electronic Arts, 2016)
For many critics of the videogame medium, the first-person shooter is its morally worrying face. My favorite of the decade is Battlefield 1, a brutal but enormously fun shooter set in World War I.
Marissa Willis is a graduate of Oxford University and John Brown University.
Her research concerns the nature of fiction. See her earlier post about
Mass Effect 3 and fictional truths on AFB here.
- Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition (Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford, 2014), tabletop rpg
This is cheating because I really mean all tabletop role playing games. I’m a fan of D&D 5e (fifth edition), GURPs, Monster of the Week, and several others. And these are much older than the 2010s but had a real resurgence, and with good cause! TTRPGs are works of collaborative storytelling which use mechanics and chance to introduce challenge. They are as good as the people you play them with, and make for some terrific times with friends. They are, in a word, magical. If you’re looking to play the 5e starter kit is a great intro. Get a group of friends together, or visit your local comics/games shop.
- Mass Effect 3 (BioWare/Electronic Arts, 2012), video game
My all time favorite video game. A choose-your-path RPG, third person shooter, and space opera. Terrific world-building and characters. These three games legitimately changed my life.
- Betrayal at House on the Hill, Second Edition (Bruce Glassco, 2010)
One of the most innovate board games I’ve ever seen. A really unique experience using a myriad of classic horror elements, this game is drastically different each time it is played (with 50+ unique “haunts”), and win or lose tells a great story.
- God of War (Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment, 2018), video game
An honest-to-God masterpiece of game design. Everything about this game FEELS amazing. It’s beautiful, engaging, and is an interesting and fresh take on one of my favorite topics, Norse Mythology.
- Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix, 2013), video game
A reinvention of a beloved character, this game is close to my heart. It’s visceral and immersive. Despite “low replay value” I’ve played it 10+ times.
December 8, 2019 at 3:19 am
Fun topic and excellent picks! But I’m surprised no philosophers picked Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It literally has Socrates in it!
December 12, 2019 at 2:26 am
This one one of the top runners up in my list! I adore AC:O. It’s gorgeous, and so well researched. I also have a huge weakness both for Greek Mythology and for Kassandra in general. And it’s new Discovery Tour mode? Simply phenomenal.
December 13, 2019 at 2:35 pm
Yes, Discovery Tour is such a great idea for these sort of games! Also, AC:O is one of the few RPGs in which you can make it through most encounters without killing (indeed, the game, if anything, rewards stealth over brutality); so there’s some fun ethical dimensions for philosophy-gamers too. Btw, the students in my Aesthetics course very much enjoyed your recent “Choose your own adventure” piece, which they read right before their finals. Thanks for writing such engaging work!
December 8, 2019 at 10:30 pm
Philosophers should consider checking out Baba is You, a puzzle game in which you manipulate the rules of the game to solve the puzzles
March 2, 2023 at 2:09 am
why is there no assassin screed? No CS? no witchers? No Forza? no red dead redemption 2? no spiderman
March 2, 2023 at 3:03 am
and i haven’t even played half of them