Today’s top ten is a “love” freebie, so I’m going to leave the reservation entirely and do…favorite PC games. PC gaming is my most timesinky hobby beyond reading, its chief competitor and hindrance.
Sim-me in his ‘apartment’. 20 years later I actually have that Jack Vettriano portrait, as well as the Sinatra poster. No saxophone, though.
The Sims, by which I include most of its PC iterations. I bought the original game on release, and it generously fed my imagination; I played The Sims 2 nearly every week from autumn 2004 to spring 2018, when it was finally supplanted by The Sims 4. These games have been a playground for me — especially The Sims 2, which I’d modded so extensively that one of my neighborhoods was a weird medieval-western fusion that grew out of a peak oil premise.
You thought I was kidding.
SimCity 3000. This series was my introduction to PC gaming, period, and is probably why I read books on garbage and electrical infrastructure. I loved its music and integration of ‘politics’, using citizen petitioners and lobbyists to ask the mayor to enact some agenda or another. It was unnecessary, but made the gameworld feel more real.
Mafia: Before RDR2, my fictional world of choice was 1930s Lost Heaven, an American metropolis with functioning el-lines, trolleys, and draw bridges. Its story followed a young cab driver, Thomas Angelo, who inadvertently became involved in a mob war and was forced to choose sides, becoming a footsoldier for the Salieri family. The game’s atmosphere, wonderful music, and compelling story left me feeling wounded in the end when my character was betrayed by a close friend. Mafia 2 was fun, but never lived up to the original for me.
Star Trek Elite Force: My first FPS, which legitimately scared me the first time I played it. You really don’t want to look around the corner and see Borg drones coming at you. I spent many summer nights staying up late playing this online, being shot by strangers and liberally using explosives to make up for my 56K connection while yakking about the newest episode of Voyager. This game led me to join a gaming clan, StarFleet, and help lead its Armada division. Speaking of..
Star Trek Armada. Possibly my first RTS? That or Age of Kings. Armada allowed for four genuinely unique factions, with admirable sound design far superior to its sequel, Armada 2 — which also ruined faction balance by making 2/3s of its included races effectively the same, and the Borg weren’t that much different.
GTA Vice City. The first GTA game I ever owned, and the one that introduced me to the wonder of eighties music. Maybe it’s the sunshine or the retro appeal, but Vice City remains my favorite. It’s based on 1980s Miami, and the main character has a story something like Tony Montana’s, but there are other preferences to period movies. The lawyer comes from Carlito’s Way, for instance. Oddly enough, most of my playtime in Vice City has arguably come from listening to podcasts while doing taxi missions.
Civilization III. As a history geek, I took a surprisingly long time to get into the Civ series, and Civ3 was my first — and still the one I return to again and again. If you can’t tell from the screenshot above, I heavily modded my game. I’ve never gotten “into” any of the sequels, but I think Civ 6 might get me if I could just give it the time it deserves. I love its design (more homey than Civ 5’s faux-realism), but good lord does it have a lot under the hood, game mechanics wise.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. I played a demo of this obsessively until I could play the main game, and despite not having a gamepad I managed to do quite well, contorting my figures into bizarre positions to pull off tricks. It’s the only sports game I’ve ever played and enjoyed in my 20+ years of PC gaming.
Pharaoh. My first Impressions city-builder, and still my favorite, Pharaoh taught me the joy of managing historic supply chains, trying to fine-tune my cities so that the wheat from my fields went to the granaries and the straw went to the brickworks along with clay, so I could build pyramids and the like. Lots of micromanagement and stress, great music.
Sid Meier’s Pirates. Yarrrr! This game single-handedly taught me Caribbean geography. What are ye in the mood for, sailor? Cruise the sparkling waters of the Caribbean, taking ships as ye please — or dance with the guv’nor’s fetching daughter after ye’ve landed an army and sacked the palace! Or maybe it’s bounty-hunting and treasure-seeking ye be after? It’s all here! Pirates remains one of my “something to play while listening to podcasts” games.
Note: If I were making a list of top ten video games, I’d drop two items and include Pokemon (I played gens 1- 3) and of course Red Dead Redemption 2. RDR2, for what it’s worth, would lasso its way into the top three, for my absolute delight in it is matched only by a few other games.