I’d like to see a video game canon, but a canon’s different from a list of innovators. A canon consists of works that have dominated the fan discourse over time: the ones that fans continue to think and talk about, the ones that are still used as standards for comparison, the ones that refuse to be forgotten.
For that reason, putting Spacewar! and Star Raiders and Zork in the “top-ten” video game canon is as ridiculous as putting caveman etchings in the “top-ten” literary canon.
The others games? Some work well, some don’t. Tetris is still the premier example of the simple, compelling puzzle game – a definite yes. SimCity was popular and influential, and it eventually spawned the Sims. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to me that 10% of video game discourse relates to Sim-type games, and it’s also somewhat redundant with the Civilization series, so I would rank SimCity lower. Super Mario 3 is arguably the best example of the best platformer series, and the platformer has always been among the most popular genres – certainly a yes. Civilization I/II is like SimCity in that it is development-oriented, but adds the element of turn-based competition with others. <i>This</i> type of game has been far more popular and influential than the Sim-types – a yes. Warcraft is also competitive and development-oriented, but functions in real time. The RTS genre has been more popular than the Sim-type and turn-based strategy together, and the Warcraft series has the most consistently excellent RTS games – a clear yes.
Doom is problematic as the top FPS because, even though it <i>was</i> the most popular early FPS, people no longer talk about it. Whereas Super Mario 3 is better than most later Marios, and people still enjoy it, it’s hard to argue that Doom is as good a game as Goldeneye or Halo. Certainly nobody <i>plays</i> it anymore. I don’t think Doom should be on this list; I vote for Goldeneye, since its control scheme and mission structure were utterly innovative, whereas Halo was basically just well-executed.
As for the Sensible World of Soccer, I had never heard of it. If we were going to talk about old, influential sports games, I’d point to the Tecmo Bowl series, which I still see people playing. Mainstream sports games like Madden don’t make the cut, because they’re basically all one game with slight variations. Frankly, though, I don’t think <i>any</i> sports game has been singularly influential and popular enough to make the top-ten canon.
So that leaves us with five open spots. We certainly need an MMORPG – Everquest might be a good choice. A traditional console RPG as well – FF7 or Chrono Trigger are the likely candidates. We need a fighter – I think the Street Fighter series has been the most consistently popular. There should also be some non-controller-oriented game and a music game – Dance Dance Revolution satisfies both criteria. Finally, we don’t yet have a pure party game on the list, and the Wii’s success has proven how important the party game is – I’d vote for Mario Party here.
So, my canon is Tetris, Super Mario 3, Civilization, Warcraft, Goldeneye, Everquest, Chrono Trigger, Street Fighter, Dance Dance Revolution, and Mario Party.