Top 10 Video Games for Grown-Ups
As gamers have grown up, so have the games
Video games have been around since 1971. The first coin-operated arcade game was Computer Space, which was created in Silicon Valley by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, who went on to found Atari Inc. a year later. Computer Space was quickly followed by 1972's iconic Pong and the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video-game console.
Although many of the games littering the bedrooms of teenagers today still cover the same ground as those early-’70s titles — shooting enemy combatants head-on, alien invasions, orcs and wizards — not all modern games are like that. As players and programmers have grown up (Bushnell is 69), so has the medium.
An increasing number of games are being created that explore more complex adult ideas and are more likely to engage older players on a deeper, emotional level. Rather than simply being mindless distractions, many of the newer games are smart, interactive art. Some deliver emotional punches and artistic expressions that are worthy of an art-house movie or a great novel but offer a different kind of engagement.
Tips for Beginners
If you've literally never played video games before, here are a few tips.
- Get a Nintendo Wii. The graphics aren't as good as other consoles, but the motion-control system is so intuitive: to play tennis, you swing your arm as if you were, well, playing tennis.
- Be prepared to fail and to try, try again. That's the beauty of videogames: You can die, but get another go.
- Of the games, One Chance and Journey are the ones that require the least fast-paced hand-eye coordination. But others, such as Portal 2, Heavy Rain and Ico, will allow infinite retries and are more about decision-making than dexterity.
- Walkthroughs and guides are readily available on the Web for just about every game going. These will help you progress if you're stuck at any point.
Top 10 Best Video Games for Grown-Ups
As someone who writes about, tests and plays videogames, here are my recommendations.
- I Am Alive: The premise of this post-apocalyptic action-adventure is that most of the world’s population has been wiped out, and you, the player, are returning to the dust-covered city of your home, where you have to climb, scavenge and fight your way to survival. Monitoring your health and stamina is vital; ammunition is scarce; and, in a departure from most ultraviolent games, the mere threat of a weapon can be effective. This is gritty apocalyptic fiction at its finest. Get it: PS3, Xbox 360; 1 player; from $15
- The Elder Scrolls V-Skyrim: Although the window dressing for Skyrim can be offputting, bear with it. Yes, there's the swords-and-sorcery setting, hackneyed dialogue options and the need to break everything open to see if it's got treasure in it. But look past these clichés to see Skyrim for what it is: a beautifully detailed, fully realized virtual world. Ignore the main storyline (a dragon invasion) and pick flowers, get drunk in a bar or even get married if you want. The 60,000 lines of dialogue and masses of fine detail afford the creators plenty of scope to explore deeper subjects than most games, including racism, the nature of terrorism and the relationship between religion and the state. Get it: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; 1player; from $60
- Catherine: By day, barfly Vincent tries to avoid deciding whether to marry his dependable-but-overbearing girlfriend Katherine or pursue sultry-but-potentially-unhinged Catherine. Your dialogue choices change the storyline. By night, gameplay shifts to Vincent's surreal, platform puzzle nightmares. This inner-outer world combination gives Catherine the distinction of being one of the oddest, and ultimately smartest, games around. Get it: PS3, Xbox 360; 1 player; from $60
- L.A. Noire: Post-war Los Angeles is the setting for this hardboiled homage to film noir and the detective-fiction novels of James Ellroy. As Det. Cole Phelps, you rise from patrol to arson to eventually homicide. You solve cases by investigating crime scenes, collecting evidence and interrogating witnesses. The game's facial animation system delivers realistic confrontations and dialogue, and the brutal, bloody setting is realistically brought to life. Get it: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; 1 player; from $20
- Red Dead Redemption: The folks at Rockstar Games are masters at making games for grown-ups (see their L.A. Noire and Grand Theft Auto series). Here you’re a retired, wild-west outlaw who is pressed into hunting down his former gang. In the game, you’re free to explore a large setting with plotlines gleefully stolen from classic movies of the genre. Bonus: adult-friendly scripting and storytelling throughout. Get it: PS3, Xbox 360; 1 player; from $35
- Ico; Shadow of the Colossus Collection: This compilation from Sony offers Play Station 3 owners the chance to play these critically acclaimed Play Station 2 titles. Both Team Ico titles have been digitally remastered for high-def play and stereoscopic displays. They are near-wordless adventures that are more like meditations on the nature of beauty, place and loss. In Ico, you must help a strange girl escape a haunted castle; in Shadow of the Colossus you explore an empty land, killing giants in order to bring your loved one back to life. Simple plot set-ups conceal genuinely emotional resolutions. Get it: PS3; 1–8 players; $40
- One Chance: According to its author:"Scientist John Pilgrim and his team have accidentally created a pathogen that is killing all living cells on Earth. In the last six remaining days on Earth, the player must make choices about how to spend his last moments. Will he spend time with his family, work on a cure or go nuts?" Be prepared: The game does have a grim, apocalyptic adventure plot. That said, it contains a neat trick: There are no replays so you only get one chance to make each choice. You only ever get one ending, so every game is a unique experience. Get it: Web browser; 1 player; free
- Portal 2: This is a brain-mangling but addictively simple puzzle game involving a gun that lets you shoot portals, which you can then walk through in a crazed test lab. But despite its simple premise, layered on top is some of the funniest and finest game scripting and writing ever. Get it: PC/Mac, PS3, Xbox 360; 1–2 players; from $30
- Journey: This is a metaphor for life's journey: The game features a robed figure as the player who is wandering through a vast, sand-blown desert. Steeped in mystical and religious imagery with bewitchingly simple visual design and intuitive controls, Journey lets you simply move forward, delicately nudging you to find your path, and rewarding you when you succeed with beautiful results — the perfect video game for people who don't play games. Get it: PS3; 1 player; $15
- Heavy Rain: A grieving architect whose son is missing, an ex-cop private investigator, an FBI officer with a secret, and an insomniac photojournalist all cross paths with the "Origami" serial killer in this emotionally harrowing adventure. Heavy Rain combines brilliant and complex characterization with grim moral choices and real involvement. Probably the best game for grown-ups yet. Get it: PS3; 1 player; from $30.
Simon Munk writes on consumer technology, video games and outdoors products. He's tested everything from snowstorm survival gear to the world's most expensive speakers and has won a GamesMediaAward twice http://www.simonmunk.co.uk/.