- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2015

A gallant mustachioed Italian plumber in blue overalls and an omnivorous little yellow ball locked down their status as cultural icons as “Super Mario Bros.” and “Pac-Man” were named Thursday to the inaugural class of the World Video Game Hall of Fame.

In an announcement likely to set off intense debates among gamers, a poll of international journalists, scholars and video-game industry figures selected six inductees for the hall.

The list also included pioneering games such as “Pong,” “Tetris” and “Doom,” as well as “World of Warcraft” — the only honoree created in the 21st century.

The hall of fame is located at The Strong/National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. The interactive educational institution is dedicated to the study and exploration of play.

Jon-Paul C. Dyson, director of the museum’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games, said the 15 finalists span the history of video gaming and originated in North America, Europe, Asia and even the Soviet Union.

“But what they all have in common,” he said, “is their undeniable impact on popular culture and society in general.”

The winnowing process left out some fan favorites, including “Pokemon,” Sega’s “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “FIFA” soccer and “The Sims.” An angry debate broke out over “Angry Birds,” the addictive 2009 game that some purists said lacked the complexity and historic significance to be considered for the hall.

Some see the hall of fame as an economic as much as an aesthetic statement on the effects of classic video games.

Over the past 50 years, the video game industry has evolved from an experimental form of entertainment for fringe groups to a mainstream, global industry worth over $70 billion and growing. Video games have exploded into the larger cultural consciousness, redefining entertainment and technology.

Although the games are varied in genres, countries of origin and launch dates, all were revolutionary within their niches. Primitive by today’s standards, even a game such as “Pong” upset the paradigm when it hit the market in 1972.

“By most measures of popular impact, ‘Pong’ launched the video game industry,” according to the hall. “Pong,” released by Atari Inc., was the first commercially successful video game in history.

Despite its simplicity (the game is nothing more than two paddles hitting a ball back and forth), “Pong” was hugely popular and revealed that the video game industry could be a viable economic market. Designers set the future of gaming into motion when they developed the “Home Pong” version that could connect to a user’s television.

Creating an icon

“Pac-Man” established the culture of arcade games that would triumph in pizza parlors and bars across the country. “Pac-Man” quickly became the best-selling arcade video game ever and introduced the concept of video game characters as cultural icons.

The hungry little yellow character — and his female alter ego “Ms. Pac-Man” — were among the first pop culture figures created by the industry, injecting personality into video games as they sped through a neon maze fleeing colorful ghosts.

Mario followed Pac-Man in becoming the most recognizable video game character in history. First introduced in “Donkey Kong,” the princess-obsessed plumber wasn’t named and finalized until the 1985 release of “Super Mario Bros.” The American home video market had crashed, but analysts credit Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.” with single-handedly reviving interest, going on to become the best-selling video game up to that time.

Analysts say “Doom,” released in 1993, revolutionized the video game industry by popularizing the genre of the first-person shooter while introducing the concept of a “game engine” that gave developers greater flexibility and allowed for much more complex world building.

A bloody and intensely violent game, “Doom” also sparked nationwide debate about the role of video games in real-world shootings after the Columbine gunmen were discovered to be avid fans of the game. This culturally significant debate continues to rage in reference to descendants of “Doom,” such as the “Halo” and “Call of Duty” franchises.

The only inductee released after 1995, the fantastical “World of Warcraft” proved hugely influential as the most popular and addictive of a generation of role-playing games. At its peak, the fantasy game had over 12 million active users and still boasts 10 million subscribers.

Not everyone was happy with the choices, and they made their feelings clear on social media and in comment sections.

Some gamers were incredulous that the mobile app “Angry Birds” even made it to the finals, but one user on Polygon argued that it redefined gaming for today’s generation.

“No other game to me represents the growth of mobile games quite as much as ‘Angry Birds’ does. I hope to see it included next year,” Polygon wrote.

The inclusion of “World of Warcraft” was the most controversial to members of the Gamespot forum. One user said the hall of fame “lost all credibility,” and another argued that the game was “too new to be included.” Others rushed to the game’s defense, labeling it as “the biggest, most influential [massive multiplayer online game] of all time,” while another said “World of Warcraft” is “responsible for getting literally millions of people into gaming.”

On the other end, the “Legend of Zelda” proved to be the most contentious snub. A user named zeldafan195 said it “was the first game to have save states, and it created the open world. Can’t get much more influential than that.”

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