Ahead of introducing the world to a 20-foot tall Donkey Kong arcade cabinet next month, the Strong National Museum of Play revealed this year’s inductees into the World Video Game Hall of Fame, with Wii Sports, The Last of Us, Computer Space, and Barbie Fashion Designer getting the nod.
Every year, the museum reveals a list of finalists vying for a spot in the World Video Game Hall of Fame, and this year’s official inductees managed to beat out several other incredibly popular titles, including Angry Birds, Age of Empires, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, GoldenEye 007, NBA 2K, FIFA International Soccer, Quake, and Wizardry.
All of the short-listed titles can make a strong case for why they deserve a spot in the hall of fame: Quake brought an extra dimension to first-person shooters with the ability to finally look up and down and jump, Angry Birds helped make the smartphone as popular as it is today, GoldenEye 007 showed the world that FPS titles could work great on consoles, and Wizardy, a classic role-playing game first released for the Apple II, strongly influenced later classics like the Final Fantasy series. But they’ll all have to wait until next year, because only four titles made the cut for 2023.
Nintendo went from one extreme to another with the GameCube: a beloved but ultimately niche system, to the Wii, a console that had gamers and non-gamers alike lining up for months after release to actually try to buy one. That shift was largely thanks to its innovative motion-based controls that made gaming more exciting and accessible to a wider audience. Bundled with the console (in all regions except Japan) was Wii Sports, a game that served as a crash course in motion-controlled gaming and that also happened to be incredibly polished and fun.
With more than 82 million copies of Wii Sports sold, it wasn’t just longtime gamers who were moving furniture out of their living rooms to go bowling in front of the TV. The title helped redefine who a gamer is, as even older generations that hadn’t grown up with Ataris or the NES ended up embracing the Nintendo Wii.
Would Naughty Dog and Sony Interactive Entertainment’s The Last of Us had made into the hall of fame this year were it not for HBO’s incredibly popular and critically-acclaimed adaptation of the game? That’s certainly up for debate, but what can’t be argued is that the PS3 title managed to stand out amongst other “post-apocalyptic zombie games” with compelling characters, engaging story-telling and cutscenes, and exciting gameplay. It was widely considered to be the game of the year back in 2013, and a decade later, it’s enjoying a much deserved resurgence of popularity.
Although most think of Pong as being the first computer game made accessible to the masses through an arcade cabinet, the honor actually goes to Nutting Associate’s Computer Space, even though it was nowhere near as popular. Similar to 1962's Spacewar!, Computer Space has players controlling a rocket and battling a pair of computer-controlled flying saucers in space. The coin-op machine wasn’t a huge success, but it proved to its creators, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, that there was interest in video games outside of computer labs, and led the pair to found Atari a year later.
The most controversial inductee into the World Video Game Hall of Fame this year is undoubtedly Barbie Fashion Designer: a CD-ROM based PC game. As the name implies, the game allowed players to not only design outfits for Mattel’s Barbie doll, but also make them real with special fabric paper that could be run through an inkjet printer—bridging the physical and digital worlds. That’s something game designers still struggle with!
As with Wii Sports, Barbie Fashion Designer, which was released back in 1996, has been credited with helping to expand the video game market. While women such as Roberta Williams had proven that video games are for everyone since their inception, most mass market games at the time were specifically marketed to male players. Bucking that trend helped Barbie Fashion Designer sell over 600,000 copies in its first year, outperforming other PC games released that year, including Quake. To everyone who hadn’t already been paying attention, it proved that gaming was absolutely not a gender-specific pastime.
At the same time, Barbie Fashion Designer also sparked debates and discussions about gender stereotypes, as it hit store shelves in a bright pink box. Even the ad for the game, embedded above, ends with a repeated cringeworthy jingle: “Computers are cool for girls!” Yeah, we’ve known that since the ‘40s.
Did games for girls need to focus on bright colors and designing clothing and fashion to succeed? Obviously not, but fashionistas deserve games too, and the game did succeed in introducing millions of kids to video games and computers who otherwise may have never felt comfortable trying them.