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The rules: List ten video games you have played that will always stick with you, and explain why.

1. Ico (PS2) - This is the first game that deals with the theme of mutual support, acceptance, and dependence between yourself and another character in a way that feels real. And it's important to stress the word "feels" because plenty of games have narratives in which another character depends on you, or you depend on another character, but it's always just part of the plot. The relationship in Ico is created and developed through gameplay and without any verbal or written language, making it the most organic and impactful I have ever experienced in a game. Couple this emotional bond between the two characters with a beautifully minimalist aesthetic and simple narrative and you have a video game that feels like an instantly classic modern fairy tale.

2. Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow & Chaos Theory (Xbox) - I group these games together because they offer essentially the same multiplayer experience, which is all that really concerns me for this list. And that multiplayer experience is worth noting because it taught me that sometimes less is more, when trends seemed to indicate that more was better. Before Pandora Tomorrow, the Xbox game to play was Halo, and the multiplayer supported 16 players via Xbox system link if you could muster that many players and four systems and televisions in one place to do it. We did, quite often, and it was great. Warring it out 8v8 with that many friends in one place was really fun... but the first Halo was not supported on Xbox Live, so Pandora Tomorrow's multiplayer was the first Xbox game that I played online. The "Spies vs. Mercenaries" mode of SC:PT was only 2v2, but it made for some of the most intense, intimate gaming sessions I ever experienced. Eventually Halo 2 was released and supported multiplayer on Xbox Live... it was also great fun for a few weeks (and might have lasted longer if it had better map design), but it was not long before I was playing SC:PT again while eagerly awaiting the release of Chaos Theory, which went on to improve upon several aspects of Pandora Tomorrow. Together, these two Splinter Cell games made my subscription to Xbox Live totally worth having, and I never even once played either of their single-player story modes. (Oh, and talking shit to your enemy had to be earned in these games!)

3. Guild Wars (PC) - This was the first MMO-type game I played after building my first gaming computer. The role that choice played in the success of your character in both PvE and PvP was astounding; the plethora of decisions available to you in terms of your secondary profession, skills and point distribution, and equipment, all were extremely important, and compounded with those of the other players in your party or guild when it came to the game's more challenging content and various PvP formats. The synergy between characters in good teams in Guild Wars was not unlike the synergy one can find in a good deck if you play Magic: The Gathering, and the influence of that game on the developers of Guild Wars was fairly obvious to anyone who has played both. Oh, and the game was absolutely gorgeous!

4. Akumajo Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (PCE) - This represents the culmination of everything awesome about the early Castlevania games prior to the change in direction taken with the development and success of Akumajo Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight, aka "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night". Brilliantly colorful 2D sprite art coupled with the best music the series had yet offered, not to mention several animated sequences, made this extremely accessible while the great gameplay continued to please fans who loved the traditional platforming elements of the series. Multiple paths to Dracula's castle along with the addition of another playable character increased the game's replay value, and the fact that it was at the time never released in the U.S. made finding and owning a copy a sweet novelty. I still own my copy of this game, even though I have no idea whether or not my Turbo Duo even works!

5. Ikaruga (DC) - This game is a shining example of a simple yet elegant design coupled with uncompromising quality. It offers frantic challenge, awe-inspiring visual design, and epic music to become one of the most memorable shooters ever. It is quite purely awesome.

6. Battlefield 2 (PC) - This game had some serious bugs that eventually caused me to give it up, but it was also the best game I have ever played in concept. BF2 is a modern military-based first-person shooter, but the difference between it and so many others in the genre is that it focused on combat as it occurred in open, expansive battlefields, where players as soldiers were free to roam on foot and in vehicles. This game didn't develop from the school of level design that insists a map must funnel players into artificial choke points or hot spots; instead, the maps in BF2 featured objectives one could approach from multiple directions, if not any -- or even bypass entirely --meaning that victory wasn't always the result of who had the faster twitch reflex when you rounded the same corner as your enemy, but who could execute the better strategy. The fact that teams also had commanders and squad leaders who could support their side with additional abilities such as air strikes and UAVs meant that the best team was often the one that best communicated and cooperated. Oh, and this game, more than any other I have ever played, provided paradise for snipers. Because the maps were so open, a good sniper could sneak into damn near any position and wreak havoc on his enemy until killed or flushed out via air strike... or an equally obsessed opposing sniper. If I could have just one game on this list fixed and brought back in otherwise exactly the same state, it would be this game. BF2 devoid of the bugs that led me to quit playing it would be a dream come true to me.

7. World of Warcraft (PC) - The most obvious reason this game belongs on the list is that I've spent nearly a full year of my actual life playing it; I would literally need brain damage for even the mention of it not to register consciously. That said, I can imagine the number of reasons I have for both loving and hating it are very close. I'll focus instead on what this game does right that is so memorable: For starters, generally speaking, it has incredibly interesting raid encounters that require a group of people to recognize, analyze, and ultimately respond to a variety of problems and scenarios in their attempts to achieve victory and be rewarded. No other game I have played has forced 25 to stop and start moving in the same direction, at the same time, at the same pace -- all while juggling other responsibilities -- if they want to win. And that's just one phase of one encounter! Coordinating a raid is not terribly unlike managing one big conference call with 9 or 24 other people who are all multitasking, and the feeling of accomplishment shared by the whole group when they are successful (at least for the first time) is something no other game I have played has quite been able to replicate. Second off, no game I have played has more seamlessly combined the combat of an action game with the appeal of the min-maxing and number-crunching typically provided only by pen and paper RPGs. When you play WoW, you aren't playing the same turn-based, menu-driven game that springs to mind first when you think of the term "RPG" -- it isn't an early Final Fantasy, in which you attack by selecting "Attack" when the window appears. You're playing an action game that can be every bit as hectic as Assassin's Creed... but when you do attack, those numbers certainly start popping as if it were an old Final Fantasy. And that's the thing: WoW has this perfect blend of theory and action, that is deep on the one end and fluid on the other. It's easy to drown in that combo if you are a nerd like me.

8. Phantasy Star II (Genesis) - This isn't the first traditional style RPG that I have ever played, but it was the first with a story and characters that made me reflect on deeper ideas and themes. Our own irresponsibility is the cause of our degenerating environment? Damn. It is human nature to subjugate others for our own benefit? Holy shit! Oh, and years before Aeris was murdered by Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII, Phantasy Star II had mastered that narrative twist when Nei was slain in battle by her own genetic sister Neifirst. I will not lie: I cried the day I saw that happen. I was 10 and fuck you for judging me.

9. Gran Turismo (PS1) - This game taught me more about driving than driving school. In fact, I owe my fundamental understanding of the principles of weight distribution, tire management, and drift to the reference guide that came with this game; it was this little book that explained all of the real world physics and mechanics behind techniques that one would have to know and master in acquiring licenses in game, totally separate from the actual instruction manual explaining how to play it.

10. Street Fighter III: Third Strike (DC) - As a kid I played Street Fighter II -- hell, everyone played Street Fighter II -- but I was too young to appreciate how excellent the game was; back then, it was just about winning as spectacularly as possible (read: with a flaming Dragon Punch or some other special attack). It was not until I had read some game theory articles on that I began to understand some of the concepts illustrated so perfectly in SFII and other, similar fighting games. It was around this time that Third Strike had come out on Dreamcast, and I had really taken to it. I only played Makoto, but I did so pretty seriously. In this game I was acutely aware of zoning and would mix up sweeps and overheads against standing opponents. I played more carefully overall because I consciously understood that attacking was not always the best play. But there was something else... I'd seen Daigo's full parry video and I was amazed. The parry mechanic really appealed to me. Here was this elegant, high-risk, high-reward response to basically anything that set the good apart from the great. Well, at least it did in my mind; the truth is that it took more than just an ability to parry someone's entire super to be great at the game, but that didn't keep me from practicing and a couple times I even did it, I parried an entire super. Anyway, I was still never especially great at SFIII:3S, just like I was never especially great at any fighting game, but I saw them all differently after that. Even MvC2, which I had played countless times, I saw differently after that stint with Third Strike.
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