The 2010s were a turbulent time for videogames . Bolstered by a rapidly expanding ecosystem of online distribution marketplaces, independent games ballooned, touching every part of the industry and reshaping the entire landscape. As that happened, big-budget gaming became even bigger, costing more and simultaneously generating higher revenues. In that environment, change moved fast and freely. This list, then, can only contain a limited sample of games, just those that made the most sizable, culture-shifting impact. Big and small, old and new, these are our picks for the most influential videogames of the last decade.
10. Thirty Flights of LovingI can't tell you how many games I've played in the last decade that are clearly riffing on Thirty Flights of Loving. The first and shortest game on this list, Thirty Flights of Loving is a first-person spy thriller clocking in at just about 15 minutes. I'd be remiss to mention more, because part of the thrill of Thirty Flights is experiencing it while not fully knowing what's going to happen. A lot of games want to be cinema, but this is one of the first to imitate cinematic tropes in a way that makes sense for the medium, that adds something instead of removing it.
What technique does it steal? A simple one: the cut. Scenes cut in and out of each other, as you abruptly shift time, place, and perspective, a change that would be routine in a film but that feels jarring and provocative in a game. It's one of the first titles I can ever remember that required me to ask, "Wait, who am I supposed to be playing here?" A whole generation of independent games has used this trick, with fantastic results, but Thirty Flights of Loving is still thrilling. That's the mark of a good idea.
9. Pathologic 2Pathologic 2 is the newest game on this list, having come out in mid-2019. Which, at first glance, makes it a rough fit. After all, it hasn't had time to influence anything. But mark my words: Pathologic 2, with its impeccable blend of terror, scarcity, and fascination, will influence a whole new crop of independent developers. A sequel/remake to an underrated Russian gem, Pathologic 2 is a game about the horror of a plague hitting a small, isolated Russian steppe village at the turn of the 20th century, or thereabouts. It's about being a doctor who's starving to death, and it's about mysticism, and tradition, and colonialism. It's a game where you can get the plague in a cloud of black dust, and then the plague whispers religious secrets in your ear, and then you die.
It's also incredibly, engrossingly difficult. It's a game that dares to ask whether or not games should be fun in the first place, before deciding, immediately, "Nah." It's not an exceptionally approachable game, but it is stunning if you can stomach it. Mixing poetic writing, stirring theatrical design, and a meditative grimness, it accomplishes feats of tone and presentation that I've never seen a game accomplish before. It should be lauded and imitated. I think it will be.
One of my favorite trends in the past decade of games has been a move toward autobiography. Games, often, have been the purview of wild fantasies; in videogames you do things you can't do in real life, and you gather experiences that would be impossible in any other medium. But as independent and experimental games have gained prominence, there has been an increase in the number of games dedicated to telling personal, autobiographical stories. Games that are, instead of fantasy, confessional.