The "Smart Game" Catalog
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Game TitleDeveloper and Release YearPlatformA paragraph or two (keep it concise) explaining precisely why you consider the game “artistic or intellectually sophisticated.”Your Name
999AksysDS999 is a game filled with puzzles and text, and it has the best story I have ever experienced in any media, be it literature, cinema or anything else.

The premise is that 9 people are stuck on a sinking ship, they all have numbered watches that serve as keys to unlock numbered doors. They have 9 hours to figure out a way to escape before they all die. Escaping means that they have to find the door numbered 9.

Every time you enter a door, puzzles ensue. You have to point and (touch)click your way through the puzzles and the text, every time learning more and more. But the game is infinitely more than most other games; only people who have played it can understand what I mean by it. It hides something much deeper that has basically changed the way I see things in my life and how I live in society.

I greatly encourage everyone to try 999, it is definitely a smart game.
3rd World Farmer 3rdWorldFarmer Team, 2005BrowserSophisticated because it examines and challenges both what a game is and ought to be, and what reality is and ought to be, via unfair game rules that mirror real world unfairness and injustice. Frederik Hermund
Ace Attorney SeriesCapcom, 2001DS, Wii, iOSThis game series constantly has you thinking critically. The puzzles are really quite clever and surprisingly challenging, despite the generally comical and light-hearted tone of the games. The stories are interesting, complex, sometimes very emotional, and full of unexpected twists. The characters are intriguing and loveable, and the soundtrack is brilliantly done (the jazz and orchestral versions are especially wondrous). Overall, the entire series delivers gaming excellence. I laughed, I cried, I cheered. I experienced pure bliss, and my mind and heart loved every moment.Cassie C.
Adventures of Lolo, TheHAL CorporationNESOne of the first puzzles that ever had me wanting for more. I started to be addicted to thinking and solving puzzles. Figaro Mario
Adventures of Lolo, TheHAL CorporationNESA major evolution in the Sokoban-type puzzle games, "Lolo" involved collecting heart panels to open a treasure chest, which in turn banishes all dangerous enemies from the room and opens the exit. The game and its sequels' (II and III) presented puzzles that would teach you how to solve them through trial, error, and observation. It was one of the few video games to receive a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" based on its educational value for problem solving and logic.

The game also did something few games can: it scared you. Making certain mistakes in the the game were so sudden, it would make you jump, or at least break out in a cold sweat.
Robert Gauss
Age of Empires 2Ensemble Studios 1999PCAge of Empires 2 is a serious attempt to engage with history and make it fun. It introduces the player to many of the historical events, myths and legends of the time period it covers. It also features a soundtrack that utilizes only period relevant instruments and the resulting music is characterful and a joy to listen to.

It also features many and varied civilizations with which to play with. Also, a considerable amount of strategy is required in order to juggle the challenges of balancing your economy whilst expanding militarily- all in real time. At no time can this be considered a 'dumb' game.
Craig Wakefield
Alter EgoPeter J. Favaro, 1986C64/MS-DOS/Apple II/MacintoshAlter Ego is a life sim game propelled by interactive narrative vignettes and a handful of fluctuating personal statistics. It allowed the player enough latitude and responsibility to feel invested in their course in life, then challenged them to undertake and reflect on the consequences of major life decisions.

Though limited, the game allows us to explore alternative personalities and values, letting us re-evaluate our identities and better understand others. But the core lesson in Alter Ego, to me, was the inevitability of ageing and death; that there comes a point where we can no longer reclaim our youth and our potential is past, perhaps sooner than we'd like. In providing a cradle-to-grave life simulation it communicates and explores our shared mortality effortlessly and with charm - in a fashion impossible in other media.
Amnesia: The Dark DescentFrictional Games, 2010PCAmnesia: The Dark Descent could be described as a psychological exploration of fear. It is a survival horror game, set in the 1830s, that differs from most other games in the genre by its complete lack of combat. It is built around the title concept of amnesia. As the main protagonist wakes up at the very beginning, he knows just as much as the player, creating a rather special bond to the character, that is usually only achieved through anonymization. This all ties in to the horror aspect, as it makes it feel like it's you that's discovering your own forgotten past, the things that you did, the reasons for your predicament (I won't go into too much detail as it would ruin your experience) and ultimately having to take responsibility for them. It is safe to assume that the character is a different person after losing his memory, meaning that the character essentially is the player, something that, as I already mentioned, is usually only possible by making the main protagonist devoid of any personality and history that is ultimately defined.

I haven't even begun to talk about the horror aspect. In many ways, the game exploits many of our psychological predispositions, as well as some of our prejudices about the game based on the conventions of the genre. One of the most important things in a good horror game is the pacing, something Amnesia takes advantage of often. Monster encounters are rather sparse, but not always. That is to say, they sort of lull you into a false sense of security, and then wait a little more, before suddenly, you hear a noise. Turns out it was nothing. You then think you're safe. You're allowed to think that for a while, and then you hear another noise. Given your sense of security and the fact that the last noise was nothing, you think it's nothing to worry about. Then as you turn a corner, you stand face to face with one of the brutally disfigured "enemies" in the game. It doesn't utilize the far too common "jumpscare" (that is to say, a very sudden noise or movement meant to trigger your natural fear reflexes, which has a tendency to not last long, as well as getting diminishing results as player get used to it), instead relying on your own imagination to create the horror in most cases, with the actual scares being mostly a catalyst.

The story is also very well written, with notes being dispersed around the game for you to find, as well as flashbacks, both providing information about the horrible events that lead up to the time of the game itself. There are no cutscenes, the entire story being told in realtime. I won't say anything about the story itself though, as it would diminish your experience of the game. All in all, it's an amazing horror experience, that I would recommend to anyone, provided you stock up on some extra underwear first, as this game is more than likely to make you shit your pants in fear.
Sigurd Stenseth
Animal CrossingNintendo 2001Nintendo GamecubeAnimal Crossing is a beautiful game with beautiful lessons. It teaches you how to live life on your own. You have no one but yourself, you've gotta work and pay off your house. It gives you friends and the ability to get out of life and into a new one. It helps you see that even when the going get's tough, life moves on. Even if you don't move with it. It'll teach you that friends will leave and abandon you, so you must make more. It teaches us that to live happy, you've gotta work for it. It helps you to see how life is bright and cheerful, you just have to find ways to bring out it's inner colors. Even when you have no friends in the town to talk to, you always still have your mom. Who helps you through all by supporting you via letters. You can let out your expressiveness with clothes making, or let out anger with pitfalls. Even if you have nothing to do, you can always sit on a quite relaxing Saturday night. And listen to K.K. Slider as his music puts a warm smile on your face.Alex Bud
Anno 207011/17/2011PCIn Anno 2070, our world has changed. The rising level of the ocean has harmed the coastal cities and climate change has made large stretches of land inhospitable. It's a very beautiful game graphically. But I was stunned for a moment while playing when it seem to reflect EXACTLY what is going on the world right now with sustainability when it came to green vs. current technology and how it effects us and the environment. Its not end all be all, but I have a better idea how things work in the most basic sense. Rai
Another World / Out of This WorldDelphine Software : 1991Sega/SNES/PC/AmigaA sidescrolling action game involving a main character's journey through a strange alien land.

No real prompts or in game advise is given as users make their way to find their salvation (and more than often accidental death). Quickly into the game you are accompanied by a partner / former cell-mate who has no dialogue, only alien-like grunts and noises as you work in tandem to accomplish their goals. You also get a blaster/shield weapon that you use to outsmart the similarly armed alien captors.

The main progression through the game involves experimenting, dying and trying again, eventually learning from your mistakes. No dialogue and no hand-holding is present, and due to excellent level design there really is no simple way to brute force your way to the end.
Mark W
AquariaBit Blot, 2007PCAquaria is one of the best independent games' gems with very strong narration and visuals.

The story is quite simple at the beginning but it relatively gets deeper in progress of Naija's (main character) quest about her loneliness and memories. During a long trip thought the underwater world of Aquaria you are seeking for answers regarding her origin. Naija is also an narrator (in the similar manner to Rucks from later Bastion) that not only comments events but also sets up a questions about many different themes and motifs like: Creation vs. Nature, Solitude, Faith and Love. The game isn't straight forward so the reception and feelings depends only on you. Overall story is very touching, leaving you with many interesting thoughts.

Art aspect of the game can be also shown by it's stunning 2D visual of surrealistic ocean life. It's very colorful, detailed and animated in paper doll-like manner that have it's soul. Many of places in the game looks just beautiful and it's definitely, with great original soundtrack, strong part of the game.
AquariaBit Blot, 2007PC, MacintoshAquaria brings to the table something new and poignant: the ability to connect with the creators. At the time the game was made, one member of the two-man team that is Bit Blot had just moved to a new town, with no friends and very or little social interaction. This loneliness oozes out of every aspect of the game, from the melancholic music to the solitary protagonist longing for companionship. The elements that comprise the game form together so seamlessly and so emotionally that even I felt forlorn and lonely while playing it.

As the game progresses, the protagonist slowly learns her place in the world: she is not alone. There may be very few sentient species left, but beautiful life is all around her, and she is presented with the choice to start anew, to repopulate her habitat: much in the same way the game's creator slowly found his place in a new habitat and learned to overcome the challenges associated.

Add this wonderful ability to convey emotion straight to the player with beautiful, hand-drawn art, gorgeously composed music, and a gameplay paradigm that focuses on exploration, discovery, and puzzle-solving, and Aquaria, by all means, could never be considered "dumb".
Nicholas Fetcko
Assassin's CreedUbisoft Montreal, 2007Xbox 306/PS3/PCThe first of the series, Assassin's Creed had some bold political commentary for a Triple-A title. Over the course of the game, the nature and cost of politics and war is debated, as well as the effectiveness of social class systems, education, and the nature of those we deem "evil". All of the "bosses" in Assassin's Creed believe they are doing what is right, and what is necessary to bring the world to peace; a rather striking parallel to politics, particularly in Western Society today.Kade Neale
Assassins Creed 2Ubisoft, 2010PS3, Xbox 360 and PCAside from the surface appeal of stabbing people and hurling them from high places and the sci-fi tinged storyline of a secret war between Templars and Assassins, the Assassins Creed Series serves as an active exploration of history, presenting players with a direct view of historical periods and places few forms of "mainstream" entertainment bother covering. One can draw multiple levels of appreciation from this, those with a love of architecture can enjoy scaling the immense buildings of Renaissance Florence and Venice and those who love history can enjoy the presentation of various Historical Figures in important roles in the story, and the "perspective" offered on real events like the Pazzi Conspiracy.Peter S.
Avernum seriesSpiderweb SoftwareMac, WindowsLike most Spiderweb Software games, the Avernum series eschews fancy graphics for an immersive experience rounded out by frequent text dialogs with well-crafted prose, whether dialog, paragraphs of descriptive wonder, or a single sentence warning you that your characters hear suspicious sounds nearby.

While it adopts standard RPG tropes such as a quest system and character statistics for each of your team of adventurers, the huge, sprawling world is full of surprises, ambushes, and intricate details and mysteries that bring the game world alive. In many senses, these are not merely RPGs: they are also emergent interactive novels.
Baldur's Gate II: Shadow of AmnBlack Isle Studios, 2000PCPublished in 2000, Baldur's Gate II: Shadow of Amn is possibly one of the best games set in the expansive Dungeons and Dragons Universe. Baldur's Gate II is beautifully executed and came with writing comparable to any fantasy epics.

It features genuinely complex and engaging narrative pertaining to questions of morality, love, conflict, betrayal and redemption and remains to date one of the most renowned fantasy RPG.
Baron, TheVictor Gijsbers 2006PCDifficult to do without spoilers, but suffice it to say that while other media may portray a protagonist like The Baron's in a sympathetic light, there's nothing else out there (that I am aware of) that will put you in his place.

for more background:
incidentally it is free and available windows/mac/linux
BastionSupergiant Games, 2011PC, XboxI'll break this into two chunks, art and narrative.

Art- The layout of this game is very similar to others, it's an isometric world that you run down corridors. The difference, is this world reassembles itself as you run. As you progress you have to mentally map where things are, just in case you've got to back track. When you add the musical score to the game it alters what would otherwise be a fun and interesting tale and transforms it into a game of loss, sorrow and rebirth. As the music fades in and out, you don't notice. That is, you don't until it grabs your attention in order to let you know you're in trouble, or pulls you into the story to feel the bare emotions of the characters.

Narrative - Here, I'm going to leave one example.
At the end, you've come so far. You started lost and began rebuilding, then all of your work is destroyed and you must stumble a head in order to survive. Suddenly, the chance for revenge appears, your rival on the ground, beaten by those he betrayed you to join. You're left with two choices, kill him or save him. If you choose to save him, you're left defenseless and must slowly escape, he's heavy and requires both hands to hold. As you leave you are attacked on all sides. Slowly the enemy stop attacking realizing you're not a threat, just someone else lost in the confusion like they are. Suddenly you see in the corner of the screen, one turn between you and the way home. Closing in on it a dart gets you. If you've the mind to follow it, you'll watch the superior officer immediately discipline the enemy who fired. I've never been more startled or amazed by such a minor detail that bring with it so much weight!
Ross A
Beatmania IIDXKonami - Numerous Arcade, PS2 Music games are just an example of a multitude of genres that focus on reaction speeds being the core skill necessary to succeed. Science has long drawn connections between people with higher general intelligence [g] and IQ's having quicker reaction times, a study referred to as Mental Chronometry. Intelligent people react and respond faster, and few tasks are better at developing or demonstrating response times than games.

To assume that gaming is a form of unintelligent media, is simply ignoring the fact that most gamers are utilising honed motor neuron skills, or developing these skills whilst playing. Hand eye coordination, quick reaction times and focussed attention are all required to succeed whilst playing. Developing these traits is more useful than any traits acquired through 'watching' or 'listening' to many other media forms.

I doubt the people who label gaming as unintelligent possess the same response times as most gamers, which could suggest their intelligence is lower than many gamers. What other past times short of studying non fiction and 'watching' documentaries help develop abilities that directly correlate to intelligence Taylor?
Football maybe?
Nathan Tobeck
Binding of IsaacEdmund McMillen 2011PCAt first glance a dismissible collection of juvenile troupes, Edmund subverts not just the games medium but our own prejudices in a brave and deeply personal game about his childhood. Mechanics truly connect form here. The demanding and ever capricious nature of the game well suits the nature of the problem and the powerlessness and escapes of the victims. Daniel Kline
Bioshock2K Boston 2007PS3I have seen Bioshock here before but they seemed a little short on detail.
I found Bioshock to be a game of exemplary maturity in its narrative. I played it while reading Ayn Rand's epic 'Atlas Shrugged' and easily saw the deep connection the story had to its them of isolated industrialists and the fight personal integrity. It is the opposing side of the coin to Rand's Objectivist philosophy, showing where the cracks appear and how it could fall apart.
Beyond that there is a particular moment (which I don't intend to spoil) which shows the developers actually showing gamers the fruits of their labours, tangibly allowing gamers to see just how far from freedom they actually are, this to me was a ridiculously bold move and one wrapped in one of the greatest scenes in gaming history thus far.
Couple these deep philosophical ideals with unique takes on gameplay, senses of morality and a beautiful art deco style and bioshock becomes a glittering highpoint in the 30 years of gaming so far.
Richard Dawson
Bioshock2K Boston 2007Xbox 360Deeply philosophical, Bioshock makes players think about Laiseez-faire ideals and society as a wholeJakob Annett
Bioshock2K Boston 2007PCBioshock made me question why I was doing what I was doing and then smacked me in the face with the answer. It hit me on an emotional level unlike any other game before or since.Eric
BIT.TRIP seriesGaijin Games, 2009 - 2011PC, Linux, Mac, Wii, 3DSThe BIT.TRIP games marry arcade-style genres with rhythmic gameplay. BIT.TRIP Beat and BIT.TRIP Flux are rhythmic versions of Pong; BIT.TRIP Runner is a rhythmic 2D platformer; BIT.TRIP. In this way, each game is an exploration of a classic form.

Furthermore, the games lets the player think about how he/she responds to different forms of stimuli. While the original Pong almost exclusively used visual stimuli, BIT.TRIP Beat adds extremely pervasive auditory stimuli. In the latter, when the visual stimuli become too complex, the player can use the auditory stimuli to make decisions, and vice-versa. The distinction between audio and visual components is especially blurred, and the games are masterful examples of synesthetics.
Ron R.
Blood Omen: Legacy of KainCrystal Dynamics / Silicon Knights, 1996PlayStationI'd played games with engaging stories and characters long before this, but Blood Omen was perhaps the first intellectually stimulating game I'd ever played at that time. Look past the sometimes miserable framerate, the interminable loading times every time you enter so much as a tent, and the stiff controls, and you'd find a mature, atmospheric and dark story of a gothic fantasy world that might not even be worth saving -- a question the protagonist asks himself on several occasions.

That protagonist -- Kain the vampire, a nobleman brought back from Hell by the necromancer Mortanius to serve a greater purpose in his quest for vengeance -- is one of the best in all of gaming. He's eloquent, driven, introspective, and has a dry sense of humor. He's complex enough that both endings -- one in which he takes over the world and one in which he sacrifices his own life to save it -- both seem equally in-character. And he's voiced by the incomparable Simon Templeman. The script is genuinely well-written, much of the story is conveyed through subtext and subtle detail, and the story takes some truly unexpected twists and turns. I recommend this one to fans of Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun."
Max Gardner
BraidJonathan Blow 2008Xbox360, PC, PS3Braid is a narrative propelled puzzle game that seems to tell the story of a young man piecing together and coming to terms with the events of a past relationship. It's form as a puzzle game stands to mirror his own internal confusion, the players efforts to put literal puzzle pieces together standing as a metaphor for his own shattered past. Braid also plays its mechanic of time control to mirror personal revelations of it's protagonist as he delves into his own past.

Combined with beautiful art direction and a compelling soundtrack Braid stands and one of the finest examples of non traditional narrative in gaming and one of the finest endings in the medium.
BraidNumber None IncPSN/XBLAThis game has amazing art and puzzles. The way this game tells the story of how our protagonist is trying to fix or erase something he's done in his relationship with his princess, the ambiguous ending, the simplistic yet diverse and thought-out methods of completing each puzzle had me really questioning what everything meant in the game, and still we all have to interpret what each of us understood. AmazingStanley A.
Brothers in Arms: Hell's HighwayGearbox-2008Windows, Playstation 3, Xbox 360The game is the third in the Brothers in Arms series of WW2 shooters. While the first two games in the series were solid shooters devoted to historical accuracy, and lent respect to the nature of the content (a rarity in the glut of WW2 games last decade), the third game is arguably the smartest. The game creates a cast of characters, each distinct and likable, gives them flaws, and explores how they each deal with their problems during the the battle of Market-Garden, one of the largest allied losses in the war.

The game touches upon themes like guilt (Cpl. Paddock correctly predicting that two of his fellow soldiers would die in the upcoming fight), coping with loss (Pvt. Dawson's paranoid obsession with fate), value of life (Sgts. Baker and Hartsock debating the value of officers versus enlisted men), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Sgt. Baker suffering auditory and visual hallucinations after a traumatic series of events in Normandy and Holland). The setting is also a high point. There is an incredible amount of detail presented in the game, from equipment, people, and locations, to mirroring documented events in gameplay to the point of putting most Hollywood WW2 movies to shame.
BullyRockstar Vancouver 2006/2008PS2/Xbox 360 & WiiThis is perhaps the greatest videogame I've ever played. Though graphically dated by today's standard, the plot and dialogue more than make up for the visuals (which are still palpable). There are an incredible range of voluntary activities available that all offer in-game rewards that carry actual value. From a narratological standpoint, the game is well-built and reflects the sharp wit often associated with Rockstar Games.

What strikes me the most, however, is how much freedom is allowed in this game. Social interactions very much resemble those of Fable but without the hyperbole Lionshead incorporated into their game. Violence carries real consequences with it in terms of narrative and game; additionally, the amount of violence possible is both controversial and reserved in the same instance. When I realized I could assault a police officer and actually escape eventually, I was impressed. When I saw how harshly the game reacted to the abuse of children, I was impressed. I have never seen a game as diverse as this executed as well before or since. Other games may have more grandiose narratives and others still may have more emergent gameplay, but none that I'm familiar with have managed to produce both with such polish. Maybe Deus Ex, maybe.
Jon Daniel Stephenson
Call of Duty 4: Modern WarfareInfinity Ward 2007PC, PS3, X360The single-player campaign has a short, potent level that I have often considered to be an excellent example of how gaming can convey a strong message. You play a stereotypically macho American soldier who, thanks to gameplay mechanics, is nigh-invulnerable. You play through the levels blasting "terrorists" with the stereotypical violence in the typical brainless way until you hit a specific level. You and your comrades are getting out of a city when a nuclear bomb goes off, knocking your transport helicopter to the ground.

Your character comes to, but is far from the superman he was made out to be in the first set of levels. You start out crawling out of the wreckage at half your normal crawl speed, to emerge on to a twisted, rubble-strewn street with a mushroom cloud dominating the landscape. After rising your feet, you can only shuffle at a slow pace along this street with the wind howling, sand gusting, fading radio chatter, and your own labored breathing in the background. There are no enemies, no other living thing on this street. You walk a ways, taking in the absolute destruction until your life simply gives out and you collapse on the street. The following screen shows your character's name, followed by the acronym, "KIA" (Killed in Action) added to a rapidly growing list of similarly classified names.

The gravity of this scene alone makes me think of this game anytime anyone mentions games as art.
Dave W
Call of Duty: AllAnyAnyEven a "dumb" game relays a variety skills and experiences. Time-sensitive tactical information processing, social exercises in cooperation and altruistic behavior, as well as a wide range of tools for movement, organization, and execution. All jumbled together into a dynamically changing environment.

In short, most every game you could mention requires SOMETHING of the player. When those somethings add up alongside a social component, the experience becomes an analogue for society. And its lessons and benefits can follow any number of paths, good and bad. Which is what art is all about.

Jonathan Carlisle Altman
Cannon FodderSensible Software, 1993Amiga / MultiA violent, satisfying tactical shooter, Cannon Fodder is a pitch-black satire on war. After every mission, the names of the dead scroll up on a black background, flanked by poppies. We then see a green English hill that slowly fills with graves, while in the foreground a line of eager volunteers grows longer. As the game progresses, the screen displays a running total of casualties on each side in the style of a football score, home versus away, reinforcing the symmetry of the never-explained conflict as well as its absurdity. Longer-lived soldiers gain in rank and in the player's affection, but don't become any more resistant to bullets.

This is not about manipulation or sentimentality. Sensible took a long and pitiless look into the conscience of gaming, then deconstructed the whole concept of using war as entertainment.
Ben Dixon
CapitalismInteractive Magic, 1995MS WindowsA game which lets its players design and operate a manufacturing corporation down to its smallest minutiae, from the production level all the way up to advertising and distribution. I still remember a review I read of this game in 1995 that called it "less a game than an MFA in a box." Aaron Feinstein
Cart LifeRichard Hofmeier 2011PCCart Life is one of the most important, affecting games I've ever played. It is the only game I can think of that honestly represents a working class lifestyle. It is bleak, subtle, unassuming, somewhat grating, and at times frustrating, but it speaks to you. It meticulously recreates the process of folding newspapers and pulling espresso shots. The game is somewhat facetiously described as a "retail simulator" by developer Richard Hofmeier, which it is, but it's not really about retail. It's about people. It’s about balancing self-preservation with relationships and emotional stability.

The free version offers two playable characters, one of which is Andrus Poder, a Ukrainian immigrant, who lives alone with his cat and starts his own newspaper stand. The other character, Melanie Emberly, opens a coffee stand with a custody hearing for her daughter fast-approaching. In both cases, the goal is to achieve some semblance of financial stability. Cart Life is bleak, but it's not hopeless. It's too beautiful to be hopeless. It is unapologetically and, at times, punishingly real.
Alex Pieschel
CatherineAtlus 2011PS3, Xbox360Catherine addresses the issue of adult relationships in a meaningful and mature manner. The women in its story are not overly sexualized unless that characteristic forms an integral part of the story. Even the gameplay itself, a surprisingly challenging block moving scenario, is referenced within the game text as allegorical for the problems of relationships.

Moreover, because of its nature as a game, Catherine is poised to offer its players the chance to consider multiple outcomes to their choices. A morality system in play throughout the game succeeds where many others have failed in offering us questions that may be relevant to our lives outside of the game - encouraging us to actually reflect on the ramifications when we answer. It's multiple endings further emphasize the multitudinous ways in which relationships affect us, and could not be implemented smoothly in any other medium. For all the fantasy-elements it incorporates, Catherine is a game grounded in our reality, provoking reflection and stimulating thought in its players.
Nicholas Dobkin
Cave StoryStudio Pixel (Daisuke Amaya), 2004PCCave Story is played best by diving in with knowledge of only the controls and no synopsis, other than that you wake up amnesiac in a damp, dank cave. It's a traditional sidescroller, you explore the environment and you battle monsters, but a real narrative unfolds around you, so subtly and naturally that you only notice the grand scale of it when you pause from the game (difficult to do) and take a break to think about it.

It's also an emotional story. Before you know it, characters and actions will impact you. Some crushingly sad things happen in the game, and the fact that it doesn't use the protagonist or the other characters to dwell on those losses makes those moments all the more powerful for the player. Cave Story is long, but when a game is so engrossing and rewarding, that's only ever a good thing.
Chrono CrossSquare, 1999PlayStationAlthough at the surface level, Chrono Cross does not seem to deviate significantly from other JRPGs of the time, the game ultimately calls into question the role of violence in games. This can be seen in the Star Level system, which discouraged grinding, as well as the reject the random battle system, making it possible for players to avoid confrontation.

Chrono Cross also features a few boss fights that prompt the player to feel remorse for their actions, most notably the fights with the Hydra. Furthermore, by putting the player in the villain's shoes for part of the game, Chrono Cross also shows that the division between good and evil is not always clear. The game ultimately culminates with a final boss fight in which killing proves to be the wrong course of action.
Sean Schönherr
Civilization IVSid Meier Firaxis Games 2005Windows, OSXThe player is required to guide a civilization from 4000 BC to the modern day by making strategic decisions about diplomacy, resource management, technology, cultural influence and civics. The game requires systems level thinking and long term planning. It also makes an intelligent argument about the role technology, religion, and resources have played throughout human history.

What makes this game stand out; however, is the ability to easily see and modify the factors involved in playing the game. It's even flexible enough to create historical scenarios that include factors as well as cause and effect relationships that do not exist in the original.
Todd Bryant
Company of Myself, The2DArray 2009PCThe Company of Myself is a short puzzle-plataformer game that seems strangely different from the moment the flash game starts loading, narrating you how it waits for the loading screen to finish while a beautyful adn womewhat sad piano and guitar composition by David Carney plays in the background.

When you finally start the game, a scrolling tests welcomes you asking you for a bit of time and patience for "him" to tell you a little about himself. He explains you that he's a lonely person and has been for most of his life, but it wasn't always like this.

And you will control him as he narrates through text the experiences that led him to where and what he is now, and how he met the one person who'd fill his lonelyness and help him progress. The puzzle solving and jumping mechanics slowly show themselves as analogies to the way he interprets all this situations and changes.

This a tragic and sad story that ends with a most surprising realization. On that leaves you with a knot in your stomach and an unsettling feeling.

In other words, it achieves what a 3 hour drama movie does in 3 hours, in 5 minutes.
Jaime Roberto Castro Hernández
Cosmology of Kyoto, TheSoftedge, 1994PC/MacAn adventure game in which you wander the streets of Heian-era Kyoto. The player is confronted with poverty, death, demons and folklore of the time period.

"There is the sense, illusory but seductive, that one could wander this world indefinitely. This is a wonderful game." -Roger Ebert
Christopher Person
Crusader Kings IIParadox Interactive, 2012MS WindowsA game whose main focus is the administration and maintenance of a medieval dynastic line. Characters are modeled with extraordinary attention to detail, and the sophistication of their interactions against a rigorously historical backdrop (at least in terms of structure - the simulation departs from actual history as soon as a game begins) allows for unprecedented freedom and depth-of-play in terms of political machination and diplomatic maneuvering. Not dumb.Aaron Feinstein
Dante's InfernoVisceral Games, 2010PS3, PSP, 360"We moved toward the city, secure in our holy cause, and beheld such a fortress. And on every hand I saw a great plain of woe and cruel torment. Bitter tombs were scattered with flame made to glow all over, hotter then iron need be for any craft. And such dire laments issued forth as come only from those who are truly wretched, suffering and forever lost!"
Ole-Mar. Y. Ulberg
Dark Eye, TheInscape, 1995PCThe Dark Eye is a horror adventure game similar in gameplay to Myst, based on several Edgar A. Poe short stories. The main narrative (an original story taking place in an old mansion) is intertwined with direct adaptations of Poe's work. In general you progress through each of the stories twice - first as the victim, then as the culprit.

It is a game that explores the dark side of human nature: insanity, fear, twisted relationships... One of the reasons that make the game disturbing, and memorable, is the way it looks: it fuses eg. clay model animations and hand-drawn animations.

The entire experience could be compared to a nightmare: you want it to end, but see the outcome at the same time because only then you'll be free.
Michael Bisch
Dark Soulsfrom softwareps3 xbox360This game deserves to be on this list, especially if you play it without the online, which is how i play. Sure it may not have dialogue at every corner of the game but the dialogue you do get gives small snippets into the universe, and to figure out the story you basically have to fill in the blanks. Also the combat system is ingenious, and considering you die easily if you don't pay attention really puts you through mental gymnastics. Also, the way the world is just laid out for you to explore and no hand-holding, really makes you think about how the world is interlocked. Not to mention that hard games really push you to rethink your tactics often. A sprawling story filled with lore does not a smart game make, if anything I'd rather not learn lore about a fantasy setting anyways, I'm in the game to sharpen my wit and tune my hand eye co-ordination, as well as build an easily flexible mind, willing to change preconceived notions about what to do to win.LlexBender
Dark SoulsFrom Software, 2011PS3, Xbox 360Dark Souls is, in essence, a game of high-speed chess. The game is brutal in such a way that it quickly weeds out those not willing or able to analyze their environment or their opponent. The player must know the strength and weakness of every enemy type, how they move and react to different types of attack, and what they need to do to most efficiently dispose of their adversaries. The specter of failure looms ever larger as you progress through the game, which challenges you to sacrifice more for greater gains.Matt K
Dark SoulsFrom Software 2011PS3, XBox 360, PC (soon)Dark Souls is the second project by the team responsible for Demon's Souls in 2009/2010. These games are the spiritual successors to the King's Field series. Many of From Software's fantasy dungeon games share themes, items, characters and sometimes bits and pieces of story through worlds of broken time and space.

The story is not always evident, but it is there for those who look, and it can be as heart-wrenching as the best novels. Further, the gameplay forces you to think carefully; rush in like a button-mashing idiot, and say goodbye to any progress you've made. You must also pay close attention to the environments for dangers, and of course, beautifully rendered, expansive locales (Anor Londo, anyone?). This is not a game of dumb sword-swinging and mere flashiness; Dark Souls ruthlessly punishes the foolhardy, and rewards the thoughtful.
Paul Hardix
Dear Estherthchineseroom, 2008/2012PCIt creates an emotional journey through the stages of dealing with loss, and does so with great music, scenery, and narrative dialogue. It really makes you look into yourself, and think.Karstein Røsnes Ersdal
Dear Estherthechineseroom 2008PCDear Esther in short is a pure work of art. The developers tore away the standards and foundations of mainstream video games to create an experience that transcends the way we interact with our games. With incredible craftsmanship, thechineseroom constructed an environment that is breathtaking yet realistic. However, it is their presentation and their writing that makes this art. Stunning prose and an amazing perspective turn Dear Esther into a "smart game," not a "dumb" one. Steven G
Demon's SoulsFrom Software, 2009PlayStation 3Demon's Souls accomplishes something quite unique (a feat that few other games can claim): From Software’s masterstroke of design successfully unites narrative themes and mechanics (systems of rules that govern play) in brilliant harmony.

Quietly told through short, non-player character dialogues and the player’s own actions, the story of Demon’s Souls is a tale of a lone hero’s grasp for greatness and his ultimate fall from grace. Through various systems -- world and character tendency scales that shift from dark to light, the life and death cycle of the game’s soul and body forms for the player character, and a unique online interactivity that allows players to breach the game worlds of others as friends or foes -- this narrative takes form, not through passive literary devices borrowed from other mediums.

Further, Demon’s Souls respects the player. As a combat-focused action role-playing game, adversaries play by the same rules as the player: Both are constrained by various manageable resources (health, stamina, weight, etc.). In effect, Demon’s Souls asks players to observe their surroundings and overcome obstacles on equal footing. Rather than overtly revealing objectives and solutions, subtle environmental clues serve as hidden guides for players to decipher. As a result, achievement in Demon’s Souls feels incredibly satisfying; likewise, defeat is similarly humbling.

Demon’s Souls lets players investigate an alien world and discover hidden treasure with only their wits to aid them. The seductive embrace of open exploration drives players’ hearts to push further, dig deeper, and look closer. From Software reminds players how a game can titillate their imaginations in ways that other mediums cannot.
Rob Savillo
Demon's SoulsFrom Software 2009PS3Instead of looking to incorporate filmic or literary elements into it, Demon's Souls makes an incredibly persuasive case for looking back to the history of videogaming itself as inspiration. While we've seen many examples of the gritty medieval monster-stabbing genre, Demon's Souls manages to outshine them all by being both simpler and more complex than any seen before. Simpler in the sense that you are never overweighed with options or unnecessary features, but also vast and richly complex in the design of the world and, most-importantly, the structure of the experience.

Demon's Souls asks you to pay careful attention and learn every single step of the way. Mistakes are punished. Those punishments can be harsh, robbing you of hours of in-game experience. And yet true experience is something the game cannot take away. The incremental progress gives each advance an amazing sensation both of thrill and terror; one that's amplified by the dark and foreboding atmosphere. When you first reach a boss you are ragged and weak, facing an opponent so horrifying and massive you may truly despair. And yet death gives way to new attempts and strategies until somehow you begin to turn the tables on your opponent. The thrill of victory is never cheap in Demon's Souls, nor is the agony of defeat. Each must be earned.

James I.
Deus ExIon Storm Austin, 2000PCAn exceptionally well-written multithreaded narrative that further the art of interactive storytelling more than anything before or since, with is use of environmental narrative and exposition. Perfectly-balanced open-ended gameplay - one of the few "hybrid" games that works well. Levels were big and open, ripe for exploring, with little handholding.

Perhaps most startling of all is its prescience: one MUST keep in mind that this game was released in 2000, a full year before 9/11 and the War On Terror. Even the Twin Towers are missing from Deus Ex's skyline...
Deus ExIon Storm Inc. 2000PCDeus Ex is a stand out example of flexibility and non linear gameplay, allowing players a variety of options and play styles they can take to accomplish goals. In addition, Deus Ex is excellently written, rich with all manner of historical and philosophical ideas and symbols, from the nature of religion and government, the founding of the Knights Templar, the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas, and a wide variety of others. The game raises questions that the player may never have before considered, and enriches them all the more for it.Shane JH Stenson
Deus ExIon Storm 2000PCDeus Ex is the perfect example of how games should be designed. It caters to every single game style. One player could play through it in the way they see fit while another can play through it the way they see fit, while another can playthrough it the way they see fit, etc. There's hundreds of different ways to go through this game and it all depends on what you believe is the best strategy. You have to select which augmentation you need because you can't get them all. You have to pick which path to take on a single mission, and there are many different options.

The best part of the game is that you may not even realize how many possible paths there are. The game is so sophisticated that you may only see one way through because that's the way you believe the game should be beaten, when in reality, somebody can play the game an entirely different way because that's how they think they should beat the game. In the end, there is no wrong way. An emotionless JC Denton allows the player to do what he or she thinks is right as opposed to being swayed by a characters emotions.
Frank Grochowski
Deus ExIon Storm, 2000PC, OSX, PS2This game pioneered the player's ability to choose a play style, and because of that it has become the stuff of legends. The first level says it all; you get a pistol and a choice between a tranquilizer crossbow, assault rifle, or a rocket launcher. You must then make it to the top of Ellis Island by any means. Every level is an open play field that allows the player to sneak, explore, run and gun, problem solve, bribe, socialize, hack, or any real combination. You can get through this entire game without killing a soul if you are so inclined.

The gameplay alone makes Deus Ex worthy enough for inclusion on this list, but Ion Storm/Edios didn't stop there. The story and world are fully realized. In what can be described as an homage to Neuromancer, Deus Ex's cyberpunk dystopian future provides the perfect setting for this plot ripe with characters and conspiracy theories. It gets a little wonky with alien clones and Area 51, but it pulls through in the end with an intricate and intriguing narrative.
Jeremy Patton
Deus ExIon Storm, 2000PC, Mac, PS2Although age has reduced it to an eyesore with a laughable plot, Deus Ex plays like the most active, outspoken manifesto on game design ever produced. It presents its world as a place for mechanic expression, one where the player holds complete control. Progression and player expression run deep throughout Deus Ex, imbuing every choice from augmentation options to how you go about a specific level to how you deal with a specific guard with individual significance. Deus Ex is important, and a 'smart game', because it meets each player on their own terms. At the time, and even today, it turned the traditional form of player progression (the game as director) on its head. It was, and still is, a window into a future of games that never happened.

Deus Ex is a ‘smart game’ because of its dedication to mechanic expression, but it is art because of what it does to the player. The feeling of true freedom. Deus Ex doesn’t strip back your freedom of expression like so many other, directed, games. Instead, it provides you with a space to become, as Kieron Gillen puts it, ‘more than you are’. Rather than the power fantasies that people immerse themselves in to achieve that, Ion Storm’s masterpiece succeeds in making you feel as if anything is possible. Deus Ex’s tiny world, bursting with opportunity and freedom, makes you realise just how free you are in the larger world beyond it. It is a big, beautiful, flawed affirmation of personal freedom.
Kieran Gallie
Deus ExIon Storm 2000PCThere are two factors that help make Dues Ex a "smart game", it's Game Play, and it's writing. First the open ended gameplay encourages exploration, and innovative playing style. There is no procedural rhetoric that mandates only lethal solutions. If the player so chooses, they don't kill a single person. You can shoot your way through the game, but you can also sneak your way through it, hack and pick locks, and many other play styles. Why is this a "smart" play style? It lets the player invent their own way to approach the game, not just following a certain way of doing it.

Second the writing is top notch filled with foreshadowing and allusion to classical works. The story is multilayer-ed, and can be appreciated at any level. Whether it's catching the references to Greek literature, to well written dialog about the morality of science, and the applications of economy. Deus Ex makes you think. Both with the story, and with the way you play the game.
Deus Ex: Human RevolutionSquare Enix/Eidos Montreal, 2011MultipleThe entire Deus Ex series is known for being exceptionally smart, and Human Revolution is in the same mold. It's a cyberpunk thriller casting you as a corporate security expert in the near-future against the backdrop of a world thrown into turmoil by cybernetic enhancements. There are several things that, in my opinion, make it quite a smart game:

* Few of the major characters are entirely sympathetic or unsympathetic. There are competing interests at play, but each of them is shown to have a point, and to have a darker side.
* At several points in the game, you're faced with a "conversation boss" -- a boss battle, not of weapons and violence, but of words. You must choose your words carefully, reading your opponent's verbal and body language cues, in order to get vital information that is needed to go forward with the game.
* You are given several choices throughout the game that impact the narrative and the surrounding world. In the very first mission, you are faced with a hostage-taking terrorist who is being manipulated by forces larger than himself. You can choose to shoot him down or talk him down. If you talk him down, you are further given the choice to apprehend him or let him go. If you let him go, he shows up to attack you again much later in the game. Later, you find a co-worker is stealing anti-rejection drugs to give to poor people with implants, to try to ease the burden they face of having to buy the drugs constantly. You could dissuade him from doing so, or you can look the other way, and both choices have sound reasoning behind them. Even in the end of the game, your final action has the effect of shaping the future of humanity and transhumanism. This is a game that gives you difficult choices, and requires you to think about the implications of those choices.
Cuvis the Conqueror
Deus Ex: Human RevolutionEidos Montreal, 2011PC/Xbox 360/PS3Human Revolution's narrative comes out swinging and hits heavy, dealing with themes as grand and varied as the benefits and dangers of corporate power, the inevitability of class divisions and prejudices, the nature of humanity to try and overcome its natural limits, and the question of what it truly means to be human. That's enough to qualify DXHR for the list already, but the manner in which it presents itself catapults the game into the stratosphere among the pantheons of science fiction worldcrafting, not just in the narrow domain of video games, but in any kind of media. While the game wears a range of influences - from the Renaissance to Blade Runner to Mass Effect - clearly and proudly on its sleeve, those ideas are meshed seamlessly with the game's own to create a vision of the future that, while fantastic, is instantly believable, immensely original, and incredibly compelling. The visuals, sounds, narrative, and deeply variable gameplay model not only stand tall on their own as vast accomplishments; they all blend together into a cohesive whole, elevating each of the already-impressive components to towering heights.A. Benson
Deus Ex: Human Revolution2011PC, Xbox, PS3Deus Ex: Human Revolution has obviously been overlooked as a candidate for a good artistic and intellectually stimulating game. The setting itself screams intellectuality and artistic influence. Cyberpunk architecture that is similar to the pioneering films of the 80's come through (E.g. Blade Runner), as well as the construction of the characters down to the very clothing and types of interactions people have. Similarly, the game, while offering average gameplay, tackles the very real and impending issue of the ethics regarding biotechnology, genetic enhancement, augmentation and to a lesser extent, cloning.

It is the mark of a good game that can consider such a deep and meaningful area of ethics that is not only pertinent now, but will be for decades and perhaps even centuries to come, whilst still delivering crisp cutscenes, relatable characters and a professionally composed soundtrack to boot.
William HJ
Deus Ex: Human RevolutionEidos Montreal, 2011PC, XBOX 360, PS3In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, we explore, from a first-person perspective, many topics that relate to current, real life discussions like rapid advancing technology, wealth disparity, media control, corporate independence and, more specifically, nano-technological augmentations.

But what DEx:HR really excels in, is the way it puts the player in the midst of all those discussions, by letting the player control a a character that is struggling not only for his life, but for answers on how his new "trans-human" augmented condition affects him and society itself. This game creates a credible world which even the smallest detail and unimportant character helps to create the feeling of a society that is filled with similar fears, prejudices and ideas that we are confronting right now in our modern society.
Thiago Mendonça
Deus Ex: Human RevolutionEidos Montreal,2011MultiDeus Ex gives the player a solid foundation of rules by which it's world operates,and then allows them to do whatever they wish,as long as it falls under those rules.If the player can dream up a solution to a conundrum,it can be done.Player choice is also given weight here.Choosing a dialogue option requires not only a random flick of the analog stick,but also an educated guess so as to obtain the desired outcome.Moreover,DE delves into topics such as transhumanism, maternal angst,corporate malice, and the like, and constructs discussions about said topics within the game itself.It raises intelligent questions,and leaves it up to the player to find their answers,while at times answering them itself.Gazi Farooqui
Devil Survivor OverclockedAtlus, 20113DSDevil Survivor tells a story of survival and morality. The game puts you in the role of a japanese teenager who gets stuck in a lockdown in Tokyo with his two friends and many other people. Adding to the problems people have access to COMP'S, devices that can summon demons to serve the user.

As the story progress's you begin to discover the reasons the lockdown was enacted and become friends with some of the other people in the lockdown. As the story progress's the characters begin to breakdown and become even more desperate. Each character has their own motivations and is more relatable then the average movie character.

Towards the end of the game, you are forced to pick a side. Each side has it's own pros and cons and none are painted as 'good' or 'evil.' It's up to the player to decide who's way of dealing with the lockdown is the best. Who you side with determines who joins you, one character may refuse to join you if you a select a ending that conflicts with their plans/ideals and may even oppose you.
Discworld NoirPerfect Entertainment (1999)PCThis game succeeded in blending two genres that genuinely should be incompatible: Noir and Fantasy. Even then, it still is suffused with the comedy that put Bestselling novelist Terry Pratchett to his fame. It is dark and bleak, yet it still manages to shine with the beauty of whimsy and adventure, being just like an early 20th century mystery film with an additional sense of light-heartedness, each progression to the clues unearthing more curiosity. Resurrection, an entity living in the depths of the largest and most unruly city in the world, accusations of criminality, communication with parodies of arch-types, and speaking with Death are all part of the endless night in pursuit of a killer. The narrative is extremely well-crafted and the atmosphere is consistently wonderful, as the hero would often say exactly why it's unnecessary for him to pick up every single portable object that can be clicked on. Michael Ujwary
Don't Look BackTerry Cavanagh 2009PC (Browser game)This is a very simple action-plataformer game with high difficulty and one unique rule: Don't look back.

The game is a story about a man in search for his loved one. Perhaps an analogy of the pain of love. Tome it's a metaphor of how life works.

I found this comment on one page featuring the game, if a person coming up with theories like this after finnishing a game doesn't tell you how deep and artistic this game is, nothing else will:

"Ok. An hour thinking brought me to this conclusion. The whole thing was an illusion. He never went to the underworld, as it was his thoughts of this epic adventure to save his loved one. The whole dream ends when he realizes that he is still there. I think the reason that he also disappears with his loved one's soul is because in fact his soul died too from losing her. Sad if you really think about it." -- gasman86 [Kongregate's Don't Look Back page]
Jaime Roberto Castro Hernández
Dont Look BackMars 2009PC FlashMinimalistic in its design, graphics and gameplay mechanics, Dont Look Back nevertheless succeeds at overwhelming the player with feelings : fear, questionning, guilt, sadness, hope, discouragement... This is a reinterpretation of Orpheus' myth, that will make you think about how video games can convey emotions.Florent Maurin
Dota2004 roughly?Mod within Warcraft 3The answer to the Platform prompt explains it all. Dota is one of the only games I play -- I don't necessarily consider myself a "gamer" -- and it has managed to capture my undivided attention for over 8 years. It's dynamic in a way no other game is; it has an incredibly rich history; the community is absolutely amazing; it's a mod from a game that's 8 years old and it is still popular!!!Kevin Shen
Dota 2Valve Corporation, still in BetaPCThis 5 on 5 online multi-player game rewards team-work more than anything else. A single player can only do so much. Reflexes and skill only do so much. What is most important is your ability to coordinate and communicate with your teammates. You can learn more about somebody by how they treat their allies than their enemies in this game, as in life more generally. A skilful dota player is someone who understands people, and there is nothing dumb about that.

Artistically, I am deeply impressed by this games roots in the mod community. Dota 2 is a stand alone version of the original mod, and I feel it is an appropriate continuation of the original community vision. Valve are honouring the game's community spirit, and feedback drives change.
LJ Nicholson
Dragon Age: OriginsBioware 2009PC, PS3, XBOX360This is a game where diplomacy is just as important as combat. An entire landscape, Tolkien-esque in scope, with many varying races, cultures, opinions, sexual orientations, customs, predjudices and biases. The game is not just about talking and fighting, it's about taking situations, making judgement calls, and living with the consequences. Reflecting on your choices may reveal what kind of person you are, not in a simple "good" or "evil" way either. It brings into debate what you are willing to sacrifice to defeat the coming hordes, not just in terms of lives but in terms of culture.

You get an origin (hense the name) which from the get go starts you off with a certain biased view of the world as your character knows it. It is not until you go out into the world that you learn what things truly are like, but even still you see the world starting from your preconcieved beginnings and YOU in the end choose what to believe. You are then introduced to other characters which see the world in very different ways, gaurenteed you will find someone to argue with. They will judge your decisions and have their own breaking points too. Conversations often become debates on culture and belief, about who's right, and if that even matters, often reflecting (like the best scifi and fantasy) the problems of our own world and our struggle to get along with each other. Racism, religious persecution are discussed in this game, do you drink the cool-aid? Do you rally against those that do? This game unlike any other shoves varying cultures in your face and whether you agree, relate, or disagree strongly you know there are bigger problems out there and that vendettas and differences need to be set aside... or not. The beauty is you decide what's worth saving and what needs sacrificing to save the world. Best thing is there is nothing preconcieved by the game designer what is right or wrong, it's mostly varying shades of grey. And it's not just about shaping the world, it's about defining who you are, what do you stand for or against and how do you go about it? As no other medium can boast but video gaming, you decide. It is the player who contributes to defining what the artwork means and how the story pans out. Also being forced to experience people with a variety of beliefs and differing backgrounds is a brilliant life message which is the main reason this game in my opinion should be mandatory as a tool for teaching tolerance and understanding in the real world.

Timothy Camilleri
Dragon Age: OriginsBioware 2009PC, Xbox 360, PS3Dragon Age: Origins is complex on so many levels. The premise is that of epic fantasy, your overall goal apparently simple: slay the Archdemon and prevent another Blight from consuming the land. Simple, right? You just have to go off and slay things. Wrong. To win you have to build an army, and doing that requires allies. The choices are hardly ever easy, and there are always consequences for your actions. Even better, the choices feel real. There is a definite degree of distress when you discover that a choice you have made has created unintended (and possibly tragic) consequences.

It's with your party members that things get truly interesting. They are legitimately fleshed out characters, each with their own set of morals and beliefs. Your choices can change them, hurt them, drive them away, or even get them killed. They range along the spectrum from religious and righteous to cavalier and snide, but it is impossible to define them by these traits. Once you delve under the surface you see enough depth and complexity that the characters become real. And when the characters in a game become more than characters, well, then you realize how powerful and terrible a thing choice can be.
Dwarf FortressToady OnePCThe depth of simulation, the intricacies of gameplay, etc.Volta
Dwarf FortressBay 12 Games (alpha)Windows & LinuxDwarf Fortress is a game for Windows, Linux and Mac, developed by Bay 12 Games featuring two modes of play, as well as distinct, randomly-generated worlds (complete with terrain, wildlife and legends), gruesome combat mechanics and ubiquitous alcohol dependency. It's probably the most complex, strange and mind blowing video game ever created, and it's not yet finished!nade
E.V.O.: Search for EdenAlmanic, December 21, 1992SNESTthe game involves the player navigating a creature through a number of side-scrolling levels while undergoing bodily evolution to cope with ever-changing environments.Zax15
EarthboundApe Co. LTD/Hal Laboratory LTD (c) 1994/1995SNESEarthbound stands as an amusing, interesting foreigner's view on America. Pop culture references abound and games takes as many chances as it gets to lampoon our culture and patriotism. While it never loses its fun-loving personality, Earthbound gets darker as the games goes on, at first cracking jokes about hamburgers and our stereotypical depiction of the dysfunctional family then soon pointing out the absurdity of cults, the life of a broke artist, the corruption of politicians and corporate executives, and even scares about demonic possession from the 90s. Despite never being re-released, Earthbound's wit and charm has earned it a cult following who have garnered the attention of major gaming websites and sometimes even Nintendo itself.Enoch
Echochrome JAPAN Studio, 2008PSP, PS3Echochrome is a puzzle game in which you must assist a mannequin in traversing a map of tangled, disjointed, and obstructed paths. All you can do is rotate the map. However, as your perspective changes, the layout/physics of the map change with it. The end result is like interacting with a M.C. Escher painting and provides a very intellectually challenging and rewarding experience.

Obscure a hole or gap with a pillar located elsewhere on the map? The hole or gap is no longer there. Move part of the map so that it appears "below" a hole? The mannequin will fall on to it, even if it was originally the same "height" as the hole. Create an overlap between two paths at different heights? The paths are now joined. And that's just scratching the surface.

Truth be told, I can hardly do it justice compared to the game's original trailer:
EchochromeGame Yarouze, 2008PSP, PS3Echochrome is essentially a puzzlegame that challenges the mind in ways only made possible by drawing by the artist M.C. Esscher. It's basically his style come to life. Adjust the perspective from where you see the level to lead the walking wooden artist's mannequin to set goals. All accompanied by the soothing and inspiring sounds of classical music. Minimalistic but a real brainbreaker.Toninho de Zoete
EchochromeGame Yarouze, 2008PSP, PS3Echochrome is essentially a puzzlegame that challenges the mind in ways only made possible by drawing by the artist M.C. Esscher. It's basically his style come to life. Adjust the perspective from where you see the level to lead the walking wooden artist's mannequin to set goals. All accompanied by the soothing and inspiring sounds of classical music. Minimalistic but a real brainbreaker.Toninho de Zoete
El Shaddai: Ascension of the MetatronIgnition Tokyo, 2001Xbox 360/PS3Seven angels, enamored with humanity, abandon Heaven for Earth and shield themselves from God's gaze, bestowing incredible gifts of progress on the people who have not yet earned it. Hardy a princess story, but the real intellectual meat of the game is in its art style - each environment completely changes it. Ezekiel's domain is presented like a Japanese watercolor painting, representing how she was taken by Earth's natural beauty. Azazel's granted his followers widsom, his realm appearing as a Tron-like futuristic metropolis. A temporary descent into "the Darkness" has you platforming through a world drawn like a hazy pencil sketch.

Near the beginning, as the player approaches the grotseque tower across a sleek, round, blade-like path of black-and-red metal, happy, tribal chanting can be heard alongside fireworks. In spite of the obviously evil construct towering above them, the people below celebrate their new gods. I can't remember the last time I saw an image as fantastic, twistedly gorgoeus, subtle, and powerful in a movie. El Shaddai is like a modern art gallery you can play; sometimes abstract, sometimes beautiful, sometimes confusing, sometimes breathtaking - but always deeply intelligent.
Phil Crayhart
Elder Scrolls III:MorrowindBethesda Game Studios, 2002PC, XBoxOn the face of it, Morrowind is just a fantasy RPG in a cleverly original setting. You can wander around, talk to people, kill things, and level your guy.
But the real appeal of Morrowind, to me, lay in the books. Or rather, what lay beyond the books. The 36 Lessons of Vivec are a series of religious texts that exist in universe. Upon reading these, and taking a closer look at them, you realise that they're specifically meant to help you, the player, realise that you're a character within a fictional setting.
Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimBethesda Game Studios, 2011Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360Skyrim is the fifth installment in The Elder Scrolls action role-playing video game series, following The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Skyrim is set 200 years after Oblivion.

As with previous Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim begins with the player character as an unknown prisoner, caught in an Imperial ambush while attempting to cross the border into Skyrim, on a wagon with several Stormcloak prisoners as well as a horse thief. They are all headed to Helgen to be executed. As the player character is about to be beheaded, a Dragon arrives, interrupting the execution and destroying Helgen. The player eventually learns that Skyrim's civil war is last in a sequence of prophetic events foretold by the Elder Scrolls, which also foretell of the return of Alduin, the Nordic Dragon-god of destruction, who is prophesied to consume the world. The player character is the latest "Dragonborn," an being with the mortal's body and a dragon's soul. The Dragonborn is anointed by the gods to help fend off the threat Alduin poses to Skyrim and Tamriel. Among the individuals aiding the player are Delphine and Esbern, two of the last remaining Blades, and Master Arngeir, a member of the Greybeards.

The player can explore the open world of Skyrim on foot or on horse, and fast-travel to cities, towns, and dungeons after they have been discovered. Quests are given to the player by characters in the world, and the quests can be dynamically altered to accommodate for player actions which may influence the quest's characters and objectives. The quest then further directs the player's interaction with the world by setting unexplored dungeons as quest locations. These quests often teach the player about the history of Skyrim and Tamriel. When not completing quests, the player can interact with characters through conversation, and they may request favors or training in skills from the player. In addition to scripted quests certain ones will be dynamically generated, providing a limitless number to the player. Some characters can become companions to the player to aid in combat. The player may choose to join factions, which are organized groups of characters such as the Dark Brotherhood, a band of assassins, or the Companions, a clan of warriors. Each faction has a headquarters, and they have their own quests which the player can progress through. The economy of cities and towns can be stimulated by completing jobs such as farming and mining, or spending large amounts of gold in the stores. The economy alternatively may be harmed by forging business ledgers, or robbing the safes of stores. The player may also learn more about Tamriel through books throughout Skyrim.

Given the mind-blowing size of the adventure, complexity of the countless stories, and majesty of the land of Skyrim, it clear that this game is not dumb in any way.
Ed Houser
Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimBethesda Game Studios; 2011PC (in particular)Bethesda deserves it position amongst the ranks here because of the level of interactivity that Skyrim's world offers to the player; both material and conceptual. It allows a world that gives the player the opportunity to create a reflection of not only who they are, but the world that 'they' envision as well. Skyrim, like a few gems of its era, suffer from pre-maturity; it simply was unable to produce a truly sound product in the time that it had allotted itself. Unlike most games, Bethesda was able to combat this (like with many of its previous titles) by allowing creative freedom of the most intimate method a video game could muster: modding.

Granting the player-base the ability to modify the internal mechanics of a game allows everyone with an idea and the desire to express that idea the chance to literally be a part of something more than just their personal gaming experience. Modding gives a deeper connection & respect to not only what a game is, but for the people who play it. Modding takes a video game from being something sluggishly concrete (that the player can at most, passively influence through opinion and sales) to a living, breathing creative conduit that undergoes alterations from the minute to the massive.

Now what i described does not pertain to only Skyrim, it is not limited to Bethesda. There are more games that offer this than I care to mention (despite the obvious such as Minecraft & LBP) that allow the player to be a part of a community working towards a common interest: to create. Art is a physical reflection of the human self, his/her world and his/her inner machinations to the previous; modding allows just that, a chance for humanity to smear its drawing upon the cave wall of a creation even greater than its individual self. No one game truly void of being "artistic or intellectually sophisticated", every game made is from the orchestrations of people with the goal of creating a world. Whether it would be a world of falling block formations or one of humanity's survival on a galactic scale it was a world, created by us. Its is that very idea that both is "artistic AND intellectually sophisticated".
Matthew Harris
Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimBethesda Game Studios, 2011PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3Perhaps this will be criticized for being on the "violent and banally escapist" side of the spectrum, but let's compare the game (and its series) to other works of fantasy escapism, shall we? Easily one of the most expansive and complete mythologies ever created, The Elder Scrolls spits in the face of other more juvenile fictional pantheons and histories. The political happenings hearken back to Elizabethan Europe, and the flow of time doesn't restrict the series to medieval fantasy, but rather frees it into a slowly evolving environment of politics and magic. One can imagine Tamriel with skyscrapers as easily as with battlements.
I restrict this entry to Skyrim for its culmination of the series and escapism itself--instead of wishing that they were Frodo, the player makes his or her own Frodo, or Legolas, or if it pleases them, Saruman. Every quest is littered with intrigue and plot twists written by some of the best storytellers in the medium. In short, Skyrim and Tamriel are worlds that are only comparable to A Song of Ice and Fire's Westeros in their complexity, depravity, immersion, and creativity, and if society may praise the latter as a monolith of literature and television, then it should consider The Elder Scrolls and Skyrim similarly in the medium of electronic entertainment.
Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimBethesda Game Studios, 2011Microsoft Windows, Playstation 3, Xbox 360Considering the incredibly vast and complicated history of the land of Skyrim, from the Civil War between the Empire and the Stormcloaks to the tales of Ysgramor and the Five Hundred Companions, it can be considered gaming's equivalent of J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. How can a fantasy world of that majesty and complexity be "intellectually lazy?"Michael Moran
Empire earthSierra Entertainment 2001PCPlayers work their way upwards thoughout the major eras, starting with the pre-historic era - ending in the future with the nano-age. This forces the player to think twice before building troops - because the more ressources you spend, the later you can evolve to the next age, but you need to be able to defend your nation. Research items, and nationspecific bonusses, which must be chosen by the player, further complicate the game - so the player must choose the right bonusses to fit his/her playstyle. The game gets more and more types of troops as you progress thru the ages, meaning you constantly have to adapt your armies, and playstyle, to the age you progress to.
All of this is on top of the regular RTS aspects, where you need to strategic moves in order to conquer your enemy.
Lasse Buhrmann
English Country TuneIncrepare 2011/12IOSThis spatial puzzler is anything but dumb. It requires a significant amount of forethought while simultaneously requiring the gamer to rely on spatial intuition to find solutions not readily apparent. It is artistic in that it dispenses with any attempt at selling the game on "polish" and relies instead on the beauty of the games core mechanics (of which there are a great many unique types put forth).Marrkoss
Enslaved: Odyssey to the WestNinja Theory 2010XBox 360 and PS3The entire premise of the game entails a woman that has placed a slave band on the main character to force him to help her reach her home and elimiate a slavery ring, whose technology she is using herself. It brings forth conflicting emotions as she has made you her slave, which is inherently bad, but has done so to save her reach/save her village and to take out the slavers, which is good.

The philosophical and moral battle of "Does the end justify the means?" is played out throughout not only through story and superb voice acting but often comes across other similar struggles, such as presenting the complex situtation of whether or not it is okay for an entity to capture people (killing some along the way) and force them into a virtual paradise or whether it's better to leave people free but in a hopeless wasteland where they have to fight for survival.
Matthew J.
eSense - Dark HorizonWings Intellect Pvt. Ltd. (2011)AndroidThe game is a first attempt at using narrative based conventional shooter to help people learn and assess their knowledge of the solar system. This is a prototype of the game which was built for validating the design and its impact on the learning of students. The Mac and PC version of the game, redesigned and redone using Unreal Technology is releasing this August.

This is first in series of games designed and developed having conventional education as their focus, while employing high quality game play and mechanics. During the pilot run, the game has seen higher retention and better learning outcomes, with over 40% improvement in student's academic performance when compared to conventional mediums of instruction like books and other media tools!
Kumar Aakash
Eternal DarknessSilicon Knights/2002GameCubeA sleeper hit that defines epic horror, the story spans from 26 BC to 2000 AD. Over the course of 12 different time periods (each with it's own playable character), you uncover and attempt to halt a plot to awaken an ancient god, which would ensure the end of the world. Each character's journey comprises another chapter of The Tome Of Eternal Darkness, which you read throughout the game. One of the defining traits of this game is your Sanity Meter, which is depleted through encounters with disturbing events, and eventually leads to hallucinations such as decreasing volume or bleeding wallsMax Gigler
Eternal SonataTri-Crescendo 2007ps3, xbox 360It is notable for its use of classical piano pieces, educational cutscenes featuring real paintings and photographs (in contrast to the cel-shading graphics of the game) and lush landscape design. The game is centered on the Polish romantic pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin, who died of tuberculosis at the age of 39. The story envisions a fictional world dreamed by Chopin during his last hours that is influenced by Chopin's life and music, and in which he himself is a playable character, among others. The game features a selection of Chopin's compositions played by pianist Stanislav Bunin, though most of the original compositions were written by Motoi Sakuraba. The game's battle system centers on musical elements and character-unique special attacks. Light and darkness plays a part in the appearance and abilities of enemies on the battlefield, as well as the types of magic that can be cast.

-thanks wiki.
Alex "Rozencrantz" V.
Europa Universalis IIIParadox Interactive 2007Windows, Mac OS XA world map of 1700+ land and sea regions containing 250+ historic playable nation, this installment of a Grand Strategy series allows you to rule from ANY DATE during 1453-1789 (1399-1821 w/expansions) regarding matters concerning war, diplomacy, trade, and economy. Since its release 5 years ago, both the Paradox programmers and fan modding team have worked together to introduce new features and improve the historical accuracy and ahistorical potential resulting in 4 (to date) full expansions. Using a simple text file structure, virtually every component of this game can be changed or added to, allowing for increased re-playability and customization.

I recommend this game and others like it because you gradually gain an understanding of how the various struggles between nations have shaped the world that we live in, with more visual depth than watching a historical documentary and increased engagement compared to a textbook - all without consciously studying, just enjoying the time invested.
Daniel Oakes
Europa Universalis IIIParadox Interactive - 2007PCEuropa Universalis III is a "grand strategy" game which tasks you with the ruling of a nation from 1453 through 1789. EUIII is much more complicated than traditional civilization simulators and decisions play out in more historically accurate time frames (sailing expeditions and troop movement are anything but instantaneous.) Additionally, the game does not impose any specific win conditions on to your experience. The player may choose to focus on colonizing the new world, or forego that to focus on creating a trade monopoly. Nations also adhere to behaviors similar to their real-life counterparts. With a particularly fat manual and steep learning curve, EUIII takes a more high-brow approach to the civilization-simulator genre. DireLight
Eve OnlineCCP, 2003PC, OSXThis game deserves a spot on the Smart Games listing for a reason that is, I believe, entirely accidental. The Eve Online universe has evolved into a living breathing life form of pure capitalism and economics. CCP's trailer of the game titled "The Butterfly Effect" sums it up the best, and shows how events on the micro-scale can have devastating and beautiful repercussions on the macro-scale.

The complete economy (featuring mining, research, manufacturing all tied together with politics, trade, and war) has been developed completely by the thousands of players who participate in the universe. Alliances, borders, treaties, and wars are constantly shifting and changing in an elegant dance of captialist-driven social interaction.
Jeremy Patton
Fallout 3Bethesda Softworks, 2008PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360I'll be honest- this game has a lot of problems. Mostly, those problems exist because of the insistence on guns and weapons that plague modern video games. But if you're willing to look past that, Fallout 3 accomplishes something that is entirely unique to the video game medium- the feeling of inhabiting a different space. Mutants, raiders and nukes are the minor annoyances that get in the way of exploring a world that- through the various cultural and personal artifacts you find- felt lived in.

Nothing thrilled me more than exploring the deathly still buildings and finding a series of responses on computer screens that detailed an ancient argument, or finding a corpse next to a ham radio that broadcasts a desperate plea for help that has long been useless. Can movies, pictures, and music immerse you? Absolutely. But only video games provide the freedom to explore the place immersed in with the attention and enthusiasm of an amateur anthropologist.
Erandi Huipe
Fallout 3Bethesda 2008PC, Xbox 360, PS3.Fallout 3 is amazing, through its art, music, and so much more, we can feel the loneliness of the wastelands in a post apocalyptic world. It's not easy for a game or a movie to make me FEEL something, Fallout 3 did. During my long walks - alone - in the wastelands, I seemed to miss people, miss characters I've never met, people who didn't mean anything to me...but the lack of those made me fell desperate, sad. Feelings like those, are common after a disaster, and no disaster can ever match the one of Fallout. Guilherme Jacobs
Fallout: New VegasObsidian Entertainment, 2010Windows, Playstation 3, XBOX 360A massive game that begins with the attempted murder of the player character, and an investigation of the circumstances, New Vegas is the first entry in the long-running "Fallout" series from the original design team since Fallout 2. Set in a post-apocalyptic world rooted in the science of 50's B-Movies and Cold War paranoia, New Vegas offers the wide canvas of other "open world" games, but prevents that freedom from strangling the thematic complexity.

The game concerns the conflict between the "New California Republic," a democratic power expanding eastward, and "Caesar's Legion," a horde of vicious slavers that rule their territory with an iron fist, over the revived Las Vegas, presided over by the seemingly immortal Mr. House. Quite notably, the game offers four routes toward an ending: siding with the NCR, with the Legion, with House, or the incredibly satisfying course of "No Gods, No Masters," in which the player drives out all three powers, refusing to participate in the struggle that destroyed the old world. These four options, though, are flavored by the character's morality; a moral character who supports Caesar's legion receives a bittersweet ending, while a more vicious iteration may plunge the Mojave into darkness and barbarism.

On the whole, one of the more thematically complicated games in recent years.
Cameron Summers
Far Cry 2Ubisoft Montreal, 2008PCWhile there are games I would put over this one artistically, they've pretty much already been listed, and Far Cry 2 sticks out because of a particular story created from my own experience with it (major ending spoilers ahead!).

Far Cry 2′s ending was really interesting to me as far as unique things games can do goes as it created a perfect end to a character arc that I created. When I started the game I assumed there would be some sort of moral choices in the game, so I was initially annoyed when I realised I had no choice but to commit utterly monstrous acts as the game went on. In the end I decided to roll with it, and imagined my character as one who genuinely wanted to make a difference, but had their morals gradually deteriorate as their obsession with catching The Jackal grew. Then the ending came along and provided redemption and some attempt at amends in a way that almost made it feel like the game had read my mind. I’ve seen a lot of hate for the ending, and I was apparently a complete minority in coming up with something like this, yet, that quite possibly made it even more powerful. It was MY story of dangerous obsession and eventual (fatal) redemption, and no other medium could have done it the same way.

Even the epilogue fit, and ended up creating an extremely negative ending/message that still managed to fit everything so far; my final actions hadn’t really helped Africa at all, and the country remained a hell-hole. Yet that only seemed natural after the horrible acts I had committed along the way. I couldn’t change anything in the end, and didn’t really deserve to, but at least I was allowed to try.
Shaun Friend
Fatal Frame 2: Crimson ButterflyTecmo, 2003PS2Fatal Frame is a survival horror video game developed by Tecmo. It is the second installment in the Fatal Frame series and is considered by some gaming magazines as one of the scariest video games ever created.

Different with RE and other survival horror game, this game only use camera as a weapon and the main character wont run as fast as Jill. There also some annoying puzzle. Hope you try this. Oh, and there also a remake of this game on Wii.
Fate of the WorldRed Storm, 2011PC, MacA very simple simulation game created in cooperation with Oxford University, Fate of the World asks the player to concoct a method for responding to rapid social and environmental changes taken from projections of environmental, technological, and social changes. It is insanely difficult, and clearly shows the difficulty of preparing for a rapidly changing future.Cameron Summers
Fate of the WorldRed Redemption Ltd 2010PC & MacFate of the World is a PC strategy game that simulates social and environmental impacts of global climate change over the next 200 years. You are entitled the role of leader of an international task force dedicated to the attribution of ressources to every continent. You may choose in what sector the country will invest and the policy this country will apply within the next 5 years. Based on the research of Prof. Myles Allen of Oxford University, every development card you buy and choose to play or not has an extensive range of consequences.

The game is hard and unforgiving, you need to pay an hectic attention to a tons of variables to be able to bring a scenario to its end, without being certain to win it. I encourage you to have a look to the main website and/or the wiki, they give you a small idea of what is to be expected in the game...