The definitive list, exposed

The other day I posted a list of every NES game (according to Wikipedia, at any rate), and then ranked them. A couple of sites picked up on the list and it generated a little bit of a controversy. So, what’s up with the list anyway? Was it just a ploy to get web hits? What do the ranks mean? I’m going to answer all those questions and more.

As I’ve posted before, all lists that attempt to rank video games in any kind of meaningful way are inherently flawed. They’re ways to quickly drum up content in a pinch, they don’t take a whole lot of research to compile, and almost every time you see one the discussion is rife with comments saying that the list failed in some way because Game Y was rated higher than Game Z and the editor must have been smoking hallucinogenic drugs to order the list the way that they did. In fact, a list from ‘worst’ to ‘best’ implies that the games in the list can be quantitatively broken down into numbers that somehow reflect the ‘goodness’ that might be in a game. It would be pretty awesome if there were a kind of ‘fun unit’ that we could use to determine the amount of pleasure one might get out of a game.

But we can’t. Primarily because experiencing video games is hugely subjective. Someone might favor graphics over all else. Someone else might give the edge to sound quality. A third might give passes to both of those as long as the story is well-written. And so on, ad nauseum. This brings me to my main point: There is no good way to rank games in any meaningful way because tastes vary too widely. Which, stated another way, is “All ‘Top X’ lists are essentially equally as valuable as another” and are little more than excuses for the authors to meander down Memory Lane. And there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as we recognize them for what they are.

My solution to this mess involved taking a list of games for the NES (though any platform would do) and creating a simple script to randomly order it into a list. I then sent notice out to a few key websites to see what reactions might be.

Bear in mind, now, that I never once mentioned how I ranked them, or what the rankings might be. Everyone pretty well assumed that the game at the top was the ‘best’ and the game at the bottom was the ‘worst’, but it was simpler than that. The game with the ‘number 1′ ranking was simply the game with the number 1 ranking. Immediately, comments started pouring in on various websites saying that I didn’t know what I was doing, or that Goonies II was ranked higher than Zelda II, when clearly it should be the other way around.

This was the expected response.

Most lists of this nature have some pretty loud objectors. Mostly due to their widely varying tastes (remember those?). I’ve taken note of that and created an outlet. Press F5 and *boom*, new list, exactly as valid as the last, and primed for new discussion.

Of course this has the (also intentional) side-effect of no two people seeing the exact same list (with the exception to the first couple of hours the list was up due to a snafu on my part) leading to two people arguing over their favorite game’s placement:

SomeGuy: No way, can you believe this moron put Bad Dudes at 468? What an idiot, that was a great game!

SomeOtherGuy: Are you insane? Bad Dudes is number 8 and that game sucked. 468 is Metal Storm, which is way too good to be so far down.

And that, friends, achieves my ultimate goal: to foster discussion. Which The List did admirably. There were no hidden motives, no ‘publicity stunt’, no ‘whoring for webhits’, or anything like that. For those that ‘got it’ and appreciated it, I thank you for your kind words, and those that didn’t… well, better luck next time, I guess.