How Does a Game Get into the World Video Game Hall of Fame?

World Video Game Hall of Fame class, 2022. The Strong, Rochester, New York
World Video Game Hall of Fame class, 2022. The Strong, Rochester, New York

We welcomed four new inductees into the World Video Game Hall of Fame class of 2022: Ms. Pac-Man, Dance Dance Revolution, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Sid Meier’s Civilization. They span almost a 20-year period in game history, with Ms. Pac-Man coming out in 1981, Civilization released ten years later, and DDR and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time debuting in 1998. Interestingly, that seventeen-year time span actually marks the most time-compressed period for any of our World Video Game Hall of Fame classes. Yet what these games lack in diversity of date, I think they make up for in variety of platforms and playstyles. They represent arcade, console, and computer games, and they indicate how a great game can have quick, bitesize play measured in minutes or extended sessions that can last hundreds of hours. Gaming comes in all sizes and shapes, and this year’s class reflects that. They’re all worthy inductees.

But how does a game get inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame? That’s a question I’m asked frequently, and so I thought I’d offer a quick overview of the process and how that affects which games become inductees. We are, in effect, creating an informal canon of great video games, and so I think it’s useful to share how the sausage is made, so to speak. There is inevitably a certain amount of subjectivity to this, but we have developed a process that we hope makes this as thoughtful and balanced as possible. We don’t want to be selecting just our personal favorites!

When we started the World Video Game Hall of Fame in 2015, we decided that games would be inducted on four criteria:

  • Icon-status
  • Longevity
  • Geographical reach
  • Influence

Each of these criteria allowed us to begin separating the wheat from the chaff, the merely popular from the truly important. Icon-status meant that a game was well-known. Everyone knows Pac-Man, far fewer are familiar with Crazy Climber, an arcade game that was also released in 1980. That familiarity is also due to Pac-Man’s longevity and geographical reach. People still play Pac-Man today, while you’d be hard pressed to find a version of Crazy Climber (though its gameplay was imitated in Disney’s limited-run, promotional Fix-It Felix arcade game for the movie Wreck-it Ralph, a cabinet that we have in our collection). And while Crazy Climber did quite well in Japan, players elsewhere in the world never really fell in love with it. Lastly, we decided that influence was one criterion that could trump all the others. A game like Space War, developed by a group of MIT students in the early 1960s, is not well known or played today, but it is recognized as a pioneering game that inspired a generation of game designers and led to the development of the first arcade video game, Computer Space. It deserves induction solely based on its influence.

Fix-It Felix. The Strong, Rochester, New York
Fix-It Felix. The Strong, Rochester, New York

Once we had criteria set, we then developed a selection process that involves several stages. First, a staff committee at The Strong assembles a list of a dozen nominees that we think meet the above criteria. In assembling this list, we try to select a good mix of games from around the world that come from different eras and also represent the diversity of gaming platforms and styles. We don’t want all arcade games or all console games or all games from Japan or North America. We want a list that truly reflects the rich ecosystem of games. We also want to balance previous nominees with some new entries.

Once we select the final twelve nominees, we share that list confidentially with our international selection advisory committee. This is a group of about 30 scholars and journalists from around the world who are familiar with games, and we ask them to vote for their top three choices among the finalists. We tally their votes, awarding five points for a first-place vote, three points for a second-place vote, and one point for a third-place vote. We also invite fans to vote on the slate of finalists, and the result of that public poll is awarded the same weight as that of one member of the committee (though in reality, because they represent a distinct category of voters, the fan vote probably gets slightly more attention than that of any one member of the committee). We also ask for written feedback from our judges on why they made their choices, and we read those carefully as they often make nuanced points that need to be considered in addition to the raw voting scores.

Once we have the final votes from the committee, the staff selection team sits down to review those and make the final selection. Just about always, some games soar to the top, clear favorites across the board among the committee members. Those are easy selections. Usually that corresponds fairly closely to the number of games being inducted (six the first two years, four every year since), but sometimes there will be a smaller group bunched right at the margin between selection and also-ran status. In that case, knowing that only a limited number of games are getting in, the balance issue may come into play. For example, if we know two console games are sure inductees, and there’s a near toss-up between including another console game and an arcade, PC, or mobile game, we will probably be inclined to go with a format that isn’t yet included in that year’s class. After all, if we’ve done our job right, all the games should meet the induction criteria, and if the game is good enough it will have a shot in future years.

Good games that stand the test of time generally win out in the end. In this year’s class, only Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a first-time nominee. Sid Meier’s Civilization earned entry after being previously nominated twice, in 2015 and 2019; Ms. Pac-Man and Dance Dance Revolution had been nominated in 2018.

So, for fans of the eight other games that didn’t get inducted this year—Candy Crush, Resident Evil, NBA Jam, Assassin’s Creed, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Microsoft Minesweeper, PaRappa the Rapper, Rogue, and Words with Friends—don’t lose hope. There’s always next year!

Article by Jon-Paul Dyson, VP for Exhibits and Director of the International Center for the History of Electronic Gaming at The Strong National Museum of Play.

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