There Is No “Best Game”

Published: 2021/11/25

Last updated: 2021/11/25

Far too often when browsing through my favourite gaming forum, I see people post topics asking what the “best game” is, either in a given series or across a broad genre. Sometimes, I even see it for two games in entirely different genres, or debates on what the “best game of all time” is.

This is a counter-productive way of looking at things, leaving one a slave to other people’s opinions and ruining your own fun. Let’s take a closer look.

Why People Do It

There is a certain logic as to why people want to think this way, and it’s not entirely wrong – but it does miss the point of why we originally started playing video games.

Essentially, the logic goes like this:

In terms of min-maxing, it makes perfect sense. However, playing video games isn’t your job, nor is it your responsibility. It’s something you do for the love of it, not to tick off a box saying you did something. If you “don’t have time” for a game or an element thereof (for instance, refusing to play JRPGs because of the “grind”1), then you’re probably not there to play video games, but to tick off that box anyway.

Given that the purpose of gaming is to have fun, not to min-max, a better form of logic would be:

The Problem of Best

Continuing from that last point, there is another significant problem in the initial approach, that being the pointless competition of being “best” at all:

This is probably something best explored through example. Let’s use the classic Donkey Kong Country trilogy as our baseline, because I see this argument about the trilogy all the time.

First off, what makes any given game in the trilogy the “best” of the three? All three games play very similarly to each other in terms of basic mechanics. All three have comparable levels of graphics, sound effects, and music. All three are even about on-par as far as the storyline goes, in that there’s not terribly much of one. Which one, then, is the “best”?

I’ve seen reasonable arguments put forth for all three titles – Donkey Kong Country 1 has minimalist charm; Donkey Kong Country 2 took each previous concept to a new level; Donkey Kong Country 3 has a lot of gimmicks. I’ve also seen every one of those points listed as a flaw – Donkey Kong Country 1 is too boring; Donkey Kong Country 2 doesn’t offer much new; Donkey Kong Country 3 relies too heavily on gimmicks at the expense of the basic experience.

The thing is, all the arguments make sense at the same time because the entire thing is based on subjective opinions. That’s actually fine. Finding the joy of the game in different ways is a good thing, and so is sharing the individual perspectives. There doesn’t actually have to be a “best”, as showcased plainly enough by how nobody can consistently agree on the criterion.

Going further out, how would you compare any Donkey Kong Country title to any title in Super Mario All-Stars?

While they are all platforming games, each one emphasises different aspects of that. If you don’t like collecting a bunch of things to truly complete the game, Donkey Kong Country 2 or Donkey Kong Country 3 certainly won’t appeal to you, for instance. If you value unhurried exploration, most games in Super Mario All-Stars will annoy you with their time-limits and more linear trends in level design. Again, each game has its own distinct thing going, making a direct comparison difficult.

In a more extreme case, could you reasonably be expected to compare, say, Donkey Kong Country 3 with a CRPG like Betrayal at Krondor? “They both have a lot of words, both allow you to hit things, and you take on the role of multiple characters from a third party’s perspective, sure, but Betrayal at Krondor tells a far better story so it must be the better game.” Isn’t that a bit ridiculous? This is what the quest for the “best” game eventually devolves into.

Concluding Thoughts

There’s a time and place for competition, but it isn’t all of the time. Art can be enjoyed from a number of different angles, and disliked for the same. What matters is finding out what your own personal style is, your own likes and dislikes, and seeing what fun you can get out of it. As with art in general, your tastes will become refined through experience and exposure, making it a worthwhile endeavour to try whatever strikes your fancy, even, perhaps even especially, if it’s outside your usual comfort zone.

You don’t need to feel any compulsion to justify yourself, either. In the words of the immortal sage Hirasawa Yui, “fun things are fun”. That’s all you need.


  1. Though chances are that anyone complaining of “grinding” in a JRPG is ignoring or abusing the mechanics to begin with.↩︎

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