This list is loosely in chronological order, not in order of importance. This is not a list of games I think are the best ever or a list of my favorites, but a list of 10 highly influential games that the world of gaming would be very different without.
1. Space Invaders
There was a time when the thought of "Video Games" automatically turned up Space Invaders. At a time when early arcade games and Atari games were really the only viable game in town, Space Invaders was the king of the classic genre of space shooter. The simple idea of putting shields to hide behind made what could have been a quickly forgotten twitch-shooter into a strategic classic. Space Invaders has been imitated so many times, and has received numerous upgrades, remakes and sequels throughout the years. Though it's not though of in as high regard as other games of it's era, it's importance to gaming is undeniable.
2. Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong is more than the first appearance of the titular ape. It's more than the first appearance of Mario, the most important and most prevalent gaming icon of all time. Hell, it's even more than one of the very first games in the platform genre, if not the first. It's the first game to have multiple stages. Oh sure, after you beat a screen of Pac Man, another screen came up. But it was the same screen, just harder. When designing the game, soon-to-be legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto insisted on four dynamic and different levels. The programmers were angry, they thought they were being asked to create the game four times. That's how rooted the idea of one static screen was in the industry. Now while people still play games that make them play the same basic shit over and over again (*coughhackwheezehalocoughcoughhack*) the idea of progressing through different stages has stuck to this day.
3. Super Mario Bros
If Donkey Kong created the platformer and introduced Mario, then Super Mario Bros. refined the idea of a platformer to an art, and launched Mario into superstardom. You'd be hard pressed to find a game of this genre that isn't in some way influenced by the mighty Super Mario Bros. Even at this time, most games were single screen affairs with little-to-no scrolling, very simplistic graphics and usually a black background and occasional bleeps and bloobs. Super Mario Bros had a vividly colorful landscape, many different types of stages and powerups, very detailed graphics for it's time and background music that changed depending on the situation. We take it for granted now, but this game was legendary.
A simplistic puzzle game created by a bunch of dirty commies in a way for the Soviets to get in on this whole video game craze. Somehow this spawned the most iconic puzzle game ever created. It doesn't matter which version you play, Tetris is the same basic concept of seven varieties of blocks based on four smaller blocks dropping down. Move and flip them into position to make and clear horizontal lines, and the game gets faster as you play. Cloned hundreds of times, with hundreds of version of the original on top of that and Tetris is one of the most influential games of all time. It was also just about the perfect way to introduce non-gamers into gaming until Wii Sports came along.
5. Street Fighter II
I have to tell you that the first time I saw Street Fighter II, like most people I was blown away. Also like most people I had some prior experience with the fighting genre, and found it to be rather lacking. Like most people I was unaware of the original Street Fighter. Somehow, this game came out of nowhere and completely revolutionized both the fighting genre and arcade games in general. Suddenly people were playing it in tournaments, hundreds of knock-offs were in arcades and on the shelf and the game got remade so many times that a remake of it just came out last year. Street Fighter II, like so many on this list, took an existing genre and finally fucking got it right.
6. Dragon Quest (aka Dragon Warrior)
There were Role Playing games before Dragon Quest (until recently called Dragon Warrior in the good ol' US of A). The fact is though, that most of them were derived from either pen-and-paper games or they had complicated systems. Dragon Quest was an RPG that Joe Schmoe could pick up and play. Combining elements of Ultima and Wizadry, but cutting the wheat from the chaf, Dragon Quest was an easy-to-play game that you could pick up and have fun with right away. Virtually every RPG owes a lot to this game and the series it spawned, and without it, the onlyRPGs you'd be playing would probably require you to make up a character sheet first.
Doom was not the first FPS (First Person Shooter). It wasn't even the first one from id software. However the company's original attempt, Wolfenstien 3D looks like a quaint attempt compared to the mighty and venerable Doom. Doom did a lot differently, and had absolutely spectacular graphics for it's time. The game is still being played today, and for good reason. Doom was the king of Shareware, almost everybody had a copy of Episode 1, and after playing through it, you couldn't help but want the rest. It was also the first FPS game to have multiplayer over an internet connection (usually LAN at the time) which means it created the idea of "deathmatch" which is actually a term that comes from Doom. Although it wasn't originally intended, it was possible for users to create their own levels for Doom, which Id embraced fully. New levels for Doom and it's sequel are being made as you read this, and some of them honestly blow the original away. If you've ever played a shooter, bow down and kiss the ass of Doom.
8. Super Mario 64
Say what you will about the 3D revolution in gaming, but Super Mario 64 did something very imortant. It showed us that 3D versions of our 2D favorites could actually be really good. Though you'll often see me bemoan the idea that every fucking game has to be in 3D according to some idiots, the fact is that some games actually do translate really well into 3D. Super Mario 64 is by no means perfect, and there's actually plenty of 3D platformers I'd sooner play. But the fact is, before Super Mario 64, 3D games just kind of sucked all over the place. Super Mario 64 set the standard, and although the bar has been raised quite a few times afterwards, the importance of this game simply cannot be denied.
9. CastleVania: Symphony of the Night
It's no coincidence that I'm putting this rigth after the game that legitimized the 3D revolution. Because the Playstation's absolutely amazing CastleVania proved that 2D was not only still a viable way to do video games, but that in some cases it's preferable. I think that if not for Symphony of the Night, the art of hand-drawn sprites in video game might have been lost. CastleVania may not have been perfectly balanced (it's far too easy), or the most original game in the world (it borrows heavily from Super Metroid) but it's the execution that counts, and the game is some of the most fun you'll have while not nude. CastleVania proved that 2D was sticking around, and a lot of us breathed a sigh of relief becuase of that.
10. Final Fantasy VII
I'll be honest. I'm not really all that crazy about this game. It's certainly playable, and I find it to be an improvement over it's predecessor in terms of how enjoyable it is to play. But in all honesty, my thoughts on the mighty FF7 could best be summed up as "meh". The game was neither groundbreaking nor revolutionary or original. It's also true that much of it's incredible success was due less to the game's own merits and more to a very slick and convincing ad campaign by Square. So why is it on this list? Because the game's unproportioned success did one very important thing. It turned the low-selling niche genre of RPGs into games that were suddenly blockbusters. It legitimized RPGs in America and becuase of it, many great games that might have stayed in Japan were released here, and some games that may not have even been made have been released. RPGs were now no longer looked at as an intimidating niche genre mostly played by the D&D crowd. Suddenly they were talked about on the news. So for that, Final Fantasy VII rightfully earns the last spot on my list.