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The Top Ten Reasons Top Ten Lists Reign

Sam Machkovech | 28 Apr 2009 13:05
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Remember when we thought the web would reinvent the way we talked about videogames? We, the fans and enthusiasts, could finally ignore BS-heavy magazines packed full of giddy previews of Christmas toys. In their place would rise a new era of thoughtful dialogue about the artistic strides, cultural issues and personalities involved in our favorite hobby.

Years later, social news websites like Digg and Reddit have offered us a decent approximation of what the public really wants from its videogame coverage: lists. Lots and lots of lists.

The top "adult" issues Pokémon doesn't address? The top five most influential SNES games, as chosen by a single person? The top ten anything? Is it too late to trade this stuff in for glowing previews of Assassin's Creed again?

Whether IGN is counting down the Most Wanted Games of 2009 or a random blogger is trolling about the Hardest Games of 1988, the top ten list has become the new standard of internet gaming articles. And apparently we're OK with that. No matter how infuriating, typo ridden, incorrect or sloppy they are, we can't stop reading them, commenting on them and voting them to the top of Reddit and Digg.

Not content to fall by the wayside, we at The Escapist have gone to great lengths to understand and explain the proliferation of the top ten list. We put together a comprehensive survey of gamers' reading habits, cross-analyzed the data with EGM and PC Gamer reader surveys from the early '90s and invited leading taste-makers from mainstream magazines to weigh in on the trend. Then we threw that stuff in the trash and farted out a top ten list of our own. Enjoy!

10) It's karma, stupid.
Reddit Gaming Channel Co-Moderator Jon "Masta" Disnard personally knows at least one reason for the trend: karma points. "The persistence [of top ten lists] might be attributed to the popularity contest that goes on with sites like Reddit, Digg or Slashdot," he says. Because up-votes on these sites' links also count on their submitters' profiles, those with a nose for popular content quickly rise in the ranks. But it's not always easy to be the first to post a big news story or the latest SecuROM complaint. For an easier shot at karmic gold, you're better off posting a top ten list.

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If gamers love anything more than top ten lists, it's an arbitrary, valueless points system. Consider Reddit and Digg's karma systems the ultimate Gamerscore for flamewar freaks.

9) The author is always right.
So what if a top ten list from a gaming fanboy is full of retread reviews and missing a few obvious choices? That's not the point.

Take this Game Boy Advance top ten as an example. The reviews are short, even flippant, and each item alone can be shrugged off. But as a collection, the author has picked a revealing series of games - mostly side-scrolling action/adventure games, with hat-tips to Mario Kart and Zelda. It's a reflection on the GBA's catalog, but it's also an authentic depiction of the author's gaming preferences, and chances are you can relate. It's the perfect "recommended if you like" scenario: Whether we're curious about his foreign perspective or nodding in agreement, there's a chance we'll discover something new. Maybe he'll hip us to a side-scroller that passed us by; we may even take comfort in the guy's Nintendo crush. Here, his shamelessness is an asset.

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