Format: NES Genre: Light Gun Game Released: 1987 Developer: Nintendo
Duck Hunt’s a bit of an odd inclusion for this list, chiefly because I don’t actually think it’s a particularly good game. However, despite its dull repetitiveness, it did make my life slightly better, so it’s in.
The reason it made my life slightly better is that it was one of the first games to be truly accessible to ‘non-gamers’ and, as such, was a game you could talk about to your girlfriend without inducing some sort of gamerspeak-related catatonic state. Admittedly, games like Pong and Space Invaders were trailblazers in terms of their instant accessibility, but most games still require a little bit of gaming knowhow to be able to get into them.
Think of the Zelda games for example: even though they’re amongst the most accessible RPGs, the player is still expected to be aware of certain gaming tropes. I mean, how would you know to go inside people’s house and break open vases to look for treasure? It doesn’t really make any sense from an outsider’s perspective. I mean, how many people hide their treasure in vases? And isn’t it just plain stealing? However, as a gamer you’re expected to know that this is the done thing.
For my generation, Duck Hunt was the great leveller: long before the Wii was a twinkle in the eye of randy old Mr Nintendo, here was a game that you could wheel out at Christmas and play with your Great Aunt with absolutely minimum preamble required.
“Here’s a big plastic orange gun Auntie. Now shoot ducks.”
As opposed to:
“Ok, now go into the house. No, the house … It’s A, press A. No that’s B … OK, you’re in, now hit that vase with your sword. Why? Look, just do it, OK? No, it’s B this time … OK, now pick up the rupees. What? No it’s not stealing! … Well, I don’t know who they belong to, they’re just there! … OK, OK, I’ll put Duck Hunt back on…”
Actually, this game is quite a bloodthirsty concept really, when you think about it. I mean, shooting ducks and then having their dead bodies triumphantly displayed to you by your faithful hunting dog… it’s hardly fun and games in the Mushroom Kingdom of Love, is it? Look at the duck on the front cover for chrissakes, it’s crying in fear! Those poor, poor ducks, dying for our pleasure… Still, at least there was the option of shooting clay pigeons to assuage the guilt.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the point. Duck Hunt made my life slightly better chiefly for the reason that it bridged the gap between gamer and non-gamer, and I’m constantly surprised by how often it crops up in conversation about childhood pursuits. The unprecedented furore that greeted the arrival of Wii Play in our house is testament to Duck Hunt’s enduring legacy: neither of us were interested in the other minigames, we just made a beeline straight for the Duck-Hunt-style shooting game.
So there you have it: Duck Hunt made my life better for the simple reason that it has engendered peace and harmony across the world thanks to its simple, dynamic gameplay. Or something. Also, the gun looked really cool.
At the time, anyway.
(NES screenshots from The Video Game Museum: http://www.vgmuseum.com/.)