When the decade of the 2010s arrived, the video game business was already a worth billions of dollars giant. Video games’ cultural cache has increased over the last decade, and their profits have surpassed those of movies, television, and music. The decade of the 2010s marked the transition of the pastime from a semi-niche to a mainstream activity.
In video games, the friction among art and commerce isn’t as strong as it is in movies. The number of auteurs is declining, but the number of venture capitalists is increasing. Some artists have broken away from the financial side of things in the last decade, producing works of breathtaking beauty on par with any prestige television show. The video gaming industry boomed as well, bringing in such huge sums of money that politicians began to raise concerns and examine legislation, particularly with regard to games that include “microtransactions,” which some have equated to gambling. Parents were more concerned about time and money spent on never-ending live services like Fortnite and Star Wars: Battlefront II this decade than they were about violence in video games.
Robert Durst is in the hospital with COVID-19.
Here are the games that characterized the decade, and don’t miss TIME’s list of the decade’s finest songs, TV shows, miniseries, movies, movie performances, nonfiction books, fiction books, gadgets, and albums.
Grand Theft Auto V is a video game developed by Rockstar Games (2013)
Grand Theft Auto V is the most financially successful entertainment product of all time, according to Rockstar Games. The open world crime simulator has made more money than Gone With the Wind or the Star Wars film trilogy, with a total income of $6 billion and rising. With the fifth installment, the franchise hit its pinnacle, combining open world lunacy with a grandiose tale. Grand Theft Auto’s cultural impact is difficult to quantify. It’s been the subject of several lawsuits, as well as being the focus of parents concerned about violent video games and the topic of made-for-TV dramatizations. It’s so well-known and omnipresent that Ryan Reynolds is starring in a high-budget action blockbuster based on its online multiplayer mode, but not directly based on it.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a video game developed by Nintendo (2017)
Nintendo proved it could develop a modern open world game with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. More importantly, it demonstrated that it was possible to design an open world game that was more engaging than the competition’s. Players were able to explore Hyrule at their own speed and construct their own adventures without being bound by linear progression. When the Nintendo Switch was first released, it was also the console’s killer app, a game that moved systems and delighted fans.
Fortnite is a video game developed by Epic Games (2017)
The 1 versus. 100 battle royale shooter genre may have been pioneered by PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, but Fortnite has transformed it into an unavoidable cultural phenomenon. Fortnite began as a game about constructing modular bases. After the success of PUBG, developer Epic Games patched in a battle royale multiplayer mode and handed it away for free, Fortnite drew in millions of gamers, mainly young ones. Epic Games gained so much money in such a short period of time that it decided to build its own distribution channel. The game is so popular that it has created the careers of famous streamers like Ninja and has scared parents away from video games because of its addictive nature.
Dark Souls is a game that takes place in a (2011)
Dark Souls, developed by From Software, loomed like a gargoyle over the decade. The first Dark Souls proved to be similar to the Velvet Underground’s debut album in that not everyone played it, but those who did were inspired. Other creators have frequently imitated and iterated on the game’s extremely difficult but fair difficulty, background approach to storytelling, and satisfyingly tight control scheme, but never completely refined it. Bloodborne, which discarded Dark Souls’ medieval look in favor of a Lovecraftian gothic nightmare where the best defense is a good offense, was From Software’s biggest success with their formula in 2015. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the most current game to pay homage to Dark Souls. From Software’s playbook is evident in the blocking-focused lightsaber fighting, the refilling of adversaries through health, and the loss of progress through death.
League of Legends is a video game developed by Riot Games (2009)
League of Legends was published at the end of 2009 by Riot Games, but the game that helped establish the multiplayer online battle arena game genre would take a few more years to become a global success. It’s now considered the gold standard in esports. League of Legends tournaments are more popular than the Super Bowl in terms of attendance and viewership. Riot Games has represented another topic of gaming’s 2010s: misogyny, for the past ten years. Gaming was long thought to be a boy’s club, and that poisonous culture pervaded the upper echelons of the industry’s biggest organizations, with former Riot Games employees convincingly accusing Riot Games leaders of sexual harassment.
Pokémon GO is a mobile game (2016)
In 2016, it seemed like everyone on the planet was playing Niantic’s smartphone augmented reality game Pokémon Go for a few months. You knew about it even if you weren’t playing it because every day brought a new stream of news stories about the joys, adventures, and mishaps of the people who walked around in real life looking for virtual pocket monsters in the hopes of collecting them all. Players discovered a dead body while chasing rare Pokémon, sadly perished when their hunts ran afoul of the law, and the nation was gripped for months. Years later, players still get a rush from catching Pokémon in the real world.
Minecraft is a game where you can build (2009)
Another game that was released in 2009 and became a cultural institution in the 2010s is Minecraft. If you have children or know someone who does, you are familiar with Minecraft. Minecraft is remains the most watched game on YouTube ten years after its introduction, outnumbering Fortnite by more than 40 billion views. Minecraft inventor Notch tweeted in 2014 that he wanted to sell the game, and Microsoft stepped in to buy it for $2.5 billion. It is currently the second best-selling game of all time, behind Nintendo Wii Sports’ pack-in game. Minecraft is poised to extend its dominance into the next decade, thanks to frequent updates and the upcoming release of a new mobile augmented reality version.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a role-playing game developed by Bethesda (2011)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released in 2011 by Bethesda and has remained at the top of the sales charts ever since. The franchise’s flagship role-playing game has moved from one console generation to the next, been adapted to virtual reality, and been updated for the Nintendo Switch. Skyrim’s ongoing appeal stems from its open-ended gameplay set in a massive and complex open environment. And it’s been aided by a committed community of modders who have transformed the game even further into a fantasy playground.
Throughout the decade, other developers would strive for this ideal, but few would succeed.
Portal 2 is a sequel to Portal (2011)
Valve roared into the new decade with Portal 2: a first-person puzzle game that improved on the successful original game in every way, with a satisfying story and an increasingly sophisticated teleporting portal gun system.
The release of Portal 2 was bittersweet. It marked the start of a decade in which Valve ceased to do what had made them famous: create fantastic video games. Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead, and Counter-Strike were all hugely successful games in the 2000s. Valve largely iterated on Dota 2 in the 2010s, partnered with HTC to produce the Vive virtual reality device, and avoided queries regarding Half-Life 3.
Valve has continued to profit handsomely from its Steam distribution platform, but it has yet to produce a game as genre-defying and delightful as Portal 2. It finished the decade by unveiling a sequel to Half-Life, which fans had been waiting for more than 15 years. However, Half-Life: Alyx is a virtual reality game, and it’s questionable whether Valve will be able to carry its game-making magic to a new platform, or even a new decade.
We’ll always have GLaDOS, Chell, and Wheatley, thankfully.
Elysium Disco (2019)
Disco Elysium, released just months before the start of the new decade, is the perfect capstone to a decade of fantastic games. It’s a video game with roots in the past but an eye to the future. It’s the kind of video game that only appears around the turn of the decade, when something old dies and something new emerges.
Players wake up with a deadly hangover in a dingy hotel room in this complicated role-playing game and quickly find they’re a police officer in the hotel to solve a crime. But that’s the only thing they recall. The specifics of the crime—and their personal lives—have vanished, and the player must fill in the gaps.
Disco Elysium is a 2D isometric throwback with fully generated backgrounds and point-and-click navigation that looks and plays like a game from 1999. The story and mechanics, on the other hand, appear to be from the future. Players allocate points to stats such as “Esprit De Corps,” which allows them to comprehend what cops are thinking, and “Shivers,” which allows the city’s streets to communicate with you. Leveling up entails pondering unusual thoughts that modify your talents and your detective’s perspective on the world. It’s a game that gives the old RPG format a fresh lease on life.
Disco Elysium demonstrates what video game players have understood for years: that the medium has unique characteristics and can convey stories that aren’t seen on television or in books. It’s a game that emphasizes the fact that all video games are works of art.