What Defines a Classic Game?
Some old games are considered classic, while some games aren't, while some even consider all old games to be classic, regardless of quality. How can a classic game be defined? Can it even be defined at all? The answer is YES! Though there may still be left some controversy between people as to which games can and cannot be considered classic, there is a standard for which to judge a game as a classic or not, however flimsy the standard may seem.
There are actually two ways to define a classic. The first is a generalized and easier way of doing it. This definition of a classic involves looking at all games of an old system to be a classic. However good, bad, significant, insignificant a game is, it's all part of the master collection. Each game is special in its own way and would leave the whole system's game collection one game short had it never been around. Even a game such as Hydlide, which is acclaimed as horribly bad; there is no other game that is exactly like it. Without Hydlide, we wouldn't have Hydlide-bashing jokes and reviews (and Hall of Lame sections); things just wouldn't be the same without it.
Now that's only one way of defining a classic game. The other is more specific, difficult and controversial. It deals with each game individually instead of all games as a whole.
"Clas*sic (klas' ik) adj. 1. Of the highest rank or class. 2. Serving as an outstanding representative of its kind; model. 3. Having lasting significance or recognized worth. " -- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
Definition #3 in the above paragraph pretty much explains it all. In order for an individual game to be considered a "classic," it must meet these three standards: Age, Entertainment, and Popularity.
In order to accurately define a game as "classic," it has to be old. Period. There is no way you can really, really know if a game has any lasting significance unless you give it enough time to prove it's worth. Some games may be very popular for only a time, but then be disregarded as worthless after all the hype has died down. This requires time to see if a game can stand the test.
"How do you know if a game is old enough to pass this test?"
This can be argued upon by some, but, at the time I am writing this (August 2001), I would rate a game as old enough to stand the test completely if it is any game for a system of or earlier than the 16-bit era. Some people today even say that the Playstation is a classic system now, but that is totally ridiculous, as it hasn't even been out of production for long.
This one is quite obvious, the game has to be fun. It must be widely accepted as an entertaining game. But by "widely accepted," it means that of all people who have ever played that particular game, the majority must think it to be entertaining, even if you think that particular game is boring. The masses rule on this one, and that brings us to our final standard...
"After all you say about hype, you're now saying that a game must be popular to be a classic?"
Yeah, that's pretty much it. But before you throw some kind of fit, let me explain this reasoning. Hype is excessive and unnecessary popularity that lasts only for a short time. The type of popularity I'm referring to here is not hype, but popularity that lasts for years after the game has been released.
Let's look at the previous dictionary definition again. "Having lasting significance or recognized worth."
Recognized worth. Recognition by only a few people isn't going to cut it. If there were a few people that thought Hydlide actually had worth, would that mean that the game must now be considered a classic among gamers and gaming in general. Of course not! Just because a couple of people like a game that everyone else hates can't deem it as a classic. It has no widely recognized worth!
The same goes for a great game that only a few people know about. Even if the game really is great, because it is known only by few, it doesn't have much recognized worth and certainly not any general significance, as it hasn't really been able to reach out and entertain the many other gamers out there.
Though it can sseem to be a rather liquid-thin argument, a game can sometimes be considered to be significant if it causes the making of other popular sequels of the game. If a very good sequel came out due to an earlier game, then that earlier game does have some significance, but it still has to stand the test of age, entertainment, and wide acceptance.
"So what specific, individual games can be considered classic?"
If you correctly follow the standards above, it's not that hard to figure out what games really stand the test of becoming "classics."
Super Mario Bros. is a perfect example. It's old enough to be considered a classic, it's widely accepted as entertaining, and still widely recognized to this day. The Legend of Zelda is another good example, it passes the test as well.
You won't be cursed over calling, what many would consider to be a bad game, to be a classic. Likewise, you won't be cursed for considering a widely-recognized game to not be a classic. But if you're ever thinking over games' classic-ness, just remember the three very important elements that I mentioned before. Age, entertainment, and popularity. That's the key.