Video games. What a monumental waste of time, right? Well, I have my reservations about that. From a storytelling standpoint, your boy A-A-Ron has actually been heavily influenced by video games. When I was first discovering my love of writing at a young age, the video games I played served as a catalyst for my creativity. And now we live in an age where professional game streamers can make millions–I repeat–millions of dollars every year.

But that’s beside the point. Let me tell you what my top favorite games are and why. You’ll probably recognize some names, but some others might be more obscure.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Originally, this wasn’t on my list, but as I thought about it more and more, I felt like Animal Crossing deserved a spot. Why? Because I’ve poured like 130 hours into it! That’s a lot of video game for someone who doesn’t play video games that much.

Here’s the deal: Animal Crossing came to the world at a time of great need. Coronavirus had just begun its reign of terror and everywhere was closing up. People were stuck at home, bored, getting TikTok accounts and letting themselves go. But miraculously, Animal Crossing was released at just about the same time. So a lot people took to it.

I’m a guy that actually loves decorating and designing, so Animal Crossing is right up my alley. I loved designing my house and laying out my island so businesses were in the center, residential areas spread out to the east and west, and the northern cliffs were a garden walk complete with orchards, flower beds, and a swimming pool. The game was just an absolute delight. And people continue to play it! I bet it’s going to stick around for a long time. Kind of like…

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim is HUGE. And you know the best part of it? It’s the most narratively dense game I’ve ever played–maybe the most narratively dense game anyone has ever played. There’s a pretty compelling main quest, but the game is overflowing with fascinating sidequests that introduce you to characters and conflicts from across the territory. It’s absolutely staggering. For this reason, I’ve poured something like 170 hours into Skyrim.

And the truth is, even if you’re not into stories, there are tons of fun things to do in Skyrim. Sneaking through caves and one-shotting draugrs with arrows never gets old. You can build a house from scratch. You can join various guilds such as the Companions, the Thieves Guild, or the Dark Brotherhood (I wouldn’t recommend the last two because they’re seriously the worst). Skyrim never ends. No wonder Bethesda keeps rereleasing it like they have nothing else to do.

Skies of Arcadia

You’ve probably never even heard of Skies of Arcadia, but according to some video game scholars, it’s actually considered one of the best RPGs ever made. This gem was released onto the Sega Dreamcast back in 2000. Around this time, my brothers and I were little kids pining for a Nintendo Gamecube, but our dad convinced us that a Sega Dreamcast had about the same power and we could find one for cheap on eBay. So we did! And with our Dreamcast eventually came Skies of Arcadia.

One of the biggest things SoA has going for it is charm. It’s that thing you can’t seem to place, but sucks you in and delights you. Maybe it’s the colorful design and the diverse array of characters. Maybe it’s the compelling writing. Maybe it’s because you’re freaking air pirates that steals from a fascist, tyrannical government and literally nothing is cooler than that.

Nine-year-old me fell in love with SoA and spent hours in front of the TV exploring ancient ruins, getting into ship battles, and discovering new territories. The game got a Gamecube reboot back in 2003 and was actually awarded Nintendo Power’s RPG of the Year award, but sales were criminally low. It’s really a shame more people haven’t enjoyed this treasure.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I don’t need to explain this one. Ocarina of Time is iconic. It’s legendary. It’s the gold standard for adventure games. It broke records. It tops list after list of the Best Game of All Time. And it deserves it. It’s a masterpiece.

Like Skies of Arcadia, this was one of the games I played at a very young and impressionable age. Before Ocarina of Time, I didn’t take video games seriously at all. My brothers played them a lot, but I wasn’t near as invested. I’d rather be outside.

But when I got my hands on an N64 controller and dove into Hyrule… oh man. This game inspired me. I was floored with the level of exploration, the music, the characters, the different regions of the kingdom teeming with monsters and adventure.

I knew that I wanted to make something like this.

I started sketching characters, weapons, items, maps, everything I could think of. That morphed into writing stories of my own. I started writing my first book when I was in seventh grade and it drew heavily from the Zelda formula. It was trash so I promise it’ll never see the light of day, but the point is that I started writing my own stories because I wanted to make my own Zelda first. Ocarina of Time fertilized the plant of creativity that was growing inside me. So for that, I’m forever thankful.

If I ever meet Shigeru Miyamoto, I’ll probably just cry and give him a hug.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

How could any other game possibly dethrone Ocarina of Time as my favorite game of all time? It would have to be another Zelda title. And it was.

Breath of the Wild happily owned my soul for months. I would go to work, come home, make a quick dinner, then sit at the couch and play BotW sometimes until 1:00am. It was Zelda as I loved it, but the developers demolished the typical formula and sent the series back to its roots established in 1987. The result was a game that challenged you, rewarded you, and begged you to explore everything.

By the time Breath of the Wild wraps up, you feel like you’ve experienced something. If you beat the game correctly (having unlocked all of Link’s memories) the final scene will probably leave you with a lump in your throat. It’s beautiful. It’s sad. And it makes you wish you could never leave. As a storyteller, that is the feeling I aspire to leave with people–to leave them with something they’ll never forget. That’s the telltale sign of a masterpiece.