I don’t care what anyone says–video games are not bad for you. If they were, I would certainly be a social deviant and, well, I’m not. In fact, I consider myself to be quite ordinary, relatively responsible, and an all around well-balanced person. All this, and I’ve been playing video games since the age of 6 when I received my first Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console.

I think the trick is to maintain an active lifestyle outside of the video game world. Sure I’ve logged more than my share of empty hours playing long after I should have been in bed, or racking up wins when I should have been working on a term paper that was due. But when it comes right down to it, I can always turn the games off when I really need to get something done.

Some games definitely make it harder than others though, and tonight as I watch my husband trying out his newest purchase, Uncharted, I’m feeling a little nostalgic about some of my old favorites. So here are my top 5 favorites over the years…

5. Super Mario Brothers (NES, 1985) – It would be a crime not to mention the game that started it all. For the longest time, Super Mario Brothers was the only game I owned. Yet, even after I finally added more to my collection, it remained one of my favorites and I played it again and again. I played it so many times, that I damn near memorized the boards, and even managed to make it through the entire game once without dying at all. After that, I simply racked up about a billion extra lives by jumping repeatedly on the second Koopa Troopa that comes walking down the staircase at the end of world 3-1. I’m pretty sure that was the day that my sister refused to play against me anymore.

4. NCAA Football 07 (XBox – 2007) – I have to say, I went through quite an obsessive phase with the NCAA Football games. I love college football (Go Huskers!), so it only seems natural that I would enjoy the game. I have to say though, I think that the 2007 and 2008 versions were probably the last two years that I really enjoyed the game. After that, the game designers just got a little crazy with the details.

Back in the 2007 and 2008 games, you could play against your friends by either creating your own team (right down to the jersey colors and fight song), or simply take over as coach of your favorite team. Then, at the end of the season, you were able to go through an extensive recruiting phase which allowed you to scout and recruit players to fill in the holes on your team when players graduated or went to the draft. Drafted players could even be uploaded if you happened to enjoy playing Madden NFL. In some of the newer versions of NCAA, the recruiting has gotten seriously out of control, and you spend more time wooing prospects than actually playing football. If you ask me, the game would be much better (and probably higher on my list), if the designers would just get back to the basics and let you play some football.

3.  Sims 2: Castaway (PS2, 2008) – The Sims games first hit the video game scene in 2000, though earlier versions of games like SimCity had been around for years prior. The Sims is called a “strategic life-simulation” game, which basically means that you are living out a daily life and routine through a simulated character (Sim) in the game. Basically, you guide your Sim through his/her day-to-day life in order to achieve personal goals, such as making friends, getting a job, getting promotions, and even taking care of the more mundane things like taking out the garbage and showering. Forget to prompt your Sim to use the bathroom, and you’ll watch him/her pee on the floor, then begin attracting flies until you clean up the mess and shower. Neglect your relationships with other Sims, and your Sim might end up so depressed that he/she refuses to eat or leave the house and ends up starving to death.

I’ve played several of the Sims games over the years, and have really enjoyed them. It may sound boring, but there is something extremely gratifying about seeing your Sim succeed. My favorite of the games though, is definitely Sims 2: Castaway. In this version, your character and his/her friends are shipwrecked and stranded on a deserted island. In order to survive, they have to get creative–building huts, gathering food, making clothing. I mean, come on, what kid didn’t dream of being shipwrecked after watching movies like Swiss Family Robinson and The Blue Lagoon? Hell, even my adult obsession with the show LOST proves that I haven’t outgrown my shipwrecked fantasies. Oh, I did I mention that Sims 2: Castaway has monkeys that you can train to help you gather necessary items? Yeah, you know you want to play it.

2. Goldeneye – (N64, 1997) – Of all the different types of games that I have played over the years, first-person shooter games are by far my favorites. I always thought I would make an excellent FBI agent, sort of a Clarice Starling or Dana Scully type. Hell, I even considered joining the NYPD before I left New York. I passed the written exam with flying colors, and just needed to schedule the physical exam, but I ended up deciding to return to grad school and teach high school English in the Bronx instead. Some days, I think that the only real difference between the two careers was that as an NYPD officer, I would have actually been licensed to carry a gun.

I bought my N64 shortly after starting college in the fall of 1998, and I fell in love with Goldeneye the moment I first played it. The graphics look like the work of a 5-year-old compared to the games you see these days, but the game itself was excellent. Long after I had beaten the single-player story mode, the multi-player mode kept me coming back for more.

And, I’ve got two words for you–proximity mines.

I eventually got so good at the game that no one wanted to play against me, except my friend Anette who was a good sport and one helluva good shot herself.

1. Perfect Dark (N64, 1999) – If there was one game out there that could actually trump GoldenEye, it is the original Perfect Dark. I remember waiting months for this game, and rushing out to buy it the minute it hit store shelves. I had never been so excited for a game before, and haven’t been since. This first-person shooter has everything I could ever ask for in a game–a strong female protagonist, a little bit of humor, a little bit of sci-fi, an engaging storyline, and a whooooooole lot of ass-kickin’ fun. Oh yeah, and there’s an alien named Elvis that accompanies you on your missions after you save him from being autopsied. I really don’t know how it could get much better.

Like GoldenEye, Perfect Dark has both a great single-player or cooperative mode storyline that you can follow through from beginning to end without ever getting bored. But, if you’re in the mood to challenge your friends to some good, old-fashioned gun play, the multiplayer mode is the best I’ve ever seen. Go head-to-head with a group of your friends, or challenge yourself to a group of Simulant computer-controlled combatants. Either way, it’s a lot of trigger happy fun.

Oh, and even with the amazing arsenal of weapons that include everything from handguns and submachine guns to rocket launchers and extraterrestrial weapons, you can still run amok with my favorite weapon of all–proximity mines.

Let the games begin.

Tonight’s 365 Project is dedicated to all the video game fiends out there. I don’t care who you are, there is probably a game for you. Even my dad, who claims he doesn’t even know enough about technology to use a credit card to pump gas, has spent many an hour playing the old NES Golf and Wii bowling. Give it a try. You might just be amazed at what you’ve been missing.

So, tell me, what are some of your favorites?

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