Gaming in the early 2010s: A look back in time

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When people think about pop culture moments in the 2010s, they usually veer their attention towards hit songs such as “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” by Silentó or trendy food items like boba. Video games are often in their own category when it comes to pop culture rather than being highlighted in the mainstream media. It’s time we reminisced about the nostalgic video games that helped us waste an hour or two away in boredom. Some of these were popular and still bear relevance today. Here are ten of the most popular video games of the early 2010s. 

1. Angry Birds 2 (2015)

It’s impossible to not laugh at the prospect of launching a flightless bird into a column of blubbering pigs. Step one: Pull back the slingshot with the bird of your choice in it. Step two: Lock onto your target in an effort to knock as many pigs down. Step three: Launch away. This was the appeal and trademark of the Angry Birds franchise. The combination of puzzle solving and unique gameplay mechanics made this game a kids-friendly choice for parents. The game requires critical thinking skills and an ability to approximate the bird’s trajectory. And even if you couldn’t score three stars on your first attempt, you could always try again. Angry Birds 2 is a direct sequel to the first Angry Birds made by Finnish video game developer Rovio Entertainment. The game is available for free download on iOS, Android, Windows 10, and most recently Amazon Apple Store.

2. Plants vs Zombies 2 (2013)

“Braaainssss.” These are the last words one wants to hear if they were defending Dave’s lawn from the undead in Plants vs Zombies 2. The main premise of this garden defense game is to deploy plants on your lawn to protect yourself from the zombies. The aspect that made this game different from its predecessor was its addition of time travel. By doing this, players could unlock new plants and new zombies. This update helped preserve the game’s relevance, keeping it fresh for the duration of the 2010s. This game requires strategy and quick reactions to in-game events, making it perfect for thrill seeking gamers. Plants vs Zombies 2 is the second game of three games from the main series created by American video game developer PopCap Games. It’s available exclusively on iOS and Android for free. 

3. Clash of Clans (2012)

Imagine waking up at seven in the morning to a melodic tune with an expectation of having completed building upgrades, full resource collectors, and the occasional unscathed village. This is exactly what Clash of Clans would entail. It’s a real-time strategy game where players have to build and defend their village whilst attacking others for personal gain. The most important virtue to have for this game is patience. With the charismatic characters, also known as “troops,” and the addicting reward system that made people come back for more, Clash of Clans was and is still popular with teenagers today. It doesn’t seem like there’s any sign of stopping either with younger kids joining in on the barbaric fun. Clash of Clans was made by Finnish video game developer Supercell. It’s free for download on iOS and Android only. 

4. Temple Run (2011)

Picture this: Three rabid gorillas with a thirst for blood are near. First instinct? Run.This was Temple Run in a nutshell. The objective of the game is in the name. To get away from the temple, one needs to avoid obstacles by swiping up to jump, swiping down to duck, and swiping left and right to change directions. Although not necessary, players can also collect and activate power-ups to advance their distances. As the game continues, the run gets progressively more difficult. Players are able to challenge themselves in this 3D endless runner. Temple Run was made by American video game developer Imangi Studios and is free for download on iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

5. Geometry Dash (2013)

Geometry Dash 101: Avoiding death while grooving to music. This game is a platformer where the player navigates a square or other geometrical shaped objects through music synced levels by jumping over obstacles like spikes. Impact with these spikes or any oncoming blocks that disrupts the square object’s movement leads to a level restart. Geometry Dash was loved for its high level of intensity and its spectacular music. The addiction to the game stemmed from players’ desire for closure: finishing the song and completing the entire level. Geometry Dash was created by Robert Topala, also known as RobTop, a Swedish video game developer. It’s available on PC, iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Geometry Dash Lite (2013) is free, whereas the full-version Geometry Dash costs $1.99. 

6. Five Nights at Freddy’s (2014)

Need a scare? This is the game for that. Five Nights at Freddy’s is most known for the iconic Freddy Fazbear design and jump scares. In this survivor-horror themed game, the player plays as a security guard that watches over the Freddy Fazbear Pizzeria from 12 AM to 6 AM. Here’s the catch though: the place is full of hostile animatronics coming to get the player. But don’t fear because players can defend themselves by locking the doors in their office and shining lights to scare away the robotics creatures. Costing $2.99, Five Nights at Freddy’s was made by American video game developer Scott Cawthon, also known as ScottGames, with the help of Steel Wool Studios and Illumix. It’s usually played on PC, but it can also be played on other platforms. 

7. Minecraft (2011)

Having an entire world at one’s disposal is probably the most kind of freedom anyone can wish to have. Minecraft is a 3D sandbox game where the player can explore their surroundings, build a mighty civilization, farm plentiful resources, and slay hostile creatures. The player’s imagination can easily become reality in this randomly generated world of blocks. With the addition of mods, also known as modifications, that enhance the game from simple optimizations to advanced gameplay changes, the game’s limits are endless. Minecraft was created by Swedish video game developer Mojang. The original Java edition of the game is available on PC for $26.99, while the Bedrock version costs $29.99 on consoles and only $6.99 on iOS and Android.

8.Papa’s Games series

Welcome to the world of customer service. Although officially known as the Papa Louie series on KiZi, most fans know the games as the Papa’s Games. This series is a succession of online games that allow players to run a restaurant of their choosing. The first game, Papa’s Pizzeria (2007), began the simple format that would become signature: take orders, prepare the food, serve the customers, and receive their money. Its resemblance to real-life jobs is one of the many reasons why this series became a classic. The rating system and the abundance of characters are also iconic features that popularized it. This game was for anyone who wanted to develop time management skills. The newest game of the franchise is Papa’s Cluckeria (2022), the sixteenth installment of the series specialized in chicken sandwiches. Other popular games include Papa’s Burgeria (2010) and Papa’s Freezeria (2015). The Papa’s Games were made by American Flash game development company Flipline Studios. These games were available exclusively on PC until Adobe Flash was discontinued in 2020. Since then, the Papa Louie series games have been converted to apps with prices ranging from $0.99 to $1.99.

9. Call of Duty series

Call of Duty, a first person shooter game, has been around since 2003 and still releases games to this day. The first game was Call of Duty (2003) and the most recent release was Call of Duty: Vanguard (2021). The premise of the game is simple: eliminate the enemy team. Small variations from sequel to sequel like the location and era kept the franchise on its heels. Some of the similar, popular games that Generation Z lived with are Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011), and Call of Duty Online (2013). The series continues to reign as one of the most influential first person shooters of the 2010s. Call of Duty was made by American video game developer Activision. They can be played on PC, Playstation, and Xbox consoles. Prices vary depending on the game selected.

10. Mario series & world domination

“It’s a me, Mario!” This is one of the most iconic lines in the video game industry and is a staple of nearly every Mario game throughout the years. Mario Bros (1983) was the first game that soared the franchise to great heights with its iconic play style. The player’s main objective, through the perspective of the main protagonist Mario, was to rescue Peach from the evil clutches of Bowser by traversing an obstacle course full of dangers. Since then, many new games have been produced for the fan base adding fresh characters and imaginative modes of play. Games of this series that defined Generation Z include Super Mario 3D World (2013), Mario Kart 8 (2014), Mario Party 10 (2015), and Super Mario Maker (2015). Each game had a unique spin to the original, helping grow the ever-multiplying roster. The Mario series was created by Japanese video game developer Nintendo. These games can appear anywhere from arcades to Nintendo Switches. Prices vary depending on which Mario game you plan on playing.

BONUS / Dinosaur Game

Who doesn’t like 8-bit dinosaurs? The Dinosaur Game is similar to Geometry Dash and Temple Run in that the player has to avoid the obstacles by dodging them, but different in that there isn’t any music involved or any gorillas chasing the player. It was a simple way to pass time for students while experiencing a loss of internet connection. The Dinosaur Game is a browser game developed by the search engine Google and can be found on Chrome.

All and all, these games had a huge influence on Generation Z’s childhoods. Some have died out, but others have stood up to the test of time. And there are still so many more games that didn’t make this list. Honorable mentions include Fruit Ninja (2010), Jetpack Joyride (2011), Animal Crossing (2012), Subway Surfers (2012), Flappy Bird (2013), Grand Theft Auto V (2013), Crossy Road (2014), 2048 (2014), and Mortal Kombat X (2015). So what’s your pick for the most nostalgic game of the early 2010s? 

Artwork by Jialin Chen