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World Video Game Hall of Fame inducts first six classics

Super Mario Bros., Tetris and Pac-Man are joined by a few surprising picks for the first class of the Strong Museum's new commemorative initiative.

Strong Museum

What are the six most important, influential and iconic video games ever made?

Pong, Pac-Man, Tetris, Super Mario Bros., Doom and World of Warcraft, it turns out.

The Strong National Museum of Play, located in Rochester, NY, has long been dedicated to preserving various forms of childhood entertainment. It is home, for example, to the National Toy Hall of Fame, which includes the Rubik's Cube and the Slinky.

The museum founded the World Video Game Hall of Fame this year, and Thursday it inducted its first class.

The list includes Super Mario, a legendary Japanese game that cemented the console era when it was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. That was an easy pick, of course -- it's become such a cultural icon that at one point its characters were more recognizable to American children than Mickey Mouse.

Other inductees included Tetris, the Soviet puzzle game concocted in June 1984 by artificial-intelligence researcher Alexey Pajitnov. There was also Pac-Man, one of the most popular arcade games of all time. Naturally, every one of these titles came after Atari's Pong, which was the first video game to break out among mainstream consumers after it was developed and released in 1972 by the California company.

There were some unusual picks as well: Doom and World of Warcraft. Doom, developed by Id Software in 1993, helped create what is arguably the most successful video game genre in history: the first-person shooter. It was also a violent and often terrifying game -- you play a nameless soldier slaying demons that escaped from the gates of Hell -- though those elements helped influence future game developers' ability to imbue their titles with tone, style and other artistic elements.

World of Warcraft, notable as one of the largest and most successful games played over the Internet, was not the first such Internet game. But it has become one of the most influential titles ever made. Since WoW, as it's called, was released in 2004, the game has become the highest-grossing title in history, thanks to added story lines over the years and the millions of subscribers who have paid a monthly fee to play the game. Even today, there are more than 7 million people still logging in to engross themselves in the fantasy universe.

So what's the criteria for getting in this hall of fame?

The finalists in the inaugural class of the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Strong Museum

"Games become eligible for the World Video Game Hall of Fame by meeting four basic criteria," wrote John-Paul Dyson, the director of the museum's International Center for the History of Electronic Games. "They're iconic, have longevity, reach across international boundaries, and exert influence on the design and development of other games, on other forms of entertainment, or on popular culture and society." A committee of journalists, game historians and well-known names in the industry whittled down a list of 15 games to the six that would make up the first class.

The finalists, first announced in late April, included some important and memorable titles, like Rovio Entertainment's Angry Birds, the explosively popular physics-based mobile game that symbolized the moment smartphones became a formidable and lucrative gaming market, as well as the Electronic Arts soccer game FIFA, and the popular life simulation series, The Sims. Minecraft, the pixelated building game from developer Mojang, which Microsoft purchased last year for $2.5 billion, was a top contender as well.

Ultimately, those titles didn't make the cut. Neither did the seminal adventure game The Legend of Zelda, the Japanese monster-catching phenomenon Pokémon, or the original arcade classic Space Invaders.

Perhaps most disappointing to early game industry junkies who remember the Sega Genesis and its ubiquitous commercials that were punctuated by a man shouting "SEGA!" into the television, that console's key game, Sonic the Hedgehog, was also bumped out.

And storied educational title The Oregon Trail? Apparently it didn't cross the finish line either, which may upset those who enjoyed watching family members die from dysentery.

But fear not, video game fans. There's always next year.

To tide you over, here are some of the Strong Museum's official Hall of Fame item collections: