What Makes a Game a Classic?

Screenshot of Alyx and Dog from Half-Life 2
Half-Life 2, one of the best-selling PC games of all time

Recently, a test has been circulating on social media, claiming to be a "Classic Gamer Test". A grid with 63 games are listed and readers are meant to give themselves one point for every game they've played. I consider myself pretty well versed with games, especially classic PC games, so I was a bit surprised when I only managed to get 31 out of 63 - that's not even a passing grade! Upon closer examination there are probably a couple of reasons for this.

The Classic Gamer Test
The Classic Gamer Test

Firstly, the list has only a handful of titles that are PC games with a majority of the titles being console games. Secondly, some of these "classic" games were only released a decade ago, which I suppose is reasonably old by gaming standards but games around that era are probably a decade too late by my reckoning. It was at this point I decided to have a go at making my own version of the list, but I was going to use hard facts to compile the list and a definition of "classic" I thought was more accurate.

So, I went and used some lists compiled by Wikipedia for game sales by platform. Yes, these aren't the most accurate lists but I thought they would be satisfactory for the task at hand. To me, the classic era of gaming were the 1980s and 1990s, but some retro gaming podcasts I listen to seem to include consoles like the original Xbox, the Dreamcast and GameCube as classics. These consoles are considered "sixth-generation" consoles and the first seventh-generation console was the Xbox 360 released in 2005. Consequently, I only included console games up to and including the sixth-generation and for PC games, I only included those released prior to 2005.

I then worked my way through the lists, adding the most popular games in terms of sales. As I made my way through the list, I realised whoever was the author of the original list circulating social media actually didn't do that bad a job. Many of the games on their list were also on the one I was compiling. I believe a major reason for this is that certain console games sold a ridiculous high number of copies, such as the original Pokemon games on Gameboy which collectively sold over 46 million. It also helped that these games were often bundled with the console as is the case with Sonic the Hedgehog and the Sega Genesis (it sold over 15 million copies). While PC games nowadays tend to outsell console games, this wasn't the case back in the days before digital distribution and indie hits like Minecraft. Consequently, this is one reason these types of lists tend to be so console-heavy.

So after compiling my new list it turns out I actually did even worse than before, scoring a measly 21 points! Picking older games made things worse for me because newer console games tend to be multi-platform titles meaning there's a better chance I've played a PC version of it.

To nurse my bruised ego, I thought maybe I'd do better if I compiled a list based solely on PC games. All PC games on this list have sold more than a million copies and were released before 2005. I fared better with this list, scoring 41 out of 63, and yet it's still only 65%: there are still many PC games out there I have yet to play!

The Classic Gamer Test (PC Edition)
My version of the test

After releasing this onto a Facebook group I frequent there were some comments made about the list: how it tended to favour games from the 90s, how it would've been better if one game per franchise were included, how some of the games were not old enough to be considered classics: all are fair points but just reinforce my original question, and probably why we'll never truly have an answer to what makes a game a classic. For some, it matters more how old the game is, for others, how innovative it is. Is critical or commercial reception the bigger factor when determining whether a game falls into the "classic" category? These are only a few factors to consider which makes finding consensus on a definitive list, a challenge. So, what do you think? What do you consider to be the definitive list of classic games? Or is it a fool's errand to even attempt one?