Honourable Mentions: Civilization (actually, anything Sid Meier's ever done), Puzzle Quest, Command & Conquer, Halo, Animal Crossing, League of Legends, Solitaire, Angry Birds
Sometimes the most addictive games are the ones you don't really understand. Why am I following the instructions of a talking unicorn? Why have I been flinging balls at coloured pegs for the last few hours? More to the point... why can't I stop?!
Of course, Peggle's addictive charm is simple: it's basic score attack bliss. Besting your friends, those fiendish challenges, constantly praying for a lucky bounce as Extreme Fever grips us, Ode To Joy kicks in, and our screens are filled with rainbows.
9. Call of Duty
Well this one needs no explanation. Year on year, every November without fail, Call of Duty emerges as the biggest event of any entertainment industry's calendar. Criticise its lack of core innovation if you must, but millions upon millions of fans who keep coming back for more year on year can't be wrong. It's safe to rag on Activision's cash cow because it's the biggest, most bombastic slice of online entertainment. But there's a reason for that: we all love it. There are better FPS titles out there, for sure; but few offer the easily-accessible, arms-wide open plethora of online options that COD does.
8. The Elder Scrolls
As with so many games on this list, there's a very simple reason we keep coming back to the games in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim in particular: choice. I personally spent hundreds of hours ploughing time into numerous playthroughs of Bethesda's latest, each time crafting a completely different character to the last. It was THE watercooler game of 2011, with no two players having the same experience. The ultimate question of "who do you want to be?" made for a game we'd come back to time and time again. I blew off social engagements and important events just so I could spend more time in Skyrim, and the same was true of Morrowind and Cyrodiil.
7. Football Manager
This is the email I sent to SEGA in response to their missive about FM14 review code:
I have been dreading this moment, in all honesty. There's so much I still want to see and do. So much life left to be lived. Football Manager threatens all of that with its ludicrously addictive machinations.
So yes please to that review copy. No word of a lie, I may have had an FM-related dream the other night.
I'm sure I'll resurface next year. Maybe.
It's the depth that does it. It took me almost five hours before I played my first match in FM14, and that's not specific to this year, that's pretty standard. After all, how else am I going to uncover the Next Big Thing unless I scrupulously scout all of the youth leagues I can possibly find? And then there's custom tactics to be drawn up, staffing changes to be made, contractual negotiations to be conducted.
I'll see you in May.
It's a massive virtual sandbox of LEGO. With cows.
There's an entire world that you can shape in whatever way you see fit. Nuff said.
5. Candy Crush Saga
The only reason I got into Candy Crush was because both of my flatmates were playing it and boasting about their high scores. I don't know whether or not it was the fact that they wouldn't necessarily call themselves gamers that spurred me on, but I resolved to instantly get involved. A hundred levels later and I'm still playing. I hate myself.
On one hand, it's easy to write Candy Crush off as a poor imitation of Bejeweled. And you'd be right. But this list isn't about the best games out there, rather the most addictive. It was inexorable -- that long, snaking path filled with little snapshots of my friends, telling me what level they'd reached, and how far I had to go to beat them. Of course, you never pay for anything in Candy Crush, you just spam your friends for help, thereby perpetuating the game's constant presence whenever you log onto Facebook.
4. The Sims
What if you could build yourself the perfect life? Wouldn't that be great?
Well that's what The Sims gave us the chance to do. The addictive appeal here was control: we build the house, the one we've always wanted, and then we move our Sims in, before controlling every little facet of their lives. This was god-gaming at its very best, allowing us to pull the strings for one little Sim and their family, cultivating dramas, forging relationships, directing our very own virtual soaps where we were the ultimate puppet masters.
It's no surprise that Tetris is in the top three. It's only really less addictive these days because it's slightly more difficult to get hold of than, say, Candy Crush and it never really succumbed to incorporating social networking. But make no mistake, Tetris is the king of retro score attack addictive gaming. Some may plump for Pac-Man or Space Invaders here, but it's the cerebral subtlety that does it for Tetris, banking on that elusive straight line and knowing that if you can survive a little longer until it arrives, everything will be ok. We play it because of its elegant high concept, we stick around for that sweet taste of satisfaction when four rows disappear at once, and we chase higher and higher scores knowing that we don't have to have lightning reflexes to be better, we just have to play smarter.
Of course, the music plays a part too.
In the first draft of this piece, I actually had Pokemon at number #1, and it's not hard to see why. Since Game Freak launched Red and Blue back in the mid-Nineties, people the world over have been obsessed by the need to catch 'em all. It started in playgrounds with blocky Game Boys and link cable, back in the days when Pogs were still fashionable, Premier League stickers were still being traded, when I was just starting to learn about D&D and Fighting Fantasy. Then along came Pokemon, offering up an adventure with a young protagonist, the chance to catch and train and battle these creatures and trade them with my friends. Here were all of the best things in one game! I grew up, but the hold Pokemon had on me never weakened. Even now, with the target at some 700+ pocket monsters to collect, I'm still here, running around in the grass outside of the first town, endlessly grinding to prepare for what is to come.
And then, as if that wasn't enough, it spilled over into tangible things with cards, leading to playground rackets, break-time black markets, and plenty of tears. There's no stopping it.
1. World of Warcraft
It's numbers may be on the decline, but there's no arguing with World of Warcraft. It's the biggest MMO of them all. A study conducted in 2011 suggested that if you totted up all of the time players have sunk into Blizzard's MMO, it would stretch all of the way back to a point in history when our simian ancestors began to walk on two legs for the first time. For so many people, WoW has become much more than a game: it's been a social hub, a meeting place for friends flung far and wide, a fresh lease of life for many who've found themselves disenfranchised and disillusioned with modern life.
It's such a leviathan that MMOs are still copying it, it's still the benchmark for massively connected online experiences, even if the likes of League of Legends are snapping at its heels.