1. Sony PlayStation 2
Global sales: 155 million
This is the one that changed everything.
Gamers with clouded memories tend to think of the Nintendo Entertainment System as ubiquitous, but it didn't occupy any central portion of a gamer's life. The games in arcades still had better graphics than the NES could provide, the system itself didn't do anything other than play video games and the hours dedicated to games weren't any more than perhaps the Legend of Zelda series and early role-playing games commanded.
The PlayStation 2 blew all of that right out of the water. There's a reason that the last of the great arcade games came in the late 1990s, and it's largely because this console made them unnecessary. There was nothing that a quarter-fueled cabinet could do that the PS2 couldn't do just as well or better -- and in more compelling fashion. The Grand Theft Auto series from GTA III on wasn't embraced simply because it allowed gamers to pick up hookers and take on a city full of cops -- though it didn't hurt. Those games presented gamers with the sprawling, seemingly limitless landscapes, minigames, "easter egg" hidden features and other elements that would prepare the gaming world for the massive, multiplayer future ahead.
The Medal of Honor series seems dated and limited now, but it was the window onto the world of first-person shooters that awaited in years to come. Also, while archaic, the PS2 introduced some of the earliest forms of online gaming and brought games out of the living room and into the rest of the world.
It was also the first system for which being a video game console wasn't enough. While the original PlayStation could play CDs, the PS2 was -- in many cases -- a gamer's first DVD player. The controls were a bit clunky, but it got the job done for roughly the same price as midrange DVD players of the time. It wasn't just a home gaming system; its functionality and outputs could make it the core of a home theater system.
How beloved was the PS2? Not only did it outsell the PS3 for years here in the U.S., but worldwide sales of it didn't end until this year. Even after that happened, a handful of developers were still making versions of new games for it. By making it about more than just fun and games, the PS2 became a central fixture in both living rooms and lives. It also may have represented the beginning of the end for console gaming.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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