What game would you put in a time capsule for future generations?

A tough Vault Dweller from an ad for the original Fallout by Simon Bisley
(Image credit: Interplay)

Hundreds of years from now, after society rebuilds, they'll dig up our remains. They'll find our vinyl toy collectibles and our novelty coffee mugs, and they'll find our games. If you could pick one game to preserve so that it survives and becomes part of the historical record, what would it be, and why?

What game would you put in a time capsule for future generations?

Here are our answers, plus a few from our forum.

Steven Messner: Imagine this: The year is 4558 CE and civilization as we know it today is completely gone—all but erased by several apocalyptic dark ages that have ground our skyscrapers, shopping malls, and two-bedroom condos into a chalky silt. Thousands of years of human progress milled by the inexorable wheel of time until it's nothing more than the salt and pepper seasoning on a Subway sandwich overstuffed with geological epochs. Almost nothing remains until, one day, our far-future ancestors unearth miracle: An ancient piece of technology belonging to a pre-historic race known as Homo sapiens. 

With trembling hands, these distant inheritors of Earth poke and prod until the machine comes whirring to life. Lights dance across a dirty, cracked screen as images begin to form and music begins to play. Our successors stare in amazement. This could be it. This could be the missing link that connects them to a past they only know exists through a few blackened fossils. Hieroglyphs appear on the screen and, with their limited understanding of our society and language, these future historians begin to decipher them one by one.

"Hatoful Boyfriend."

Imagine, for a moment, how much irreversible damage it would do to future people's understanding of our current civilization if one of the few relics that somehow survived was the game where you date birds.

Dwarf Fortress

(Image credit: Bay 12 Games)

Wes Fenlon: Dwarf Fortress. I can't think of a better time capsule game. Dwarf Fortress contains multitudes. It has so many ambitious, interlocking simulations, and I think it would make a fascinating case study. One of the things it simulates most deeply is the personalities and hopes and dreams of its dwarves, and those procedurally generated personalities all spring from the mind (and game code) of creator Tarn Adams. What a perfect historical object, the code that creates these funny, bizarre, and surprisingly real-feeling characters. I think future societies could learn just as much about Tarn as they could learn about 21st century videogames, by deconstructing its code. Psychologists would love it, and the contrast between Dwarf Fortress's basic ASCII graphics and astonishing depth would probably be even more confusing for future societies than it is for ours. 

The Witcher 3 console commands

Robin Valentine: I'd go with The Witcher 3. Partly because I think it's perhaps the best PC game of the last 10 years, but also because I think it would be quite representative of this era of game design. It combines pretty much every defining element of current AAA games—open world, RPG elements, a huge map, loads of side-activities to find and tick off, huge ambition and the rough edges that come with that, moral choices, high-end graphics aiming primarily for realism, loot, crafting, character customisation, cinema-aping storytelling techniques, lots added and changed post-release rather than launching as a fully finished product... I think if you wanted a picture of what games were like in the 2010s/2020s, it's one of the most all-encompassing titles you could pick. It belongs in a museum. 

Knitting in The Sims 4

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Jacob Ridley: The Sims.

Now hear me out! Sure, I could've said Pong or Super Mario Bros. Two games that truly defined entire genres of game development and led to gaming becoming the immense business that it is today. But is there any game out there as telling about the human condition in this very moment than The Sims—a game where you just watch other people exist in an ever-so-slightly more make-believe world than your own. No, there's not.

I already regret my answer.

Michael cocks his gun in GTA 5

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

Rich Stanton: It would have to be Grand Theft Auto 5. Very few big-budget games use contemporary life as a setting and this one's constant poking at our social obsessions, neuroses and excesses is a cracked mirror of some aspects of the age we're living through. It can be puerile, and it can be mean-minded, but it can also be funny and insightful. Its own focal points as a gaming experience are violence and fast cars and yabbering NPCs and a huge, intricate map, the constituent mishmash of audience fantasy and grand technical ambition that's made it the most successful entertainment product of our age. I walk through Los Santos, or Liberty City, and hear and see snatches of some reality behind this digital fantasy. If GTA5 was all that survived of our age, it would give any future player some sense of western culture's absurdities and banalities, and really hammer home how great our music was.

Spelunky 2

(Image credit: Mossmouth, Blitworks)

Emma Matthews: Spelunky 2. I just really need future generations to know how equally brilliant and punishing this game is. I've spent hours getting beaten up by lizards and dripped on by piping hot lava, but I still launch it every night without fail. If I leave something for folks in the future I want it to be a game that is difficult to get sick of, and for me that's Spelunky 2. Sure, a few rage quits are expected with a roguelike that pushes you around as much as this one does, but seeing those credits roll after you've invested hours getting there feels so rewarding. The Cosmic Ocean also has 99 levels before its special ending, so it goes to show how long we'll persevere with something, even if it's really tricky.

SnowRunner truck in the rain

(Image credit: Focus Home Interactive)

Morgan Park: I'd toss in SnowRunner. GamesBeat's Jeff Grubb recently called this genre "blue-collar games" and I really love that descriptor for what makes games like Snowrunner, Euro Truck Simulator, or Hardspace: Shipbreaker special. There's a tranquility to tackling mundane supply runs while watching beautifully rendered trucks rip through physically-accurate mud. If videogames are long-forgotten years from now, I want our earthly successors to know that we played games about doing jobs that we could just go do in real life.

GladOS from Portal

(Image credit: Valve)

Chris Livingston: Probably a boring answer, but Portal? You could teach the future a game doesn't need to be more than a few hours long to be great, that you can effectively tell a story without cutscenes, that you can make players feel clever without too much hand-holding, that your villains can be fun and interesting instead of just evil and angry, and that your protagonist doesn't have to ever once talk for you to still feel some attachment to them.

From our forum

badman: Everything is online now, even games that are 'ancient'. It depends: will the internet survive? Or will it not? If internet is not going to survive, then we should give them something to build on. We should give the next generation a genuine classic game, a game that so many people from 'our' time build upon. It must be a popular genre, IMO you can't send Microsoft Flightsim 3.0 in a time machine (sorry guys). The FPS-genre is an obvious choice. You can choose to send Doom Eternal, but then you're 'missing' 30 years of classic games. Let the future generation make a new Doom game. So the most obvious choice for me would be:

Wolfenstein 3D, in a box

(Image credit: id)

drunkpunk: Factorio, because nothing helps rebuild civilization like the ability to automate.

FreezerBurn: For me it's a tie between EverQuest and Elite Dangerous. EverQuest for me is the game that started it all for the MMORPG genre. Elite Dangerous though is the game that let us sit at home and journey through the stars.

Frindis: Cyberpunk 2077 is pretty much describing how the world is today. Hundreds of years from now, after society rebuilds, they will probably dig up props from the movie Cleopatra (1963) and believe they have found ancient artifacts.

An image of a Hammerhead space ship from the game star citizen.

(Image credit: Cloud Imperium Games)

Krud: We should give them Star Citizen so they can finish making it. Only kidding! Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

My real answer: The Unity adaptation of Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. No, it's not technically impressive, and is almost as buggy as its descendants, but it's one of the largest game worlds I can think of, and it had so many crunchy RPG elements, it bordered on the ridiculous (but in a way that I loved back in the day, and sometimes even miss).

Also, depending on when the time capsule is opened, perhaps it could coincide with the release of Elder Scrolls VI: Redfall - Enhanced Gold Complete Director's Cut GOTY Deluxe Holographic Edition (which I presume would be the fifth re-release of Elder Scrolls VI at that point.)

Kerbal Space Program

(Image credit: Squad)

Zloth: Kerbal Space Program - so they can practice making rockets as they zip between planets.

Pifanjr: I'm torn between Skyrim or Minecraft, either with a full collection of every mod available for it. Minecraft would be the choice if I want to make us look good to future generations, Skyrim would be the choice if I was going to be honest about how horny society generally was.

DXCHASE: Cyberpunk 2077. Not that i think its an amazing game but more so to the fact that if anything in the game has become reality, you know like cybernetic implants being a normal thing.

Aloy faces the blue triangle marking a Cauldron dungeon

(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

ZebGlendower: So many of our games these days imagine a post-apocalyptic world in which some remnant of humanity is trying to rebuild. I'd include any of those games to show the future that many of us were aware that we were trashing the place we live and had great anxiety for the future of humanity and the planet. I'm playing through Horizon Zero Dawn right now, which includes many of the scenarios you mention (right down to an audio recording of a military officer chastising her troops for playing video games). That would be a great game for a time capsule. Also, The Outer Worlds, which highlights the devastation of life possible when corporations run absolutely everything. It's hard to say whether we're playing these games now because we're afraid that this kind of future is what's coming for us, or whether we're trying to expose the present reality we can't quite see.

Brian Boru: One of the current century Civilization games—I'll go for Civ4.

It contains the broad strokes of how humanity came to dominate the planet, and how we chose to interact with each other—diplomacy, war, religion, commence, science, culture.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and Playboy.com, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.