Yesterday, I talked a little bit about games as practice for schoolwork and other such things. Most 'edutainment" games are correctly excoriated for failing to be fun as well as informative.
Thankfully, the games I get to talk about now make no pretense of being informative or educational. And at least one of them actively mocked the idea of educational games.
Before diving into my history of video games, I'm staying in the present for a bit. Board and card games of today tends to be running in the direction of the Euro-style game, where strategy and slightly complex rules are the defining characteristics of the game. There are a lot of great ones in this vein, like Ticket to Ride, Catan, and Galaxy Trucker. They're entertaining to play and they have a sort of minimal story holding them together.
There's also been a rise in social and storytelling games recently, and outside the storied genre of the pen and paper or computer-assisted role playing game, which has been reliant on good storytellers (some of which even acknowledge this by calling their managerial roles Storytellers) for as long as they have been publishing modules and magazines. Social games have been around for a while, but Apples to Apples (and its significantly harsher cousin, Cards Against Humanity) are both games that encourage lobbying, social engineering, and exploiting personal knowledge of the players to get ahead (and have a laugh). That's not any different if you're a Mafia/Werewolf player, but it's a leak out from the LARP-ish area. Which brings me to Dixit, which takes this idea of storytelling and personal knowledge to the logical conclusion, asking players to choose artistic scenes based on a phrase spoken by one of the other players. But, like any good story, it can't be too obvious or too inaccessible - the way to get ahead in Dixit is for almost everyone to choose correctly. The story has to have more than one meaning.
The idea of games as storytelling exercises is, for me, likely a consequence of having grown up in the era of adventure games, first with text parsers, then graphical environments. It would be no small surprise to find that most of my childhood shelves were stocked with the offerings of Sierra, Dynamix, and LucasArts games, each offering interesting characters, comedic and serious moments, and either death at every step or many comedic ways to have things fail without killing the character. Save early, save often. The irreverent commentary and sly SF jokes of the Space Quest series vibrated with the more high fantasy of the King's Quest and Quest for Glory series, where jokes were actually waiting just underneath the surface. These games made the more surreal puzzle offerings of Gobliiins or the childhood adventures of Willy Beamish easier to work with, culminating in stories like the adventures of Laura Bow, Betrayal at Krondor and Betrayal in Antara going for serious, Torin's Passage a bit more lighthearted (and Freddy Pharkas a complete send-up of the Wild West story), and then resulted in putting their stamp on Half-Life, which took everything learned from those previous game ideas and put them into a story told entirely from the first person perspective, with no cutaways, cutscenes, or shifts. It was a crowning work, and came basically after the adventure game genre was thought dead.
It never died, but it certainly did transmute. Because adventure games are primarily about telling a story, and so many people thought that a story by itself cannot carry a game, and that it needs mechanics and gimmicks to go along with it. I think we might have finally gotten back to realizing why we play games in the first place - to immerse ourselves in another world, whether that's just to shoot zeds, to explore the past by examining its evidence, or to follow someone through their own memory and experience, listening as they tell us their own stories.
So, if you asked me what my favorite game was, I'd probably just give you a list of two of recommendations based on what you wanted to get out of the game. If I have favorites, it's because of certain things in them. And possibly, because of the stories they tell.