An excellent feature (page-by-page, on one page) in Business Week listing some of the most important innovations in the video game medium over the past 30 years. Why should anyone care? Because a lot of the game innovations spill out to other media: interfaces, AI, 3D imagery are only a few such areas. Here are my favorites from the list:
"Modding is a form of gameplay; it's creative play with the meta-game. The earliest games weren't just moddable, they were open-source, since their source code was printed in magazines like Creative Computing. When we began to sell computer games, their code naturally became a trade secret. Opening commercial games up to modding was a brilliant move, as it extended the demand for a game engine far beyond what it would have been if players were limited to the content that came in the box. [...] The key point is that they enlisted the player to build content—long before "Web 2.0" or indeed the Web itself."
Smart NPCs with brains and senses. [...] Then we began to implement characters with vision and hearing and limits to both. We also gave them rudimentary brainpower in the form of finite state machines and, eventually, the ability to cooperate. Some of the most sophisticated NPC AI is now in sports games, where athletes have to work in concert to achieve a collective goal.
Adaptive music. Everyone recognizes the power of music to create a mood. In videogames, the trick is to change the music in response to game events, and of course the composer can't know in advance when they might occur. One approach is simply to play a new track on demand, but the transition can be jarring if not done well. Another approach is layering—mixing harmonizing pieces of music together and changing their volumes in response to the needs of the game."