If you’re interested in game design, I think there are many games that could be argued should be played to help give you a mental framework for what game design is, what good game design is, and how to analyze it in both your own and others’ works.
I’m going to start off by recommending two games that drive home some really important themes.
The Stanley Parable ($15) is a really fun game that discusses the meaning of choice in video games, and in a more general sense the relationship between the game and the player. It’s pretty popular and you may have already played this. That’s great! Because while this is a great game for an aspiring game designer to play by itself, it gives you some extra context that makes the other recommendation truly incredible.
The Beginner’s Guide ($10) is a game by Davey Wreden, one of the two developers for The Stanley Parable, that every person who has created or wants to create something for others to read/watch/play should play at some point. I recommend playing it in one sitting (~2.5 hrs), and not looking up anything about the game until you have finished playing it, and honestly even then give yourself some time to just think about it by yourself before looking into other people’s experiences or analyses of this game. Once you’re ready, feel free to DM me to discuss the themes if you just want someone to talk to about it (I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent discussing this game with my game developer friends), or for links to other particularly insightful interpretations of the game and its themes. Legitimately my favorite game of all time, and you’ll find most reviews of it start off with something like “Please play this game, and don’t read any more of this review until you do.”
These particular games speak to me personally as a game developer, but there are plenty of other games that are important to play for a variety of reasons, so I’ve made this a wiki post so trust level 3+ can edit this, and add more “homework” down below. If you’re below that threshold you can still discuss below your thoughts on must-play games for game designers.
Indie Game: The Movie ($10) is an incredible movie (not a game!) that shows the reality of game development. It’s a very well produced documentary that’s easily one of my favorite movies of all time.
// TODO I think the bioshock series is a no-brainer inclusion on this list for its narrative expertise, I just don’t know exactly how to put its importance into words