Asking Big Questions

Asking Big Questions #010: “What Counts As A Hidden Gem, Anyway?!”

In every sound, the hidden silence sleeps.
-Dejan Stojanovic



So… I sort of promised a list of hidden gems that I would tweet about each Wednesday (or was it Tuesday?) but I came to the stark realization that figuring out what constitutes as a hidden gem is hard! I’m taking the phrase to literally mean a video game that has some relative obscurity, which not too many people are talking about or know about, and which is actually fun to play. A game that people missed out on, what not, but the issue is, how do you gauge that?

Of course, I’m thinking in very general terms. Generally speaking, some games are much more hidden than others. But which ones? We’ve been having a bit of time chatting about it in Mage Chat on Discord with the contributors and the patrons but deciding what’s what where everyone can agree is a difficult task.
hiddengemThis demonstrates how subjective “hidden gem” is. We may not be overly familiar with a game and therefore think it’s an unknown, or we may think a game is an unknown because of our immediate circle of influences only to find that there are many others who are completely acquainted with it… and this probably was compounded with personal pressure when several friends of mine suggested (hopefully jokingly!) that I tag Metal Jesus in my list of hidden gems! Hahaha not a chance!

So anyway, as I continue to develop this secret list of secrets, I’m continuing to ponder this question. How do you decide what games are hidden gems, which are obscure and fun enough to qualify? There may be no completely fool-proof way to figure it out, but I am curious as ever whether any of our readers have any methods in place to aid in this classification.

I know that each game should be prefaced with “to me this is a hidden gem” but clearly there are differences between Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Katamari Forever, and Ghost Lion, so taking some quantifiable data like sales and amount of posts/videos/coverage could help.

I’d like to hear your thoughts! As always, you can leave a comment here (be detailed!) or you can share your ideas on hidden gems in a full-blown blog post! If you do, just be sure to give us a link here so we can find your response. C’mon, NPCs, I usually ask questions out of the interest in conversation but I could actually use some help with this one!

Bountifully beseeching,
-The Well-Red Mage


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26 replies »

  1. This is actually a very good question. A definition of a hidden game described in the article seems correct, but it is difficult to quantify it. I believe that part of the reason that it has become difficult to define a hidden gem is because of the internet. In the past, consumers access to games mostly relied on the stock sold in the shops they used and their knowledge about games was mostly based on information written by journalists and critics in magazines and newspapers. Since the internet, players have been able to easily access a greater selection of games through streaming services and virtual consoles. It has also been easier for players to find out about games or contribute articles about games through blogging and review websites. For example, I have played a number of games I have enjoyed, but have not known to be popular, yet, there will be quite a few videos showing players completing the game, which can be viewed any internet user. This means that games, which once could remain obscure, could become more well-known and lose their hidden gem status.
    In conclusion, I believe that, in the modern world, the phrase hidden gem can be used in a personal way (to describe a game that the reviewer is not aware is well-known based on researching sales and the amount of reviews about it), but that many more people are aware of the game than they believe.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. New-ish reader of TWRM. Thanks for the great prompt! It actually got me to write my first blog post. (Looks like it’s already linked from the pingback? I’m new to this.) My perception of hidden gems was pretty much exclusively formed by MJR, so it challenged me to think about how I would actually define them myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well hi there! Pleasure to meet ya! We try to do prompts and community discussions like this when we can, so I hope you enjoy the content. I appreciate you sharing your very first blog post with us!

      It dawned on me that I never gave detailed thought to hidden gems and what that means so this question had a bit of soul-searching within it for me, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Posting from times to times under the Hashtag #ForgottenGemFriday, I prefer talking about Forgotten than Hidden. It goes to a much larger choice of games. After all a game that had a huge success in the eighties can now be dormant to the masses, and waiting to be rediscovered.

    An exemple of that is GORF on ColecoVision. Who talk about that game nowaday, almost nobody, aside from some obscure initiate that played it back then.

    So usually, if I never read about a game anywhere, it is potentially matter to be a forgotten gem (it must be fun too lol), I help myself with the various hashtags about daily console post. Be it #PS2sday, #Ps3sday, etc.

    Doing so, after a while, you see some pattern of games that never make the list. It is the case for exemple of Xyanide on the Original Xbox. That game is a shmup, has coop and is overall a real fun game to play. But it never came in the hashtag… It have all it take to be a Forgotten Gem,

    Same goes for Prince of Persia Forgotten Sands on the Wii, almost nobody know that the game is a complete new story that has nothing to do with the story of their older brethren the PS3 and X360. It make it a perfect candidate to the title.

    So here is how I usually proceeds in my choice, knowing perfectly that for the most part, it is all subjective. But hey, writing an opinion is always highly subjective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the idea of rephrasing this and I’ve been thinking about that, instead just doing something like honorable mentions or buried treasure, games that I think don’t get talked about enough, rather than take on all of the stigma and characterizations associated with hidden gems as a phrase.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think for me it comes down to three things. 1) How much discussion there is around a topic. 2) How easy it is to access. 3) How much do you care about the game and want to showcase it.

    Due to the digital age, point one obviously outweighs point two. But, I think point three is the big one. Do you feel it is underappreciated and want to showcase it on your soapbox and who are you preaching to? For example, as a horror fan, I often see lists like, “10 Horror Films You’ve Never Heard of But Should Watch” and almost every time I read them, they are films I’ve not only known about but have also seen. But the audience they are speaking to isn’t me, it’s more casual horror fans that don’t know some of the less mainstream titles. Same goes for anything, if I were to make a list like that and target it to more hardcore fans it would be very different than one I’d target to a more casual group. Basically, just know who you are talking to because hidden gems are going to be different depending upon how deep your miners are mining (your audience).

    Liked by 2 people

    • This point fascinates me. Specifically, I was thinking about potential blowback from hardcore retrogamers when constructing my hidden gems list (not that blowback would stop me but I don’t want to run into “this isn’t a hidden gem” every time). Directing the list to every follower I have on Twitter is a pretty broad audience, but I’m already thinking about rephrasing this as something other than just hidden gems. Maybe buried treasure, games that don’t get enough love, forgotten titles, etc. Only slightly nuanced differences but hopefully enough to say “this is for the mainstream”.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. The trouble is that “hidden gem” means something different to everyone and has even become something of a cliche now thanks to, as you say, dear old Metal Jesus.

    Sales figures can be a reasonably reliable indicator if you take that as your sole metric of how much something was “appreciated”, but there are plenty of games out there that had excellent critical reception and modest or underwhelming sales. Do they still count as “hidden gems” if they got a lot of coverage or plaudits? I don’t think so.

    I think for me, my own personal definition comes down to how much something has been talked about generally, by press and public alike, cross-referenced with how much I enjoyed it. I’d define something like MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death on Vita as a “hidden gem” because it’s almost entirely unknown, even by people who are generally into Compile Heart’s stuff, but I had an absolute blast with it.

    There’s also personal tastes to take into account. One man might declare a super-deep, incredibly complicated strategy game to be a “hidden gem”, but someone else might bounce hard off it, finding it completely incomprehensible and impossible to enjoy as a result. Someone might find a well-written kinetic novel to be a “hidden gem”, while someone else may berate it for having “too much reading” and no interactivity. You get the idea.

    I think in any discussion of “hidden gems” it’s important to emphasise the fact that, even more so than conventional reviews, the tastes, experience and expertise of the commentator in question are important to bear in mind. One man’s trash and all that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • addendum to that I forgot to add: when I say “how much something has been talked about”, I do not mean “whether it got good reviews”; I literally mean how much discussion there has been about that particular game, full stop.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Many factors to consider in both the “hidden” and the “gem” aspect, with the added difficulty of saying “this game is enjoyable to me and that’s why I call it a gem though not everyone is going to appreciate it”. I like that you pointed out buzz/discussion surrounding a game being a factor to consider.

        There are a lot of popular names and creators out there who have now popularized games which were much obscurer a few years ago. Crystalis is a game I can think of which seems to be more talked about now than it used to be. Clearly, a list of hidden games ironically makes the games on the list less hidden by the nature of their being listed! :O


  6. It can be tricky actually to classify a game as a hidden gem, especially with the idea of “hidden” and “gem”. When I posted Spyro the Dragon from PS1 as my pick on Mage Chat, it seemed to be not a hidden gem for you as it has been brought out recently (which makes sense btw) so the next question in mind is:

    Is a hidden gem, hidden?
    Is it hidden to the point that it needs to be dug deeper to bring it to the light?

    Hidden gems don’t equate to “old games”, hidden is just… hidden shinies! 😛

    Plus, if you’ll think about hidden gems, and use “year published” as the criteria, younger generations will fail to this question. If you try to use “a game that has no franchise at all (e.g. Doom, Wolfenstein)”, then some people can also fail to this idea.

    Another point to think about is, should the hidden gem be rated very poorly to be classified as one? Probably yes! But comparing 2018 games to a game, say 1995 and this game in 1995 are rated 5/5 back then, would that make sense? If no, then hidden gems shouldn’t necessarily be poorly rated.

    If I’ll gonna try again the question, I would pick “Mario Teaches Typing” (1992) which is a great gem, never known much by anyone but Mario fans and is an educational game for anybody who wanted to learn to type. If you’ll subject it to the analysis of most gaming review companies, it’ll fail on some.

    My ideas are rumbled, sorry. 😦 But here you go. 🙂 Rumbled ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I often bang on about this with indie games, as a lot of them slip through the gaming community without much fanfare. There’s an excellent RPG called CrossCode no one seems to have played, for instance – hidden gem! Dead Cells is another. T’ review is on t’ way, yo.

    My big one for a while was Tropical Freeze, but it’s done very well on the Switch so that’s a bonus. For me it’s anything that’s obscure that should be a smash hit and hailed by gamers as the best thing since rye bread.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indies would definitely be the equivalent of hidden gems if they weren’t so easy to find and so massively plentiful, over-saturated, and market flooding (there are many incredible ones but for each great there are 10,000 poor ones posted to Steam daily seems like). Can’t wait for that review!


  8. I’d probably classify it either as something that was critically underrated, or a game that sold poorly in spite of being considered “good”. I’d probably go with the latter. I might classify Vanquish in here. It was a cracking game that a lot of people missed out on as it didn’t seems terribly interesting. Other people may consider that game a straight up success or failure though. Subjectivity!

    You may want to consider “cult” titles in terms of this.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Honestly, for me it comes down to two factors; how many copies were sold, and how easy is it to find/how often do you see it in the wild. 🙂

    In that sense, I would class Koudelka, Galerians, Anna (for PC) and other such games as hidden gems. But yeah, it is very subjective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like your concise factors. Copies sold, do you have like a general idea of competing games that sold generally better for an era, or what? Ease of finding in the wild is pretty easy to check, I’d say. Thanks for the tips!


      • I tend to look at the median average of the more well known games in a particular genre on a particular system and then make a judgement call based on how far below that median average the game’s sales were. And no problem!

        Liked by 1 person

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