Disclaimer: This is not a joke.
We’ve all heard critics talk about the idea of a “Citizen Kane of video games,” i.e., the first truly great video game that will set the standard for the medium as a way to make meaningful creative work. The idea is that just as Citizen Kane paved the way for films to be “great” (whatever that means), video games require a work of similar stature in order to gain legitimacy. The people who pose this problem are, of course, almost never willing to accept that any existing game already satisfies this role.
So I want to flip this question. Video games are often compared to films, since film is the most recent new artistic medium. What if we turn time around, imagine that films were invented before books, and ask instead “what is the Citizen Kane of books”? In other words, what book would you say historically gave novels “legitimacy” as an artistic medium? Is there one? Does this question make any sense at all?
The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn is often cited as the first “great American novel,” while Don Quixote is often cited as the first modern novel. Do these fill the same role for literature that Citizen Kane filled for film? Why or why not? What differences in the mediums lead to differences in these “early great works”?
EDIT: A few people have jumped in the replies to tell me that this question can’t be answered in any objective, meaningful sense. I am well aware of this. I’m curious to see how people individually choose to interpret and respond to it, much in the same way that people take a million different angles when the same question is posed about video games.