You, sitting in front of the computer, or on your phone, or reading this in the sky due to one of the many sky writers we have strategically placed around the continental United States to advertise the site.
You probably don’t agree with every single article we’ve published this month, that’s only natural. We think that any interactive entertainment is a video game. We published an article arguing the difference between "videogame" and "video game". We posted like, fifty screenshots of Animal Crossing.
But there’s something we feel pretty strongly about, that we need to address right here. We don’t think we really need to argue about defining video games anymore. We think interactive entertainment is good enough, but even if it isn’t, is the fight worth having?
Definitions exist because language runs on them, that’s simple enough. When I say apple, you know I’m referring to a very specific fruit because years ago, someone decided that fruit was called apple. That definition-word link is entirely arbitrary, and in fact, all definitions are. If we’re being honest here, there’s no logical reason that an apple is called and apple. It just is. Sure, apple comes from the old English “appel”, which just referred to any kind of fruit, and that term came from the Germanic “aplaz”, but all these words are just arbitrary sounds associated with a physical object. There’s no inherent logic to any definition.
If all human life was to disappear tomorrow, an apple would not be an apple anymore, would it? It would still exist, but no one would be asking anyone else for an apple. Or a pomme, or a яблоко, or a mazana. Apples would still exist, a round fruit would still grow from a tree we’ve called mallus domestica, but no one would be there to call it that. No one would call the fruit an apple. It wouldn’t be an apple, it would just exist.
Of course, we won’t all disappear tomorrow, and we’ll continue calling them apples until the Apple corporation successfully trademarks the term and sues the fruit. And we should, because otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to communicate the fact that we want to buy an apple at the supermarket. Definitions are important because they help us communicate.
So it’s only logical that we, as human beings that constantly desire better ways to communicate our stupidly complicated inner thoughts, want to have more definitions. We want tighter definitions with less room for error so communication is easier. That all makes a certain amount of sense.
Arguing about defining a video game really does not.
See, blanket definitions tend to be loose, because policing every single thing that attempts to fall under that definition is a futile effort. You’ll always miss something, it will always end up being too complicated, and it essentially defeats the purpose of having a definition in the first place. If you need to analyze everything anyway, just put the definition of video games as being on a case-by-case basis. An airtight definition can only exist once you start working in loopholes for individual titles. This is a game, this isn’t. And at that point, who are you to even say? If the definition isn’t meant to be personal, we need a governing body to determine it, something everyone trusts to take each case and examine it thoroughly. And who pays them to do this? The ESA? Some eccentric billionaire with a grudge against Myst? Eventually, they’ll end up with a loose, blanket definition anyway, just to make their job easier for them, it’s only reasonable.
So the loose definition works. We can have sub-definitions under those, for granularity’s sake, like the distinction between films and short films. Both fall under the larger definition of film, but are distinct in their own way. Sure, that’s an easier call to make, but to someone with no knowledge of movies, they’d be ostensibly similar enough to call the same thing. The distinction exists for ease of conversation.
Similarly, we divide up games into genres. There are first person shooters, role playing games, platformers, racers, rhythm games, even newer genres like endless runners and minecraft knockoffs. Heck, even non-games exist, to define video games that aren’t necessarily games. They’re all subcategories of video games, and though there’s a lot of blurring between them, they’re distinct enough that they’re used in regular conversation to distinguish between different games. Those distinctions are small, and less important in the grand scheme of things, but they exist because gaming, as a community, wants to have the words to discuss things on an even ground. If we all know what an RPG is, we can discuss it better, since we operate on the same basic assumptions.
But that’s all they are, basic assumptions. A first person shooter is pretty self-explanatory. It is a genre defined by shooting from a first person perspective. Racers are game where you race. Platformers refer to the platforms you jump on in games like Mario and Sonic. They are simple, loose definitions used to make the conversation easier. Technically, Mirror’s Edge is a first-person platformer, but that genre is so small (Jumping Flash and portions of Metroid Prime round out the genre in its entirety) that the distinction is almost meaningless in casual conversation. In fact, trying to initiate a conversation about the first-person platforming genre would be ridiculous, because next to no one would know what you’re talking about.
Similarly, trying to argue about how a game needs to have a win state, or be about shooting, or needs to have a certain budget size, or must be fun, or have to be called “videogames” is just esoteric. The conversation going on about video games isn’t about that.
It’s about a larger community. It’s about the folks that work every day to make games, think, write and talk about games, or play games. It’s about accepting these people and discussing this strange, ever-growing hobby we all share. Or maybe it’s not a hobby. Maybe it’s a craft, or an obsession, or a love. Maybe it’s a passing interest. Maybe you want to have a five-minute conversation, maybe you want to have a conversation for the rest of your life. Either way, why would you lock out people who don’t fit your heavily-policed, narrow definition of what a “game” is?
Refusing to accept, say, Gone Home as a game doesn’t just hurt the developers, or the people who love it. It doesn’t just frustrate the people who want to have an honest conversation about an interesting, important piece of media and now have to deal with a flamewar about defining it. It also hurts you. You aren’t participating in a grander conversation about something you like, you’re just reiterating the same points again and again, locking more and more people out of your definition- your conversation.
Definitions are important. We need them to communicate. But we don’t need to get ridiculous about them. Video games are an interactive piece of entertainment, usually with a clear win or a loss condition, but that’s increasingly less important. There is no threshold for interactivity, there is no point in arguing that something is or isn’t a game when the game is presented to you. Even a video game that lacks traditional game elements, like Animal Crossing, is still called a video game in conversation. And when someone comes up to you, wanting to talk about video games because they love Animal Crossing, telling them that they’re wrong because it’s not really a game is as ridiculous to them as telling them they can’t talk about apples because they only had an apple pie.
They’d think you’re crazy, and maybe shy away from talking or engaging with video games in the first place. Because it’s not about your definition, or my definition, or anyone else’s. It’s about how when the subject comes up, all that happens is the same argument, again and again Nothing new is said, and more and more people are left out, because what they wanted to talk about has been subsumed by the same talking points that have been reiterated for years.
People have personal definitions about dozens of things. Once you start strictly enforcing those definitions on others you limit their ability to converse. Apple vs. apple pie seems more arbitrary than win/lose vs. interactivity to you, the seasoned apple and video games expert, but to the gaming newcomer, it’s all the same. Games might be a little more complicated than apples, sure, but not by much. At the end of the day, we don’t want to wring our hands about whether they’re games or not. All we want to do is talk about why we like them, why they’re important to us, and how they get so delicious.