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OP-ED: Semantic Kombat- Videogame vs Video Game

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OP-ED: Semantic Kombat- Videogame vs Video Game

Every time I write the word "videogame", I get this weird squiggly red line under it in word. It means the word is wrong. It means videogame is not a word, even though I see it used on occasion over its proper alternative- video games. “Videogames” is a proper noun, versus “video games”, an adjective and a noun. So why the distinction? Both words mean the same thing, even if one technically doesn’t exist. Why have both words in the first place? Surely we should be able to just choose one at this point. Why do semantics even matter when talking about defining a game? At the risk of admitting how pretentious I am, it does matter to me, at least a little bit.

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Let’s think about the term “video game” for a second. It’s two words, technically. Video, which refers to visual content, and game, something people do for amusement. So it’s a visual amusement, or specifically, a game where the visuals are on a screen. It’s a simple definition, and it doesn’t really offer too many problems. If it isn’t visual, it isn’t a “video game”. Taken on its own, game more commonly refers to an amusement played along set rules, usually with the possibility to win and lose. Video games pretty much always have rules by nature. Even in games like Minecraft, which lets the player do almost anything they want, they are still trapped in the confines of the world. There’s an internal logic to a game world, both from a narrative perspective, and a technological perspective.

Anyone down for hide-and-seek?

Anyone down for hide-and-seek?

Technologically, games can’t account for infinite possibilities. Programmers and game designers can only do so much, and that’s why you can’t develop superpowers in the middle of Call of Duty and start flying around, melting people with laser beams. Sure, they could have done that, but they put their resources and efforts into making a different kind of game. One where that doesn’t happen, and can’t, because the developers didn’t code that in. Narrative-wise, every world has rules. In Star Wars, Luke doesn’t suddenly defeat Darth Vader by turning into a giant and crushing him underfoot. The story has established Luke can’t do that. He has some pseudo-magical powers, but we all understand their limits. On the flip side, that means everything that does happen in a narrative happens for a reason, even your own personal narrative of playing the game, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Take THAT, cel-shading.

Take THAT, cel-shading.

For now, we understand that any game does technically have rules. You can only do what the game allows you to. However, we run into a problem with that idea. Sure, the world has established rules, but what happens if I break those rules? Speedruns often involve clipping through the game’s architecture, or glitching out certain segments to make the game go faster. Link can’t usually pass through locked doors without a key, but Wind Waker speedrunners can make him slip right through. But they’re still playing the game, they’re just playing for a different goal, with different rules. That’s part of what makes video games so great, often, you can take an existing set of rules, and layer your own over them for a totally different experience.

So rules are a bust, at least in the traditional sense. You can’t just suddenly start playing a heavily modified version of tag while everyone is playing hide and go seek, you’d be breaking the rules. Sure, you’re playing by your own, but the existence of communally agreed upon rules means you’re not the playing the game everyone else set out to, and that means less to some jerk who really care about defining games by their rules. Video game rules are inherently malleable, since, at least in a single player context, there’s no one to tell you that you’re playing incorrectly.

My uncle words at Namco and he told me that if you get to the kill screen they take you into space to pilot Mecha-Pac-Man and fight the alien ghosts.

My uncle words at Namco and he told me that if you get to the kill screen they take you into space to pilot Mecha-Pac-Man and fight the alien ghosts.

What about win/lose states? Does a game have to let you win or lose? There is no traditional winning or losing in say, Animal Crossing, which goes on forever, with or without the player being involved. There are tiny win states when you pay off your loan, but those don’t end the game or anything. But what about a game you can’t win at all, like Pac-Man? You don’t “win” Pac-Man, you just go as long as possible. You do, however, lose Pac-Man. Not “can”, but “do”. You will eventually lose Pac-Man, because you can’t win. You can hit the kill screen, but that’s not a win state, it ends the game destructively, in an unintended way.

The same win/lose problems come up in playground games. You don’t win jump-rope, for example. You just go as long as possible until you lose. So at the end of the day, games by nature have to have a win or lose state. Even most playground games technically have win or loss states, because they are, by nature, multiplayer experiences, and it’s hard to have those in the real world without forcing a win in some way. So the “game” part of “video game” differs from its traditional definition. Malleable rules and non-traditional victories that don’t involve another player make up the backbone of video games. The “game” portion of the word is different than the one we based it off of. Why not come up with a new word for these kinds of games?

Merriam-Webster says that the first known use of video game was in 1973, which makes sense. That’s one year after Pong, and right when video games were hitting it big in North America. They were still simple enough that they could sort of be defined as anything. It was easy to call it a game, because that’s what it was, and it was played on a TV screen, so video. There. But there’s a weird issue here, both words come from other mediums. Video referred to video screens, like computer monitors and TVs, while game was referring to the fact that, at the time, video games were a lot like games that already existed. Pong was ping-pong, everyone knows what ping-pong is.

Game. Or not. It's up to you.

Game. Or not. It's up to you.

It’s actually a lot like movies. The word “movie” comes from “moving picture”, which means movies are just a series of images flashed before your eyes. Kind of demeans the experience right? Aren’t movies supposed to be about combination of the acting, the music, the directing, the cinematography and everything else? I mean, if movies are moving pictures, then are .gifs movies? Are viewmaster reels? Movies are also called films, but that just refers to the thin layer of chemicals spread on photographic plates for developing film reels. Defining a medium by its physical presence isn’t the worst idea in the world, but it does offer some issues when it comes to video games, which are becoming increasingly digital, and began life as discs and cartridges. Can we just call an NES game a ROM? Is that the same as calling a movie a film? I don’t really have the answer, but common sense says we don’t because no one else does.

The best way I personally have to define a video game is by saying that it’s interactive entertainment. You watch movies, you look at art, you listen to music, but you play games. That verb distinction is important to me. It changes how I experience the medium, how I ingest it. You look at art, because it does not move. You watch a movie, because you have to observe the motion. You listen to music, because you use your ears. You play a game, because your actions have influence over the experience. That’s the distinction, and that’s the definition I like. The win or loss matters only when you start dissecting the “game” part of the word, and that's for another time.

It’s hard to be mad that we use a word. We’ve been calling them video games since the ‘70s, and we won’t really stop anytime soon. Video game rolls off the tongue a lot better than “interactive entertainment”. And it’s truly incredible that we’ve come to the point where calling something a “game” defaults to a video game, rather than a board, card, or playground game. I’m not looking to change the way we write the word out, it’d be silly to. This isn’t a crusade, I just prefer videogame over video game. As a proper noun, the word has a transformative power that pushes it just a little further from its two parent words.

This is the first google image result for "video game". Seriously.

This is the first google image result for "video game". Seriously.

Sure, it’ll always be stuck there, since most video games are still games in the traditional sense, and almost all have some visual element. That’s why keeping that parent word DNA at the fore is still important. I don’t think the word even separates the conversation. Personally, I don’t want to let games that are less visual, or less game-y get brushed off as “not a video game”, but honestly? That doesn't happen that often. I think I just want to combine the two words, make them inseparable, as their own concept. A proper noun that shows that these aren’t like two other mediums. That video games aren’t a combination of video and game, but something greater. They can’t be viewed in the same lens as movies, nor like traditional games. They’re inherently comparable, but that’s because they’ve evolved from them. They’re something bigger than video games They’re videogames.

And also, I’m pretentious. But that’s a given.

 

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Nintendo E3 Roundup: Megaman, Cat Mario, and Ennui

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Nintendo E3 Roundup: Megaman, Cat Mario, and Ennui

Nintendo came into E3 with good news and bad news. In good news, 3DS sales have picked up significantly since last year, and the handheld is no longer treading water. In bad news, the WiiU isn't exactly lighting the world on fire, in fact, it's only barely outselling Sony's bastard stepchild, the Vita. But with promises of price cuts, Smash Bros. and Mario games, can Nintendo turn the sinking WiiU ship around?

Nintendo went for a lower key presentation this year, sticking to the Nintendo Direct livestream format that's served them so well for the last little while. And it makes sense, after all, nothing they could show off would be as impressive as Sony's show last night, why go big when you know you can't win?

Nintendo started off by talking up the new Pokemon games, X and Y. They showed off a new Fairy type which will be applied to some new Pokemon, as well as a handful of old favorites, like Marill and Jigglypuff. They also showed a new mode for the game, Pokemon Amitie, which lets you interact with your Pokemon in a Nintendogs-like fashion. 

The next big game on the docket was Mario 3D World . In the vein of their New Super Mario Bros. titles the game features multiplayer for up to four players in levels that resemble the level design of stages from last year's Super Mario 3D Land.  Nintendo touted the fact that Princess Peach was playable again in a main Mario game, the first time since Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES. Also, Mario got in a cat suit and climbed up the flagpole at the end of the level. It was pretty neat.

Mario Kart 8 was then shown, and looked very similar to Mario Kart 7, but this time with hovercars. After a quick WiiU eShop sizzle reel, Nintendo talked up Wind Waker HD,  which will have some minor improvements over the original, including a speed-up function for sailing.

Retro Studio's Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze  was next up, with some quick gameplay shown off before Nintendo revealed another CG teaser for Bayonetta 2. Iwata seemed very excited about Bayonetta's "major makeover," which mostly included shorter hair. After aproximately 30 seconds of gameplay footage, Nintendo moved along to another Platinum game, The Wonderful 101, which launches in September. 

Nintendo gave us a quick look at X , the spiritual sequel to Xenoblade , also developed by Monolith Soft. The new trailer featured giant transforming robots which fought dinosaurs in RPG combat. 

Finally, Nintendo played themselved out with the first trailer for the new Super Smash Bros.. The trailer showed off both the 3DS and Wii U versions of the game. The handheld game looked more cartoony than it's console sibling, but the big news were the two new characters. Well, one of them. First was the player character from Animal Crossing , who fights with various tools from the game. The second new character was Megaman. In the trailer, he swapped between weapons from various Megaman games as a remix of Wily's theme from Megaman 2  played. The trailer ended off with Megaman battling a still-forming Yellow Devil, a recurring character from his series.

All in all, it was a bit of a plain event. Nintendo just focused on the games, which kept it brief and to the point, but you really do get a sense that need something more to push the Wii U. If last year's E3 events are anything to go by, Nintendo has some more announcements in store for the weeks to come, but for now, they aren't going to be leaving E3 with any trophies. 

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Sony E3 Roundup: The Day Sony Won

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Sony E3 Roundup: The Day Sony Won

After Microsoft's lackluster showing this morning at E3, it was Sony's show to win, and boy did they win. With no DRM, a low price point, and some top notch games, Sony went on the aggressive, and tore Microsoft's Xbox One to shreds.

This E3 might go down as the E3 that Sony won.

It started as Sony America CEO Jack Tretton strutted on stage to Daft Punk music with a spring in his step. We had no idea how pleased he was, promising to show up some upcoming PS4 titles, but first there was the housekeeping to do.

Sony's minor flop, the Vita, got a little bit of love, with Media Molecule's Tearaway , Batman Arkham Origins and Flower, as well as a port of God of War Collection  and Final Fantasy X and X-2 HD , among a handful of other titles showing up for the handheld. Ports and remakes can only take a system so far, but Sony was quick to move onto a sizzle reel of PS3 titles.

Sony gave us another look at The Last of Us , which launches on Friday, then moved onto Japan Studio's Puppeteer, Rain,   Beyond :Two Souls, and Gran Turismo 6. After that, it was time for third party titles, with Batman: Arkham Origins headlining. Sony also announced a $299 PS3 plus Grand Theft Auto bundle, which will also come with a Sony Pulse headset.

Then it was time for the real news. Andrew House came on stage to give us out first look at the PS4, a parallelogram looking machine, much smaller than the Xbox One. This was followed by a pretty long talk abot Sony's music and movie offerings on PS4, where they announced that Redbox and Flixster would be coming to the new machine.

Shuhei Yoshida then took the stage to show off a slew of PS4 titles. The Order 1886, a steampunk themed shooter only got a CG teaser, but looked quite interesting. Yoshida also introduced Killzone: Shadow Fall, Infamous: Second Son, DriveClub, and Knack, games we saw at the PS4 reveal in February. We also go to see Quantic Dream's old man tech demo once more, but now in the form of the "Dark Sorcerer" a strange comedy skit meant to show off the processing power of the PS4, but mostly showed off David Cage's lack of comedy chops.

Sony made up for the lost momentum by rapidly showing off a bunch indie games in quick succession. Transistor, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Ray's the Dead, Outlast, Secret Ponchos, Mercenary Kings, Don't Starve, and Galak-Z, all console exclusive to PS4. 

After a quick stop with Diablo,  Sony brought on a video of japan's favourite zipper slinger, Tetsuya Nomura, to show off Final Fantasy Versus 13. After a very un-Final Fantasy- like trailer, it was revealed the game had been rebranded as Final Fantasy 15  That shocker was quickly followed up with the announcement of Kingdom Hearts 3 for PS4.

Sony's winning slide

Sony's winning slide

After a few third party PS4 games, including Assassin's Creed IV, Elder Scrolls Online, NBA 2K and Watch Dogs,  Sony got to what we were all waiting for. DRM. Sony revealed that the PS4 has no used game DRM, nor does it need to check in online like the Xbox One. The crowd cheered, Jack Tretton, who came back on stage for this announcement, opened his arms to the crowd, ready to receive the applause. The audience began to chant "Sony" over and over again, and Tretton only smiled.

After some announcements about PS Plus, namely that it will carry over to the PS4, as well as include online multiplayer for PS4 games, Sony revealed the first ever gameplay footage of Bungie's Destiny.  Most people were still distracted by Sony's brazen display of their victory over Microsoft, going so far as to specifically point out that the PS4 didn't ever need to check in online, not once every 24 hours, not every hour, never.

With Destiny out of the way, Sony moved in for the kill. They announced the PS4 would launch at $399. A whole $100 less than the Xbox One. Their conference over, Sony played themselves off with a sizzle reel, but this time to a deafening applause.

That applause was the sound of Sony winning the console war before it even began.

 

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