Wednesday, December 6, 2017

I Settle All Video Game Arguments, Part 2: What Is a Game?

According to the rigorous definition of Game that I will provide, creating "dank memes" IS a video game.

One of the painful things about being in the games biz for a long (LONG) time is that you see the same tedious arguments brought up and rehashed, again and again, by new generations. I am writing a series of posts to settle these debates once and for all.

No need to thank me. When I get the Nobel Prize, don't worry about sending the medal. I just want the money.

This time, I settle a question that has tormented academics and Mad On Twitter types alike: What is the definition of a game?

How This Tedious Discussion Started

When the Indie Boom hit, several games of the genre called Walking Simulators came out and achieved huge financial and critical success. I personally enjoyed many of them greatly. (Despite this, I still use the term "Walking Simulator" because I find it funny.)

When they first gained notice, a certain portion of the gamer community was angered by the acclaim for Walking Simulators, sniffing in response that they "Aren't games."

This is, of course, entirely the wrong way to phrase their complaint. What they should have said was, "These games, whatever their good qualities, strip away everything we value in gaming and don't give us enough hours of distraction for our limited dollars, and the fact they are being treated as the future and only thing of value in our medium fills us with resentment."

Whether you agree with that sentiment or not (and there's plenty to say on both sides), it is a statement you can actually debate on its merits.

But this debate, such as it was, was moot. Last I checked, Walking Sims (even really good new ones) are selling modest numbers and games where you shoot monsters in the face are still making billions.

So there was no reason to continue the argument ...

According to my rigorous definite of Game, this IS a video game.

But Then Academia Got Involved.

A lot of people go to college to study videogames, and some try to create advanced critical analysis of the form. Don't blame me. It's not my fault.

I studied theatre in college, which was a fantastic experience. When I was there, I observed that people new to an art form constantly try to attach firm definitions to everything in it.

"What IS a play? What is acting? What is a work of art? What is the explicit definition of joy? And beauty? Dude, my hands are HUGE! They can touch anything but themselves!"

Exercises like this are not useless. It's good, when you’re young, to spend a lot of time thinking about the nature of your art form. Then you stop, because you realize that the nature of art is a very slippery thing. Whatever rule you come up with, someone else will become awesome by breaking it.

Here's the deal with art: Your brain compels you to make a thing, then you make it, then people dig it or they don't. The end.

Despite this, otherwise sensible people still actually spend time trying to define a game. Google "What is a game" and marvel in wonder. It's really quite the thing. A whole bunch of definitions, none of them adequate, because they're all too broad or too narrow or too abstract.

So I'll settle the issue and save everyone a bunch of time. This is important to me because I'm working on a cool new indie role-playing thing now, and it'll be out soon, and I want to be sure I can call it a game so I don't get in trouble with the FDA or whatever.

According to my rigorous definition of Game, this is NOT a video game.

What Is a Game?

Consider the large, highly profitable genre called Hidden Object Games.

Here's how they work. The game says, "There's a squid on the screen." Then you find and click the squid. Then you do the same thing with a sandwich or a skull or whatever.

Is this a game? I mean, hell, I'm not 100% sure this counts as an ACTIVITY.

But it has to be a game. How do I know? Because "Hidden Object Game" has "Game" in the name.

So just clicking a few times makes it a game, and you have to click just to launch the game. Sooo ...

According to my rigorous definition of Game, this IS a video game.

The Answer!

If you're asking, "Is this a game?" it's a game. Sure! Why not? Who cares? It might be a good game or a long game or a bad game or a word processor.

Semantics arguments are lame. Argue about the content. What is a game is trying to do, how does it attempt it, how well did it succeed, and why? That's all that matters.

Wait. You Didn't Actually Define a Game.

So if you're hangin' out and someone starts to discuss with you what the definition of a game (or gameplay, or play, or immersion, or ludonarrative dissonance) is, do what I do!

Step 1: Nod sagely and adopt an expression of extreme concentration.

Step 2: Point over the person's shoulder and shout, "Hey, what's that!?"

Step 3: Activate the ninja smoke bomb you have in your pocket. FWOOOOSH!

Step 4: Sneak into another room.

Step 5: Talk to literally anyone else about literally anything else.

Problem solved!

According to my rigorous definition of Game, this IS a video game.

This Is Ridiculous. By Your Laughable Definition, Photoshop and Excel Are Games. That Is So Broad As To Be Meaningless! But What If You First Define Gameplay To Be ...

OK, you've broken through. My decades of experience have enabled me to have one simple, unquestionable test for how to peel apart interactivity for a productive purpose from interactivity for an entertainment purpose. First, you ... Hey, what's that!


As An Extra Multiball Reward For Making It All the Way to the End of This Mess, I Will Settle Once and For All the Question: "Are Video Games Art?"

No. Never. Don't be silly.


If you're intrigued by giant indie RPGs with cool adventures and epic stories, you can wishlist our next "game" on Steam. News about our work and random musings can be found on our Twitter.