Welcome to the 1950’s. Y’know, the time of poodle skirts, drive-in movie theaters, soda fountains, and video games. Only one of those things really exists these days and we’re still calling it by the same term. Care to guess which? Over sixty years of progression for the hobby we all know and love and yet we’ve never managed to do away with the oversimplified technical term as a label. I don’t want to jump into a history lesson on video games… Plenty of other places do a well enough job with far more attention then I would have the patience to go into. Let’s just take a look at what qualified as a game back in 1958 though with “Tennis for Two”.
Video games were conceived as a means of play using video displays. Purely a technical term in an era of discovery it was appropriate. It made sense to people uninformed without a heavy explanation. A simple definition of games has been described as follows: “a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure” . A very broad statement that could include nearly anything you do for entertainment that is dictated by rules. A crossword puzzle for example requires you to figure out intersecting words that match the clue associated with the numbered field. Ignoring the rules we could just load whatever letters we want into the blank boxes and render the game useless. The point of a game is to challenge the player mentally or physically. Without that it becomes indiscernible from just another activity. Challenges imposed by rules create what becomes a game. So where do we stand once the challenges and structures (rules) are removed from video games? I don’t mean simply being tied to what’s coded within the reality of the game. That’d be like explaining that gravity is a rule for competition in physical space. We’ve stumbled into an era where the focus of video games isn’t to be challenged anymore. Every year more and more titles are being released without any expectation of adhering to what previously defined a game. Gone Home, Dear Esther, Stanley Parable, or even some Minecraft modes are tough fits under the umbrella of video games. That isn’t meant as a slight to them at all either. Each and every one of those releases has earned a circle of respect from different communities of gamers. With the advent of Virtual Reality in 2016, writing them off “video games” is going to get more and more inapplicable to the experience held within. I’m thinking maybe it’s finally time we retired the term video game entirely and found something more relevant to today’s applications. Otherwise as long as it’s mislabeled people are going to have a disconnect between the expectation and the delivered product, as well as limiting the scope of what can and can’t be created while developers are trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.