The Sunday Papers

By John Walker on October 13th, 2013 at 5:33 pm.

Sundays are for sitting in coffee shops and completing cryptic crosswords, then high-fiving anyone present.

  • Of the many perennial gaming discussions I’d permanently switch off, what constitutes a game would be near the top of the list. Up there with “is it art?” it adds nothing to the universe, and only seems to exist so people can dismiss things they didn’t enjoy without the bother of forming a coherent argument. Anna Anthropy appears to agree. “Here’s what we do when we enter into these debates about the value of our work: we concede the right to determine the value of our work to others: typically, to people who have a vested interest in undermining that value. Of course self-described formalists are bristling at the arrival of all these games that don’t fit their definition of games: they want to keep being able to write blog posts from a position of authority.”
  • Apparently something called Pokemons came out recently. I can tell, because my Twitter feed is full of adults talking about it. Simon Parkin took a look at the phenomenon that ensures Nintendo stays profitable no matter how mad its consoles. ‘”Morality in the story is one of the core things I think about when making these games,” says Masuda. “I think anyone who has the capacity to play the game will inherently be in a privileged position; they are above a certain level of poverty to even own video games. This means they might be in a more favourable position to change the world when they grow up.”‘
  • And talking of which, Rich Stanton reveals on Eurogamer about he went from Pokemon player to Pokemon battery farmer. “I had a male and female Bulbasaur, so bred a few baby ones to give away. Innocent enough. Soon I’d be hatching ten Bulbasaurs an hour, minimum, among so many others.”
  • Christian Donlan is a genius. That’s well established, but furthered by his suggestion on Eurogamer that more games should be inspired by bad TV. Except he’s so, so wrong to evangelise the AWFUL Storage Hunters, when there’s the AMAZING Storage Wars to watch. I don’t know how I can even look at him for that. “That’s the thing: Storage Hunters is perfect for video games. On the absolute most basic level it’s already a sort of roguelike – if you think of permadeath as running out of greenbacks, and status effects as having had a fist fight with a pawn-broker outside of an all-night Denny’s after you ate too many breakfast burritos. Someone clever could ensure that the bidding wars are turned into interesting resource-heavy battles, while the characters would fit snugly into the class set-up of a game like Borderlands or Krater. I’m afraid I’ve thought about this: you could even call the whole thing It’s a Tarp!”
  • The entirely ignorable GMA nonsense awards were this week. However, out of the back-slapping festival came one good thing – attention for games journalist Dan Douglas’s Play The Pain Away piece, on how gaming played a key role in his recovery from a serious mental breakdown. “Though I was, by now, devouring books, films, and whole seasons of streamed TV, none gave me the same sense of immediate reward. Strange, perhaps, that an apparently leisurely pastime should be seen in the same context as work, as a replacement, but parallels between grinding in RPGs and hacking away in monotonous jobs are obvious.”
  • And from the other side of the Great Divide, indie developer Michael Todd told Polygon’s Darren Orf about how his depression is a key factor in his journey through game development. “Despite this tempest in his personal life, Broken Brothers was an artistic success for Todd, with many seeing beauty in its simplicity. It eventually caught the attention of Valve, a developer known for its Steam online store. It wanted Todd to expand the game and then sell it on Steam. For months he tried, and worked, and coded, but eventually gave up. He couldn’t keep going.”
  • Chicago is the best city on Earth. Here’s proof.
  • And here’s how to make anyone interested in science. Grover.
  • Music this week is Lucas’s Lucas With The Lid Off, because I worry how long it’s been since you last watched Michel Gondry’s incredible video.

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187 Comments »

  1. Sheng-ji says:

    It is kind of important to understand if a game is a game so that unscrupulous devs and publishers can’t describe something as a game that is not. I’m happy with reviewers giving their opinion though without the need for a debate on the subject as I can use my understanding of how a reviewers opinion relates to my own to make an informed decision.

    EDIT: I’m not calling Anna Anthropy unscrupulous, I have played her games and don’t ever feel they were being missold.

    • Bull0 says:

      I think it only comes up as often as it does because computers and electronic entertainment and such are fairly new things, so we’re not great at defining them yet. But yes, I agree with John that it’s too often used as dismissive sort of thing, and that’s not cool. My own little sister does it to wind me up, because she essentially doesn’t like strategy or management games, and it annoys the piss out of me. :P

      • Sheng-ji says:

        Indeed – games as art is often used to deflect criticism and games not being games is often used to criticise mechanics. For example, dear esther was called a non-game by TB and then “Its Art” was used to deflect the criticism. All it boils down to is a bunch of people being forcefully aggressive in asserting their opinion to strangers, and it is boring.

      • regi.rock says:

        Exactly, this attitude of insisting on naming and marketing these pieces of interactive art as games keeps interactive art from growing as a new medium.

        • The Random One says:

          How come? How does “interactive art” being considered something separate from games mean it will grow differently? The people who are pushing those games forward are, for the most part, people who are not into “traditional” games and who would not be empowered at all by being considered separate from them. The only difference is that that people who are interested in making games will not be as interested in making TWINE games, and people who are interested in playing games will not be as interested in playing them. Meanwhile, games as a whole will be less diverse because cross-polinization with those games will be smaller.

          • regi.rock says:

            The people creating interactive art are, indeed, not at all interested in games or gaming. That’s exactly why they should be building their own critical spaces and communities without having to rely on the subterfuge of being called a game. There can be no cross-pollination as they are a different species ;P

          • Bull0 says:

            How good of you to decide for them what they actually think and come here to inform us of it.

          • The Random One says:

            No – the people PUSHING FORWARD interactive art are not interested in games, but several people CREATING them are. And there can be cross-polinization between species, as anyone who’s seen a mule can attest. Would you say that it’s a bad thing that novelists write comic books, that musicians work on movie soundtracks, that poets write lyrics to songs? You have failed to provide a reason why this would benefit games, and your sole desire seems to be to keep them away.

      • RobF says:

        For some context, the piece is referring to toolboxes who, out the fucking blue, decided that they were going to authoritatively define what constitutes, what can constitute a game -and- for bonus points, co-opted the term ‘zinesters’ to refer to people who then didn’t fit into this definition. And of course, then expected people to defend their position after he’d decided this was a conversation anyone wanted to have and decided there was two camps in the first place which was pretty much news to everyone. Where defend just means said toolbox tweets at them a lot until they get bored of his tiresome bollocks anyway. YOU WILL ANSWER ME.

        The designer who Anna ran away from, who wasn’t the same toolbox I’m referring to above, at least tried to engage on a more intelligent level and was interested in hearing other points of view BUT “wot we said is a game” versus “wot we said isn’t a game” it’s still not a conversation worth engaging with for me in the main because it’s just wasting breath.

        When I was growing up, we didn’t really question whether something was a game or not because the whole world was open to us, so Deus Ex Machina was a game. Survival was a game. Explorer was a game. Jet Set Willy was a game, Battle Of The Bulge was a game, Zork was a game blah blah. It’s only in time that we’ve come to people trying to be more reductive about these things and whilst I kinda agree with Sheng-ji’s point here, I think that’s also a bit of a sidestep from the discussion Anna is having about what is/isn’t a game.

        I don’t need nobs like Tadgh Kelly to tell me what is/isn’t a game. I don’t give a fuck and who the fuck is that guy anyway y’know? I don’t need “it’s OK but it’s not a game” from someone in a comments section because I don’t give a shit, I just care whether it’s something of value to me.

        Even when we’re trying to break it down to constituent parts, there’s only really one more interaction in Call Of Duty than in Proteus so… well, where does that leave us, y’know? Being reductive serves little purpose.Well, except to find a way to denigrate a work without engaging with that work. “That’s not a game”, they point and it’s like, “OK, so what is it?” “I dunno but it’s not a game it’s a thing”. Right, thanks. I’ll take that information and go and do what with it now? Like, don’t buy it because it needs x% more interaction or rules?

        Game is such a broad term and has always encompassed all manner of things. We accept CYOA as a game-book, yet Twine is… debatable? Nah. We used to have this massively expansive definition so why do we need to confine it now? What’s so threatening about expanding the term to encompass more things, y’know? It never used to stop us!

        That’s not to say formalism doesn’t have its uses, it does but one person doesn’t get to decide the formal definition of something no matter how hard they blog. I think that’s something worth defending videogames -against- because brutally narrow definitions of what is a game don’t help move us forward and they only confine us.

        Imagine if we’d have had this fight 30 years ago with people saying “that’s not a game”, all the things we love -now- would be lost in all this silly fighting and for what?

        • gritz says:

          Excellent post.

        • Sheng-ji says:

          I love reading what you have to say and you really are right here!

        • TheGamePolice says:

          You’re under arrest.

        • Michael Fogg says:

          I buy the newest shiny AAA smash. I’m bored out of my mind sitting through hours of cutscenes and going down linear corridors when the action finally starts.

          I buy the indie gem, hot in the blogosphere. I’m treated with more of the same until my fingers itch to finally DO SOMETHING.

          It’s this frustration that leads me to try to figure out what ‘game’ really means. Having a common framework of terminology could make it easier to converse with like-minded people about titles that are interesting to us. We’ve been burned enough times with games that, despite the name. do not deliver any PLAY.

          It was this sentiment that lead John Walker to question the gaminess of COD MW 3 not long ago on this very website.

          http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/11/28/why-modern-warfare-3-remains-an-un-game/

          • The Random One says:

            Conversely, hundreds of thousands of people play CoD and find it to fit their definition of a “game”. A far smaller but still relevant number of people play the latest indie hit and also find it to fit their definition of a “game”. Wouldn’t it be more honest to say that you are looking for a specific definition of ‘play’ that modern games aren’t deliver, rather than trying to imply that your definition of ‘play’ is the only correct one?

          • Laurentius says:

            Indeed, this present stance of JW is quite suprising. Seriously if discussions about what constitutes game are pointless, discussions about what constitutes “un-game” and even coming with such term are pointless too.

        • regi.rock says:

          I’m sorry, I stopped reading after the intellectually dishonest and childishly sophist “there’s only really one more interaction in Call Of Duty than in Proteus” comment.

          If you honestly believe that then you lack the capacity to even participate in this conversation.

          • Sheng-ji says:

            I love a good first person shooter, I really do but it can’t be denied that they are simple from a game mechanic design point of view – I sincerely believe the beauty of the genre comes from the simplicity of the mechanics. Plenty of games throw mechanic after mechanic into the mix and are worse for it, most FPS’s at a design level involve placing the mouse cursor in the correct place and clicking at the right time to kill enemies, whilst navigating the level to reach the portal to the next one. Many games are entirely scripted and linear and completely remove the navigation element, but this is not a criticism – I mean look at the fervour for Half Life 3!

          • Wisq says:

            I believe this sort of statement stems from an inability to see the direct correlation between old arcade games and modern day shooters.

            If your main complaint about Call of Duty is that you shoot a bunch of guys and then move on to the next room, with no ability to alter the course of the story and no persistent stats except the amount of ammo you’re carrying … well, what do you think Space Invaders was? Pac-Man? Super Mario Bros 1? Do you really think these games had branching plotlines, character sheets with skills and inventory, multiple endings, etc.? No. Would you say they were all “un-games”? Hell no.

            Why is it that we have one set of standards for old 2D games and another set of standards for modern 3D games? I get that our tastes are going to change over time, that Space Invaders would seem hopelessly retro today. And yet, if you re-released it today, I can guarantee you that it wouldn’t get as much hate as Call of Duty, and that John wouldn’t be writing blog posts about it being an “un-game”.

            Look, I dislike Call of Duty almost as much as the next PC-Elitist CoD-Hating BF3-playing blah blah label label gamer. (Actually, I mainly just dislike it because the jingoistic theme and killstreak mechanics both encourage its toxic community.) But trying to pretend it’s not even a game is either being disingenuous, hypocritical, or just ridiculously short-sighted.

            So sure, if you want to retroactively wipe away our entire collective childhood by claiming that nobody actually ever made real games until, I dunno, Baldur’s Gate 1 or Half-Life 1 or Deus Ex or whatever your favourite game was, then fine, go live in your weird little fantasy world and let us keep our normal, sane definition of “games”. Otherwise, accept that Call of Duty is a game like anything else — and also, that games have varying levels of quality, and you can’t deny them the “game” title just because you don’t like them.

          • RobF says:

            If you’re referring to my statement, I have no intentions of suggesting Call Of Duty isn’t a game. I’m not sure how you could read that from my statement in the first place? I have no real opinion on the thing either way beyond I’d prefer if someone would stop and think “y’know, maybe Oliver North isn’t the best kind of guy to advise us?” and that sort of thing.

            But John’s term ‘un-game’ is interesting. It’s not suggesting Call Of Duty isn’t a game, it’s talking about how Call Of Duty (outside of its muliplayer components) wears all the clothes of a videogame yet increasingly it contains segments that play out events for you, where it sort of pretends it needs you to do things but really, you don’t need to be there and the makers are going to interesting(?) lengths to prop up an illusion that you’re doing or need to be doing more than you are.

            It’s an attempt at looking at what that’s all about, sort of “put that over here and we can look at it in a new light” rather than “THIS IS NOT A GAME, I PROCLAIM!!” kind of thing. If anything, I think ungame is probably an unwise term because it then gets muddled into these discussions on “what is a game” because people get hung up on the term, not the inference.

          • Wisq says:

            Yes, sorry, this was meant more as a reply to the general sentiment against CoD, rather than your comment in particular. It probably should’ve been in reply to the post about the un-game article.

      • KicktheCAN says:

        The whole “what is a game” debate becomes ridiculous when you look at the history of the word. Until the genesis of video games, it was pretty clear to everyone what was and was not a game. If the first “interactive digital experiences” were not games but something else, everything would be grouped under that umbrella.

        A good rule of thumb for determining whether something is a game: make a non-digital version (if you can) and see if it is still a game. Is a haunted house a game? No; why should a simulated digital haunted house be one?

        Yes, yes, words are ambiguous and can have many meanings, you are very clever. That ambiguity is not intentional nor the point of language. Language came about to clarify human communication, not cloud it. We don’t call movies “pictures” anymore and in time we will hopefully find a suitable name for one of the most powerful and expressive art forms we have.

        • regi.rock says:

          Yes, exactly. The word has a history and a context that stretches back to ancient egyptian Sennet. Call of Duty has far more in common with chess, Settlers of Catan, and Poker than it does Gone Home. Dear Esther has more in common with digital graphic novels and video art installations than any game.

        • PikaBot says:

          A non-digital version of Dear Esther would be a one-on-one tabletop roleplaying session with a DM who delivers gorgeous description of the world around you, but who has a tendency to railroad pretty strictly and an unconventional approach to narrative. Still a game.

          Gone Home is much the same, except with the added layer of having to find keys and maps to piece together the environment to get to more of it. Most definitely still a game.

          • RobF says:

            We already have plenty of analogues for Gone Home. Treasure Hunts, Easter Egg Hunts and the like. Any game that entails hiding details around a space and then requiring someone to find them fits perfectly.

            It just seems that we’re not allowed to then translate this into a digital space. Either that or people are really going to spend their time shouting NOT A GAME at an 8 year old as he cries into his easter egg because they really are horrible people.

        • strangeloup says:

          What is a game?!
          A miserable little pile of secrets!
          But enough talk, have at you!

    • Vinraith says:

      Words only have utility when they have clear meanings. Every time someone redefines “game” or a genre label into vague uselessness we lose one more mechanism to discuss and describe. When everything’s a game, “game” has no value as a term.

      • gritz says:

        So what? Why is it important that the word “game” (or any genre name) have a specific meaning?

        What does the definition of games add to the experience of playing games?

        Language is fluid, if your descriptors aren’t working anymore, use better descriptors.

        • Vinraith says:

          Bork bleep obbab, formu etla gorp.

          Communication requires agreed upon meanings for combinations of letters, otherwise you just end up speaking gibberish.

          Yes, language is fluid, yes, words acquire new definitions, but that’s not the problem. The problem is redefining a word into complete uselessness by making it so vague that it describes everything. Again, when everything’s a game, “game” has no value as a term. That’s a waste of a perfectly good word.

          • RedViv says:

            A perfectly good word meaning a pursuit/activity performed under rules for the purpose of entertainment, adjukayshun, worldly gain or other such reasons. So how come it’s suddenly so restrictive just because This Is How We Video Gaming?

          • Vinraith says:

            That seems like a perfectly reasonable definition to me, not sure what you’re getting at.

          • RedViv says:

            I have yet to experience something accused of being not-game that would not follow this very basic concept, that was what I was getting at.

          • Vinraith says:

            “Other such reasons” needs some work, though. Quite a few electronic entertainments accused of not being games fail to meet the “rules” criteria here.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Even then, a definition with wiggle room still has utility, which can be damaged by stretching it further. Is this a car?

          • SurprisedMan says:

            Yes, I’m afraid I just don’t believe this. We don’t understand words thanks to clearly defined meanings. I bet you couldn’t clearly define even ten words you use in every day speech. But you still understand them without being able to do so.

            Like, say, a table. I know what a table is. As for what it’s clear meaning is… well, that’s trickier. It’s a flat surface used for eating or working on, supported by one or more legs or some other form of support so that it can be stood or sat at…

            ergh, that definition is OKAY but it leaves out things like bedside tables and coffee tables or other specialist sorts of tables that I still more or less understand to be tables.

            The fact is, we don’t understand words because if we wanted to we could gesture towards some kind of solid meaning which everyone can agree on. We understand words by convention, and convention is inherently subject to change over time, change over culture and even change depending on which group of people you happen to be talking to at the time, and the whims of society. That’s why language is changing all the time.

            Why do you think some more things being called a game than were previously is some sort of slippery slope towards everything being called a game? Is that a plausible direction for linguistic convention to go in, do you suppose?

          • Vinraith says:

            Frzip tovon bernop itlo.

          • Chris D says:

            “Frzip tovon bernop itlo.”

            Translation: “I think I’m making a clever point about words needing precise meanings but I’m entirely forgetting the critical role context plays in how we understand things”

            Edit: If you disagree with my translation, fair enough, but the fact that you consider this a worthwhile response only reinforces the case that meaning is conveyed irrespective of knowing the definitions of all words involved.

          • Vinraith says:

            I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt here, and assume I’ve somehow been unclear. Words have meanings. That meaning changes with usage, and context is hugely important. If you go out of your way to make that meaning fuzzy, and that fuzziness is popularly accepted, the words ceases to have utility because instead of meaning something specific, it means whatever the listener thinks it means. At that point, the word no longer has value, as it conveys no meaning.

            Now, I’m about done here, because as best I can tell quite a few people in this conversation seem to genuinely believe words don’t need to have meanings to be of use, and the level of irony involved in engaging those people in any form of verbal communication is about to give me an aneurysm.

          • HadToLogin says:

            @RedViv: After reading your definition it appears that watching TV. is an activity done under set of rules for the purpose of entertainment Or reading books.
            Taking drugs too (with quite fatal rules – take too much, you’re dead).

          • The Random One says:

            Well clearly you know a lot more about words than I do, since you used a lot more than I would to say “you guys are no fun and I’m not playing with you any more”.

          • Chris D says:

            Vinraith

            You seem to be saying that language functions like an equation:

            The meaning of word A+word B+word C = The meaning of a sentence.

            That’s really not how language functions. It’s more like a sudoku puzzle, we don’t need to know the precise value of every word, we can use context, which includes positioning, tone and non verbal information to determine the meaning of the whole, without precisely knowing the defintion of each component part.

            A simple example, I don’t have to know what “smeg” is to understand the meaning of “Rimmer, you’re a total smeghead”

            And this lack of precision isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. it makes communication far more robust and gives us both poetry and puns. Without it we’d have almost no comedy left, other than clowns and mimes and nobody wants that.

            Rigid definitions aren’t really all that useful, outside of a few specific cases like academic study, and hey, that’s what we have context for. Even if we decide that we’re going to stick to one defintion of game, perhaps “A system of connected mechanics that can be manipulated to achieve a victory condition” or something similar, all we’ve done is severed the connections to other related meanings that might have been useful to us.

            Rock, Paper, Shotgun won’t magically become “A site about manipulating mechanics to achieve victory conditions since 1873″. It’ll be “A site about fun things you can mess about with on your computer since 1873″ instead.

            You can’t smuggle meaning from one context to another by hiding behind the dictionary and hope nobody notices. Language adapts and, even if you could, all you’ve done is lost other meanings which might have illuminated the conversation and connected it to other areas of interest.

            As I’ve said before, prescriptive use of language only makes conversations poorer not richer.

          • SurprisedMan says:

            I like this Chris D chap. Now there’s a good comment. Couldn’t have said it better meself.

          • Vinraith says:

            The words I’ve typed do not have the meaning you have gathered from them, perhaps its because you’re unfamiliar with their definitions and not doing a good job of interpreting from context.

          • The Random One says:

            Vinraith, in a thread about the meaning of words, you defended that words should have specific meanings, and defended that position by posting words that we could not possibly understand. It is very clear that, despite of what the literal meaning of those words are, your intended meaning was “look at how these words are useless if you cannot understand them”. Everyone here is responding to you as if that was what you said, so even if you claim that was not what you intended to say, it clearly is what you were understood to mean, which is effectively the same thing as saying it. Therefore, by posting nonsense words to prove that words need to have specific meanings, you have proved that words don’t need to have specific meanings to work because their meaning can be ascribed from context.

          • ffordesoon says:

            I think the “What is a game?” discussion ironically only comes about because we forget the meaning of the word “medium.” An medium is just a vessel through which material is filtered. In the case of artistic and entertainment media, the “material” is the content. Yes, yes, “the medium is the message,” but all that means is that the nature of a production determines the shape of the content, not the content itself. To use a recently popular example, Vince Gilligan could have told the story of Walter White in a novel, and that novel could recount the events of Breaking Bad exactly as they happened on the show, but it would not be Breaking Bad as we know it.

            If it was as good a novel as it was a TV show, however, we wouldn’t be going, “Oh, well, he should have done this as a TV series.” Because the content would still be there, as good as it ever was. Content is not solely there to determine form. Content is the creamy nougat. Form is the chocolate shell into which the nougat is poured. Do I use an input device to interact with the content? Then it’s a fucking game. That’s all the shell is.

          • Strangerator says:

            “Do I use an input device to interact with the content? Then it’s a fucking game.”

            In that case, Breaking Bad was the best game AMC has ever made. I played it on my xbox using the Netflix frontend. I only died once, but I think I was supposed to.

            My own personal bias is towards more specific language. Imagine trying to explain our current parlance of the word “game” to an alien… and you point at all the varying activities we consider to be “games.” The alien’s impression of the word would probably be something along the lines of “activity,” “movement,” or something equally broad, because nothing further could be logically deduced. Is score kept? Sometimes. Do human opponents vie against one another? Sometimes. Is there an objective? Sometimes. Is there a time limit? Sometimes. Since none of these answers can be definitively given, it is pretty clear there’s a problem with specificity.

            I know we all mostly grew up saying “video games” (or in the UK I think “computer games”) to describe the general concept of interactive media. But what our nostalgia prevents us from realizing is that “video games” was likely coined by some journalist watching a game of pong and observing the similarity to a game of tennis.

            We grew up thinking Pluto was a planet, but if it is technically not, then we shouldn’t keep calling it a planet because “that’s how we grew up talking about Pluto.” I don’t think anything is lost by adopting “interactive media” as the new catch-all. It is more accurate. Some interactive media are outright games. Some have game-like elements. Others have very few game-like elements. Differentiation is a good way to bring new people into interactive media. People who do not partake in interactive media tend to have a negative outlook on the term “video game,” and they also tend to believe all interactive media to be identical to the worst example they’ve ever heard about.

            (Outsider observing newscast on GTA V): “Torture, huh? See, this is why I don’t play video games.”

            Of course it is their fault for generalizing, but we really aren’t helping matters by allowing the generalization to be so easy. Because WE don’t try to distinguish between GTA V and Gone Home, why should anyone ignorant of interactive media have any clue? Speaking of making the tent bigger, the word “game” itself can be problematic, as it conveys a sense of triviality. What we called “video games” growing up have matured, and are no longer the trivial things of our youth. There are now real ideas and emotions to be experienced, but to everyone not “in the loop,” they still imagine you are just an adult playing kids’ games. Again, you could blame people for their ignorance, but wouldn’t it be better to do just a slightly better job of communicating what we’re actually talking about? If it meant that one more person could enjoy “To The Moon,” wouldn’t it be ok to switch up the semantics a little?

            Like with Pluto, it is time to let go of what we’ve always said in favor of doing the right thing.

          • Seraphithan says:

            Chris D, your simple example only works if you have a metric ton of context and even than there is a good chance that you don’t get the whole picture. Just given the phrase “Rimmer, you’re a total smeghead” I can’t tell if it’s a compliment or an insult. With a bit of context (actually quite a lot of context) I can infer that it is an insult but what was insulted? Looks? Intelligence? Class? Wealth? Something else? Is the insult meant seriously or in jest? Does it say something about the person insulting? What does it say? Now you might get all of these from the context, but what if the context contains another unknown or ill defined term? And another. And another… Not to mention that you don’t always have (enough) context.

            Let’s look at the classical example:
            “If a tree falls in the woods but there is no one there to listen, does it make a sound?”

            This question spawns debate even though there is a precise and correct answer. But because sound means multiple things and not everyone will give it the same primary meaning an argument starts.

            You need precise words either to start the context somewhere or to bridge the gap between people because they probably never share the exact same definitions.
            In theory you could just give a list of examples that allow others to reconstruct you definition instead of using a word, but for complex concepts that is pretty much infeasible.

          • Chris D says:

            Seraphithan

            I should really be asleep so I’ll have to keep this brief, I’m afraid.

            The “If a tree falls in a forest..” question exists precisely because it’s not a distinction that we find useful to make apart from during a philosophical discussion.

            You can answer it “Yes, sound is a distinct physical phenomenon that exists apart from the subjective experience of any listener”

            Or “No, sound is the perception we have created by vibration in the inner ear”

            But really, which definition we find most useful depends on why we’re asking the question. Most of us get through life without needing to pin down our answer to that particular riddle but understand the concept of sound perfectly adequately. Most people will accept the existence of both the physical phenomena and our perception of it and drawing a precise distinction is only relevant in a tiny fraction of circumstances. And those cases are handled by our ability to distinguish which is most relevant in that context.

            Personally I’m fond of the Pratchett answer, which is roughly “But there’s always someone in a forest, they’re full of birds, insects and mammals. Philosophers should probably try to get out more.”

            As for “You’re a smeghead!”, it follows the pattern of almost all other non-specific insults, it’s a reaction against a viewpoint or action the listener finds morally repugnant. What that action is is usually apparent from the wider context.

            Basically, I’m not trying to argue that precise meanings and defintions are never necessary. To go back to my sudoku example you need to know what some of the numbers are. I’m just trying to say that you don’t always need to know all of them in order to have a meaningful conversation. (and also that being prescriptive about meanings when the context doesn’t warrant it generally leads to less useful conversations)

            Ok, so much for keeping it brief. Good night to my fellow insomniacs.

          • ffordesoon says:

            @Strangerator:

            You used an input device to interact with the content of Breaking Bad? As in, during episodes, the show required your input to continue? Or were you a passive viewer for forty-five minutes per episode, and thus only interacted with the package the content came in (the Netflix app)? That’s the difference. The Netflix app (or, for that matter, a DVD player) is a front end from which content is accessible. You could probably use the Netflix app in a playful way (skipping to 05:23 on every horror movie on Netflix that starts with a V, for example), but that’s not its intended purpose. Netflix is a content delivery mechanism. I don’t interact with the content, I interact with the mechanism that delivers the content. In a game, I interact with the content, even if it’s only on a basic level.

            As to the rest of your argument, no, that’s a terrible idea. “Graphic novel” didn’t get more people into comics; it just made “outsiders” more confused about which one was which.

          • Grargh says:

            Not in my experience. I have my reservations against “comics” in general, but find the concept of “graphic novels” very interesting and own quite a few. In this case, having a separate label for a similar medium with a somewhat different target audience is very useful, as otherwise I would probably never have bothered with these works.

      • ayprof says:

        That’s what modifiers are for.

      • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

        “Words only have utility when they have clear meanings.”

        Some of our most-used words have meanings so ambiguous or multiple and contradictory as to be basically undefined. And meanings are always open for redefinition as cultures evolve. That’s how language survives.

        • regi.rock says:

          That’s an argument against those words and how they’re used, not an argument for making “Game” one of them.

          • The Random One says:

            That’s not an argument against those words. Formalists would have you believe that if a word is too vague it cannot be used. However, they are still widely used, because they are used in contexts that allow speakers and listeners to deduce their meaning.

            Essentially, if a word’s meaning is too vague, then it just begins meaning that vague thing it refers to. If a more specific word is needed to refer to the thing it previously referred to, a new word will arise to take its place, and people will understand it as a subset of the original word without hardly anyone dying of brain confusion.

            People do not consult the dictionary before speaking every word.

          • regi.rock says:

            What a nihilistic and uncritical way fo approaching analysis. We are talking about criticism, marketing, and communities and not casual conversation. Those stretched to meaningless words are never used in those instances, more precise terms are used in their place. We need more words for actual games, if nothing else, so we can fall back on those when the common terms have been stretched to uselessness by casual conversation.

          • The Random One says:

            No, specific language is really only necessary in scientific scenarios, because they use words in a strict way that requires them to have a specific meaning. For instance: many people define a novel as a fictitious work that’s longer than 40000 words. A shorter work would be a novella. However, if I start criticism of a novella by saying it is a novel; if I market it as a novel; or if I create a community for fans of novels by its author and include it, then my meaning will be understood, as I am not defining a novel as a fictious narrative of more than 40000 words but simply as a long form fictious narrative. This does not diminish the worth of novel to anyone who is not interested precisely in lenght.

            I don’t see how that argument is ‘nihilist’, unless you believe that without a central authority to define rigidly what things are the world will fall apart and men will marry dogs and then eat them. I am merely positing that meaning should be defined from use, and that if a word’s use cannot stray from its meaning because its use is its meaning. As for it being ‘uncritical’, I find it completely possible to criticize a work without comparing it to existing models.

          • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

            I wish you luck in your life lived without words like “love,” “freedom,” “fresh,” “happy,” “music,” “democracy,” “wisdom,” – and yes, “play,” “game,” – etc., etc. (to say nothing of the less pedestrian words that poets, philosophers and theorists have batted back and forth for centuries) and all the others that refuse (thank god) to be pinned down. Or is it just a life where the things to which these words refer are locked in to single, rigid and static definitions? Either way, it sounds like the real nihilism to me – existence devoid of poetry, ambivalence, and innuendo. Free of romance and potential.

          • Grargh says:

            @ The Random One:
            Let me pick up your novel analogy. The problems we have right now arise when a collection of twenty beautiful poems is marketed under the term “novel”. Readers and reviewers start with wrong expectations and criticize it for its shortness, lack of continuity, odd sentence structure and so on. Invariably, it will be declared “not a novel”.

            There sure is wiggle room in the terms “novel” / “game”, but some types of books / entertainment software warrant a different label, just so everyone knows what is meant and what is not.

      • Somerled says:

        We can discuss and describe something without having first labeled it. Pigeonholing doesn’t provide any extra context.

        • Vinraith says:

          Zeeboop, preblork ata itlovn.

          • Bull0 says:

            You’re inventing new words; it would be better if you said, for example, “I fully agree, but bear in mind when I say agree it doesn’t mean what you think it means”

          • Vinraith says:

            Perhaps, but if words don’t need meaning then there’s no reason I should be “pigeonholed” into using real ones.

        • LionsPhil says:

          It’s rather hard to discuss a work without terminology. Direct comparisons with other works will eventually compress down into useful shorthand labels. We no longer talk about “DOOM clones”, because there have been enough of those to define a common set of properties of the “first person shooter”, and we can discuss new examples of one against that general case, without dragging in DOOM specifics that are not universal to the genre (e.g. its demons-from-hell-on-Mars setting).

      • LogicalDash says:

        “Art”.

    • Lemming says:

      I’m not sure why it’s not just ok that games just are. Some have more artistic merit than others, and that’s ok.

      • LionsPhil says:

        “Just being (something)”, much like “just common sense”, is Colbert truthiness speaking. It’s when your niggling inner voice should be tutting at you for not being critically introspective enough to support your reasoning.

        If you don’t care to support why X is a game, what you probably mean is that you don’t care if X is a game (e.g. because you like it anyway and are only interested in which kind of thing it is insofar as that can help you find other things like it, and you already know you like games). In which case you may as well just walk away from the X is/is not a game discussion because the answer is useless to you.

        • The Random One says:

          Begging the question: for whom is it important that games are rigidly defined? You might say the academia, but the academia’s job is to describe the world, not the other way around. If there’s an academic definition of games, and there are things that people describe as games that don’t fit that definition, clearly the academic definition should be changed (or a difference should be made between “games as defined scientifically” and just “games”, like there is a difference between “blind” and “legally blind”).

          • LionsPhil says:

            False dichotomy. It’s not very practical to rigidly define games, for reasons I hope are evident from these arguments. However, it’s very useful to me that “games” has some kind of common definition beyond “thing”. It means when RPS post articles about games, I know that they are things I may be interested in reading about, rather than some other thing. The more “game” is broadened out to cover any kind of experience, the less useful a classifier it is to get a initial fuzzy handle on somethng.

            (Topical pedant’s corner: raising the question.)

          • regi.rock says:

            What makes a good game is not the same thing that makes good interactive art. A different set of critical criteria and analytical tools are applied.

            What people look to buy under the title of game is not the same they look for under the title of interactive art.

            The communities of people interested in interactive art are often not at all interested in the same things as the community of gamers.

          • dE says:

            And that’s what reviews are for. They should (and do) tell you, all you need to know about something, prior to you playing it. I really don’t see the issue here. It’s easy enough to dodge a certain kind of games with just the smallest amount of research.
            If someone buys Dear Esther thinking it’s a First Person Cover Shooter, these people only have themselves to blame. They weren’t deluded, they weren’t misled. They just chose to not have read stuff before buying. There’s a word for that and it ain’t a nice one.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Do you read reviews of sofas on DFS’ website, in case it turns out that “soft furnishings” now can also mean games, because someone wanted it to, and in this modern age personal opinion is sacrosanct? You might miss out a unique interactive sitting experience because you didn’t read the reviews, you not nice word.

            Or to flip it the other way around: “RPS is about PC gaming“. Why don’t RPS post articles about how Jim’s new cybernetic leg is performing, or if John has managed to track down the source of the annoying whistling sound that keeps going off in his house at 4am? Because “gaming” clearly has some meaning for scoping down (oh no, restricting!) the set of things they want to put on this particular soapbox. The label has utility. If we deprive it of meaning, RPS may as well just change their about page to “RPS is about stuff”.

          • The Random One says:

            And yet, even though there is no default universally approved meaning of “games”, RPS has somehow been capable of defining itself as a gaming blog all these years without accidentally posting about other stuff, even though they have a column about things that are not PC games (that would be Cardboard Children) and sometimes they write articles about mysoginy and politics and Michael Jackson’s hair. My point is that, even though some people say the meaning of the word “games” is being diluted, most people know exactly what “games” are, and the problem with those people is that some other people are including things that they don’t personally think are “games” in their definition. John Walker will not suddenly write about finding pubes in his tea because he forgot what games are; he will write about those because HE OWNS THIS FUCKING WEBSITE AND WRITES ABOUT WHATEVER THE FUCK HE WANTS. STAND BY FOR A SARDINE PIE RECIPEE.

          • FhnuZoag says:

            RPS doesn’t talk about games as though they were sofas, because that would be utterly awful. Basically what you want really with this game definition discussion is for RPS to stop talking about some games the writers want to talk about, and that other readers like to read about.

            At least be honest about that.

          • LionsPhil says:

            I want no such thing. If John wants to post about his cat, that’s fine. Just don’t call his cat a game.

            And John apparently doesn’t consider his cat a game, and does not post about it here. I would guess that if he convened with the hive-mind and thought “shall I post about my cat?”, the consensus would return “mmm, keep that on your personal blog, we have game stuff to be busy with”. The distinction has meaningful effect. Destroying the distinction is not helpful.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      The issue with the ‘games are x’ debate is that people are using the term in different ways. Some people use ‘videogame’ almost as a synonym for ‘entertainment software’, and you’ll even catch the formalists sometimes using it this way.

      But the ‘formalists’ use ‘game’ in a design sense. Are you designing a game, or a puzzle, for example. They aren’t the same thing. It’s interesting that we tend to retain some terms to refer to the design of a ‘videogame’. Portal is a puzzle videogame, for example, because we know that puzzles and games are different. rFactor is a simulation more than a ‘game’.

      The problem with denying this kind of classification — in a design context — is that we lose the ability to distinguish between things and explain why a game works well, or why a puzzle works well–or why they don’t work. There are clear design differences between Portal, Dark Souls, Arma, Gone Home, Papers Please, etc. I suggest Gone Home has more in common with interactive fiction than games (again, in a design sense).

      I find Gone Home, Dear Esther etc boring because I can’t make any decisions that influence the (barely) interactive system. That’s because they’re not games and (wittingly or not) are not trying to be. I think it makes much more sense to describe them as something else (interactive fiction is a long-established term) so we can better explain what they are and why we like them or not.

      Game critics should be really interested in these design differences so they can improve their ability to critique videogames. Instead they insist that understanding something better is somehow a denial of expression.

  2. RedViv says:

    I’m bloody happy that there’s at least one big name game that is intended to inspire positive change, and so shortly after the Biggest Ever revealed itself to be only packed with dreadfully nihilistic all-hating down-punching misery.

  3. regi.rock says:

    Anne displays the persecution complex of indie not-game developers. No one is trying to undermine the value of your work. They are trying to stop you from marketing your perfectly valid interactive art as something that it clearly is not. RPS, there are many coherent arguments for what is and is not a game.

    What’s important is that there are vastly different critical criteria for judging the quality of interactive art instead of a game. Gone Home was a critical masterpiece in terms of interactive art but as a game it was an abysmal failure.

    Rather than cultivating the interactive art scene these artists wage a war on the gaming industry and gamers. If only these artists were genuinely interested in their art rather than in colonizing the gaming community with their very specific ideology. Meanwhile their “games” are largely sold to through false advertising to gamers seeking genuine gaming experiences. And the name “indie” is being poisoned by this bait and switch causing gamers to look askance at every indie title instead of allowing genuinely brilliant games like Fez, Volgarr, Closure, etc, etc, etc to flourish.

    This movement by these bitter self-entitled anti-gamer anti-gaming anti-game artists does nothing but hurt genuine indie development and retards the growth of the interactive art scene.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      Haha! Nice one! Take that, boring people who insufferably moan about what is a game or not.

      Wait, you *are* joking, right?

      “Gone Home was a critical masterpiece in terms of interactive art but as a game it was an abysmal failure.”

      Says who? You? The King of Gaming? A dictionary? CoD fans? Speaking of Call of Duty: they’re as much games as Gone Home when we’re talking about player agency.

      But seriously: *sigh*

      • Bull0 says:

        I mean, “If only these artists were actually serious about their art instead of colonizing the gaming community with their specific ideology” has GOT to be a joke, hasn’t it?

        Who thinks like that?

        *Edit* Jesus, I kept reading and it only gets worse.

        That’s got to be the dumbest thing I’ve read today

      • regi.rock says:

        According to who? Gamers. Go on the steam page. Go to any review’s comment section. Go to Reddit, Something Awful, Metacritic user reviews or any forum. Gamers were utterly flabbergasted by the poor quality of Gone Home as a game.

        Are you honestly going to tell me that these not-game developers all share a very specific background with one another and share nearly identical criticism of gamers and gaming? Really?

        • The Random One says:

          Many people also said it was amazing. Or are you defining gamers as “people who play games and also complain very loudly when they don’t like them”?

        • Stellar Duck says:

          Well, I’m a gamer and Gone Home is probably the best game I’ve played this year.

          So, who is right? Me or another gamer?

          As for Reddit users and *shudders* the Steam forum users I’ll refrain from saying more than most of them are bloody morons with a woeful concept of how to conduct a discussion.

          Let’s take Gone Home. How does it further any discussion at all when people attempt to short circuit the discourse from the get go by attempting to say it’s not a game? That’s just a boring way of trying to shout out other people and it’s dreadfully boring. There are any number of interesting discussions to be had about Gone Home but go into any comment section and you’ll see a chorus of oafish dimwhits who piss and moan about it being not a game. Hell, they’re even here on RPS sometimes. PC Gamer is dire though.

          What they’re really saying is: I don’t like this game and thus it’s terrible and you all are mean for talking about it and I want my toys and you shouldn’t take them and it can’t be a game because I don’t like it!

          Who the fuck cares if Gone Home fits some boring definition of game. That’s not interesting at all. What’s interesting is what it does and how it does it and that’s what should be discussed.

          • regi.rock says:

            What are you, five? That’s like saying “I’m not racist and I’m white, that means white people aren’t racist”. I’m talking about the majority of gaming hobbyists. I’m sorry you don’t like the sites they congregate on but that is where gaming resides.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            Look, there are probably reasonable people on the Steam forums. And on Reddit as well, I guess.

            But I sure as shit don’t go to random internet strangers for critical analysis of games. That was lies madness. These are the same people who will loudly shout about how a piece of installation art isn’t art because they don’t like it. And that’s the rub: they’re not interested in discussing what a game is. They’re interested in just saying something they don’t like isn’t a game so they don’t have to read about it. It’s not any proper way of doing anything. It’s just a way of trying exclude anything one doesn’t like.

            I think Call of Duty is about as interactive as Dear Esther (frankly less, as there is no room for interpretation) but I don’t go around shouting it’s not a game. It’s a game alright. Just a really terrible one. And people are more than welcome to say that Gone Home or Dear Esther aren’t any good. That’s welcome, I think. What I don’t accept is the attempt to completely exclude them and short circuit the discourse.

          • The Random One says:

            “What are you, five? That’s like saying “I’m not racist and I’m white, that means white people aren’t racist”.”

            And your comparison was like saying “There are almost one hundred people at that KKK rally, therefore all white people are racist.”

          • malkav11 says:

            I think saying Gone Home is not a game is a useful way to steer people away from it who are expecting…I don’t know, guns or puzzles or something, whatever it is they’re defining as “gameplay”. It’s not as though only games have value, and people who are here to explore a virtual space and learn about the lives of a fictional family will probably get a great deal out of Gone Home. People who are expecting to combine inventory items or cast spells or shoot things, not so much. And including it in a discourse where it’s judged based on how well it delivers the latter, rather than the former, does it no particular favors.

            And this, incidentally, is why I think making these sorts of high level distinctions is useful. It helps set expectations, which can play a huge part in one’s experience with a work, and helps guide people toward things they are likely to enjoy and away from things they are not likely to enjoy based on shared characteristics.

          • Wisq says:

            I’d rather those people just learn to actually read descriptions and reviews before they buy stuff, so we don’t have to coddle them with a whole set of terminology to ensure they won’t end up outside their comfort zone because they refuse to do the most basic research.

          • malkav11 says:

            But categorizing is useful to the rest of us too. As I say, it helps set expectations. It gives us an easy way of seeking out similar works. It ensures that reviews don’t have to start out by warning that, say, Fables doesn’t have much in the way of puzzling despite having nominally been placed in the puzzle-oriented adventure game genre.

            It’s not that I’m not mystified by how you could go into Gone Home and think it’s going to be something other than nonviolent exploration of an empty house (I mean, it says all over the store page), but that these aren’t experiences that fit the terminology we use right now and so we could do with terminology that’s accurate when talking about them.

      • Mario Figueiredo says:

        Your pretty much sum up the whole problem of these type of debates. Instead of debating whether you feel a game is art, or a game is a game, or a game is good, you base your entire argumentation in something like ” your opinion sucks, you have no qualifications to say anything, my opinion is what counts and I am fully qualified to give it”.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      “False advertising”? Really notsureifserious, to be honest. I don’t recall anyone claiming Dear Esther was a high-octane bullet-hell vertical shooter, or Gone Home an old-school isometric RPG. I bought both fully aware they were something different. And I disliked Dear Esther because the writing was largely mediocre, the ending didn’t feel right and the Source Engine wasn’t up to supporting Robert Briscoe’s level design skills, not because I sat there thinking “OH MY GOD I WAS PROMISED A GAME WAT IS THIS”.

      • regi.rock says:

        Go read through Dear Esther and Gone Home’s Steam pages. It is being sold alongside genuine indie games like Spelunky, Edge, Fez, etc and people are buying it without realizing that it is radically different from a game as it has been understood by western society since ancient roman backgammon.

        • dE says:

          Alright, been there, done that. Came back with gifts:

          Abandoning traditional gameplay for a pure story-driven experience, Dear Esther

          Gone Home is an interactive exploration simulator.

          Your point being that people unable to read occasionally walk into things that could have been avoided if only they had read what was written? Or people unable to read reviews blindly buying a product without determining first hand if it’s something they’ll enjoy?
          Look, I’m usually the first to get all discussion ready when someone tries to deflect criticism with the “but it’s art and you just don’t get it!” statement. But these cases? You don’t have a leg to stand on.

    • gritz says:

      “This movement by these bitter self-entitled anti-gamer anti-gaming anti-game artists does nothing but hurt genuine indie development and retards the growth of the interactive art scene.”

      Yep, no persecution complex here. No sir.

      • RedViv says:

        It’s a fascinating example of projection, isn’t it.

        • regi.rock says:

          You say that as if every word written about the definition of gaming by people like Anna Anthropy isn’t filled to the brim with “undermine”, “deny us”, talk of the oppressive establishment/industry, and how we gamers are keeping them down and just not bourgeois enough to understand the nuance of their art.

          In this very comment section you will see honest respectful formalists like Tadgh Kelly lambasted as an evil oppressor. It’s a hysterical victim mentality that paints ever gamer as an enemy to the glorious “progress” they claim to bring to we unenlightened gaming swine.

          Projection? No. Defensive? Justifiably so.

          • The Random One says:

            How mean of them, to use those words to insult honest people like you, intead of because they actually feel that they are being undermined, denied and assaulted by the estabilishment. It must be a terrible burden to be A Person Who Knows The Truth, so everyone else who says they are offended only say that to make you look like a fool.

            Those poor formalists! All they wanted was for everyone to take their personal definition of what a game was and make games that looked like that and ONLY like that, and for that they get insulted! What an unfair world we live in!

          • RobF says:

            ” honest respectful formalists like Tadgh Kelly”

            I very rarely do this but LOL

    • Lambchops says:

      “Genuine gaming experience” sounds like some horrible corporate buzzword. Not sure I want one of them to be honest!

      On a serious note you kind of sound like you’ve got a bit of a chip on your shoulder. I’m not averse to there being slightly different categories for different experiences so people know exactly what they are getting into (it’s not something I’d ever care too much about, but I reckon it does make reasonable sense to have something like Dear Esther in an “interactive art” section rather than in the “adventure game” section; though that’s down to the portals offering the product, the devloper’s descriptions are generally clear they are doing something different as to a large degree that’s their unique selling point) but I’m not seeing this attempt to tread all over “gaming” that you have conjured up.

      • AngusPrune says:

        I think everyone draws the line somewhere different, which I guess is the problem. I have no problem describing something like Dear Esther as a game.

        However when it comes to Anna Anthropy, she leads a community of people who are set on making what amounts Naked Lunch the Text Adventure in various degrees, and where the game mechanics haven’t advanced to such dizzying heights as the verb-noun text parser. It’s archaic for the sake of being archaic, which I think firmly plants it in the territory of art not game.

        Personally, I feel like if you’re not experimenting with the mechanics, you’re not really making a game. Even indie platformers have to shake the format up, it’s not like we’re seeing endless rehashes of Mario. Dear Esther for all its faults tried something new and a little daring.

        • regi.rock says:

          Exactly, these artists claim that they are making art using the medium of gaming but the mechanics are not telling the story. Instead it’s story and art with the faintest imitation of gaming mechanics.

          • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

            Serious question: is Bioshock Infinite a game, to you? Because it doesn’t sound like it is.

    • Sam says:

      [Oops, meant this to be a new thread. But it fits moderately well in this one anyway.]

      I think there is an interesting question to explore around why it’s important to some people that a work be classified as a game. I remember one presentation given at some game development conference that laid out a nice clear hierarchy of definitions for game, toy, and so on as various conditions were met. The crowd happily nodded along to each. But following those definitions almost all single player video games would be defined as something other than a game (you’re not competing against someone else; most the time you’re not even following rules but are being forced to abide by them – the difference between following the laws of physics and the laws of cricket).

      If the term “game” has about the same definitional power as “thing”, why does anyone care what is and is not classified as a game? I think it’s because there’s a certain amount of additional cultural value being attached to games at the moment. I know I’ve played more Twines than I have read poems uploaded to DeviantArt, and I’ve certainly seen more critical discourse and general interest about the former. And I don’t think it’s because one set of art-things has innately more artsiness than the other.

      As Darius Kazemi wrote in his Fuck Videogames presentation,
      “… if you write a blog post about your cat, probably nobody will care. But if you make a GAME about your cat, it’ll get covered on a blog or something!”

      • The Random One says:

        What a failed dichotomy. I assure you there are many people who would follow and like subscribe etc a blog post about a cat. It’s just that Mr. Kazemi doesn’t see those posts often, and thus assume they don’t exist. Likewise, people who say TWINE games are something closer to literature don’t know about literature blogs, sites and zines, and don’t know about that situation Cara reported in which The Kiss, a complex TWINE game, was posted on both a literature zine and on Porpentine’s inde games column, and got a lot more hits when introduced as a game than as a text. So the idea that making something as a game rather than a blog post, a video, a comic etc doesn’t really hold up unless you have a pinpoint view of the world.

      • regi.rock says:

        So you are saying that these interactive artists are not trying to shoehorn their way into gaming because of a misguided since of justification but because of commercial viability? That’s even worse. That just makes them the worst kind of ad company scum, not that I believe that is their actual motive.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      If people play it, it’s a game. This even applies to things you didn’t personally enjoy.

      Interesting how it’s always the more experimental – y’know, playful – projects that are immediately subject to the unblinking eye of Not A Game, while, for instance, Bethesda games get an automatic pass, even though they’re really just 37 hour-long nested fetch quests broken up by sections of repetitive clicking. And I say that as someone who loves New Vegas.

      • regi.rock says:

        I personally greatly enjoyed Gone Home and Dear Esther. They were lovely pieces of interactive art but they contained no gameplay. have no gameplay. The closest to play they get is the same kind fo play one gets with a toy (like a webtoy, for a better analogy.)

        • ffordesoon says:

          Yes, and it’s not like games and toys have anything in common. I mean, you only play with toys, but you play games.

          Oh. Wait.

        • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

          I just don’t understand this attitude at all. Gone Home was more of an RPG (as in Role Playing Game, as in a game one plays a by playing role) than 90% of the things actually being marketed as RPGs, but somehow that 90% – consisting mostly of spectacle where everything is decided for you and the only real “play” is deciding which loot will make your stats go up more – evade the No You Are Not Playing Something Right Now Because That Is Art Police.

          Have we really reached the point where something that asks you to use your imagination or think about how and why you interact with it doesn’t qualify as a game? Because those seem to me like they should be the first criteria.

      • Wisq says:

        Don’t forget the bugs. There’s so many that they’re almost a game in their own right.

    • AndrewC says:

      An excellent try! Wanting to exclude games from Games is actually holding artists back. This is very good.

      I shall hold an exhibition for all of the tactics used to try and stop Dear Esther being talked about on blogs. A lot of real work went in to their formulation.

      • Grargh says:

        “stop Dear Esther being talked about on blogs”

        I saw not a single comment arguing for less coverage of interesting interactive fiction and the likes, only discussion about the terms used to talk about it. RPS covers even boardgames, so there’s no indication that stuff like Dear Esther would fall under the table if not recognized as a usual video game.

        • AndrewC says:

          Every time there’s mentions of this sort of thing, comments threads fill up with people complaining that it is here, or turning conversation towards always the same topic: that it isn’t real or proper. It’s everywhere, including this comments section, which is rivalling the size of threads about feminism, which is enormously telling.

          You should absolutely try to argue that such debates are in the interests of both art and games. You absolutely should.

    • psepho says:

      This attempted ghettoization of game makers from outside of the establishment tent fucks me off beyond belief. It is nothing but banal political exclusion and also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of critical analysis. Anna is spot on.

      I wrote about this a few months ago on my blog: http://psepho.me/2013/04/14/a-personal-reaction-to-the-formalistszinesters-thing/. I link it here it here because I know how much Regi.rock liked the post at the time (or not…).

  4. Lambchops says:

    After reading the Christian Donlan piece (genius is a bit far surely!) he’s convinced me that a game jam inspired by bad TV could throw up some interest efforts. As long as they stay away from Don’t Scare the Hare, I still like to think that I imagined that whole horrible thing due to excitement over watching Dr Who but alas Youtube evidence exists!

  5. kalirion says:

    “Morality” is a part of Pokemon? I haven’t played the games myself, so I can only assume it’s talking about enslaving sentient beings and forcing them to fight for the amusement of the privileged.

    • RedViv says:

      Heh. That is one of them at first, but it has been established in almost all the games and other material that the Mons really follow only those that they want to follow, and Bad Stuff Happens when you force them. Just like it’s on the surface just some monster collection fighting game for the younglings, but really a surprisingly deep RPG once you actually want to dive in, so is the plot running aside the journey of the later journeys to Be The Best often rather complicated.
      I mean, just using the release of this weekend for an example, you’re out to become a trainer while Totally Not The Nazis are trying to take over. Earlier games had environmental extremists, luddites, plain Totally Legitimate Businessmen, all that.

      • Viroso says:

        That justification makes it sound even worse. Pokemon need to be fought and captured, and then their capturer gets to choose who, when and how they’ll fight, and they either fight or remain trapped. It’s like a slave owner saying their slaves actually enjoyed their slave life, which is something people used to say.

        The Pokemon have no voice of their own, everything they say is ignored as gibberish, and they can’t unite against their captors. The trainers are in power and so they dictate not only what the Pokemon do, but also what they think and feel, and the trainers decided that innocent little Jigglypuff enjoys fighting. And then parents send their 8 year old children off to capture dangerous creatures and force them to fight, creatures who display intelligence and humanity.

        Maybe these children are made child soldier slavers to keep the pokemon war economy running and they are controlled by propaganda, nanomachines and Big Boss’ DNA and we see it all from their warped perspective.

        Those folk dismissed as religious nuts who were denouncing Pokemon were right all along.

        • GameCat says:

          Jeez, I just realised that in Pokemon games thera are a lot of cardboard boxes (or it’s just my mind plying tricks?).
          I bet that inside of one of them is the Big Boss and his mission is to destroy Metal Gear POKE.

        • Wisq says:

          The morality of Pokemon is only questionable when we project our own preferences (for freedom etc.) onto the Pokemon. What if their #1 joy in life is fighting and their #2 joy is getting to go back to the safety and comfort of their pokeball? What if the initial fight (to capture them) is only because they don’t understand, or because they haven’t experienced life in a pokeball before, or because they want to test you, or just because they really do enjoy #1 enough to override their desire for #2?

          (I haven’t watched much at all, so I don’t know if anything directly contradicts any of the above, but Wikipedia does seem to agree: “Poké Balls are explained as being incredibly comfortable for Pokémon, so much that they would willingly enter one without any sort of encouragement.”)

          To assume that their life of captivity is unpleasant and akin to slavery is akin to arguing that we shouldn’t have domestic cats or dogs because we humans wouldn’t want to be locked in a house and taken outside on a leash. Yet oddly enough, when I let my dog off the leash and throw the ball for her, she always brings it back, and when we’re done throwing the ball and it’s time to go home, she always comes back and sits politely in front of me, lets me put the leash back on, and then happily leads the way back home.

        • Jupiah says:

          Keep in mind that in the pokemon universe, children can’t even leave their tiny hometowns without protection because wild pokemon will attack them the instant they step into the grass. And there are pokemon that can and do regularly cause massive environmental disasters. And pokemon that imitate human technology so they can ambush unsuspecting travelers who try to pick them up (Voltorbs). And pokemon that kidnap children (the one that looks like a balloon). Pokemon would be a death world for humans if they didn’t capture and train them to fight each other. The pokemon aren’t enslaved, they are domesticated, and while pokemon battles are children’s entertainment in the modern ages the first historical pokemon trainers probably only captured them to ensure their own survival.

    • Tams80 says:

      The main concept is something they won’t change, as that is what makes Pokémon popular. Thankfully a lot of children don’t seem to see it from the slavery perspective. That morality has been thought of in their development is great though.

      I don’t know about others, but when playing Pokémon, I don’t see it as slavery, child soldiers etc. I see it just as this fun adventure. As far as I know, no one has cited Pokémon as an influence for some horrible act (though I’m sure some child somewhere has done something nasty to some animal), so I assume that view is the consensus. For me at least, the “treat others with respect” message there is far more prominent than the many horrible connotations that the series has.

      “I haven’t played the games myself”

      As usually, you have to play a game to have a leg to stand on (sorry if that came off as condescending).

    • Frank says:

      Yeah, the fact that he would even try to make that claim makes pokemon (which I haven’t played) sound a lot more interesting (not as a game I want to play, but as a cultural phenomenon… or whatever it is).

    • nemryn says:

      This was the argument of the bad guy in Black/White, IIRC.

  6. jnqvist says:

    “Sundays are for sitting in coffee shops and completing cryptic crosswords, then high-fiving anyone present.”
    Perfect!

  7. Laurentius says:

    Well, I don’t know about this defnition of what video games. Sure reductive definition this is pretty stupid. Maybe also in a big picture of thing, they are kind of useless. But for example as far as game reviewing goes ? Gaming = Playing = Experience, it’s surly trend these days, yes but i don’t know i.e “I had great time with this game but i was actually just staring at the title screen and drinking my beer, thanks all the same though…”

  8. Viroso says:

    I think it’s bad to avoid the discussion what is or isn’t a game, because the discussion is actually harmless. Deciding that something isn’t a game won’t change what that thing is. It’ll still be the exact same thing. There’s no threat here, the only threat is criticism and I prefer that it exists.

    On the other hand, discussions about what makes a video game can help people better understand what is a game. This is good for people who don’t know about video games. This can be good for people who want to do games or for people who right now haven’t considered the idea of doing a game.

    For me it’s worse to ignore discussion on this subject, or leave it in that muddied space of total relativism.

    • Chris D says:

      How does discussion about what makes something a game or not actually help people who aren’t into games?

      They don’t care whether something is technically a game or not. They care about whether it’s an experience that’s going to be enjoyable enough to make it worth their money or time.

      Your point is that excluding things from discussion is bad, surely that applies to things that may or may not be games.

      • Viroso says:

        There’s still a very strong stereotypical view of games, that all games are shooting people’s face off. The discussion of what is a game inevitably brings up all sorts of games into it, from CoD to Gone Home, it is inevitably a discussion of the diversity present in games.

        Of course, to this day I haven’t read anything about that that isn’t very much aimed at people who are already interested in video games and understand them, I mean, so far the subject’s been very inward. Avoiding discussing it doesn’t help that.

    • The Random One says:

      The discussion isn’t harmless, because people who are making “not-games” by and large just think they’re making games. (Except Tales of Tales and some others, I suppose.) By assuming the discussion exists, you’re framing it as two opinions clashing, when in fact it’s a natural evolution of the concept of games being held back by a bunch of dictionary-bashing descriptivists who don’t like where it’s heading and want to erase its future effects. It’s a technique used a lot in American politics (even compared to elsewhere politics) when one fringe groups shouts louder and louder until their beliefs are considered a ‘side’ and what was more or less commonly accepted suddenly is another ‘side’.

      • Laurentius says:

        In this specific case but that’s not only way of using definition of “video games”, my bet those big companies will love this concept and will be more then happy to sell us “experience” or whatever buzzword PR will come up with, and as such i have the feeling that definiton of video game would prove quite useful from consumer rights point of view.

        • Chris D says:

          Again, why?

          If an experience is dull, poorly-crafted or otherwise unenjoyable I’m not going to buy it regardless of whether it’s technically a “game” or not, and vice-versa.

          Whether or not I’m likely to enjoy a thing is a far more important question to me than nailing down precisely what kind of a thing it might be.

        • The Random One says:

          If you have been swindled by a company I don’t think having ‘video games’ be rigidly defined will help you frame it as a swindle. ‘This company sold me a video game but I don’t think this product is a video game’ is not inherently stronger than ‘This company said this video game had certain characteristics but upon playing it I found that it didn’t.’ Both will be struck down by the Texas arbitration court you agreed to take your complaints to anyway.

      • Viroso says:

        I totally get what you’re saying, there’s this kind of people who’ll go so far as to bring in dictionary definitions and for some reason apparently feel threatened at any attempt to broaden what it means for something to be a game.

        But at the same time, inevitably we have to recognize what it means for something to be a game and not a movie or a book or whatever else you can imagine, if only because we apply different standards to different mediums and also, and I don’t like invoking this argument because it often sounds stronger than it actually is, but also because of clarity. Just to be clear here I don’t think that if the guardians of the term “video game” fail in their job, tomorrow nobody will know what a video game is, like, I don’t think there’s any actual risk to the word “video game” losing meaning and I don’t think there’s any consequence to that. Still, clarity is important.

        I feel it is important, I don’t want to be told that something is a game and go in it prepped for a game only to find a text. This has happened once, when I followed a link from Live Free Play Hard. It was really a text, no choices or anything, made on Twine and it ended with Thanks for Reading. I actually got a bit impatient with it because I was expecting at some point I’d make a choice, you know, I was primed for a game. Just like how I get impatient when a game has needlessly excessive/misplaced cutscenes, regardless of how good the game or the cutscenes are.

        So, with all that said, I don’t think the people making “not-games” will suffer from people saying that what they do is not a game. I mean, so what? As said, the piece will still be exactly the same, the content won’t change because someone said it isn’t a game, and what matters is the content right, not its label.

        It is harmless. And discussing it brings benefits, it helps better understand just what exactly a video game is, I think that’s a good thing, understanding the boundaries. Because there are boundaries and boundaries are not a bad thing. It can also help people find themselves.

        So hey, maybe what you feel like doing something but it doesn’t really work as a game, and maybe you can realize that from better understanding games. We can also have the opposite, someone realizing the potential of video games form a discussion about what is a video game.

        And maybe more iportant of all, you can’t have an evolution of something by avoiding analyzing it. At least I don’t think so, it takes a clear view to move forwards. A clear view doesn’t necessarily mean seeing only ONE way for things to be right, it doesn’t mean thinking that there’s a right way to begin with, it just means seeing all that can and can’t be.

        • The Random One says:

          “So, with all that said, I don’t think the people making “not-games” will suffer from people saying that what they do is not a game. I mean, so what? As said, the piece will still be exactly the same, the content won’t change because someone said it isn’t a game, and what matters is the content right, not its label.”

          However, many people making those games have said that they do suffer from such people:
          Because they feel like their legitimacy is being undermined.
          Because they feel like they are being pushed into a box.
          Because they want to be able to give/sell their games without running into people questioning the legitimacy of their work.
          Or, to paraphrase a great response by Yang: “Some of these people have been told, all their lives, that because of how they feel, they are not people. So when you tell them that their games are not games, it reminds them of being told that they are not people. And when you tell them that their games are not games but are good, you tell them that they are not people but are good.”

          Essentially, just because it is not a problem for you, it may be a problem for others.

          • Viroso says:

            Is the problem the discussion or people who criticize these game developers? Because I think one thing is being mistaken for the other here. I think I outlined good reasons to not shy away from discussing what makes a game.

            I still hold that the discussion is harmless, in this case it might be the people who are harmful.

            Also, I think it’s a positive thing to realize that maybe what you’re making is not best described as a game, if only because you’ll have a better idea of how to direct what you’re doing. When I say this I don’t mean to sponsor aggressive behavior I sometimes see towards some games, it’s perfectly possible to talk about this subject without excluding or attacking people.

            So I don’t see what you said as a legitimate reason to avoid the subject entirely, specially because of what I first said starting this post.

            edit: I think a really important thing is the word I’ve been using here, discussion. It’s about exchanging ideas, having a conversation. This whole “this isn’t a game” talk didn’t just appear out of nowhere. People started doing things that challenge the idea of a game is, that expand what we thought a game could be.

            If people making these games avoid the subject, then there’s indeed no discussion, there’s only one side to this matter that’ll be heard. Because people who will denounce something for not being a game will not stop talking about this.

            I for one prefer to hear the opinions from people who are making these games than to hear the same old “this isn’t a game” thing.

          • Kentauroi says:

            Figured I’d say my part in the game/not game discussion going on, but upon reflection I’ll just link the Errant Signal video on the subject, since Chris Franklin manages to sum up my views on it more eloquently than I could manage even if I dive into essay territory.

            To quote it: “When we say that Dys4ia isn’t a game, we’re saying that games can’t provide that experience. That low-fi autobiographical works are a thing, but they’re not a thing games can do. When we say the zen-like relaxation effect found in games like Animal Crossing or Proteus aren’t really coming from a game, we’re saying that games as a medium have nothing to offer someone looking for a peaceful evening of unwinding without conflict. – For every title you exclude from your definition of games, you’re putting up a fence, and that fence does two things. It keeps games you don’t like out, but it also marks the limits between what games can do, and what they can’t”

          • The Random One says:

            @Viroso: No, it is the problem of the discussion, not the people discussing. I’m rather sure that Tadgh doesn’t mean to demean people who create these games, but he does this anyway by virtue of the nature of the discussion. It implies that merely thinking of something as a game is not enough for it to be a game, which is nothing but an artificial barrier. The discussion will also lead nowhere, as even if we find a perfect, non-contentious definition of “game” that pleases absolutely everyone two years from now someone will come up with something that skirts that definition just barely and the argument will begin again.

            In essence, the people who are arguing these are not games are only trying to uphold a viewpoint that benefits them minimally, while those who are making these games are having, in some cases, their life’s work being shut off from discussion based on semantics.

            Edit: Actually, I think I should make a division here between the discussion “What are games?” and “Is [Game X] really a game?” The latter is how most people who defend an exclusion of games frame the question, and it of course begets the conclusion that maybe no, this game isn’t really a game. And no one does this to games like Call of Duty (someone brought up Walker’s ‘ungame’ column, but I’d say it doesn’t argue CoD isn’t a game, but rather that it’s a game without any game characteristics). The discussion of “what is a game?” is, indeed, harmless (if also mostly useless, as most philosophy is) but, as someone pointed out before, descriptions should be descriptive, not prescriptive. The question “What is a game?” shouldn’t seek to answer whether or not howling dogs is a game; but rather to answer what is this thing that howling dogs, Call of Duty, Alpha Centauri and Farmville are all examples of.

          • Viroso says:

            @Kentauroi
            I hope I’m not sounding like one of those people who point a finger and say “THIS ISN’T A GAME GET OUT OF HERE”. Your reply made me think I’m sounding like that.

            @Random One

            It’s unavoidable, for me at least, to think certain things as not being games. I think I can safely say that this happens to everyone, and I’m talking about it in really broad terms here. We don’t think this conversation right now is a game, at least. Inevitably we have a definition, even if extremely broad, of what a game isn’t, and that also defines what we think a game is.

            We just have a hard time seeing when something walks in or out of video game territory. I’d rather hear people talk about where they see their borders than not. Even if it can be considered useless philosophy. I don’t think it’s useless though. Sometimes looking at the most basic things, the most apparently obvious things can reveal a lot. Call it an artificial barrier, I don’t have a problem it that. It just means people put some thought into it, thought that helped them better understand something they felt or couldn’t understand. I also agree that merely thinking of something as a game isn’t enough. Once again using this conversation as an example, can I just think it as a game? If I do, I’ll want to maybe show it to people who are interested in games, present it to them as a game, which wouldn’t be a good idea.

            There are barriers. Making them “artificial” just means we moved away from a vague “feel” towards a more concrete understanding. That isn’t useless.

            An example of how I don’t think it’s useless: people often bring up that you can’t lose in X game so it isn’t a game. Actually, I prefer to use video games here, because this is mostly about video games. Anyway, say someone thinks Proteus is not a video game because you can’t lose in it. If we don’t have a discussion at all, it ends there. If we try to talk about the subject, maybe we can point out how a really fun thing to do in a Legend of Zelda game is exploring, and maybe get people to realize how exploration is one of the most enjoyable things in a lot of video games, and get someone to realize how exploration is definitely a video game thing, and so Proteus is a video game.

            This actually happened to me, I got someone to stop saying Proteus wasn’t a game by showing how many things we enjoy in video games have nothing to do with winning or losing.

            This can also help people realize what makes a certain game enjoyable or not, what can make a game better. Talking about what is a video game is talking about the things that make us want to play them, or with them, and I think that can help people understand their own games better. It’s so often that devs seem to completely miss the point of what a certain mechanic is for, for an instance.

            I also have no problem in a discussion becoming outdated two years from now, if anything it’d even be positive if a discussion on what makes a video game encouraged people to make whatever insight obsolete. Another thing, in any conversation people will try to uphold their views, at this point someone else comes up with a counter.

            Trying to support your opinion is different from shutting people off of a community, of criticism, of attention. It is not a bad thing to support your opinion, to have an opinion. Asking people to not talk about their opinions on this subject, that I think is a bad thing. At the very least, it doesn’t go anywhere.

  9. Michael Fogg says:

    Tyrranical Formalist himself, the infamous Tadgh Kelly, is back with some more righteous punishment: a video about microconsoles. Little do people know that the guy is actually a big supporter of casual gaming. Give it a watch:

    http://vimeo.com/76549631

  10. FriarZero says:

    John Walker you say that you don’t want to hear any more about what constitutes a game but then turn around make this post, guaranteeing the comment section will be nothing discussions over what constitutes a game. You sir are a masochist.

  11. DrScuttles says:

    Won’t someone be a love and define for me what a videogames are. I’m not sure whether I’m actually playing a game or staring at a bunch of wank here.

    • RiffRaff says:

      Videogames are those board games that come with a video tape that tells you the story of the game when you put it in your video recorder, like nightmare! Various video board games include proteus, call of duty, and Peter Molyneux.

  12. Gap Gen says:

    I *was* stoked for Grover, but no dinosaurs? Eff that.

  13. Taidan says:

    Amazing video choice. It’s been probably at least a couple of years since I last saw Michel Gondry’s incredible video.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      When was the last time you watched this excellent Gondry video?

      • Taidan says:

        Roughly 25-30 minutes before watching the Lucas one. I have his DVD, the one they put out on the Director’s Label about 10 years ago with a collection of his music videos, short movies, a feature length doc and a small book.

        They did one each for Chris Cunningham and Spike Jonze too, awesome collections, should be still widely available.

  14. Shieldmaiden says:

    I get the distinct impression that there are a whole bunch of different conversations happening on the subject of “What is a game?” and a lot of the bad feeling is the result of crossed wires. From an end-user point of view, it really doesn’t matter. Sure, Dear Esther may not be a game in the traditional sense, but as long as a review can convey what it’s like and whether or not it’s worth plonking down cash for, whether or not it’s a game is irrelevant.

    Then there seems to be a bunch of people who are using the question as an excuse to exclude things/people they don’t like, and the people who are quite rightly getting angry at them for it. There’s also a conversation being had by people with an academic interest in games, who need a degree of specificity when it comes to the language being used.

    Put an indie developer who is sick of having “It’s not a game!” being used to dismiss her work, an academic who is trying to figure out how to classify a whole bunch of games which break every definition of game she’s used for years and someone who just wants to know if Gone Home is worth a punt in a room together and the results are not going to be pretty.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      I don’t know. I just tend to see a lot of whining. I don’t seem to be able to think of any other medium where artistic people are so worried about what others think of their work.

      • Kitsunin says:

        When you’re around the business, you discover that is absolutely not the case. You see the whining around games because most gaming discussion revolves around the internet, but when your father is a musician, you see all the whining and asses in person.

  15. Grygus says:

    If I make a film that is nothing but a black screen with a narrator reading a book, is it still a film? It uses no film technique, none of the accumulated language, and yet would most likely be described as an “art film,” as movies which eschew basic forms tend to be called.

    Is it not a bit condescending to games to insist that they must be games OR art, and cannot simply encompass both things? I don’t understand why we can’t perceive of games as a medium, capable of a wide range of stories, levels of interactivity, and depth. Call of Duty, Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable, The Path, and Dragon Age III don’t really have very much in common, but they do all use the same medium, which we call games. Simply telling you that a thing is a film or a book actually tells you very little about the experience, why shouldn’t that be true for telling you that a thing is a game?

  16. Mario Figueiredo says:

    EDIT: This was in reply to Grygus, right above me.

    The problem is that some person may disagree. Your view of what constitutes a film (or a game, for that matter), or what constitutes art, is your own. There are no formal definitions of these words to hold on to. So every person ends up making up their own personal definitions. Often you can’t fully defend your position, regardless of being pro or against something being a game, or something being art. It’s just that your only argumentation exists within your realized world of what makes up a game or what makes up art.

    Everyone is usually right in these debates. Where they get it wrong is trying to push their personal and subjective definitions to others.

    For instance: I do have a problem with games being called art. But this has to do with me having trouble believing that in as little as 100 years something like Dear Esther will still be considered art. That is, my personal definition of what constitutes art includes the idea that it must stand the test of time, like any true work of art should. So the actual debate of a game being art can only happen sometime in the future. For others my personal view of what constitutes art makes no sense. They built their own incompatible definition which probably also makes no sense to me. The problem is that instead of realizing our differences, we may end up trying to argue against each other views.

    • Grygus says:

      Well we may have a serious definition problem then, because I think it is pretty easy to define art, actually; art is any creative work that has value to someone. Even if the only person who values it is the creator, it’s still art – that’s a pretty good working definition of bad art, but it’s still art; after all, art doesn’t have to be good. Whether you and I agree something is good art is meaningless for the reasons you list, but we should be able to agree on whether it is art in the first place. If a piece doesn’t stand the test of time, you can claim that makes it poor art, but the mere passage of time cannot turn art into not-art, and it’s not legitimate to retroactively make art into not-art because its value is seen to have expired. It was valuable at the time, and that’s all that matters. I believe that art doesn’t need your approval, nor mine, nor some imagined future’s, to merely exist.

  17. MvBuren says:

    So I read quickly and thought the article about a “Storage Wars” game was written by Christopher Nolan. Christian Donlan makes a good point, but the article was a lot better when I thought it was about the director of Batman and Inception obsessively watching Storage Wars and wishing it was a video game.

  18. Radiant says:

    For Gondry you want Chemical Brothers’ Star Guitar.
    It’s the precursor to Audio surf

  19. Mario Figueiredo says:

    they are above a certain level of poverty to even own video games. This means they might be in a more favourable position to change the world when they grow up

    I just want for this to show once more so its stupidity isn’t easily forgotten.

    • unangbangkay says:

      What’s so stupid about linking privilege to power? Sure, it doesn’t necessarily follow that a privileged person whose circumstances grant him or her the wherewithal to play and enjoy videogames (keeping in mind that for most Japanese videogames = console games and all attendant socioeconomic barriers to entry) would be in a better position to widely affect his or her surroundings?

      Been thinking a lot lately about class and access to games, and how the debate on “what is a game” often ends up with projections of class

  20. Quirk says:

    The distinction between game and interactive art is one I frankly hardly care about. I like the notion of exploring the medium made accessible by game engines.

    What chafes my hide is pseudo-interactive or non-interactive “art” being presented as a game. Many of the Twine games I played before I gave up on Twine games were roughly as interactive as a book with footnotes. They had their story to tell, and you could click on links along the way for bonus exposition. That’s fine – but my standard for books with footnotes is a damn sight higher than it is for bold experiments in new media. The former are competing with Jorge Luis Borges and David Foster Wallace and others, and bringing fanfiction-quality prose to the party isn’t going to cut it.

    And well, frankly, it annoys me because there’s potential there; because MASQ was as intriguing an experiment in a new way of storytelling as I’ve seen, and large parts of its capabilities could be being implemented in Twine games, but instead the system’s being gamed so that the soapbox that should be being used to promote bold experiments is being used to hype stuff that’s barely interactive.

    I suspect there’s a double standard here that exists because the people who make Twine games are nice, socially conscious “indies”; if John encountered a release from a major publisher which featured four hours of cutscene to ten minutes of gameplay, I think he’d be quick to question whether it was a game at all.

    • drvoke says:

      I don’t know if it counts as from a “major publisher”, but The Walking Dead games seemed to do okay, review wise, and they were barely interactive. I see the trend is usually the reverse; AAA games can get away with all kinds of anti-ludological nonsense, but indie games are the only ones which are required to pass some ludological purity test. Cutscenes and quicktime events and holding down W to move forward probably doesn’t fit a lot of strict definitions of “game”, but relatively little ink (digital or otherwise) has been spent debating whether CODBLOPS Deux is a game or criticizing developers, publishers, reviewers, or retailers for misleading the poor consumer by calling it one.

      • Quirk says:

        Firstly, mainstream games absolutely do get this criticism – the last Metal Gear Solid game attracted quite a lot of comment for the sheer quantity of cutscenes. However, none of them are remotely as bad. You mention The Walking Dead, and sure, it’s could be seen as being more along the line of an interactive narrative than a game – but one of its central conceits is that player choices change the story.

        The class of Twine “games” I’m talking about do not feature this level of interactivity. They go from start to end with no player agency, and a few hyperlinked additions which are either footnotes, or alternate paragraphs. If The Walking Dead is going to be called barely interactive, by that yardstick these “games” are not interactive at all.

        We have phrases and paradigms which already completely subsume these modes of limited interaction. “Browsing hypertext”, “looking up references”, etc. The mainstream understanding of “games” is never going to stretch so far as to allow reading a Wikipedia article and looking up the links to be potentially considered a “game”. (Oh, but Wikipedia is factual, mostly? Well, then, it’s an educational game!)

        I’m not saying that there aren’t classification difficulties around the word “game”. There are. Everything from puzzle to simulation has vanished into its gaping maw. However, when we’re dealing with “games” so degenerate as to have almost entirely turned back into ordinary hypertext, we need to draw a line somewhere. There’d be no point in getting games writers to review hypertext versions of books like Infinite Jest, as it would just be creating a new shallow pool of criticism peopled by poorly-informed critics; but this appears to be what we’re doing.

  21. drvoke says:

    Since she brought it up again in her linked post, I will bring it up as well. Refusing to engage with Raph Koster on the (fundamentally retarded) “Is it a game?” debate is one thing, but Anna Anthropy is a fucking grown up. Running away and giggling in a very public and demeaning shunning, and subsequently bragging about it on Twitter, is just shabby. It winds me up every time I think about it. Nothing against her, I just don’t like when people are proud of not having any class. It’s basically on the same level as laughing at a person with a disability. Formalists are clearly afflicted, their obsession with prescriptive labels and the confusion and discomfort with ambiguity which the vast majority of humans navigate with ease makes that clear. They require our compassion, not denigration.

    • RobF says:

      Given it’s either that or put yourself in a position where you’re uncomfortable, I’d take the fun route of giggling and bogging off any time. Thumbs up to the establishment and all.

      But also I don’t think Raph needs pity or looking down on or anything like that, y’know? He’s looking for an academic definition so that he can talk about things in academic terms. Whatever, right? That’s cool, surely? It’s a discussion that can happen without requiring people to be dragged into it who have no wish to discuss these things too.

      He’s not afflicted and it certainly warrants no comparison with laughing at the disabled. If you’re going to call people out on their lack of class, I’d check that first and stuff. Probably not classy, man.

  22. PikaBot says:

    It’s entirely possible that there may be an interesting academic debate to be had concerning what pieces of electronic media do or do not qualify as a ‘game’. Personally I’m skeptical (it seems the kind of question that would be of interest primarily to my least favorite category of theoreticians, the ones who put me to sleep by using the word ‘hermeneutics’ thrice in the same sentence. Also, it’s a rather structuralist question to ask in an academic environment that is not only post-structuralist, but post-post-structuralist, isn’t it?) but it’s possible. BUT:

    1. It is staggeringly unlikely that such an academic debate would shake out two distinct, binary categories of ‘game’ and ‘not game’, because academics are not terribly invested in these descriptors and they don’t, in themselves, say very much about the work. More likely there would be a terribly complex and impenetrable system of classification.

    2. The academic world does not seem to care, which makes all of the faffing about in the comments section about how important precision of language is for academic study seem rather ridiculous. I just went through the entire archive of Games and Culture, a peer-reviewed academic quarterly journal that has been published since 2006 all about the study of video games. Not a single article was about defining ‘game’ vs ‘non-game’. If any were, they didn’t make it obvious from the title or the abstract. Not a single one. This is hardly a burning question among academics.

    3. Even if such a debate were to occur and produce simple categories, the academy defines terms for its own use, not for the general public, so it wouldn’t actually make any difference to those of us slumming it here in the RPS comments section, or even in non-academic criticism.

    In the academic world, the word ‘novel’ has a rather precise definition, which does not just mean ‘story that’s long enough to be its own book’. And yet, if you were conversing with someone and they told you that The Turn of the Screw was their favorite novel, and you immediately harrumphed and informed that that actually, The Turn of the Screw is a novella, not a novel, everyone within earshot would rightly call you a pedantic tit. It’s just not useful information unless you’re working with the text at such a fine level that that sort of precision of language matters.

    In informal speech, it doesn’t so much matter what the technical definition of a word is, so long as your meaning is understood by everyone involved. And that’s simply not an issue. If I describe Dear Esther as a game, you understand my meaning, even if you feel quite passionately that it is not.

    So it’s pretty obvious that, since there’s no actual confusion about the meaning of the word game, what’s at stake isn’t so much a claim that game X is or isn’t a game as it is a claim that game X is the wrong type of game. A statement of personal preference hiding behind a fig leaf of pedantry and faux-academia. And I just don’t find debating personal preferences, no matter how dressed up, to be a useful conversation to have.

    • drvoke says:

      You’re my hero. This comment doesn’t deserve to be buried way down here at the bottom.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I think debating personal preference can be an interesting debate if it’s done honestly and openly, with an eye to learning something rather than just demolishing your opponent (which is rarely a healthy way to have a two-way discussion, in any case). But you’re right that there’s a fine line between trying to honestly create an argument and simply wrapping your personal gut feelings in a layer of rhetoric.

    • Jupiah says:

      To think such an insightful comment could be made by a person going by the alias of PikaBot. I shall never again judge a commenter by their name before the content of their posts.

  23. Gamera says:

    I find the issue is only raised when a game fails to have much value as a “game” and the developer starts claiming it has value as “art” instead. That’s fine, except they usually pulled a bait and switch and told you it was an “enjoyable game” to start with.

  24. solymer89 says:

    As a citizen of a suburb of Chicago, I have to agree. Just ignore the political aspect of the city as that’s where we dump all the dirt and grime.

  25. Yglorba says:

    That was a nice blog post, but is it a game?

  26. Gap Gen says:

    I agree that games can be a powerful way to heal and escape problems in your life – they were a good way for me to avoid the difficulty of my mother having a degenerative disease from when I was around, I dunno, 10 until her death when I was 25. But at the same time, I wonder if avoiding is always healthy – if it’s a choice between a full-on breakdown or being socially withdrawn and underdeveloped, sure (and of course the person who used games to help their recovery presumably found a lot of good in them), but I still have catch-up to do on things that people with healthy parents figured out in their teens because I used games to avoid the real-world.

  27. LogicalDash says:

    There’s a really easy way to define things like “video games” without really excluding anything, and the definition might even be useful. It’s called induction. It works like this:

    Myst, Super Mario Bros, Starcraft, and SimCity are all video games.
    If you play something in a way similar to a known video game, that thing is also a video game.

    This kind of definition gets more inclusive as more games are released, which I’m okay with. That doesn’t make it less rigorous, it just means you need to pay attention to new releases if you want to talk about hypothetical future games. Which… you ARE doing that, right? I mean, what use would you have for a rigorous definition if you weren’t interested in new and different types of game?

    • Gap Gen says:

      Well, this is sort of what Anna Anthropy’s article is arguing, although it goes one further and argues (I think) that an exclusive definition is pointless, for various reasons. The debate of formalists often tries to exclude certain titles from the classification of games for whatever reason – for example, something that doesn’t have clear win conditions isn’t a game (e.g. Sim City), and so on.

  28. AnonymosaurusRex says:

    Some people love ordering the world into little boxes in their mind, but GAME and ART can both have very broad meanings. Go to an online etymology dictionary and realize “game” can be applied to any amusement, and “art” can apply to anything people make. I like that.

    “BUT HOW CAN I COMMUNICATE WITH OTHER HUMANS?” asks a shouty robot. “HOW DO THEY KNOW IF I MEAN SCENIC WALKING SIMULATOR OR PUZZLE SHOOTER WHEN I SAY GAME?” Well, you could just tell them. When I say “I’m making art” no one knows if I mean poetry or photography until I tell them. We can get through this together.

    I think some of us are shitty at dealing with surprises, or just too lazy to learn about the game or gallery we’re about to experience. “I expected landscape paintings,” says someone who stumbled into the abstract exhibit instead of paying attention to their surroundings.

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