Art Game, A Game About Art About Games

But is it?

What with Proteus having sparked another one of those unfortunate periods where a vocal minority decide to aggressively reveal the narrowness of their minds, I immediately presumed that Pippin Barr‘s Art Game would be a commentary on the long-exhausted ‘but what is game? / is game art?’ debates. Elements of them are in there, I think, but in fact this free indie game has something entirely different to say. It is about the subjectivity which fuels appreciation/criticism of both games and art, it is about the pernicious arbitrariness of the art industry, but most of all it is about feeling proud of our own creativity.

You play as an artist, and an acclaimed one at that. You’re asked to contribute new work to an upcoming show, and you achieve this by playing Snake, Tetris or Asteroids. Losing the game sees the final frame captured as a painting or sculpture, at which point an art gallery representative comes and assess whether your creation is fit to show or not. Invariably, it won’t be. But you won’t know why.

So you’ll try again, and again, to the point that you’re deliberately losing the game at specific times because you think the resultant image will pass muster. To begin with it, it all seems silly, or arch, or both, but then something happens. Eventually, you become proud of the strange, abstract, simple shapes you’re submitting to the gallery.

For instance, failing at Snake in such a way that you create a perfect square.

It looks good.

You feel proud.

They still don’t want it.

You are angry.

You are angry because you have been rejected. Because something you made, and because it was of you you are proud of it, has been rejected. You are proud even though it’s just semi-random pixel-scribbles made with a very basic recreation of an ancient, over-familiar videogame.

What is art? Art is something you make. It hurts when someone else, with their own, potentially wildly different, conception of what art should and shouldn’t be, tells you it’s no good. And, as can also happen in Art Game, it feels wonderful when someone appreciates it.

Whether deliberately or not (and I’m very wary of ascribing authorial intent to a game that’s all about not appreciating authorial intent), Art Game would seem to be commentary on the absurdity and cruelty of rejection, in both the game and the art worlds. It doesn’t require any such introspection or analysis, however: it simply requires you to create something by playing videogames, then to experience the horror of refusal and/or the pride of acceptance. It is the age-old act of presenting your first crayon scribbles to a parent or teacher and wanting them to tell you how well you did. It is also the repetition of that childhood act which we repeat, endlessly, throughout our lives.

Art Game is a game about art and a game about games. But is it art? Oh, get lost.


  1. zain3000 says:

    Dunno what you’re talking about, Alec. She loved my work.

    • ThTa says:

      Likewise, I produced three paintings (calling every time I finished one) called “untitled”, “beauty” and “rising sun”, and she loved them instantly. The audience loved them, too. Save for two people, who thought I was past my prime.

      So, uh, the commentary is “Art is stupidly easy”, then? (Ahem, jay to the kay.)

      • John Brindle says:

        Hey, just because you’re a total natural art genius, no need to rub it in. I tried and tried to make Tetris art she’d accept and after twenty pieces she finally picked the ones I didn’t even like. (It’s random, so far as I understand)

    • jorygriffis says:

      Yeah, I made four pieces and one get rejected just because, as far as I can tell, you’re only allowed three in the gallery. I “stole the show”.

      Fascinating game.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      Squares are so 1915.

  2. Qwallath says:

    Yeah man, I was an immediate hit! The gallery audience was less forgiving, though.

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      Public service announcement

      If you want an actual discussion about the game rather than reading about ‘whether is it a game’, you might want to skip the Gira post and all replies below.

      • Groove says:

        And I still didn’t listen, why didn’t I listen?!?

        Thank you for your good intentions, public service broadcast man.

  3. Gira says:

    I don’t understand why the RPS crowd gets so upset when you suggest something isn’t a game, when it clearly isn’t. Why is it bad that a thing is not a game? Does it need to be a game to have value? Can’t you accept that Proteus doesn’t conform to the concept of a “game” according to any definition of the term in any English dictionary? Why is this a bad thing? Why not call it an “interactive installation” or something? Why is it necessary for a journalist to characterise people who ask these questions as “a vocal minority [deciding] to aggressively reveal the narrowness of their minds”?

    It’s ridiculous.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Because they’re incorrect; it clearly is; it isn’t; it doesn’t; it does; it isn’t; because it isn’t; because they are; it isn’t.

      • Gira says:

        Hey, listen, if you can provide me with an argument as to how Proteus conforms to the dictionary definition of a “game” (you choose which dictionary), I’ll agree with you 100x and never raise this issue again. I strongly suspect, though, that you’re far more likely to insinuate it’s entitled of me to ask you to do this or that you have more important things to do or that I’m just a big grumpy siddlywinks or whatever Britishism you’re able to conjure up on the fly.

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          Calm down, man, it’s only a game.

          OR IS IT?

          Edit: Yes, yes it is.

        • Alec Meer says:

          Perhaps if you show me the dictionary which dictates games have to a use and/or jump button I might agree with you. But probably not, because you’re a big grumpy siddlywinks.

          • Gira says:

            When did I mention the necessity of either of those things?

          • Gira says:

            Although I’ve been advocating linguistic consistency as a means of “winning” this debate, that’s not actually my concern here. The issue pertains more to how, increasingly, effectively non-interactive engagement with assets (rather than systems, rules, win/lose conditions, progression, etc) is legitimately being regarded as “gameplay”, and, in turn, how this mindset is being utilised in defense of similar levels of noninteractivity in videogames that no one would argue were not “games”. The Call of Duties, for example, or the embarrassing rhapsodies directed at Spec Ops: The Line, wherein it was often argued that turning a game off is actually a form of player agency.

            I don’t really care about Proteus, and in fact quite enjoy looking at it from time to time – but the way people talk about it has pernicious knock-on effects vis a vis general games criticism.

        • ChrisGWaine says:

          Dictionary definition? Such as, “amusement or pastime”? Or “activity engaged in for diversion or amusement “? It’s an amusement. Done.

          • Gira says:

            I knew someone would grab onto’s notoriously recursive 1st option.

          • Alec Meer says:

            ” if you can provide me with an argument as to how Proteus conforms to the dictionary definition of a “game” (you choose which dictionary), I’ll agree with you 100x and never raise this issue again”… “except I won’t and I immediately will”

            Go and relax, it doesn’t matter.

          • noobule says:

            Oh great. So we’ll just lump literature and film making and cooking and model railway building and everything any human have ever done for the enjoyment they get out of it into one big pot called ‘game design’ and we’ll teach that in universities and we’ll definitely be able to communicate with each other effectively as to how to improve all of those crafts at once, because they’ll be the same and definitions don’t matter.

            And we’ll do it all with one word! One word! Wow, what a time saver. Who really needs words anyway, eh?

          • Gira says:

            Why do you need to imply I’m somehow riled or upset or that I need to “relax”? Is there anything in my posts that would indicate I am frothing at the mouth? Seriously?

          • Alec Meer says:

            Noobule: again

            link to


            Gira: yes, all of them

          • noobule says:

            “And next week we’ll be covering Spector’s philosophy on ludic feedback; we’ll take our toffee apples out of the pot and Gary will do his presentation on the history of the Walking the Dog yoyo trick.”

          • Gira says:

            Also: to be honest, I’m surprised you find the development of a stable critical framework for videogames so trivial.

          • Alec Meer says:

            For precisely the same reason I think so poorly of people who used to argue sci-fi couldn’t be literature or black people had to sit on a different part of the bus

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            @Gira: you did start a reply with “Hey, listen…” as in “Hey, listen, I can park wherever I want to, just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you’re better than me I fought in the Vietgulf face down in the mud there wouldn’t even be parking spaces if it wasn’t for the things I did I killed women and kids you know but I’m alright now can I have some change for the meter please oh ok sorrytobotheryou.”

          • Gira says:

            Meer: did you seriously just conflate a ludological debate with the civil rights movement?

          • Alec Meer says:

            No, I gave two more examples of how historically unhelpful narrow-mindedness is.

          • Gira says:

            Nope, I’m pretty sure you just conflated a ludological debate with the civil rights movement.


            Anyway, I’d kind of hoped you’d step out a bit beyond the whole “gaming can be anything” Pez dispenser response. Can books be anything? Is a banana a book?

          • noobule says:

            Threads only get so delineated here, hmm. Been a while since I posted.

            Anyway yes, I saw it, you already posted it in this very thread. Are you going to argue the point or just post the same satirical twitter image every time.

            Obviously this isn’t going to end in the destruction of language but that doesn’t mean there isn’t legitimacy to fighting for real definitions (and reductio ad absurdum is an effective way to communicate that point)

            Do you think physicists (physics enthusiasts) shorthand everything smaller than a molecule to ‘atom’ when discussing such things between themselves? How far do you think we’d get if that was the case?

            Is the book world being pedantic by separating textbooks from novels? Do you think we should judge the two with the same parameters?

          • Llewyn says:

            For precisely the same reason I think so poorly of people who used to argue sci-fi couldn’t be literature

            It depends how you choose to see the debate. Personally I see many of these discussions (the more rational ones, at least) as “sci-fi can’t be biography” rather than “sci-fi isn’t literature”. I think it perhaps comes down to whether “games” is the umbrella term for all interactive digital entertainments or a top-level genre within interactive digital entertainments. Personally I’d prefer the latter because it offers us more tools to identify, discuss and compare things than if we use a single term for everything.

          • DrAmateurScience says:

            RIGHT that is IT. I am storming my local butchers to demand they rename the game pie in the window ‘hunted animal medley pie’. This debate has gone on long enough.

            Up next casinos shall be forced replace all mention of the word game with ‘spinning wheels of financial folly’.

            We must protect the words! Who’s game?

            Argh *shoots himself*

          • John Brindle says:

  ’s is by no means the only such definition that Proteus would fit:

            link to
            “A pursuit or activity with rules performed either alone or with others, for the purpose of entertainment.” (it adds: “In MANY games, the objective is to win…”)

            link to
            “activity engaged in for diversion or amusement”

            link to
            “an amusement or pastime; diversion”

            link to
            “an activity that one engages in for amusement”

            All this pedantry is mostly good to illuminate one thing: ‘game’ is a very unstable word. Honestly look at all the dictionary entries, its metaphorical and figurative uses, and tell me that this PROVERBIAL example of unstable categories can really be buttoned down or ‘defended’. What you call a True Game is what Jesper Juul calls the “classic game model” – one which can be “traced historically for thousands of years” – is also just one specific model among the large family of things we call games. (quotes from ‘Half-Real’)

            I’m wholly behind any critical efforts to identify, define and describe that model. But it seems rather quixotic to try and reclaim the word ‘game’ from the vagaries of common usage. If you want to describe a stringent and careful and specific category, use a stringent and careful and specific word. But I’m not sure ‘game’ is that word. That horse already bolted and you’re shouting about the barn door.

          • noobule says:

            Casino games are games

            If you were actually using an actual definition of ‘game’ you would know this

            You would be able to extrapolate from that knowledge and use it to constructively criticise the things that fall within that definition effectively. Games (and things that are not games) would improve as a result

          • DrAmateurScience says:

            Yes but what about venison?

          • noobule says:

            You think this argument is about people using the word ‘game’ colloquially? The issue here is that in situations where people want to analyse and discuss ‘games’ within the ‘gaming’ community, people are coming in and getting upset that attempts to define ‘game’ within that context (for convenience and for clarity) inherently exclude some things from having the nominal title ‘game’; behaviour which only serves to muddle the conversation.

            You can use ‘game’ all you want in whichever manner you choose outside of that context (which is 99.9% of human communication). But don’t come into a space where people have already applied meaningful terms with real thought and purpose and complain that Thing X isn’t a game under that definition and that’s its unacceptable because you like Thing X, and not because you have issue with the definition itself first and foremost

          • DrAmateurScience says:

            Actually all I was trying to do was highlight the absurdity of the whole discussion. Thanks for helping out :)

        • Faldrath says:

          Just one observation: dictionaries are not legislators, they simply record common uses. Linguistic meaning is fluid by definition, and all dictionaries do is record the common uses of words in a specific time frame. Which is why dictionaries have to be constantly updated – meanings change in society, and dictionaries have to play catch-up.

          Given that electronic gaming is such a new field, asking for definitions here to “conform to dictionaries” is simply a bit silly.

          • Runs With Foxes says:

            Find some definitions from game scholars. You’ll probably find their definitions are more narrow than a dictionary’s…

          • Faldrath says:

            It depends on the case, of course, but scholars usually tend to define their subjects narrowly in order to build their argument/hypothesis from that, without (again, usually) claiming universality: “For the purposes of this study, let us define ‘game’ as…”.

            But the appeal to “conformity with the dictionary” is basically an appeal to a “universal” definition. Which, again, is a bit naive.

          • Gira says:

            Pls see reply to Geewhizbatman as it won’t let me post duplicate comments.

          • Shuck says:

            @Faldrath: Yes, exactly. Especially for something as problematic as the idea of “game.” My dictionary starts off defining “game” as “a form of play.” Which Proteus, etc. fit into, though this definition is clearly not sufficient. So then we start getting into Ludwig Wittgenstein* and the idea of “family resemblances,” which is far more useful but doesn’t lend itself to a pat list of characteristics that define what a game is or isn’t.

            *(Every time this debate comes up, I feel the need to scream “Wittgenstein, dammit!” at the top of my lungs.)

        • Keirley says:

          Oh dear lord, you need to stop acting like we can solve all semantic arguments by looking at a dictionary. Dictionaries record use, they don’t dictate use, and they certainly don’t define words with watertight logical consistency.

        • Necroscope says:

          p287 Titus Groan;
          “’Glorious’, said Steerpike, ‘is a dictionary word. We are all imprisoned by the dictionary. We choose out of that vast, paper-walled prison our convicts, the little black printed words, when in truth we need fresh sounds to utter, new enfranchised noises which would produce a new effect. In dead and shackled language, my dears, you are glorious, but oh, to give vent to a brand new sound that might convince you of what I really think of you, as you sit there in your purple splendour, side by side! But no, it is impossible. Life is too fleet for onomatopoeia. Dead words defy me. I can make no sound, dear ladies, that is apt.’”

      • Mario Figueiredo says:

        Alec, if it doesn’t matter (which I fully agree), you need to stop calling a vocal minority on the narrowness of their minds. There’s an element of hypocrisy that I wish you dropped.

        If it matters, you get to call names. If it doesn’t matter, you don’t. Otherwise you are just another hypocrite trying to sound lofty about the whole issue but in fact hiding a clear grudge against those who prefer to tackle it.

        • Alec Meer says:

          You’re right, in that of course no conflict arises if conflict isn’t mentioned – but it’s an expression of how frustrating to be running a games site and regularly have to suffer people popping up to say we have to treat stuff differently because they say so.

          • Gira says:

            Please see Llewyn’s comment below.

          • Alec Meer says:

            You don’t really mean that ‘please.’ I can tell, you know.

          • Mario Figueiredo says:

            Yes, I’m sorry. You are right. There’s so much one can take without bursting their bubble. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to truly demarcate ourselves from these type of debates when even that is seen as a potential target.

          • NathanH says:

            The problem that you and John have when you put these insults into your articles is that it’s very unclear who you’re insulting. From the article and your subsequent treatment of the “not a game” definition argument, it appears you’re insulting people who want to call things like Proteus something other than a game, and who argue that calling them games is a bad idea. But from your comment here it seems you’re intending to insult people who don’t want RPS to cover these products. Who are you trying to insult?

          • DrAmateurScience says:

            I don’t want to put words in Alec’s mouth here (I’m going to anyway) but I’m going to suggest it’s the kind of folk that pop up in the comments section in an article about something like Proteus and say

            ‘not a game’

            as if that were some kind of value judgement. That no more need be said about the thing because it doesn’t fit their (narrow or otherwise) definition of what a game is.

            The problem with comments like that is it automatically prevents discourse on the object in question and instead leads to page after page of tedious debate on the definition of a word that has so broad a meaning that it borders on meaningless in and of itself.

          • Gira says:

            My first post in this comments section questioned why suggesting something is not a game is somehow immediately construed pejoratively, so, uh …

          • Runs With Foxes says:

            The irony is that it’s usually, like here, a snide remark from one of the RPS writers in the article that prompts people to comment on it in the provided comments section. Then they get so mad that people are commenting on it.

          • AndrewC says:

            When ‘not a game’ comments pop up they are very regularly followed by ‘so you should not cover that here, on a gaming site. This talk of academic critical thinking is usually euphemism for silencing and ostracising. That’s the problem.

          • Gira says:

            AndrewC: I didn’t suggest that at all.

          • DrAmateurScience says:

            Well no, all you did was express your opinion and then voice your bafflement at how there are people out there that don’t agree with you.

          • Llewyn says:

            @AndrewC: Nonsense. What you’re failing to see is that there are different people making different arguments with different motivations. “Everyone else” is not a monolithic entity.

          • The Random One says:

            This guy is hilarious. He says he’ll drop the argument if people can bring a dictionary definition of “game” that Proteus fits. A bunch of them do, because the definition they have is so absurdly loose that it essentially defines cooking with your mom as a game. He had the chance to set up the argument in a way that favoured his view and was so sure of his victory he failed in a way so absolute it doesn’t even strenghten the opposing view because it’s so senseless, and instead of dropping the bone now wanders around going ‘le sigh, am I the only one in here with a sense I guess!’

            The Internet.

        • AndrewC says:

          @mario what?

          @alecmeer I accept your art!

        • Gira says:

          (edit – this was meant to be below Runs With Foxes’ comment) Exactly – you directly attack the proponents of an argument and then wring your hands when said proponents ride on in to defend it.

          You’re obviously well within your rights (and administrative abilities) to delete this entire conversation if it offends you so deeply, Meer, but it seems weird to even have a comments section if that’s the case. It’s not like I’m here posting obscenities or linking to porn sites or something.

          • Alec Meer says:

            I’ve always been fascinated by the tendency of commentators who otherwise claim to be reasonable to use the surname as a stealth-attempt to belittle. It’s a very common method of trying to slip in offence while concealing the outrage, anger or otherwise disagreeable motive which incites it, and always serves to undermine discussion. Passive-passive aggression, I shall call it.

          • Gira says:

            Actually, I’ve just been raised to believe it’s rude to address someone by their first name unless you know them personally. Very sensitive, aren’t we?

        • Gira says:

          AndrewC: I haven’t suggested that at all.

    • Ricc says:

      Why should the developer of Proteus have to convince Steam or other distribution channels to sell his”interactive installation”? At some point the whole debate becomes impractical.

      • Gira says:

        I don’t really care what the Proteus developer does to market their game. I’m arguing from a critical standpoint.

        • Acorino says:

          So Proteus is a game then? You just called it a game.

          • Gira says:

            oh my god argument DESTROYED have a stick of cabanossi for your troubles

          • Acorino says:

            You can mock me all you want and try to distract me, but if you feel inclined to call Proteus a game, despite arguing the whole time, that it isn’t….then something is at odds. Why would you call it a game when it so clearly isn’t to you? When you write about Proteus, why don’t you use other words like non-game or interactive entertainment or whatever continuously?
            I think it’s telling that people who argue that something like Proteus or Dear Esther should be excluded from being called a game always revert themselves to calling them games. It shows how ingrained the use this word is that you always fall back on it, even if you shouldn’t.

            Maybe all that this points out to is that you have an understanding of the word “game” at a subconscious level that stands at odds with your conscious efforts to reign the appliance of the word “game” in.

            Anyway, it’s often necessary in academia to narrow the meaning of a word to be able to discuss in very specific terms. But…we’re talking in everyday language here, so I’m simply perplexed by your endeavor. My suggestion then is to simply agree to disagree and move on.

          • Gira says:

            Actually, I believe it’s called a faux pas. But hey, if you want to use it as an indicator that my argument is completely valueless, feel free!

          • Acorino says:

            Oh, I wouldn’t go that far. But your “faux pas” is telling nonetheless.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      I’m equally baffled by people who insist on stopping me calling things like Proteus a “game”. I can’t help but feel like that comes from a bad place, but I dunno.

      Let the debate rage on through the (p)ages!

    • Cara Ellison says:

      Because questioning what is a game and isn’t a game is asking RPS for example to narrow their field of view, and therefore narrowing the interesting things they report on for you.

      Creating another term for these games is creating an underclass – we should be able to just consider all of these forms of entertainment valid.

      • Gira says:

        An “underclass”? Look at the language you people are using! And you’re suggesting I’m taking this too seriously! I don’t think anyone would have any compunction about RPS reporting on, say, “interactive installations”, since they also report on board games on what is ostensibly a videogame site (the board game pieces are probably the best thing on here, btw).

      • Llewyn says:

        I’m aware that terminology can be used as a method of segregation, but why should it necessarily be so? Why is it not possible to have a civilized discussion on how to classify things that starts from an assumption that all classifications are equally worthwhile? Why would a conclusion that “game” is not the most helpful classification for something imply that RPS shouldn’t cover it, as opposed to it being acceptable that RPS covers interactive entertainments in a wider sense than just “games” (especially as Rab brings us “game” coverage outside RPS’ claimed “PC gaming” remit already)?

        I don’t have any personal stake in the root argument here – I ultimately don’t much care what other people call things and choose to spend my entertainment time how I want to without any regard for that. I do however find the comments seeking to close down that discussion to be far generally more narrow-minded than many of the “not a game” viewpoints.

        • The Random One says:

          Because that is prescriptvism and prescriptvists are pants. No one gets to define what the word “game” means and then everyone has to sit down and accept because Semantical Legislator has said so. Instead, we should look at what people are saying and write down their meaning as it stands.

          A bunch of people arguing something is a game versus a bunch of people arguing it isn’t is a non-issue because if some people agree it is a game then, by definition, it is.

          I wonder if when the first electrical and gasoline powered cars were becoming common people had the same argument that we shouldn’t call them “cars” because a car is something pulled by horses.

      • Doesn'tmeananything says:

        Where does this notion of denigrating a piece of electronic entertainment by not calling it a game even come from?

        And why is arguing for a more precise critical language is detrimental to RPS and its readers?

        • Cara Ellison says:

          I don’t know if the classification itself is useful, just that we discuss what is actually within the thing itself. I’m not sure calling something an ‘interactive installation’ actually adds anything to the discussion, or if it would be useful to have a section of the website dedicated to such things.

          Compartmentalising our entertainment into neat little boxes is not expanding our critical language, it just makes us take the time over organising labels instead of talking about content. What is a ‘game’ and what is an ‘interactive installation’? Do you want to spend time deciding on one little label, when you could use a whole lexicon of language to describe what it actually is in a full length article? I just want to talk about what’s in it and what we can learn from it, whether you should buy it. That sort of thing.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            I agree with this. Although I mostly welcome the “is it a game?” debate, I do tend to feel like denying something that label is a bit “no trainers”, and that by focusing too much on who gets to dance we’d forget about the music.

          • Low Life says:

            But a site like this will always (have to) draw the line somewhere. If something like Proteus, Dear Esther or a flight simulator is covered, should Space Engine (link to be covered? (Yes it should, because it’s damn amazing)

            But if Space Engine, an interactive presentation of the known universe, is covered, should Google Maps/Street View, an interactive presentation of our planet, be covered? If not, why?

            I don’t really have a strong opinion on this matter and I don’t mind having… experiences like Proteus or Dear Esther on the site, but I still find the discussion over why something is included while the other is not quite interesting (and important).

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            What’s wonderful about this site (and most other games sites) is that it’s in the hands of its contributors (or editors)- we don’t get to decide at all. I’m not joking, it is wonderful.

          • Cara Ellison says:

            To reply to Low Life – yes why things are included is important to note. However, it ends up being a question of how a website serves its audience and what sort of audience it wants. I think Proteus, for example, is something that you guys would want to know about. If I thought these other things were important to you I’d try and include them in whatever website I ran (if I ran one I imagine it might be called, like, CARACHAN in JAPAN and would detail my exploits in Japanese arcades but that is just a DREAM).

            (I don’t actually work full time at RPS, so if you wanted to know more about RPS’s feelings on it you’d have to ask the Pantheon.)

          • Gira says:

            I’m not sure how it is that you (or some other posters) have come to the conclusion that I don’t think Proteus should be given coverage on this site.

          • Snargelfargen says:

            “But if Space Engine, an interactive presentation of the known universe, is covered, should Google Maps/Street View, an interactive presentation of our planet, be covered? If not, why?”

            I’m sure you could make some games involving google streetview. Tracking down the various break-ins and car accidents caught on camera is already a fun easter egg hunt.

            Internet Calvinball, folks. Get your jollies wherever and however you can.

        • Cara Ellison says:

          Further reading on terms, etymology, and how using a term other than ‘game’ may exclude these games from exposure: link to

    • MOKKA says:

      Why do some people on the internet get so upset about other people having a different understanding about what a word means? Language is not an absolute entity it’s just a tool for us to describe things we see. Stop making an ideology out of it.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        The problem is that language is our main form of communication, and so it’s inherently political. If you ask me, those who are all like “calm down, language is fluid, just let it find the shape of its container” are forgetting that we are the container, and we’re changing shape all the time.

        Jesus save me, I’ve become a literature student again. Muffled gunshot.

        • MOKKA says:

          I don’t have that much of a problem with people discussing it, I have a problem with people thinking that their and only their definition of a word is the only viable, especially in the context of something which we do not know much about yet (e.g. Videogames).
          It always comes across as being very elitist and smug and it does not add anything of value to the discussion itself. Because if you want to discuss something, you usually want to hear someone else’s opinion and talk about the differences, not force everyone else into thinking like you.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            Agree one hunnerd percent. I suppose what happens when two people with linguistic differences refuse to meet in the middle is they eventually end up speaking different languages entirely.

          • MOKKA says:

            Absolutely true. I study biological Anthropology and have big interest in human evolution and biological systematics (the part of biology which tries to find out how present and past organisms are related to one another). This field is full of different ‘schools’ and definitions about systematics and species (I can recall at least three different kinds of species-concepts and those are only the major ones). This results in scientists of one particular school not being able to talk to scientists from another, simply because most of their results are only viable within their own framework.

    • Geewhizbatman says:

      I agree with you Gira. Games are far too narrowly defined to be anything more than a passing fad. They could never have an intimate interaction with the human psyche what with all the conditions that go into defining what they are. I personally am glad for games to stay rigid. I’d much rather play Art instead.

      But, the “linguistic singularity” argument is inherently flawed, though beautifully inflammatory like any great fallacy. The idea that words remain static or that meaning is anything other than incredibly fluid is simply not true when it comes to humans. We come up with new words, our old words go grow, shrink, disappear and merge over time. A linguistic singularity is based off of a static human culture, of which has yet to exist. Though it is a really wonderful thought to think that we are in any way consistent creatures.

      Finally, this argument was already made and lost with other forms of entertainment. Anything can be Art at this point, certainly with the rise of the found object movement but modern art brought the idea forward in many ways. There were movies that couldn’t be movies, there were books that couldn’t be books, there were X that couldn’t be X. At this point with visual medium (which, sorry but a word that doesn’t offend you like Proteus fall under), it’s seen as more of a feeling that includes cohesiveness and intent. If a work was intended to be Art and has a natural ease with its presentation then it is considered Art. Basically, if it smells like a painting, walks like a painting, and quacks like a painting. It’s probably a beautiful sculpture. I would argue that this applies to games as well. Proteus was intended to be played as a game. What makes it troubling is that it rides the line to Art, in that the goals of the game are mostly self directed, unlike more traditional games (or Art for that matter) where the meaning and purpose of the work is made as explicit as possible.

      I do not view taking a math quizzes against online opponents to be considered a game. Because in the context of my university, it’s called testing. However, if we took that and put it into a browser to be played against global opponents, it would have game play elements only because it was made to be meaningless except for the self directed desire to beat another opponent. Something like Proteus, if you put it in a frame or a museum would be Art (of which there are already many interactive game elements being incorporated into galleries across the world.) Because we’re putting it onto a computer and giving it to every single person who wants to pick it up and interact with it the way they would a game (whether or not that interaction is necessary or even helpful) it becomes a game. Contextualized meaning is a jerk, amiright?

      • Gira says:

        I’m acquainted with the issues pertaining to prescriptivism, thanks. The only reason I highlighted the “dictionary definition” of a game is because it is a concept of which we have a pretty strong and consistent understanding.

        Also, I think games are indeed art. I think the mechanical beauty of something like chess is inarguably art – the issue I have is that most “art games” are not games at all, and therefore do not actually exploit the wondrous artistic possibilities of games design.

        • Geewhizbatman says:

          Inarguable is a terrible word to use. Specifically in that I argue that it isn’t a word. Because words define things that are true or consistent, in the argument space you’re creating. Everything can be argued. Not every argument can be “won.” There is nothing that is inarguable, so inarguable is not a word. I mean, sure you’re writing it, speaking it, using it as a word. But it’s not a word.

          Just like how I can argue that chess is Art. Chess cannot be played without visual representations, meaning that it can be defined as the object used to play it. Of course once you have created that visual representation internally, you can do away with the object but Chess is an idea and chess can be an collection of objects that when arranged in a particular pattern transform them into a game. I think that is a pretty fitting description of most Art pieces.

          Art games rearrange elements of sound, text, and image in such a way and by using the medium of technology to create games. The argument that is actually going on, if linguistics is done away with, is whether you enjoyed the game or not. The elements of Proteus include player created change, self driven movement, environmental interaction, and novelty (in that the island is randomly generated.) Building blocks are considered games for children because, in part, due to these elements. You may want something like competition, score keeping, or puzzle solving (which is arguably just competition against the game maker but let’s throw in more words, right?) But desiring those things, and being bored when they are not present, doesn’t make art games any less gameful.

          If you really wanted to argue something, you could make the case that they aren’t games because they are in fact toys (all games are toys, not all toys are games.) Except, the medium of technology makes that a slippery slope. Because video games are entirely thought constructs, unlike say a rocking horse that can be used to simply rock or can be used as the “flag” to be captured in nab the nag (copyright by the way), they are either going to all just be toys, some of which the designers have given “possibilities” in using them as games but that actually interacting with those elements is not necessary for them to “function” which would make War Z a functional object and no refund would need to be paid because their game features are simply possibilities but you pay for the toy whether or not its kung-fu grip is all that amazing. Or they all get to be games, in which the only important quality they have is a level of interactivity. Books aren’t games, but choose your own adventure books could be argued as such.

          But, while that’s fun, I’ll give a little bit of actual opinion. In reality I really am fine with keeping games narrow and small and petty in definition. Gamer culture is something that increasingly horrifies and disgusts me. The private breeding ground of violent fantasy play acting (which allows and encourages aggressive behavior and narcissistic delusions that only further isolates them from gaining the ability to function in the world or at least suppress their darker desires by viewing them as impossible to enact or at all frowned upon) that the majority of “inarguable” games have become is deeply disturbing to me. Anything that will keep me separate from that community is something I won’t fight. Let them play games, I’ll play Art, just like I’ll play football with my friends but I’m not about to play sports and get my spine shattered so my college can make some extra cash.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      Plus, I actually think a big part of any sort of critical theory comes through the process of attempting to define what is or is not the object of its criticism. Some of the best literary theory came out of attempting to define what is or is not “a novel” or a “poem,” etc, etc,–the same with aesthetics and also film theory. Of course no one will ever arrive at one universally true “definition” of what constitutes art or a poem or a video game, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in the continual attempt at a definition. Some really brilliant art, writing, and philosophy came out of these various “failed” attempts at defining art (and in fact, most artistic movements up to the 20th century often had some central definition of what constitutes “art” as their main motivator–so attempting to define “art” can spur artistic expression as well).

      So to me it seems positively silly that a games journalist wouldn’t be interested in attempting to define what a “game” is. I mean, I can understand if he might not want to do this in the comments section of an internet website, but as a critic of video games it would be odd if he wasn’t preoccupied with this question on some level. And I think if video game criticism wants to develop in the same way as literary or film criticism it will have to be preoccupied with these questions—I mean they can borrow from literary and film criticism or other aesthetic theories to a certain extent, but at the same time they are going to have to take a crack at attempting to define what makes a “game” uniquely a game at some point. I don’t think anyone will ever arrive at a definition that will be universally agreed on, but again, I don’t think the definition is as important as the act of defining.

      • Alec Meer says:

        We (or, at least) I are very interested in the discussion – the problem is that the aforementioned, apparently inflexible vocal minority make it very hard, or at least incredibly unrewarding, to do so (be it in comments or a post itself). I’ve often been very tempted to do something more substantial about it, but I know from miserable experience that the thoughtful responses would be lost among the angry stubborness and knee-jerking. It is true to say that this makes me more inclined to be dismissive of and, on occasion, offensive towards those I deem to be the closed-minded enemy of progressive debate around understanding of ‘games.’

        Intellectually lazy of me perhaps, but it does mean I’d much rather get on with the, I am sure, more fruitful and mutually rewarding business of writing about hahahah games. So the simple definition of A Thing I Played On My Computer And Then Wanted To Write Something About becomes perfectly reliable to me.

        • Gira says:

          This is ridiculous. I came in here because your article attacked and trivialised a viewpoint I share with certain people and when I attempt to engage in a discussion with you you just say I’m being rude and stubborn.

          • Mario Figueiredo says:

            Look, he attacked certain people’s attitudes, not the actual arguments. Alec later made that very obvious. Let’s not engage in demagogy here.

        • Runs With Foxes says:

          Wow. Whenever the issue comes up, you basically respond with “This argument is boring, shut up!” and then you accuse other people of being narrow-minded?

          Do you think the game scholars who have defined games in the past are narrow-minded for daring to do extensive research of the form and publish definitions that (it seems to me) do not encompass Proteus and the like?

          I get why someone like you, who writes about games for the benefit of players, might not be that interested in the debate. But then why the hell would you continuously insult the people who are?

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            Unfortunately I can’t help but agree with this (though I wouldn’t put it as strongly). Much as I love him I think Alec is being overly harsh with Gira, and perhaps needs to have another look at the colour of that particular kettle. Sorry Alec.

          • The Random One says:

            Fortunately, Gira has risen up to the occasion and did his best to act like a spoiled child whose toy has been taken, while still trying to hide his outrage under a thin veneer of hostility. If this was my first day on the Internet I might have actually felt sorry for him.

          • Gira says:

            I like how this post is basically an elongated “u mad bro”.

            I’m not entirely sure how responding to a snide remark pertaining to proponents of a certain argument merits being described as a “spoiled child”, especially when I’ve been completely courteous throughout the process of responding (and responding and responding and responding). But I guess it’s as I originally posited – suggesting something is not a game makes you an automatically hostile, unreasonable entity on RPS.

            The very fact Meer drew parallels with the civil rights movement in this thread suggests to me it’s you guys who need to settle down a bit and get some perspective.

          • The Random One says:

            “I’m not entirely sure how responding to a snide remark pertaining to proponents of a certain argument merits being described as a “spoiled child”

            That’s OK. I wouldn’t expect a child to understand that.

        • Mario Figueiredo says:

          Anyone in their right mind should at this point read this Alec’s reply twice and think if they still want to shout or shut the hell up and become more understanding of the issue as a whole. Because quite frankly I’d love to see one day in the distant future — because its obvious that won’t be possible now — a good article that instilled a good meta game debate.

          It’s our loss, really.

        • Juan Carlo says:

          I understand that and think it’s fair enough.

          I do think, however, that every time you “get on with the business of writing about games” you will inevitably end up defining “game” in one way or another via your writing. Even if you don’t explicitly or directly define “game” in the piece, it will still be indirectly defined in some manner via the assumptions you make and the conclusions you draw. So if you are inevitably going to implicitly define something “against your will” or “inspite of yourself,” so to speak, I figure you might as well attempt to explicitly define it at some point. At least that way you’d have more control over it. And I even think it might lessen some of the “comment” fervor and knee jerk reactions on the issue as at least that way people would have to address what you actually think, rather than working from their own assumptions about what they think you think.

          Plus, while I won’t mount a passionate defense of the level of discourse of any internet comment section, I will say that RPS’ tends to be WAAAAAY more civil and intelligent than most sites. If you really are interested in writing about this topic, go for it. I think the commenters here are smart enough to handle it. Although, you aren’t the first RPS writer I’ve seen insult the commenters, so I’m honestly not even sure if you guys realize how good you have it here relative to some other sites (and quite frankly, you kind of have to have a thicker skin if you write on the internet. Which doesn’t mean people have licence to disrespect internet writers or anything, but you also just have to realize that not everyone is going to love everything you write and a good portion of those people are going to be vocal about it. That’s just the nature of the beast. You shouldn’t let this determine what you do or don’t write about).

        • RogerioFM says:

          I think both were very poor in their discussion, one is trying to prove it’s point by asking people to read the dictionary, which proves he is unable to come with its own arguments.

          The other is dodging an issue that he himself created, by insulting a minority as he says, but then refusing to extend the discussion, being dismissive and arrogant, not least, narrow minded as the people he accused.

        • Juan Carlo says:

          Alec, you edited that post after the fact to change the content after people called you out for being dismissive and kind of insulting in it.

          I appreciate that you’ve responded to some people’s criticisms via your edits (like, for example, finally articulating what your definition of a “game” is for the first time by adding the last sentence, however scant…and also by reigning in your initial somewhat more strident criticisms of the commenters here) and perhaps you merely meant to clarify as you originally mispoke, but it’s incredibly bad form and more than a bit tacky to do so by simply editing a post after people already responded to it. It makes everyone who responded to your original comment look like idiots.

        • Tubbins says:

          Meer (or Alec, or whatever) you’re talking like it’d be interesting to one day have a discussion if only it weren’t for all those pesky naysayers, apparently unaware that you are already in the middle of that discussion and the people you’re trying to write off as naysayers are actually the opposing point of view

          > “the closed-minded enemy of progressive debate around understanding of ‘games.’ ”

          The opposing viewpoint in a debate is not the enemy of debate simply because of the fact that it is an opposing viewpoint

    • psepho says:

      Just to throw this out there: does anyone think that ‘video games’ or ‘computer games’ are not necessarily a subset of ‘games’?

      I am coming to the view that the former terms have significance in their own right that is potentially separable from the significance of the latter term. And so the terms overlap but without the former being subsumed in the latter. I can’t coherently articulate the thought, though.

      • John Brindle says:

        At risk of vanity, I wrote about exactly this!

        link to

        • psepho says:

          Thanks — that’s very well put. I think the comparison with novels gets close to what I have in mind. The etymology of the term doesn’t have to constrain it. It now describes the qualities of a medium rather than the qualities of particular creations within that medium. Exciting stuff — we just need a higher density of flaccid penises!

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            But if their density increases then eventually they’ll no longer be… oh, ok I see what you mean.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I always though that “computer games” was more British, whereas “video games” was used more generally. These days I use both. I think “computer games” has a very slight derogatory or comedic tone to it, but maybe that’s just me.

        Basically I think they’re interchangeable.

        Edit: I don’t use both, I use either. Stupid language.

        • The Random One says:

          I always think of computer games as PC games and video games as console games, but I almost never use those expression in that way.


    • Hanban says:

      I call experiences like Proteus ‘bargelbhurgers’ and experiences like Call of Duty ‘rompigroblers’. Dark Souls I just call depressing.

    • TCM says:

      Can I just say the first page of comments is amazing to me?

      Like, not in a good way. Sickeningly amazing, perhaps?

      Alec, I really don’t see why you continue to involve yourself in it. Like, I support you here, but still. Some things just aren’t worth it.

      • Alec Meer says:

        You are of course correct

        • Runs With Foxes says:

          The thing is, the people you’re getting so angry with are generally polite and have interesting and cogent arguments. You’re the one refusing to engage in the discussion beyond dismissing them as narrow-minded and posting a satirical twitter image. The whole discussion is about defining the thing you make a living writing about.

          It’s sickeningly amazing to me that a game journalist would be so dismissive of this discussion.

    • SharpHawk says:

      I agree wholeheartedly with Gira. Not everything has to be a game. Not everything that is fun, or enjoyable, has to be a game. Likewise, just because something isn’t labeled a game doesn’t mean it’s not fun, enjoyable, or worthy of being covered on RPS. Hell, last time I checked board games aren’t PC games and I don’t see many people complaining about those articles deviating from the stated purpose of the site (“RPS is about PC gaming”).

  4. Utsunomiya says:

    >cruelty of rejection in the art world
    Finally, a game made by manchildren!

    • Groove says:

      God, the game/non-game debate has broken the 2nd page of comments.

      I hope you’re pleased with yourselves.

  5. Eclipse says:

    boxart quotes:
    “What is art? Baby don’t play it, don’t play it no more.”
    “Still a better love story than Twilight. Still a better game than Proteus.”

  6. Kefren says:

    This gave me a pained grimace that devolved into a chuckle dear sir. Having received many rejections for my writing with no explanation (apart from every 50th rejection which said something like “good writing but not commercial, we’ll have to pass”) I too did question the secret workings of the gatekeepers. To no avail. In the end you have to please yourself and fall asleep dreaming that those who would enjoy your work find it. I look forward to playing this in my lunch hour!

    • Necroscope says:

      had you considered self-publishing?

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        Publish yourself! I would read you. I’d try not to bend your spine.
        Yes, self-publishing is a good idea. Unless you want money.

        • Necroscope says:

          Publish yourself, haha, yes!
          Self-publishing is better than no publishing at all , right?
          Or perhaps publishing to amazon kindle?

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            I wanted to mention Kindle. I have a novel that’s too short for mainstream publication and have been meaning to tidy it up for Kindle for ages. It looks pretty easy, and you could stick it on there for super-cheap if you like.

      • Kefren says:

        That’s what I did in the end! link to

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          WOW! Good work, dude.

        • The Random One says:

          Of course, the problem is advertising. You’d have to post a link to your work in a public forum, but in a way that segues from natural conversation so it can’t be labeled as advertising and WAIT A SECOND

          Just kidding, what you’ve done is great. I’ll browse it for a bit!

  7. kimded says:

    Hmm, lets see, if I were to play this that would be, an artist who is trying to get into galleries, playing a game about getting into a gallery. instead of actually trying to get into galleries… :)

    • Charles de Goal says:

      But you could film yourself playing the game and then use it to get into a gallery.
      Or you could film yourself playing the game and then film yourself showing the film to a curator to get into a gallery and then use it to get into a gallery.
      Or you could film yourself playing the game and then film yourself showing the film to a curator to get into a gallery and then film yourself showing the film to a curator to get into a gallery and then use it to get into a gallery.
      Or you could film yourself playing the game and then film yourself showing the film to a curator to get into a gallery and then film yourself showing the film to a curator to get into a gallery and then film yourself showing the film to a curator to get into a gallery and then use it to get into a gallery.
      Or you could film yourself playing the game and then film yourself showing the film to a curator to get into a gallery and then film yourself showing the film to a curator to get into a gallery and then film yourself showing the film to a curator to get into a gallery and then film yourself showing the film to a curator to get into a gallery and then use it to get into a gallery.

  8. Mario Figueiredo says:

    If I was to name one problem about the idea of games being art it’s that of fringe art forms that always seems to be at the center of that debate. I may not like a painting by Dali, but I won’t question it is art. However, Millie Brown paintings that are made by drinking colored milk an then regurgitating it on a canvas sell for thousands of dollars and go through the same issue: Is it art or isn’t it art. To this day, abstract expressionism is debated as being or not an art form. Jackson Pollock is still credited for being a genius or a fraud, depending on your preferences.

    Games are on the fringe as potential forms of art. Credited as being art by many of those who play them, and ignored by everyone else. If I’m a fan of Millie Brown’s vomit I won’t question her work as art. But you might. And as long as games don’t cross over that line and reach out to other audiences who aren’t effectively biased by their experience on games, they will always be subject to this debate.

    Which is probably the same as saying forever.

    • NathanH says:

      Personally I don’t understand the obsession with the term “art” at all. It often seems to be an argument about whether or not something should be considered, I don’t know, culturally valid or something like that. I don’t like that sort of argument. It’s worse to me than the arguments about whether something is a “game” or not, because “game” doesn’t have some sort of generally-understood superiority and worth like “art” does.

      • Mario Figueiredo says:

        Unfortunately that’s exactly what the word came to be know for; a validation of the person intellectual and artistic skills. Conflated with the fact the artistic medium tends to generate fans and idols, that becomes extremely important. How can I idolize if my idol is mundane, how can I have fans if i’m mundane.

        Art in itself is very probably just a consequence of our inescapable draw to build pedestals.

      • The Random One says:

        It’s the same discussion. “Game” doesn’t have the same connotation as “art”, but the people who are arguing the limits of the term are people who think highly of them. You won’t see Jack Thompson arguing that Proteus is not a game so he doesn’t have to hate it.

  9. Bhazor says:

    That was hilarious. Modern art is made by litterally slamming blocks down at random.

    And people wonder why no one cares about art anymore apart from the artists. Well them and the insurance companies that make millions off it.

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      I found it hilarious as well, although I thought the joke was mostly on the curator/commissioner.

      “I think you’re on the verge of something here.”

      And then I’d crash my Snake again and call the result “Tremendo Vagrancy”, pop it in the pile and hope it was…good?

  10. pippinbarr says:

    Hah, great to see these responses (including the lengthy “is Proteus a game thread”) – thanks for writing about it!

  11. reinodefiant says:

    Well, I’ve bought Proteus and felt nothing while …”playing” it. It is… kind of pretty. But nothing more. Maybe I am dead inside, but I will keep myself away from this kind of software.

  12. meepmeep says:

    Playing Proteus makes me feel nauseous, just like Bioshock. Ergo, Proteus must be a game like Bioshock.

  13. Mario Figueiredo says:

    In almost any noun that describe a thing that is constantly changing and under constant development there will always be a semantic fog at its border.

    I personally despise the idea of trying to clearly delineate borders around words when the person doing that very much understands there’s no workable consensus. It’s the linguistics equivalent of a dictator.

    It’s truly amazing how “it doesn’t matter” seems to be the most despised of all positions. And yet, the most correct. Because, effectively, until the medium evolves — and our understanding of the word and its implications evolve with it — it doesn’t matter. There will be no consensus. No one can impose a definition. No imposition should as such exist, because it will never be workable. Words exist as cultural aspects of not one person, but an entire society. And while there will always be exceptions (people that disagree with a certain established definition) a working consensus is all that is needed to further our language.

    So, for all that matters, what is a game doesn’t matter. If you have a personal opinion on the matter, shoot! But don’t in a way that makes it the only possible way. That’s when your opinion stops being important.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      If everyone took the “it doesn’t matter” approach, The Videogame would not be as “evolved” as it is now, because game designers wouldn’t know what they were doing. You need to define things in order to discuss them, and in order to understand what you are making and the process of making it. You say yourself that a “working consensus” is needed. Sounds like a definition to me.

      • Mario Figueiredo says:

        That’s not the meaning I was trying. I thought it was pretty obvious the meaning of “doesn’t matter” when I finished the post by actually inviting people do discuss this issue (just on a different tone) and throughout the whole thing I was talking about the imposition of ideas. It annoys I was unsuccessful.

        There’s really a point when discussing for the sake of argument just becomes a barrier. Wait, scratch that. It is always a barrier to any serious debate. Don’t argue for the sake of argument and instead try to get the meaning of what being said.

        – The pretty sky is blue.
        – The sky isn’t always pretty!
        – I meant to say the sky is pretty when is blue.
        – So it can’t be pretty when it’s got stormy clouds all over it?
        – It can. It’s just that its pretty when its blue.
        – Well it may not be pretty when its blue. Not everyone may agree with you.
        – But I meant to say to me.
        – Well why didn’t you say so!?
        – But I did right in the beginning.
        – No you didn’t.
        (ad aeternum)

      • Acorino says:

        what a load of bollocks! of course you can understand what a “video game” is without being involved in a discussion about the meaning of this term. Understanding varies, naturally. words are imprecise tools.
        Heck, good friends will catch my drift even when I stutter and utter the wrong words, or strangers will have no idea what I’m talking about even when I try my best to express myself very clearly (like Mario just demonstrated so wonderfully by example, lol). There’s more to communication than just the words themselves. if you played a video game, then you have an idea of what a video game is. if you play many more, your idea might get clearer. but I guess understanding what a video game might be varies based on personal prejudices and cultural influences.

      • jorygriffis says:

        You need to define things in order to discuss them

        Yeah, for fear of seeming rude, this is one of the silliest things I’ve seen in this entire thread.

      • The Random One says:

        Haberdash. Videogame criticism might not be so evolved. Videogame theory might not be so evolved. But The Videogame? The mere fact that games that push the definition exists is proof that The Videogame exists by itself. It’s the people making The Videogames who define what they are, not those who argue semantics.

        • Runs With Foxes says:

          How do you expect game designers to make games without understanding what they are? Are you people serious? Why do you think there was, and continues to be, a push to establish shared language and definitions that game designers can use to talk about their creations? Why do you think there are shelves of game design books dedicated to defining and explaining the characteristics of games, and the tools and the processes of making them? You’re arguing for some blind fumbling in the dark. This is incredible.

  14. Chris D says:

    Why do we play games? Obviously there will be different answers for different people and even for the same people and different games but for me a large part of it is that I want the experience of exploring another situation or environment, of being someone else for a little while. Games can deliver that experience in ways that other mediums like books or films can’t.

    I don’t think I’m alone in this. Look at the list of games released last year. How many were pure mechanics? There’s a few, sure, but the vast majority were about something else, even if it is only shooting men in the face. Like it or not theme, atmosphere and story are things that matter to people. Sure, we want good design as well but to a large extent mechanics are theme delivery systems.

    This is why I think things like Proteus or Dear Esther should be considered games and why arguments about definitions miss the point. If we exclude this aspect of gaming from the discussion we exclude a large part of why we play games in the first place. The conversation is richer for having them be a part of it.

  15. iucounu says:

    Look, guys: Wittgenstein already sorted this shit out. If he were here right now he’d be seizing irons out of the fireplace and brandishing them at you.

    66. Consider for example the proceedings that we call “games”. I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? — Don’t say: “There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games’ “-but look and see whether there is anything common to all. — For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don’t think, but look! —

    Look for example at board-games, with their multifarious relationships.

    Now pass to card-games; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear.

    When we pass next to ball-games, much that is common is retained, but much is lost.– Are they all ‘amusing’? Compare chess with noughts and crosses. Or is there always winning and losing, or competition between players? Think of patience. In ball games there is winning and losing; but when a child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has disappeared. Look at the parts played by skill and luck; and at the difference between skill in chess and skill in tennis.

    Think now of games like ring-a-ring-a-roses; here is the element of amusement, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared! sometimes similarities of detail.

    And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; can see how similarities crop up and disappear.

    And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and cries-crossing: sometimes overall similarities.

    67. I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than “family resemblances”; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and cris-cross in the same way.-And I shall say: ‘games’ form a family.

    I can think of things that the prescriptivists insist aren’t games, but which I nevertheless launch via Steam and control with WASD and think of as ‘play’. They resemble games, so they’re in the family as far as I’m concerned.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Let’s stop with the Wittgenstein already. Nowhere it answers the particular problem of what belongs into that “family”. Besides i’m pretty sure we all know about Wittgenstein by now and the reference becomes immaterial. Not to mention the fact no one needs Wittgenstein to understand that games are a group of related things. The problem is which things.

      • iucounu says:

        You’re still asking for a criterion by which you can judge which things are ‘in’ and which are ‘out’. The whole point of the argument is that there isn’t such a thing.

        • Runs With Foxes says:

          Of course there is. Surely even the most open-minded of RPS contributors have limits on what they would call a game. That’s why they don’t write about the new Star Wars movies, for example. (Kotaku obviously has different limits.)

          • The Random One says:

            No one thinks of the Star Wars movies as games. Plenty of people think of Proteus as a game. I’m a descriptivist, that’s all the distinction I need.

            Plus lots of people think of Farmville as a game, even the most close-minded crowd admit it (calling it not a game is often not a statement but an insult) but RPS doesn’t cover it. Except when Zynga started to fold of course.

        • Mario Figueiredo says:

          That’s not the point of a “family” of things. You clearly are boxing a definition when you speak of “family”. There’s no other way to look at it. You’d otherwise have to call it “insubstantial”, “foggy” or “immaterial”.

          People are trying to go one level deeper than that, because that’s exactly what Wittgenstein invites people to do. What similarities are these? How relevant they are? Which ones should we discard? Which ones should we keep? In essence, who belongs in the family.

          • iucounu says:

            Given that Wittgenstein’s theory of resemblances is a direct criticism of essentialism, I don’t agree that he is inviting us to explore the ‘essence’ of anything. We can point out shared features, but we can’t draw a clear line (or we can, but the line we draw will always be subjective.)

          • Mario Figueiredo says:

            Let me make this more clear:

            I argue that the word “game” so famously used in his example of Meaning Is Use is exactly now a problem to that same theory. Because the actual debate is whether the word game can be used for a game like Proteus. Some people argue they didn’t experience Proteus as a game (or did they? but that’s another matter for another debate on intellectual dishonesty, irrationality and biased preconceptions).

            So Wittgenstein can’t helps us here. “Use” is actually being questioned. And this presents us with a conundrum in fact: can we trust Wittgenstein? Apparently there’s a hole in his reasoning. Apparently there are situations where we seem at odds with a word exactly because we can’t agree on their Use. Or is there no flaw? Wittgenstein after all didn’t try to answer that particular problem. He speaks only of the evolution of language as a natural and organic process, not one decided by the pen of a linguistic.

            Furthermore, As soon as you realize there’s a problem with Use for the word game (in the context of computer video games), you are immediately draw to his concept of a family of words and the aspects that define that family. Those similarities. That’s when you are invited to look at them and try to use that as the basis for the your meaning of the word game.

            But of course, that goes against Wittgenstein’s Meaning is Use principle. We would be doing it wrong.

            So Wittgenstein again can’t help us here. Quoting him ad aeternum and proposing we can get to a conclusion from his thoughts on the matter is an error. he doesn’t have any thoughts on this matter. His principle is higher level. His principle arrives when there is a general consensus on Use.

          • iucounu says:

            I’d argue that Wittgenstein’s ordinary language philosophy is a rather elegant and defensible way to throw your hands up and say that certain questions don’t really matter because they aren’t resolvable. I don’t quote him as if he’s a god, I just find his analysis of the word ‘game’ extremely compelling.

            To me this comment thread largely reads like rugby league supporters and rugby union supporters arguing about how many players are allowed on a rugby team.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      Which might be enough for a casual player of games, but not for people who actually want to study the form. The examples Wittgenstein gives of throwing a ball against a wall and ring-a-ring-a-roses are play, not games. That’s been addressed clearly by many different people. Wittgenstein is making a point about language, not addressing the the formal qualities of games.

      • iucounu says:

        “We do not know the boundaries because none have been drawn. To repeat, we can draw a boundary-for a special purpose. Does it take that to make the concept usable? Not at all! (Except for that special purpose.)”

        You’re drawing a line for a purpose. If you want to use it to define some idea of ‘form’, please do, with my blessing, but you’re making distinctions based on rules and boundaries you’ve decided on in advance. You’re playing a language game that you can invite people to play with you.

      • blind_boy_grunt says:

        as a side note german makes no distinction between game and play. Would you be happier if we called proteus a “play”? (tbh i kinda like that)
        The thing that i don’t understand is what you actually gain from making proteus a not-game (proteus as the example). What is your point? The academic angle is cute but definitions for definitions sake seems a little bit stupid. Now as iucounu said if you draw a line to make an argument that could be interesting. But only if you have something to say why, besides your idea of what a game should or shouldn’t be.

  16. MOKKA says:

    Allright, now that I played, I can contribute to the actual post: I liked it. I like the idea and most of all it made me think about art and what kind of power curators could have over an Artist’s work.

    I also want to make Tetris sculptures.

  17. pippinbarr says:

    Just so you all know, I’m taking FULL credit for provoking this discussion about games, definitions, and art. It’s all me, baby.