Welcome to Game Rant Asks, an editorialized feature where our writers discuss hot button issues and the challenges our industry faces. After posing a question to ourselves (and our readers) we at Game Rant take the time to share our thoughts regarding the topic. We then leave it up to you to share your opinions, whether that means criticizing our own or simply trying to answer the question for yourselves.
This edition of Game Rant Asks was inspired by a recent Twitter discussion on Spec Ops: The Line, wherein some of our writers hashed it out over whether the game's narrative can make up for average gameplay. Here, we explore why or why not the term "game" is still representative of the medium and whether we have progressed from "games" to "interactive art." If narrative is starting to become more important to the medium, then is the term "game" even suitable for describing our favorite hobby?
I don't believe the word "game" is harmful to the medium, as it has grown to mean so much than it did before. Perhaps two decades ago "game" could be equated with fun, but in 2012 the definition has grown to encompass a wide variety of emotions. Games like Spec Ops: The Line prove that a game doesn't need to be fun to be good; a game can still be just as engaging if it can draw in the player. Whether one is having fun or not is irrelevant as like the different genres of film games no longer need to focus on one aspect of the human psyche.
Similarly, both books and films have outgrown their definitions, just as gaming continues to do so. Waiting for Godot is perhaps one of the most mundane works ever written - throughout the entire screenplay nothing significant ever occurs - yet it is still considered an ingenious piece of existentialist work. Spec Ops: The Line shares this similarity; the player is not meant to have fun when playing, they are meant to feel at their utter worst. That doesn't make Spec Ops a bad game, because "game" no longer means what it used to. We haven't out grown the word "game;" it's still growing.
Kyle Matthews (@superkyol)
I've always referred to video games as just that: video games. Associating "game" to a piece of interactivity or entertainment does not discredit it - these terms exist to define and enlighten those who these experiences would otherwise be lost on. Referring to a video game as an "interactive experience" cheapens the medium entirely by making it sterile and corporate. Games are created as a way for users to escape reality, however briefly, and connect their senses to something that would otherwise be unachievable within the confines of reality. Calling a game a game is not only accurate, but holds onto the roots of one of the last bastions of a modern, yet still very expressive art form.
Curt Hutson (@8BitBomb)
It is often debated whether games can transcend its own medium from that of simple entertainment to an appreciated art. In fact, the term "game" often discredits itself. The stigma of games seems to be that they hold no significant value, but that is only because games (both video and traditional) are a deeply misunderstood medium because their multidimensionality requires so many levels of analysis.
When a game is designed it is more than pen to paper or brush to canvas, it involves several aspects of design, science, cognitive psychology and storytelling. But like all other art forms everyone creates them. People ranging from aspiring computer programmers in their parent’s basements to large production companies hiring college educated employees. So then what defines art? Is it as simple as any aesthetic work produced through skill and imaginative thinking or is it deeper? Is passion a requirement? Is budget? Must it go through the vigorous routines of a critically acclaimed film - a widely accepted art form?
Games are indeed an art form, the very fact that they are persecuted as much as, say, modern art, supplies ample evidence to that case, but a game's ability to immerse participants through interactivity allows it to transcend past other art forms. As humans, games are our first language and are used to interact with the world around us and though as adults modern entertainment products become more complex, games continue to develop our minds, as well as encourage thought and interactivity. We become characters; we control actions and directly feel consequences of those actions. It’s deeply personal as well as entertaining.
But it is that ability to entertain that often discredits it. Modern young fiction may seem ridiculous to some, but it encourages young people who are entertained by their content to read, something fundamental to the development of language and writing skills. Many games require players to read extensively. It’s been found that those who make habits of reading and/or playing games regularly have also been linked with lower Alzheimer’s protein levels, so just because something is entertaining, doesn’t mean has no value.
Games should never be discredited simply for what they are; they are valuable and important to both our development as human beings and as artistic expression. While they may not be as simple as our preconceived notions of what art traditionally is, there is the same passion and imagination that you will find at any gallery. If a game has ever made you feel, begged you to stop and admire its beauty, compelled you to reflect on yourself, or simply had you ponder its meaning, then it is indeed art.
Andrew Dyce (@andrew_dyce)
I'm not sure if the term 'game' discredits the medium of interactive storytelling, but it definitely limits it. There are obviously still games which aspire to little more than challenge the player in the name of fun and brain activity, but as more and more games reach beyond these qualities, the term 'game' seems to apply less and less. The Walking Dead, Thirty Flights of Loving, and many more 'games' (most often found in the independent space) seem to be moving headfirst into the realm of interactive storytelling, not twitch-or-puzzle-based mechanics, delivering experiences only possible with a gamepad in hand.
My problem isn't with the word 'game' itself, since it works as well as ever. The problem lies with the uninitiated majority who continue to see a trashy novel or brainless blockbuster movie as a better use of time than a genuinely ambitious and thought provoking game experience. And reviewers who hold experimental, indie, arthouse games to the same criteria or value proposition as a Halo or Call of Duty aren't helping anything.
Jason Weissman (@AtticusSays)
When I first started playing video games back in the stone ages, the experience was strictly a "gamey" one akin to a game of chess: solving a puzzle, outthinking a competitor, or navigating an environment were typical goals. Story elements, if any existed at all, were strictly secondary and barely served any purpose other than background. Successfully decoding the game's objectives satisfied most players, and video games just felt like a logical progression from board games (does anyone play these anymore?), which were primarily targeted toward children. As such, video games were largely thought of as a non-adult activity by the mainstream public.
But as those young gamers grew up, they sought adult experiences and video games evolved over the years as a result. Some of these titles minimized the focus on gameplay, and instead focused on telling a compelling story, making an artistic statement, or just testing the boundaries of our imagination. Minimalist titles such as Seaman, Dear Esther, Flower, or Journey barely qualify as games in a traditional sense, yet each offered unique and compelling experiences that non-gamers could appreciate if given the chance. Unfortunately, the name recognition of these titles barely registered among the stimulus-seeking public, because of the "game" stigma attached to this form of entertainment.
Video games like The Walking Dead, where the gameplay takes a backseat to a strong narrative that propels the player forward, would likely have more mainstream appeal if it was presented in a different visual format, even if that would take away from what makes the title so special. This is unfortunate, because non-gamer fans of the television show would likely enjoy this story presented in its present form, if they did not dismiss it out of hand as something for kids or immature adults.
Does the word "game" discredit the medium? Yes and no. Certainly many video games are just modernized versions of old gaming tropes, and therefore, the term is still accurate to a large degree. However, the use of the word is very limiting as many will simply dismiss non-traditional video game fare, which they may have enjoyed, as a non-serious form of entertainment that does not equate to a novel or movie.
Riley Little (@TheRileyLittle)
I think the term 'game' is something that may discredit, or at least be given a negative light, depending on which social circles the word is brought up in. There's a certain social stigma that accompanies video games, and there likely will be for quite some time to come, but that can be accredited to the interactive aspect that each title has and the alleged repercussions that surround the industry. Despite the general unease that the uninformed have with such variants of media, the word 'game' doesn't cause a negative impact on the medium. It's the ideals that the individual has that determine a positive or negative outlook on video games, regardless of the branding, and snap judgement is entirely at the discretion of consumers.
Some take pride in the label 'gamer,' and as the medium continues to evolve, many more probably will as well.
Jacob Siegal (@JacobSiegal)
I think referring to all forms of interactive entertainment as "games" can reinforce the preconceived notions that we all have of games, both positive and negative. For those who do not exist in the same realm as gamers, gaming can be synonymous with wasting time. Telling someone with only a passing knowledge of video games that Journey, The Unfinished Swan, or The Walking Dead are "games" will force them to equate these beautiful, unique experiences with the video games that they know, such as Call of Duty, Mario, and Pong.
I do not believe that we have learned to separate games into the same distinct categories that we have for books, movies, television, and other forms of media. In recent years, society has come a long, long way in understanding and accepting gaming as an art form and a form of entertainment just as viable as the others. Regardless, I still believe that "game" is a word loaded with history, much of which is no longer entirely relevant. As time presses onward, that will inevitably change.
It's clear from these posts that our writers share similar, yet wavering view points on the use of the word game. What do you think? Is the term still appropriate, or should we find a new word to represent our favorite medium? Join in on the discussion in our comments section down below!