Comment: It’s okay to ask “What are games?”

Can you find "the real game"?

Asking whether a game is actually a game has become a weapon to attack games that don’t fit a particular profile (or someone’s particular tastes) in order to discourage discussion of that particular game.  One of the most notable examples of a game that triggers this argument is Gone Home.  Accusing Gone Home of not being a “real” game occurs frequently, but this has not suppressed the game’s success within the video game enthusiast community.  It’s perhaps for that reason that the “not a real game” argument is thrown out as frequently as it is.  It’s an unfair accusation, which insinuates that Gone Home has somehow misrepresented itself, as though it were a Steam Early Access title that pretends to be a functioning product.  Those who purchase the game in good faith have received it well.  It’s not as if there’s been a rash of requests for refunds for the game.  Perhaps protest reviews of the game are provided to counter balance critical praise, meant to dissuade gamers who expect a certain score to mean a certain quality of graphics, an acceptable genre, or type of gameplay mechanics.  Or it could be the temper tantrum of a gaming tribe that doesn’t feel sufficiently catered to.

I think this is an exceedingly unfortunate development.  While it may not discourage discussion of a game like Gone Home, it is going to make video game enthusiasts less inclined to explore what games are.  The #GamerGate train of thought abuses ludological inquiry to impose a set of tastes and preferences on video games and video game enthusiasts.  Video games are a phenomenon, and using questions as weapons will prevent the community from further understanding that phenomenon.  A recurring theme on this blog has been exploring the distinction between video games and software, and dissecting what “interaction” in games really means.  These are concepts that are worthy of discussion to better understand and capture the elements of games that make them successful and close to our hearts.  So the question shouldn’t be whether or not a certain game is worthy of being called a video game, or settling on an arbitrary set of rules.  It should be “what qualities are unique to games as a phenomenon?”  And so long as software that calls itself a game isn’t misleading interested consumers into believing that it’s something that it’s not, then there’s no reason to conduct the gamer version of the red scare.

If there’s one thing that can be agreed upon, it’s that video games facilitate play.  Play doesn’t have to be fun, and it doesn’t prescribe a specific brand of interaction.  Video games represent a space that we remove ourselves to and use play to engage.  It could be to pretend we are someone else; that we are in another place; or we can do something that normal people cannot do.  So long as we are a participating party in the space, its fair to call that a game.  Winners, losers, high scores, multipliers, these are all concepts which can be components of a game, but are not intrinsic to them.  If there’s a need to highlight a deviation from mainstream games, it might be to point out that a game might be a bad product rather than a bad game.  So if your concern is for consumers, take the time and consideration to make an appropriate argument and not conflate the product with the concept.  Even if Gone Home isn’t your favorite game, it might be the start of something different and greater.  And that shouldn’t be stifled.


1 Response to “Comment: It’s okay to ask “What are games?””

  1. September 29, 2014 at 12:43 am

    I enjoyed this post! I agree, I think games like Gone Home and The Stanley Parable are important. They challenge us to think about what games are and what the medium is capable of. It’s unfortunate that some segments of the community tend to dismiss them without at least giving them a try.

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