Moving pictures, or the motion picture, was invented in the second half of the 19th century. Since then we’ve gotten as diverse uses of this technology as movies, sitcoms, debates, news shows etc. Even though the underlaying technology is the same, we’d never dream of using one word to describe all these very different expressions.
Interactive entertainment was invented during the 20th century. As the decades have passed, the medium has evolved into many different forms. We have multiplayer action titles, interactive dramas, puzzles, family games, etc. Even though the underlaying technology is the same, we’d never dream of using one word to… wait a minute!
When the industry was young and not as multifaceted, the word “games” sufficed. But I think we’ve gotten to a point now where we have outgrown the term. No longer are “gamers” unified by a nerdy fascination for the medium itself, with all its products. We’ve opened the flood gates to new audiences, all expecting very different things.
Just like someone who watched every episode of Friends doesn’t necessarily wait for Michael Moore’s next documentary, someone who followed Zoë’s journey in Dreamfall might not want to sit down with a plastic toy guitar to play Guitar Hero. With such a diverse medium as interactive entertainment has become, the term “games” fails in actually describing what it encompasses, and becomes a blunt tool for both professionals and consumers.
Isn’t it also the case that many titles defined as games simply aren’t? While I’ll happily call Buzz and Peggle games, I’m less sure about titles like Fahrenheit or Call of Duty 4. Are they games, or are they something more? Let’s try to come up with a definition.
“A game is an entertaining activity performed according to a set of rules to reach a goal.”
In CoD4, when I’m fighting in the streets of a middle eastern city to save a friend from a downed Black Hawk helicopter, that’s an experience. Yes, it has rules, but they are transparent and recieve very little focus from me. They are simply there to generate the experience, enabling the interactive narrative which I am exploring.
Game? I think not.
More importantly, I fear that the term “games” limit the designers and directors of the industry. The traditional meaning of the word, and all the baggage it carries since Pong, probably makes it harder for visionary ideas to break through. Our legacy controls the expectations of consumers, the demands of publishers and the work of designers.
So if you’re ever in a discussion about game design and are confronted with “that’s not what games are about”, just answer “exactly”.