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Student Soapbox: The Name of the Game

In this Gamasutra student soapbox, Rochester Institute of Technology senior Steve Broida responds to recent criticism suggesting that "video games" should be given a new, less childish term.

April 5, 2006

6 Min Read

Author: by Steve Broida

Growing up in the late Atari, early NES days, I became so enamored with video games that I decided that I wanted to grow up to make them myself.  To create unique, exciting, imaginative worlds in a digital world was my dream.  I had never given much thought to the weight that the words “Video Game” carried until I came across a blog post by Dennis McCauley, owner and site manager of the website GamePolitics.com

He proposed that with the recent controversy over games in general, the label “Video Game” should be replaced with something that represents the more mature and adult-natured games which are now on the market.  Was there a better name to call “Video games” so that the very name itself could inform those that aren’t familiar with the medium?  Are the more mature and cinematic games still games?  Doesn’t the word “Game” have a childish connotation, he asked?

My answer was an instant “NO,” but I knew that simply saying “It’s the name I grew up with” wouldn’t hold water.  So, I thought about what arguments I could make to combat the suggestion that a new name was needed to describe “video games."

First, I came up with two possible name changes, and why they wouldn’t work as a replacement for “video games."

My first suggestion, “Entertainment Software," would be too broad of a definition and could NOT be used to solely define video games alone. Entertainment software can come in the form of movies on DVD, software that builds entertainment (video and 3D editors), and basically anything digital that can be utilized for the purpose of entertainment. Software that operates the lights and special effects of a concert would be "Entertainment Software."

Second, the name “Adult Games” would not work as a way of separating "mature" games from the rest.  The word "Adult" makes the games sound pornographic in nature, and while some games do have sexual content, they are not always sexual in nature. Take Halo and Halo 2 for example. They are M-rated, but no one would say they are for "adults" alone. The story and characters are highly developed and the situations and scenarios require a mature mind to understand and comprehend (except in online multiplayer).  Calling a game like Halo "Adult" is an insult to the game since it makes Halo seem like porn when it isn't.

The next step would be to come up with some good reasons why the name “Video Games” was adequate.  I figured one problem people might see with that name was because they might think games are for kids.



First, this assumption is NOT true! If it were, then why are people often fascinated by football and sports? Aren't those "games" as well? Do people think sports are only for children?  Also, men and women all over the country get together to play board games like Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, and more!  Then there are card and gambling games!  If gambling wasn’t a form of gaming, then Nevada would not have a “Gaming Commission”.  This should be enough proof to show that adults like to play games too.

Second, games can be educational and can teach.  Action games such as Psychonauts, God of War, and Halo have lots of action, but also stories that entertain and keeps the player engaged because they WANT to see the end of the game.  Even the most mature of games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas have a deep underlying story beneath them that makes it worthwhile to finish.  

It is also possible that people think video games are for kids because they think a “real” game must require physical exertion (such as tag or paintball) in order for it to be good for someone.  If this were true, then games of chance would not be considered games.  However, games do provide some sort of physical or mental exercise. Puzzle games such as Tetris or Bejeweled exercise the mind, and in the medical field, surgeons often play video games before an operation to build their dexterity. There are also games that require game players to use their feet or their whole body to play. 

Considering all this, the only other possible name that “video games” could be changed to would be "Interactive Media", but there is a problem with this name.  If a movie was always linear with one beginning and end, would it still be a “movie” if you could choose a different ending? The viewer could make decisions that alter the story in one direction or another similar to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. It would be “Interactive Media”, but would it also be a video game?  What about the lack of game mechanics and game rules that make games what they are?

In order for video games to be more than “Interactive Media”, they need to have rules, just as any other game.  Sports have rules which are enforced by referees and umpires, while video games have rules that are enforced by the game programming which states what is or is not allowed.  These rules are what make games fun and interesting, but video games can also tell a story along with these rules.  It is the harmony between story and game play (rules) which make games what they are.

So to me, "Video Games" is an adequate name based on this definition:

Video Game: a form of digital entertainment that encompasses pre-programmed rules of game play, contains a story, purpose, or goal which keeps the game player playing, and utilizes a video screen for output.

Those that think "Video Game" contains too much of a youth stigmatism should not worry about it.  It seems the only people that think video games are for kids are those that never played them. In 20 more years or so, nobody will ever think that video games are strictly for kids.


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