We Should Stop Calling Everything A Game

Let’s face it: some things in the gaming world just aren’t games. They may masquerade as such, but maybe there’s a better term for them.

I know this is going to be controversial for some people, but I don’t view games in the “walking simulator” or “visual novel” category games in the same sense that we’d see a shooter, platformer, or action-adventure title.

Come at me, bro!

Maybe the term “interactive entertainment” is a good fit here. In my view, a game is one with mechanics, varied gameplay elements coming together to create an entertaining experience, interwoven with story, visuals and audio that rounds out a full experience. Visual novels and “walking simulators” don’t offer the same full experience as an action-adventure title does.

As an example, a title like Doki Doki Literature Club has an awesome story – but no real gameplay mechanics to speak of. It’s populated by mostly static images (as most visual novels are) and fairly static set pieces, but a deeply interwoven story that will take you on a wild ride. It’s much more akin to a Choose Your Own Adventure book than a game. However, it is still interactive, so “interactive entertainment” fits.

Another example is a title like Dear Esther. It falls into the “walking simulator” genre. It involves a lot of exploring and reading of documents found around the map, but not much else. While a nice experience overall, it hardly qualifies as a fully-fledged “game” to me. Interactive entertainment? Definitely.

A final example would be Portal 2. Definitely a game, in my opinion. It has gameplay mechanics that are varied and pronounced, a rich story, well-thought audio, and visuals that tie it all together.

Mario Kart? Definitely a game.

Adam Sessler sums it up pretty well for me:

Once again we see that really strange semantic issue by calling everything ‘games.’ I almost like ‘interactive entertainment’ because you do get to have subdivisions like ‘handhelds’ and ‘mobile’ and ‘console.’ But when it’s all games, some asshole makes the shaking the baby game or, back a few years ago, the JFK Reloaded game or something like that, and anyone in the press can then conflate that with what you and I would be considering a game.

Adam Sessler

Watch this classic Sessler’s Soapbox from G4 in which Adam Sessler gives his POV on iPhone/mobile games. At one point, he says not everything should be considered a game — and I agree with him.

Just because it makes it into the gaming sphere in periphery doesn’t mean it needs to be embraced with open arms as such. It can be viewed and appreciated as a piece of art, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be considered a game in the same sense.

It’s not as cut-and-dry as I might be making it out to seem. Mainly, I’m aiming this at the modern game landscape. The glut of visual novels (which I don’t necessarily dislike, by the way) that seems to have invaded Steam is the biggest indicator of a need for a vernacular shift.

Ultimately, I’m curious as to what you think. I don’t wish to devalue these games as art pieces (some are – some of them are gorgeous and heartwrenching), but I also feel that language is important and having delineations between definitions of what constitutes a game may be helpful.

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