Whoever coined the term “video game” is as big of a mystery as whether The Last Guardian or Half Life 3 will ever see the light of day. Regardless of who coined the term however, “video game” now fails to encompass all the facets and innovations of our constantly-evolving medium; from new display and input technologies to more genres than you can count with two hands. Seeing as “video game” was probably coined to describe movable blips on a radar-like screen, surely there are names that describe not just how video games were in the past and how they are in the present, but also how video games will be in the future.
And that’s where this article comes in, from “Entertainment Software” to “Immersive Technologies”, what follows are five names that I think better describe video games than “video games”.
The phrase “Interactive Entertainment” is believed to have been used as early as 1981 and was probably coined by then Atari Vice President for Sales and Marketing, Conrad Jutson. The former Atari executive listed Interactive entertainment as one of the primary functions of personal computers; citing entertainment gotten from strategy-based (board games) and skill-based games (arcades) as examples. Meanwhile, Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) president Hal Halpin now claims that “Interactive Entertainment” represents “the convergence of the console, handheld, online and computer gaming sectors.”
Both of the descriptions listed above apply to the video games of today. Skill or strategy elements are present across all genres; and the convergence of different platforms is in full swing as shown by games that are cross-platform (PS3 to Vita for example) or those with second-screen applications. More importantly, Interactive Entertainment defines video games regardless of genre or platform; as interaction differentiates our hobby from other forms of entertainment such as movies, whose audiences are mere spectators.
Researchers from the Public Schools of North Carolina describe “immersive technology” as “a range of hardware, software, and application‐based programs” that enable users to become immersed in virtual worlds. Similarly, a published entry in the International Journal of Computing & Business Research states that immersive technology is “a computer-generated simulation of reality with physical, spatial and visual dimensions.”
So how does “immersive technology” figure in being a better name for video games? First off, the element of Immersion lets players step in the shoes and explore the worlds of treasure hunters, space cyborgs, and mustached plumbers. Additionally, more recent technologies like VR headsets, haptic feedback, and speech/motion recognition give players a greater, more natural sense of control and involvement. So while immersion has always been present in video games, the current and future developments on the tech side of things will surely take immersion to the next level.
Janet Murray is a Georgia Institute of Technology professor and a former researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who came up with the word “cyberdrama” to describe the narrative aspect of video games. Ms. Murray, who specializes in digital media, emphasized that the player-driven/controlled stories of games, combined with immersion and transformation brought about by “experience design, computer graphics, and artificial intelligence”, make up the cyberdramatic experience.
It’s easy to see how games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead or Heavy Rain can be classified as cyberdramas; but what about non story-centric games like sports games or even Pong? Ms. Murray argues that “games are always stories, even abstract games such as checkers or Tetris, which are about winning and losing, casting the player as the opponent-battling or environment-battling hero.” She adds that gaming as a medium includes more storytelling elements than any medium before it.
Video games are an art form. They offer creative experiences that are memorable and move players emotionally. A key ingredient to these experiences of course is interactivity. Interactive Art is described by Carnegie Mellon University researchers as “highly interactive works based on computation”. A model devised by the said researchers also lists the following as key components of Interactive art: a human artist, an artistically competent agent that realizes the artist’s intentions, interaction, including input from human “players” and output from the computer system.
Obviously, the model described above can also be applied to video games. Game developers are the artists; we users are the players who interact with works of art (games) through input methods such as controllers or motion sensors, and the system’s output is displayed on screens such as TVs or head-mounted displays. Needless to say, “Interactive art” is a valid label for our favorite pastime.
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board or ESRB, established in 1994, was pretty ahead of its time when it chose to call itself as such. Deciding to use “entertainment software” instead of “video game” was a very forward-thinking move considering the advancements that the medium has gone through in the 19 years since ESRB’s inception. Entertainment Software is a much broader and more suitable term that encompasses all video game genres, platforms, and technologies. Similarly, Interactive Digital Software Association or IDSA, the company that established the ESRB and handles the business and public affairs needs of game publishers; decided to rename itself as the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) in 2003. Then ESA president Douglas Lowenstein explained that “entertainment software” refers to software that can be played for entertainment on PCs, video game consoles, cell phones, and on the Internet.
So there you have it, five words that make better names for video games than “video games”. A recurring theme among the names I listed is that they represent the convergence of different media, art forms, and display/input technologies. And personally, I think that’s what all video games have been in the past, how video games are in the present, and how video games will continue to be in the future.
But what do you think? Do you have a different name in mind for our much loved hobby? Sound off in the comments.