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Five Names for Video Games That Make More Sense than "Video Games"
by Gerard Martin Cueto on 01/07/14 11:50:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


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”.

  1. Interactive Entertainment

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.

  1. Immersive Technology

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.

  1. Cyberdrama

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.

  1. Interactive Art

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.

  1. Entertainment Software

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.

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Luis Guimaraes
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I've been trying to find a word in English for "video-games" lately. It's a very complex maze to explore, and nothing really solves the problem. Everything has a many issues as the current term has (with exception of being used shortened as 'game, from where many more issues arrise).

"Interactive Entertainment"

It doesn't have to be a video-game to be interactive entertainment. Theatre, circus and most street artits work is interactive entertainment too. So the term doesn't fit as well as expected.

"Immersive Technology"

VR is immersive technology. Well, water is immersive technology. Immersion itself is a word that outside context doesn't mean much of what it does in context, so using it as a defining term is a recursive jargon. How can an outside understand what something is if it'ds called by something only an insider gets?

Past that, "immersion" in the context of 'gaming doesn't come from the external technology, but from the internal systems of the human brain. Tabletop games, specially RPGs, are immersive too, more than many video-games some times.


That or First-World Problems Simulator. The name should be unbiased and objective, narrowying it down to mere "drama" is not achieving that.

Also, "Drama" means there's conflict, which outside of non-interactive Fiction is almost a synonym for "Game" but with an extra amount of "importance" to it (higher stakes, or rather, cannot be done just for "fun" as games can be). Fishing can be a game/sport, but it's not of ultimate importance if you catch a fish or not, not unless you would starve if you didn't catch it, in which case it'd classify as "Drama" too (a Game with high stakes). In that sense, it excludes things like Proteus (no high stakes) or the creative mode of Minecraft (no high stakes) or any of those web Ragdoll Explosion Simulators (no high stakes), so it doesn't fix the problems of the "video-game" term, as it's inclusion of the word "game" and the common usage of the short "'game" puts that sense of exclusion to other things "video-games" that aren't "games".

The name should also be exclusive, just search for "sexist" on Twitter, there's a lot of cyberdrama in there.

"Interactive Art"

Restrictive and pretentious. Many other things are art ("craft" by guts feeling) and many other things are interactive, all without being video games. All the same issues from "interactive entertainment".

"Entertainment Software"

This is the closest one to what video-games are. And I like it a lot. It acknowledges that Software is the medium and "video-games" are just one of the messages you can put out using the medium of software. Yet there's still the problem with 'games not made for entertainment like the case of serious simulations. Novels are also part of the concrete medium of paper and the art of writing, still not all books are entertainment either.

Latelly I just settled to "Virtuality" when studying and to "video-games" when talking to people that won't get the former. Virtuality stands as a middle ground between Reality and Fiction, it doesn't matter if it's entertainment or not, or even if it's on Software or not.

A tabletop RPG is also made of Virtual events, that exist/happen in the line between Reality and Fiction. Real events only happen in Reality and Fictional events only "happen" in Fiction.

But "video-games" (and other "games" involving Fiction*, like RPGs) are made of Fictional parts – aesthetics, world and story, initially created by Reality (authors are Real people) –, by Real parts (players are Real people) and by Virtual parts – systems that bridge both worlds makes the encounter possible and also protects the Fiction with systemic boundaries for it not to vaporize once it clashes with the much stronger plane of Reality, that will always try to change it.

Fiction is created by Reality through the gates of "creation" and in itself it's interactive for the author(s) at the time of it's creation, but after that it's traditionally locked into a 1-way road after it's completed. So it can only go back to Reality in a way that Reality cannot change it anymore. But once the Virtual systems of "games" re-open the 2-way gate called "interaction" for them to meet, it's vulnerable to be changed by Reality again, that's why the systems also works as boundaries that protect that Fiction from being completely re-created after it's delivered.

I'll keep using Virtuality for studies and discussions (which I sadly lack partners for) until a better term is found, and I'll keep saying Video-Games (and, when necessary, the short 'games) to reference to people what is it I'm talking about in a way everyone understands, even if it's faulty, it's what we have now...

Virtuality is not without problems too, mainly the fact it's not a word (is it?) and nobody gets it, makes it unsuited for general usage. And there's people defensiveness to look at things from an abstract point of view. If you say something is a "'game" but not a "game", even without any negative meaning to it, everyone loses their minds. That kind of thinking will be the hardest barrier for any new, fitting term to cross, even if it's exactly what would solve all the problems of the term "game", because we're so attached to it as a kind of badge of value or something, and they don't want a better term, we want to force acceptance of everything under the "game" (not even "'game") label.

The sad truth of the games industry as a whole is: we're so desperate to be part of the "golden era" of gaming that we're are willing to pretend it's happening and defende that illusion instead of actually making it happen.

Escapism and gamification are what we do best... even when we don't mean to. We're locked inside our own Skinner Box full of positive reinforcement.

* purely abstract games don't involve Fiction, but weather of not truly purely abstraction exists in games is a subject for another time.