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A New Word for Game
by Tynan Sylvester on 04/21/09 12:38:00 am   Expert Blogs

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.


The word “game” is starting to get outdated. It doesn’t fit us any more, to the point where it is holding us back.

When people started calling them games, that’s what they were. Simple sets of action-reaction rules and mechanics. You’d take your action and the system would apply the rules and respond. There were defined goals and boundaries. Pong, Galaga, Space Invaders - All resembled board games and pinball more than novels or films.

We’ve moved on. Games aren’t packages of action-reaction rules any more. Often there is no defined goal, or at least not one as clearly defined as before. Success is no longer measured in abstract points.

Doesn’t it seem strange we’re still using the same word to describe the Hungry Hungry Hippos, and Fallout 3?

No, not the same thing

Modern games are virtual worlds. Packaged experiences. Artifical realities, pre-designed and tuned to produce meaningful, interesting experiences, which we can enter and experience at will. It’s like stepping into someone else’s life at the start of the most important day of their lives. Sometimes the limitations of the universe railroad it towards a single predetermined outcome. Other times, it can go one of many ways, or never ends at all.

If we had a word for games that combined the connotations of a “novel”, “film”, “story”, and “interactive”, we’d be free of a lot of wrong connotations among mainstream culture as well. I don’t like lugging around the cultural legacy of Space Invaders whenever I try to explain to laypeople exactly what I’ve chosen to spend my life creating.  We create interesting lives you can step into at will, not games. None of this is to say there is anything wrong with true games. They’re just not the same thing as Fallout 3 or Pathologic or Fahrenheit or even Flight Simulator.

So what should we call them?

“Role Playing Games” might make sense, but it has acquired an association with collection-based gameplay and numerical character growth.

“Adventure Game” seems to have developed a connection to puzzle solving and third-person control.

“Interactive Fiction” implies a text interface.

“Interactive Movie” implies the use of full motion video and long noninteractive scenes.

We need something totally new. Alistair Reynolds called packaged experiences “experientials” in his Revelation Space series. Or, we could use Greek roots - Mnemograph would be a “written memory”, for example. But that's kind of a mouthful.

It’s tricky to find new words for something. I’m not going to try to coin one today, but I’m hoping one will appear soon. And perhaps one of you can think of a name that doesn’t sound goofy.

Crossposted from

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Caleb Garner
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I don't think it's realistic or likely that the term game will go away nor does it need too... fallout 3 is still a game. it still can be broken down into peices and parts that are game mechanics..

if we put hungry hungry hippo (virtual) using normal mapping with a broken tile floor and burnt trees around it, with an eerie soundtrack and ron pearlman narrating the rules, would it not still be hungry hungry hippo?

I understand what you're getting at, but i hardly see the heritiage of space invaders as somehow demeaning to or "less than" what we do today. I don't see modern movies saying "we need to come up with a new name for what we do, because The Dark Knight is sooo much better than citizen kane"...

Caleb Garner
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hippos hunger.. never changes.. heh heh

Gerard Gouault
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Sanitation Engineers are still garbage collectors.

Asyraf Ismail
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My suggestion is Massive Interactivity - shorten it to "main" lol. No offense,it just an idea.

Bob McIntyre
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"We’ve moved on. Games aren’t packages of action-reaction rules any more. Often there is no defined goal, or at least not one as clearly defined as before. Success is no longer measured in abstract points."

No, this is incorrect. Games absolutely are packages of action-reaction rules. Or, to phrase it better, rules governing interaction. Putting a game with a complex set of rules next to a slightly older game with an extremely simple set of rules does not prove that games have evolved so far that they've outgrown the word. In fact, I can make the opposite argument. I'll put Go on the left and Wii Sports Baseball on the right. Now the old game is complex and strategically deep, while the new game is simplistic and shallow.

You've made an unequal comparison here by showing a cheap, mindless game designed for five-year-olds and comparing it to an expensive, complex game made for adults. There's no need for a new word here.

Tynan Sylvester
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The distinction I'm drawing isn't based on a difference in production values, nor is it about better or worse. I don't say that Fallout 3 is different from Space Invaders because it looks better. And I'm not demeaning "games" in the classical sense of the word.

The distinction is based on narrative content. Fallout 3 resembles a film or a novel more than it resembles Go, doesn't it?

"Sanitation Engineers are still garbage collectors. " - True, but they're not Gong Farmers (the medieval indentured servants who would shovel feces out of the pit at the bottom of the castle). Just because the job of a garbage collector evolved out of the job of Gong Farmer doesn't mean we should still call them Gong Farmers. The job changed enough over time that we now have a new word for it. "Sanitation engineer" is a euphemism; that's not what I'm calling for here.

Bob McIntyre
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It doesn't matter that Fallout 3 resembles a narrative form more than Go. They are both clearly games. Besides, that's what genres are for. Super Mario Brothers is a platformer. Kid Icarus is a platformer/shooter hybrid. Metroid is a platformer/shooter/adventure hybrid. Go is a turn-based tactical game, like Chess.

Cookbooks, trashy romance novels, physics textbooks, epic fantasy stories, self-improvement guides, and religious scriptures are all books. They're all bound paper with writing inside. Even if we put them into electronic form, they're still the same mode of expression, so they're one medium. They don't need different names, just different genres.

Arsalan Khalid
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Uh...last I checked, they were called videogames.

Arsalan Khalid
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(continued from my last post)

Which, technically speaking, would be a subcategory of games. But then, while hungry-hungry hippos also falls under games it's a form of table-stop games, or at least I'd assume it was. I believe that the word games encompasses a vast range of things from tag to baseball to racing. They are all just different 'types' of games. Exactly as Bob McIntyre has pointed out.

If the problem is that Fallout 3 has narration, well don't certain other games have that? Please take into consideration Dungeons and Dragons, which, as most of you know, is a table-top role-playing game. Heck, even a simple game like cops and robbers has a very minor element of plot to it, the plot being that you must escape from the police if you are a robber. At least, that's how I interpret it.

Tynan Sylvester
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>"Cookbooks, trashy romance novels, physics textbooks, epic fantasy stories, self-improvement guides, and religious scriptures are all books. They're all bound paper with writing inside. Even if we put them into electronic form, they're still the same mode of expression, so they're one medium. They don't need different names, just different genres."

They're all books just like all "games" are discs or computer files. "Book" is the name of a physical medium - paper pages bound by a spine. "Game" seems to apply to Hungry Hungry Hippos as well as Fallout 3 and soccer even though they share no physical medium.

The situation we have in games is like trying to talk about books, but having no word for "novel". People have had books for thousands of years, but the word "novel" and the form that it indicates developed only a few hundred years ago. The same thing is happening with games. We're developing a new form which needs a new name.

As for "genre", would you really qualify sports, board games, cock-fighting, and Russian Roulette as "genres" of games to put beside action and RPG? I don't think that works. Thriller, romance, and suspense are genres of novel, not genres of book. Nor is a holy scripture a genre. It's something else entirely.

Finally, I'll note that generally, I hate semantic arguments. But I think this one has weight because the current state of the language is misleading. "Game" implies meaningless fun, simple rules, non-immersion and non-narrative. The fact that we don't have a word to replace it with is holding us back. I think if we did have a simple word for games like Fallout 3 it would make it easier to discuss and appreciate them on meaning and make laypeople understand better what it's all about.

Bob McIntyre
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>They're all books just like all "games" are discs or computer files. "Book" is the name of a physical medium - paper pages bound by a spine. "Game" seems to apply to Hungry Hungry Hippos as well as Fallout 3 and soccer even though they share no physical medium.

OK, "literature" then. And a novel is just a subset of literature, just like a beat-em-up is a subset of games.

"Game" does not imply meaningless fun, simplicity of rules, non-immersion, or non-narrative. You have brought those things to the table. I especially disagree with "game" implying simple rules. Look at the official rules and regulations for any professional sport.

Regarding genre, yes, I would put sports next to action games as different genres. Why shouldn't I? Madden 2008 could be sitting on a shelf right next to Ninja Blade right now in some GameStop somewhere. Making the jump between a sports simulator and actually playing a sport, in terms of both being games, isn't very hard to do.

I think the flaw here is that you've taken your own personal bias and injected it inappropriately into the word "game." There are extremely simple games and extremely complicated games, just like there are extremely simple and extremely complicated entries in every other medium. There's War and Peace, and there's See Spot Run, and there's a whole lot in between. If you think that all literature is meant to be read to pre-literate children by their parents and that the medium needs a separate name to separate out the adult-focused content, that's on you. A new word would just be an arbitrary and unnecessary distinction.

Chris Pasley
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I have to agree with Bob. Trying to find another way to label something is just an attempt to create arbitrary distinctions between forms that don't really exist. You say that current "interactive projects" should be elevated beyond mere games - I think it's more likely that current projects should elevate the term "game," not somehow rise above it.

Tynan Sylvester
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>""Game" does not imply meaningless fun, simplicity of rules, non-immersion, or non-narrative." - It doesn't need to, but for most people, it does. This is the problem I am trying to solve - cultural baggage which is stifling the medium.

And yes, you could, through a long period of cultural change, eventually change the meaning of the word "game" to encompass everything it means to you and I. This may happen over the next few decades. In the mean time, we'll be straining against everything people think games are, but which they are not.

I'll make a prediction here. Some day, we're going to see a word-shift away from "game" to describe immersive interactive entertainment.

Notice how on Star Trek they don't call all Holodeck programs "games" unless the content of the program is a game? They say "program".

Between now and whenever we develop the Holodeck or Matrix-like simulator or whatever, we're going to need and develop a new word for this, the same way that a movie is distinct from a film, and a novel is distinct from a book or literature. I just wish it would happen faster.

John Hahn
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>the same way that a movie is distinct from a film, and a novel is distinct from a book or literature.

I disagree. Lots of people refer to novels as literature. Classic novels are often called classic literature. I often here people who have seen a movie say something like "It was an excellent film." A film is a certain type of movie, and a novel is a certain type of literature, but the two terms are often used interchangeably. I think we already have a distinctive name for our medium: "Video game", which is a certain type of game.

Christopher Wragg
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o dear, lets not get into a literature debate again, people still haven't come to a firm verdict on what is and isn't literature. Literature is a bad word and lets not use it for this discussion. Technically all a video game is a grown ups version of "make believe" or "lets pretend" (whatever you want to call it), and make believe in and off itself is a game prominent among children.

Games and Play are considered two of the most important factors in a child's forming and understanding of it's own world-view, it's a prime part of cognitive development. Games are widely recognised among various fields as being far more than "frivolous".

Point of fact games are a very deep thing, and while the cultural connotations aren't there, the word is highly respected in psychological fields of study for it's truer meanings. I don't think we should abandon a good word, one that describes perfectly what we do, just to make it clearer to the layman.

Also in response to this;

"Notice how on Star Trek they don't call all Holodeck programs "games" unless the content of the program is a game? They say "program"."

Of course they don't and neither do we, it's like the old a square is a rectangle but a rectangle isn't necessarily a square dealio. A game is a program but a program isn't necessarily a game, and I can't think of any instances where we've labelled them wrongly. We don't need a term like novel, because that's not how we define a game's genre. We define the video games genre by the way we interact with it, so FPS, RPG, RTS etc. We have sub genre's though that relate pretty much to any other literary device, we have our fantasy, our science fiction, or our historical narrative. Now lets point out that a game must necessarily be fiction. It could contain elements of non-fiction, but the fact that the player controls a character introduces a level of fallacy that prevents it from being a true work of non-fiction. Also John Han raises a good point, "video" game would almost be our equivalent of a "novel" level genre. All a novel is, is a prose narrative, prose indicating the style, narrative defining scope and substance. Video would define our style, game defines scope and substance.

Physical media doesn't really have to be shared for something to fall under these terms, these days we have electronic books, which are still a "book" but don't use paper. Movies have never shared a physical media, we have projectors aka film strips, we have DvDs, we have things run straight from HDD or streamed through the net.

To sum up, I don't think we need a new set of words for "video game", it accurately depicts those things that we produce, sure there is a stigma attached to the word, but I don't think that means it ought to be changed. Besides "novels" had their own trials and misconceptions before being known for what they are today.

Kevin Potter
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I agree, Tynan. Certainly the word "game" is true, but at times it feels inaccurate.

When I played Braid a few days ago it evoked powerful emotions and expressed interesting themes, such that it almost feels a disservice to simply call it a game. A whole legion of creative and passionate developers are pushing the boundaries of how videogames can reach out to the player; it's pretty exciting.

Howard Dortch
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@ Tynan I agree we need a new way to reference "games" or we need to wait for the world to catch up to the meaning. My reference here comes from dealing with schools and business people. You say "game" and their brains go directly to "kids" and "toys". We got around some of the stigma by using the word "serious" games and skew them toward education and simulation to get them more accepted by the suits and ties. Most of us understand "game" as an activity that uses a set of rules to overcome a situation to create a positive result will be entertaining and or educational and at times both. So what words do we use to move away from the word game? I think it is actually "Interactive Multimedia" but the word Game still says it all for me...

Bob McIntyre
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Why would we need to change the word? The word is 100% accurate. The perception, if it exists, will adjust with time as generations die and the new generation sees games for their current state. If your parents think games are just for kiddies, fine. You don't. Your kids probably won't. This happens with everything, and we don't need to change terms that are already perfectly accurate because older generations don't get our new art form.

Bob McIntyre
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Howard: "Most of us understand "game" as an activity that uses a set of rules to overcome a situation to create a positive result will be entertaining and or educational and at times both. So what words do we use to move away from the word game? I think it is actually "Interactive Multimedia" but the word Game still says it all for me..."

Exactly. What you wrote is almost the exact dictionary definition of the word "game." That's why we should call them "games." We don't need some kind of newspeak for it. Besides, like "sanitation engineer," it just makes us look like we're trying to dress up our games and make them look like something they're not. We have a word that perfectly matches what we're doing.

Besides, if people don't think that games are as cool/mature/deep as we think they are, and we want to change that perception, changing the name isn't going to do it. It'll just make us look pretentious. "What do you do, Bob?" "Oh, I'm a real-time visual representation distributed simulation engineer in the field of interactive media." "OK, so do you make those games where kids hit prostitutes with cars or chainsaw aliens in the face? I'm sorry, those 'interactive media,' didn't mean to trivialize your magnum opus."

Jeff Beaudoin
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This argument seems like semantic nonsense to me.

The term video game encompasses exactly what video games are, just like novel encompasses what novels are and film encompasses what films are. If you want a term to describe games that is more "fitting" go the way of comics and adopt a name similar to graphic novel that attempts to grasp legitimacy through imitation. Interactive novel or some new word would probably work pretty well, though it, like the term graphic novel, would probably cause people to take us less seriously because it seems ridiculous and pretentious to those outside the industry.

Really, there is no reason to worry about games being called games, just like there is no reason to worry if Roger Ebert thinks they are art or not.


"I don’t like lugging around the cultural legacy of Space Invaders whenever I try to explain to laypeople exactly what I’ve chosen to spend my life creating."

This is ridiculous and on par with a director not wanting to be associated with Metropolis or Raging Bull, just because they are very different from what is being created today.

Christopher Wragg
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@ Jeff and Bob

I think you're both onto something with the fact that when you try to dress up the name so it appears more serious and legitimate all you become is pretentious. In addition to this though, I think changing them might alienate a goodly part of the current audience. If they stop being games then will parents buy them for their children. Or even if we call the ones designed "for children" games still, will they be able to make that leap between a "game" and "interactive media", how many would we lose along the way. To put it another way, how many people do you think are talking about this sort of topic today simply because they one day picked up just "another game" and discovered the potential it could have.

Would this have a greater impact on the industry a generation or two down the track, would we have kids playing "games" growing out of them and moving on, and the only people touching your "interactive media" being the pretentious or scholarly. Kind of like a lot of literature is these days, it doesn't hit a particularly big audience because it gets pigeon holed in this gasp for an air of grace. So many people who could have their minds and ideas challenged, so many people who could be confronted with some of their own fallacies aren't, simply because of the stigma that goes hand in hand, with "literature".

Imagine if some of those books could obtain the same attention as things like "Harry Potter", imagine the potential impact that could have on the youth of today, and think of what you'd be throwing away simply by renaming that which people are already familiar with.

Adam Bishop
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I think the point that Tynan makes is a good one. Not all rules-based interactions are games. I mean, a court room has clearly defined roles, rules, procedures, and methods for determining an outcome, but I think anyone who would describe a murder trial as a "game" is being ridiculous. I think the "book" example is a good one. A piece of long-form fiction is known as a "novel". A piece of argumentative, long-form non-fiction is known as a "monograph". A collection of someone's daily thoughts is known as a "diary". Those are all books, but no one pretends that a monograph, novel, and diary are the same thing. They have distinct names because they are distinct things. Similarly, while lacrosse, Monopoly, and Mass Effect have some key elements in common, they are still noticeably distinct things. We already have the word "sport" to denote the difference between lacrosse and Monopoly. I think it would be appropriate to also have another word to denote the difference between Mass Effect and Monopoly.

Jerome Russ
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Whatever happened to interactive entertainment anyway?

Tynan Sylvester
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Christopher Wragg: "when you try to dress up the name so it appears more serious and legitimate all you become is pretentious."

Totally true, which is why I'm not trying to coin a new word. It would feel forced and fail epically, so I've chosen to simply bitch about it here instead.

Christopher Wragg: "I think changing them might alienate a goodly part of the current audience."

Any new word wouldn't have to replace "video game" completely, just divide off a section of it. "Novel" did not replace "book" and thus alienate religious people who liked to read holy scripture. The term "game" would simply be narrowed down to the less representational and narrative-focused games out there, while Mass Effect and Fallout and BioShock would get their own name.

Pong will always be a "video game", because it is a game played on video technology. Mass Effect would become a "video novel" (or whatever term emerges), since it has more in common with a novel than with a game.

Finally, I'll say I've much enjoyed and learned from this discussion. Thanks for all the comments so far. As I mentioned, I generally hate semantic arguments, but this one might just matter because categorizations do drive assumptions and expectations and perceptions. I just hope we don't go "graphic novel", because that still sounds a little forced to me, even though it's exactly the kind of term I'm asking for.

Maurício Gomes
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I think that this is the thinking that make today games suck....

Seriously, we game makers are supposed to make GAMES, a GAME HAS RULES (like the author states).

The things that go against what the author said, like huh... Prince of Persia, are not games, and in fact suck... So, you can do whatever you want, but I want to play games, not "interactive thing that has some nice graphics and story" where Assassins Creed, Crysis and Prince of Persia fits well.

I want to play GAMES, with RULES, LOSE CONDITIONS, and WIN CONDITIONS, and CHALLANGE like huh... Fallout 3...

Seriously, you can not even lose in Prince of Persia... WTF!!!

mike gardner
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Player immersed simulation: PIS

player immersed Virtual reality: PIVR

extensively realized simulation: ERS or EXTRS

Player directed virtual reality

Game company developed software foundation, player derived content GCDSFPDC...

or, as commonly referred to..... that damn video game tdvg

David Delanty
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"We’ve moved on. Games aren’t packages of action-reaction rules any more. "

While I do agree that games are way more complex and have a more defined goal than board games in general, they still retain a ton of similarities. Maybe Fallout3 and Hungry Hungry Hippos are substantially different, but anybody who has played Dungeons and Dragons or Warhammer: Inquisitor will point out that the tabletop gaming experience shares a lot regarding numeric variables, dice rolls, leveling, skills, perks, traits, and character customization.

On the flip side, there are board games that introduce a dire necessity for pacing and achieving a definitive goal. I still remember as a young pup the Christmas morning my brother and I got The Omega Virus board game. To this day, very few games I've played match the frantic nature of that game.

Eric Carr
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A "Game" is just the mechanics. It's all it really needs to be a "Game." By that definition Hungry Hippos and Fallout 3 are games.

I think that the mechanics can support other stuff though. So while Hungry Hippos are "A Game with Hippos" Fallout 3 is "A Game set in a nuclear wasteland." These are just modifiers to the core mechanics.

They do not need a different word any more than a car with air conditioning needs a different word than one without. I think that these modifiers to the core of gameplay (there's that "game" word again) will become part of the concept of what a Game is, and can be.

So, in the end, I don't think we need another word - the meaning will catch up with it.

Alex Nautilus
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New name for complex games: story

Books: I am reading a story.

Movies: I am watching a story.

Games: I am playing a story.

Eric Lagel
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I agree that the asked question is worth trying to find an answer to.

What I believe though, is that we still are packaging in the same box experiences like a strong single-player campaign, that is more of an interactive, story-telling experience, with some pieces of challenge/rewards in it and experiences like online multiplayer, which in their very essence are games because it's all about competition and who will be able to win a match.

And that may be the source of the confusion. I assume completely the fact that multiplayer is indeed, a game in all its acception, but that single player nowadays turns more towards emotional investment of movies.

In other words, it would be like we sell a novel and a "you are the hero" book in the same package. Maybe if we provided them more often in separated packages, that would help making the differences more obvious.

Branden MacAffee
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Hélder Gomes Filho: Your argument about POP 4 is a faulty one. In most modern video games you actually "die"; instead you are punished for incorrect playing by being sent back to a previous checkpoint or at worst the beginning of a level.

All that POP4 does is streamline the playing by cutting out the reload screen.

Branden MacAffee
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If D&D or Warhammer can exist in the same medium as Sorry or Scrabble, I'm at a lost as to why video games can't be, well, games. The only case that may be made is a game like SimCity or Sims where there is nothing to win, it's more about the experience of building up and maintaining your city/people.

But then again a simulation, even one aimed at a general audience as opposed to something like a flight simulator the Air Force might use is a bit of a different animal.

Owain abArawn
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As a former USAF aviator (F-4 Phantoms a zillion years ago), I think 'simulation' as a generic term wouldn't be a bad choice, 'sim' for short. I logged many an hour in the F-4 flight sim, so I don't think it's that big a stretch for a gamer, excuse me, a 'simmer' to say they were going to spend a few hours in the 'sim' of their choice, be it GTA, WoW, or whatever.

My personal sim of choice at the moment is DarkFall, where I simulate being an Alfar warrior.

Seems appropriate to me.

Evan Combs
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Although I do agree that video games have evolved past just being games, forcing a new name onto it isn't going to work, it needs to evolve naturally. I figured I would post the etymologies of novel, movie, and video. I figured film was self-explanatory enough to not be needed.

It appears novel evolved from the use of novelle or new. I would guess this comes from people possibly asking someone if they have a new book. Eventually novelle was shortened to novel and book was dropped.

Movie is just a shortened form of moving picture, pretty much self-explanatory in my opinion.

Video comes from the same word as vision.

What I get from this is that chances are if there is going to be a name change it is going to come from a shortening of the words "video game", and whatever that is only time will tell. If I was to guess I would say the most likely candidate would be dropping of the "deo" and "me" to create "viga".

novel (adj.) Look up novel at

"new, strange, unusual," c.1420, but little used before 1600, from M.Fr. novel "new, fresh, recent" (Fr. nouveau, fem. nouvelle), from O.Fr., from L. novellus "new, young, recent," dim. of novus "new" (see new).

novel (n.) Look up novel at

"fictitious narrative," 1566, from It. novella "short story," originally "new story," from L. novella "new things" (cf. M.Fr. novelle, Fr. nouvelle), neut. pl. or fem. of novellus (see novel (adj.)). Originally "one of the tales or short stories in a collection" (esp. Boccaccio), later (1643) "long work of fiction," works which had before that been called romances. Novelist "writer of novels" is 1728, infl. by It. novellista.

movie Look up movie at

1912 (perhaps 1908), shortened form of moving picture (1896).

video (adj., n., pref.) Look up video at

1935, as visual equivalent of audio, from L. video "I see," first person singular present indicative of videre "to see" (see vision). Videotape (n.) is from 1953; the verb is 1959, from the noun; videocassette is from 1971; video game is from 1973. Videocassette recorder is from 1971, now usually VCR (also 1971).

I don't know, take what you want from this, at this point we can only speculate, for all we know they could be called video games forever.

Mario Garcia
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When I have doubts about if something is a game or not I refer to it as "electronic entertainment". So I have no problem about calling Fallout, Façade, The Path, or even toys like Pleo, all electronic entertainment. Maybe is a little too wide term, but I'm used to think that my work is in electronic entertainment so my mind is open to put my efforts on anything that is entertaining and electronic, be it a web based game or a complex servo activated arcade seat.

Bryant Cannon
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From Metropolis to Citizen Kane to The Dark Knight, movies have had one goal: to tell a story, almost always with some sort of theme in mind.

Tennis for Two, the very first video game (I believe), was built to create an interesting fictional interactive experience with very little narrative context or theme.

Fallout 3, as an example, was also built to be an interesting fictional experience, with rules and goals, just like Tennis for Two. But it also tells an expansive story (or stories, rather) and aims to convey a theme.

Thus, Fallout 3 is still a video game. But what if I wanted to eloquently speak about the type of video game that Fallout 3 is? What if I ONLY wanted to reference video games that have a narrative, or at least, a theme or fiction? The line can be blurry.

It's not that we don't want to separate new games from old games, but rather, games that merely act as systems and games that act as an interactive narrative experience.

Christopher Wragg
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While somewhat melodramatic in nature my point about alienation is not about those who currently enjoy gaming. For those of us who game now, and hear about a schism in wording, we'll know about the changes, we'll know they're still the same thing we called "video games" before, just under a different label. But what about the generations after us is the question I ask. If we label something as more "serious" than a game, we get the same problem some great literature has, it becomes "more serious than a novel". Children become shuttered off from that market because it loses that same stigma we're trying to drop. If children become shuttered off, then apart from the few people who will pick up on our "interactive media", most people will never go for it. Let me make this clear, not because they wouldn't enjoy it, but because we've turned into something unappealing. (I mean how many of us really wanted to read Shakespeare in school, as compared to the number of us that discovered it afterwards by ourselves)

Now it's all just speculation, but this sort of thing happens a lot. The less general something becomes the more of a niche market you create, one that becomes far more difficult for people to become interested in. Lets take a look at another popular culture icon, Sport. Now ALL sport falls under that one heading, which means that you get a lot of people who enjoy football, all of a sudden watching soccer or rugby. Not always the case but they do garner a lot of viewers from the crossover. Everyone loves the Olympics because they can relate to it being sport, something they already enjoy in some way.

So now I suppose if you still wanted to label games differently, perhaps rather than renaming the word "game" you should create a genre title, one that falls under heading of "game" but indicates that this is a serious set of interactions that lead to a thought provoking experience.

@ Adam Bishop

I don't know if you know any lawyers, but I do, and more than one of them treat the courtroom as...wait for it....a "Game". They win or they lose, they have a set of rules they have to abide by, and while ultimately some lawyers are out to do good, if your defending a criminal then you still have to perform you're best (Playing it like a game becomes a coping mechanism for some). Some lawyers compete with one another, they jockey for favour and position, they try unusual things, and these are better lawyers. Sure many of them treat it as a job, but that's not to say that the law is not a game and treated (in some cases) quite frivolously.

In addition the terms, novel diary and monograph are all subgenre's that fit under the term "prose" which in turn can come under "literature". Why not have Game -> video game -> sub genre's (FPS, RTS, etc.) other sub genre's (Sci-fi, fantasy, historical narrative etc.), hybrid genre's (Sci-Fi FPS, Fantasy RTS etc), why not construct a genre that represents what you're trying to describe, because unless the definition of game gets changed any time soon, it's still going to fit under there.

In truth if it's not art, work or a game, then it's not an interaction anyone on earth has, and even those three terms can be hybridised to cover every interaction people have with one another.

Anyway, I can understand people not agreeing with this view, mainly because a lot of people don't want to be pigeon holed. Some sport players hate it when you say all they are doing is playing games, a lot of game designers want their creation to be considered art rather than a game even when it's both. A lot of people hate the stigma, they want the respect they feel that their productions/hobbies deserve, and this is fair enough, but respect and understanding always come with time, when you try to use our language to talk what you're doing up, all you do is put people offside, because they're not ready to accept what you do anyway.

Mark Ludlow
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I haven't read through all responses so I apologise if anyone's put forward this line of thinking. 'Game' as a word, to me, is a concept rather than a medium (like books). A game is, as has been said, a set of rules and interactions with an end goal. In terms of Hungry Hippos vs. Fallout3 requiring a new term, let's look at another concept word that is similar in evolution: Security. Security is a term to define the concept of a mechanic that prevents access to something by certain parties. The simplest and oldest form of this is a lock and key. Today, we have 512 bit encryption schemes, motion sensors, pressure sensitive plates, metal detectors, and many other advanced forms of preventing access to resources, data and places. It is still called security though, even though methods of securing things have become more advanced and sophisticated.

Basically, the point I'm trying to make is that 'game' is a concept word rather than a definitive classification of a medium so whether you're throwing bones in medieval times, grabbing 'food' as a hungry hippo, fragging noobs or playing the latest VR game in the future, it's all just a game.

Michael Samyn
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I have explored this issue almost two years ago:

And it seems like the resistance was a lot worse back then than the discussion above.

I haven't changed my mind in the mean time. I totally agree with Mr Sylvester that videogames are not the same as other games. And more importantly that we should cherish the reasons why they are different and exploit them. Not doing so prevents the form from becoming a medium next to the others.

I don't think the name will change. Much like "film", "novel" and "comics" are strictly speaking misnomers, videogames are stuck with the wrong name. But I think semantics are the least of our worries. What matters is how videogames are different from other games.

As the discussion shows, this is not something people agree on easily. Over the years I have come to realize that this disagreement is not caused by what videogames are but by how they are played. Despite of all its narrative qualities, many people are playing Fallout as a game. A pretty game that brings a tear to their eye, but still a game. Other people, however, play Fallout as a story. And they just tolerate the game elements as part of experience -but given a choice would probably gladly do without. So for the first group, videogames will always be games first and foremost. For the second, videogames are stories and seem like a new medium filled with promise.

Simple observation shows a clear trend: games are moving away from their reptile roots and evolving into a narrative form. This is probably where some of the hostility originates: gamers feel like they are losing their hobby. But I don't think games-as-games will ever disappear. So they needn't worry. And they should stop holding the medium back. Who knows? Maybe they too will discover something that they find enjoyable.

Shirondale Kelley
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I've been trying to get people to call them ie's, interactive experiences for a while. It describes the entire field perfectly. Every game is an interactive experience, but an interactive experience doesn't have to be a game. I'm just told that it doesn't roll off the tongue easy enough.

Peter Park
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Let me throw my two cents on this issue:

While I agree with Mr. Sylvester, I don't think we need a new word to describe today's games. Rather, I think we need a new name to start creating something that is NOT a game. Because everyone's making a game, developers must create something that can be called a game; they cannot venture into the unknown and create something more immersive, without limitation of rules and objectives.

Fallout 3 is still a game. Any of today's "narrative games" are more or less an unnatural mixture of movies, novels, with distracting game parts occupying the least significant sections of the said medium, wasting time for those who just want to experience the story. It's like watching a DVD and playing a puzzle between each chapter.

I like Mr. Johny Zuper's approach. Thinking in line of what he's saying, why can't there be a "game" that has a good story, but without any game-game part? Something those who play games for story will enjoy, but without that game parts artificially extending the playtime?

rob holmes
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I agree with what you have written largely. the things I dont agree with are not really worth mentioning, anyways yes fallout 3 was en enjoyable piece of software. Ive played it through 3 times. It didnt go far enough for me, as far as people living a life. It seemed like no one did anything, as sin were living a life that didnt involve the player viewing them. For example If you wernt interacting with them how did they survive?

anyways the games have evolved, so why not classify them differently. Tynan, people seem to be taking your opinion for change personally, like saying 'ghouls and goblins' is still good. It was back in the last century but its shit now. Good article.

Christopher Wragg
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@ Johnny Zuper

I know this is like reaping the graves but I'd like to point out some major inconsistencies in the old article you linked to.

a) It references games as something that requires an external set of tools repeatedly. What of "Playing Pretend" It in and of itself is a game with no predefined rules except for "believe you are something else, or are somewhere else, or that something is something else." It actually has no winner or loser (although it can) and can be played by a single player.

b) As for the "Not just for children part", that's true a computer game isn't, but then, fully grown adults play a game of sport, or a game of chess, just because it's just for children doesn't disqualify it as being termed a game.

c) With the point about story being more important than rules, perhaps, in the occasional video game , story may outweighs it's mechanics, but very rarely. Not only that but pen and paper games have always had a lot of story behind them, with players using them to delve into some very deep stories and characters that players can become quite strongly attached too.

d) As for immersion, what can be more immersing than being an actual player on a sport team, what can be more immersing than the child pretending to be a cop while his friend pretends to be a robber (and kids can get quite into these games), how about when a dnd group find that rare moment when they truly become their characters in an epic sequence of events. (If you've DMed a game and never see this, keep doing so till you do, it's incredibly rewarding). These moments can be found in games other than a video game, and a video game even manages total immersion but rarely.

e) It mentions that the moments garnered from playing a computer game can affect who you are and the way you live you're life. While this is true, whats to say another game cannot also do so. From the child who plays monopoly and then decides to go into real estate. The child who plays cops and robbers and becomes a policeman, hell even not that radical, what of just the simple life changing moments when you realise you're truly good at chess, or at a sport, these moments can be life altering as well.

f) The Players as authors point is, well, wrong. Players often rewrite rules to traditional games, they're called "house rules", they take a particular game and reform it to their liking. Computer games are just as strict as any traditional game. In fact if we take pen and paper games into account, they're considerably more restrictive.

g) As for aesthetics, it's something mostly unique to the computer world, but that's mainly because of the medium. Board game designers had to build the boards to appeal to the players, things like chess boards can often be expensive and lovingly crafted. Games like sport, and DnD don't need graphics, the former is already as realistic as it's going to get, using rendering techniques computers wish they could replicate 100%. The latter is as pretty as the imagination can make it.

h) Cheating is available in all games, without restriction, and it breaks them all equally. Sure being able to cheat in a video game can be fun, but in some house ruled games cheating is allowed as long as no one spots it (hell even if you don't allow it and no one spots it usually it's "allowed" =P ). In sport cheating is almost a tactic at times, even if everyone looks down on it.

Anyhow, ultimately my point is that article shows nothing relevantly exclusive in a computer game that cannot be found in any other form of game, it gives no solid reason as to why the term "game" is a misnomer.

Thomas Diehl
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I have been trying to push the word "spilm" for quite some time now. It's a portmonteau of "Spiel" (German for game) and film. Despite sombining these two words, it is different enough from both not to be confused or place to many implications on the medium. I have to admit, though, I've pretty much given up by now.

Also, you made me register to the site, which is quite an achievement (I almost never register to sites that require me to).

Frank Lantz
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Michael: " are moving away from their reptile roots and evolving into a narrative form. This is probably where some of the hostility originates..."

Reptile roots? And you wonder where the hostility comes from. Yikes.

Narrative is great. Knock yourselves out. I will continue to eagerly look forward to experiments in non-game interactive environments. I agree with you that this is a promising creative direction worthy of vigorous exploration.

Meanwhile, I would ask that you respect my aesthetic preferences. They may appear cold-blooded, archaic, barbaric, and reptilian to you. I assure you, from my perspective they are every bit as valuable and capable of beauty and meaning as your precious stories. Remember that I have music to remind me that some aesthetic forms can take on deep and lasting relationships to narrative and representation and still remain, within their essence, wholly distinct from these things.

Yong Kwang Goh
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Some personal suggestions: Entertainment Software, Experiential Software, Immersive Software...

Nick Harris
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