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For  Gone Home 's designer, 'what is a game?' is a question worth exploring
For Gone Home's designer, 'what is a game?' is a question worth exploring Exclusive
March 14, 2014 | By Kris Graft

March 14, 2014 | By Kris Graft
Comments
    94 comments
More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, Exclusive, GDC



Steve Gaynor of The Fullbright Company knew his studio's debut title, Gone Home, wouldn’t be a video game that appealed to everyone. What he didn't know was how Gone Home would become so ingrained in the discussion of what a video game actually is.

"We went in knowing we were making a niche game that was going to work for some people, and that some people wouldn't be into it,” says Gaynor. “It's a game, but it's very focused. It does a small number of things. If you're not into exploring this house and finding things out, it's not the game for you!"

“[But] the degree to which it's become more of a focal point of 'oh, this isn't a game' wasn't something we pictured happening."

If you’re reading this, you probably already know the premise of Gone Home, but just in case: It's the mid-90s, and you play the game as a young woman who has returned to the U.S. from a trip abroad. Her parents and younger sister have moved in to a sprawling old house in the Pacific Northwest, but no one’s home upon your return. It’s through keen level design and interactive, environmental storytelling that you unravel the story. There are no points to earn, no headshots to pull off, no obvious opponents to "beat."

So, some say it doesn't fall within the definition of a "game." But this week it did win best debut game at the BAFTAs, so someone thinks it's a game...but…does it even matter if anyone thinks it's a "game"? And why bother giving a GDC talk called “Why is Gone Home a game?"

“At the end of the day, I don't think it's really the binary yes or no that's important,” Gaynor admits. “What is important is if the experience is valuable to you or not. Do you get something out of it? It doesn't really matter what label is applied to it."


"What is important is if the experience is valuable to you or not."
Nonetheless for Gaynor, the subject is worth pondering. He and his team’s past work includes BioShock 2 — no one questioned whether or not that was a game. So being a central focus in the “Game or Not?” dialog has been eye-opening for Fullbright.

Gaynor explains how there’s a lot of baggage from the term “game” that has accumulated from even before the digital era. These concepts have endured over time and adapted to video games.

“Since [the ‘what is a game?’ discussion] is something that is now part of the identity of Gone Home in some ways,” he says.

What’s next?

Gaynor and his team at Fullbright aren’t building a Gone Home follow-up quite yet. The studio just announced console versions that are slated to arrive later this year, so the focus is still very much on Gone Home.

But the team has been thinking about what might come next. “We don’t want to repeat ourselves,” he says. “We want to continue exploring what we built with Gone Home, we want that interactive framework to be our foundation. But we don’t want to just make Gone Home with different stuff in it, anymore than what we feel people would be excited about."

He says he’s inspired by studios like independent developer Supergiant, whose upcoming game Transistor, design-wise, shares similarities with the studio’s first game, Bastion. But there are important differences that will set Transistor apart from its predecessor. “They’re continuing to build on what they’re good at,” says Gaynor. “That’s not the approach [everyone has] to take, but it can be valuable to exercise that restraint.”

He says it’d be possible to use Gone Home as a sort of template — if you have rooms, content, voiceover, you can tell a story in the style of Gone Home.

But Gaynor wants to further explore the idea of environment storytelling and interactive narrative. “That’s a cool thing when thinking about the potential of Gone Home [— that it can fit all kinds of stories],” he says. “But on the other hand, we don’t necessarily want to say ‘let’s do that again with different content.’ We want to ask ‘what’s the next step we can take past this?’”

As for whether or not Fullbright’s next project will “be a game,” Gaynor didn’t bring that up. And I didn’t even bother to ask.


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Comments


Andrea Scambia
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I agree with this quote:
“At the end of the day, I don't think it's really the binary yes or no that's important”

It doesn't make sense to discuss whether Gone Home is a game or not.

At least now, it's just the first instance of a somewhat new way of telling a story interactively, and thus totally worth further exploration.

"When the wise man points to the moon, the fool looks at the finger".

Amir Barak
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Wait, are you saying that a 1st person camera, clicking on random things and being forced to listen to voiceovers is a new way of telling a story?

Come on, edgy/innovative story or not aside here Gone Home's gameplay systems are as safe/traditional as safe/traditional can be.

"When a man points to the moon, only fools would assume he is wise"

Andrea Scambia
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I feel that just the fact that it makes people discuss puts it in another league from classic interactive adventures.

My point is that instead of discussing about it being a game or not maybe trying to understand what makes it more interesting than the other adventures would be a better topic (and a constructive one).

Christiaan Moleman
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@Amir: Having a game in a modern (ish) non-fantasy setting, tackling themes rarely seen in the medium, based around environmental storytelling without involving any shooting of things is in itself novel. I don't think criticizing it for not also inventing a revolutionary new way of interacting with environments is really very helpful... though on that subject I thought the "put back" feature was a pretty elegant iteration on existing concepts.

Ed Barrett
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"Having a game in a modern (ish) non-fantasy setting, tackling themes rarely seen in the medium, based around environmental storytelling without involving any shooting of things is in itself novel."

That also describes Moriarty's Trinity. I don't think anyone would argue that Trinity isn't a game; in fact, because there are explicit puzzles to solve, Trinity might be considered more of a "game" than Gone Home. Is it a "video game", though?

But that's beside the point. If Gone Home isn't a video game, what do you call it? Interactive Entertainment? Monopoly is entertainment with which you interact. It's obviously not a video game (except for the versions that run on a computer, right?).

I'm not trying to be a jerk. I'm just trying to come to grips with a form of entertainment I've been enjoying for almost forty years. These are serious questions!

Sam Stephens
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The conversation is a bit two sided. On the one hand, asking whether Gone Home is a game or not says nothing about the quality of the title. Surely it's worth something and should be further explored in the future. On the other hand, it only takes a small amount of logic to conclude that Gone Home is not a game. This conclusion is absolutely valuable in the way that it gives meaning to what games are and whatever Gone Home is.

Christiaan Moleman
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Until someone comes up with a better term for interactive entertainment than "game" I think you might be out of luck on your quest to enforce a strict definition.

Sam Stephens
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There are better terms out their to describe some other forms digital software such as "simulator" (though that one may not apply to Gone Home). Also, what's the difference between a definition and a "strict definition?" Having a definition is important because it's limiting.

Christiaan Moleman
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Language is fluid, not static.

Sam Stephens
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But language also has to serve it's function; to represent and communicate something particular. The language may change, but the objects remain the same. What we have used the word "game" to represent and what Gone Home is are very different objects regardless of what they are called.

Theresa Catalano
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Sam's not the only one who thinks that way. I bet a lot of people, even some of whom who've experienced and liked Gone Home, recognize that it's not really a game. And that's okay, doesn't mean it doesn't have value.

Luis Guimaraes
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Yes, what bothers me is people that thinks "game" is a kind of badge of worth and try to twist the meaning of words to force validation of their pet Entertainment Software pieces.

If genre names are needed, (Virtual) Theme Park fits well:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131594/environmental_storyt
elling_.php

Or maybe First Person / Hidden Object.

Rob Wright
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Okay, it's clear by the comments and number of likes on said comments that I'm swimming against the tide on this one, but here goes:

Why is Gone Home not a game? What aspects -- or more specifically, lack of attributes -- disqualify it in your minds?

Brandon Binkley
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To me, Gone Home is what I call an Interactive Digital Experience, and not a game. To be a game, I really feel there must be mechanics that often feed into a performance evaluation (points/score), and a measure of success and failure (the ability to win or lose in rough terms).

With Gone Home you simply go through the environment and read or hear information. You can't lose Gone Home, nor can you perform better at it. It seems far more like an interactive short story where you simply choose which paragraphs to read.

In no way does this diminish Gone Home as entertainment nor the artistry, craft, and spirit that went into making it. It's just different for of interactive media, and that should be okay.

Rob Wright
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@Brandon
I guess on it's face, yes, Gone Home is like an interactive short story. But I disagree with you about there being no measure of success/failure. Depending on what parts of the house you explore or which clues you find, you may get the *full* picture of what's taking place with this family or you may just get a slice of understanding. So while there's no score, I do feel like what you discover -- and what you miss -- is important to the bottom line. Can you rush through Gone Home in a minute and 30 seconds and reach the attic? Yes, you can. But getting to the attic and learning your sister's fate isn't really the point. It's more about learning how you got there.

Sam Stephens
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@Rob Wright
Gone Home is not a game because there are no variable and quantifiable outcomes or gameplay challenges to overcome. It's overcoming challenges to influence a valuable outcome that is the core of what games are. Just because Gone Home lacks these things in no way means it's bad, but that the nature of the experience is different.

Rob Wright
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@Sam
See my above reply. Yes, the *outcome* or end of the game is same no matter what, so your actions don't influence it. But again, I think your experience and understanding of that outcome depends on how you play the game. The gameplay challenges, to me, are finding all of the relevant clues and information to fill in the blanks of this family history.

And to be clear, I'm not taking anyone's argument that Gone Home isn't really a game as a negative slam on it unless it's expressly stated (like calling Gone Home "a miserable little pile of secrets," I suppose. I think you and Brandon are make thoughtful points. I just disagree with them.

Christiaan Moleman
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@Luis and Brandon: None of those terms are better. Convenience trumps accuracy. If precision was the only requirement for communication we would all speak legalese.

Sam Stephens
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@Rob Wright
Thanks

"The gameplay challenges, to me, are finding all of the relevant clues and information to fill in the blanks of this family history."

These examples are not really gameplay challenges for several particular reasons. Finding clues and piecing together the story are not assigned any value. Though they may help to fully understand the narrative, they are not mandatory. There is no "opposition of forces" (Avedon & Sutton Smith) or "artificial conflict" (Eric Zimmerman). Furthermore, Gone Home does not test the player on what they have learned from their investigations. As Brandon said above, it's also impossible to "play" Gone Home well because there are no standards to define what that means.

Luis Guimaraes
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@Brandon

I think "Interactive Digital Experience" doesn't work either because it's meaningless. Using a computer is an interactive digital experience. Reading this page is an interactive digital experience.

So even "Entertainment Software" (the medium we work with), which filters out serious software, is more exclusionary (more useful).

@Sam

"As Brandon said above, it's also impossible to 'play' Gone Home well because there are no standards to define what that means."

Gone Home is a puzzle, you can "solve" it, but you can't "game" it. "Play" in English is a troublesome word better avoided in these discussions IMO. Other languages have multiple words for each sub-meaning of "play", which makes speaker's of said languages roll eyes when they read these "what is a game" discussions.

Theresa Catalano
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I don't qualify Gone Home as a "game" because I think the word should have a consistent usage acrossed all media. No matter what kind of form it takes, the concept of "game" has a few common elements: there are rules, there are goals, and there is some type of challenge to overcome. That applies to any type of game: sports, board games, card games, verbal games... I don't see any reason why it shouldn't also apply to video games. (And traditionally it has.)

This is an important distinction not only for semantic reasons. "Games" that don't really have game elements are a totally different kind of experiences from games that do. Having a label for that would be useful if only because it would give people more information. In the game industry, we have a lot of wishy washy and semi-useless terms like "RPG" that don't really tell the consumer anything, and we could use more labels that are actually useful.

Rob Wright
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@Sam
I agree they are not "assigned any value" and they are obviously not mandatory. But why does a game have to have assigned value for these tasks? I absolutely think I got more out of the game by finding all of the clues and story threads available. So why can't the player assign value to those tasks?

Also, I disagree that it doesn't test a player. True, there are no puzzles or combat or obstacles based on the relevant information you've obtained. The test *is* finding the relevant information. It's having the patience and attention to detail to find the clues and access every part of the house. Does it affect the outcome of the game if I discover all of the family's dirty laundry? No. And there's no "assigned value" to them either, agreed. But it enhanced my experience of Gone Home.

Rob Wright
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@Theresa
Okay, I'm fine with folks applying consistent usage and guidelines for common elements, but using your description, why is Gone Home not a game? There are rules (you can't access certain parts of the house with the necessary means or knowledge), there are goals (to find out where your family is and what's happened to them), and there are challenges to overcome (finding all of the relevant clues and information about your family).

Jay Anne
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If you want to get technical, it is a game with very soft mechanics and very soft fail states. It has exploration with an implied value in viewing order and sequence, and you must navigate that. The variable outcomes are situations where you did not consume parts of the content. The soft fail state is that you may not find your way to the next piece of content you are meant to consume. The way you can tell is that clearly, it takes more effort to consume its content than the Small World ride at Disneyland. But most people don't ascribe to technicalities like this.

Theresa Catalano
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@Rob
You're right, it does have all of those things, but it's just a very weak form. So weak that I think calling it "not a game" is justified. Or maybe it's more accurate to say it's "barely a game."

In any case, we mostly agree that game elements are not the focus of this "game," right? I think it's a weakness of our language that we default to calling it a "game," simply because we don't have a better word. It would be nice if we could correct that weakness, but I understand that's easier said than done.

Jay Anne
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@Theresa
Do you feel the same way about Flower and Journey?

Theresa Catalano
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Naturally. Well, Journey is kind of like a game, it's just purposefully under-designed and half baked for the sake of "accessibility." So I'd almost rather call it a bad game than not a game. Flower, on the other hand, has a stronger core concept, so it works better despite being not a game in any way.

Jay Anne
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This discussion comes up every so often. It's subjective, so there is no right answer. There is not even a single answer that most people agree upon. There are only different camps that have different stances on this topic. If you're a gamer, join a camp and feel free to shout as loudly as you want. If you're a designer, you should probably be aware of what all the different camps are saying, and have the empathy to understand that different games have different audiences who have different viewpoints on this topic. But since this is the Internet, usually what happens is either a debate about semantics or an argument that creates misconceptions because people are either miscommunicating or being narrow-minded.

It has been a while since someone has brought up a new point on this topic. But it's always a guilty pleasure to read the debates to check if anyone has.

Matt Boudreaux
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@Jay
Can't you die in both Journey and Flower? Flower when dealing with the downed power lines, and Journey against the flying beasts in the world? That would definitely qualify as a losing condition (which Gone Home doesn't seems to have).

Sam Stephens
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@Rob Wright

"But why does a game have to have assigned value for these tasks? So why can't the player assign value to those tasks?"

If there is no value assigned to anything, then the choices are meaningless (in terms of gameplay) because there is no context for them, no reason to do one thing over the other. There is no objective value in creating a pretty pattern out of the blocks in Tetris. Using red, fire-resistant units to fight fire monsters in Pikmin is better than using the other units. When the designer creates a value system, it means the player has a standard to follow and specific ways to reach it. This is the core of the gameplay experience. Gone Home has no such standard. The player can do anything they want to in the virtual space without consequence.

"The test *is* finding the relevant information. It's having the patience and attention to detail to find the clues and access every part of the house."

Again, this is not stressed in any way. Nothing happens if the player does not find any of the journals and the challenge of actually finding them barely registers, that is, it takes relatively no effort nor is it as engaging as it could be.

Finally, could we squeeze Gone Home into this criteria for a game? Perhaps, but why would anyone want to do this? This is not the strengths that Gone Home plays to and I don't think it's creators would be pleased to see it judged as such.

Jay Anne
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@Matt Boudreaux
Yes, both have losing conditions. I brought them up to see if people here considered them games. Theresa does not consider Flower a game despite having a losing condition, so her definition is obviously different. I don't believe the majority of gamers use the definition of "having a losing condition", because there are examples of adventure games that don't have them and most gamers would call them games. I would guess most gamers don't have a rigorous logical definition. Just a subjective mishmash of vague rules based on feel, as well as exceptions to those rules.

Sam Stephens
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Though Flower and Journey may technically be games at some level, their gameplay elements are just so minimal that they can hardly be compared to even mediocre games. I don't usually try to guess why people like or play a certain game, as there can be many different reasons, but I highly doubt that the appeal of Journey is the very faint traces of gameplay that run in the background.

@Jay Anne

"I would guess most gamers don't have a rigorous logical definition. Just a subjective mishmash of vague rules based on feel, as well as exceptions to those rules."

You are right that few gamers have a coherent definition of what games are, but I don't see why that should keep those more knowledgable and involved in the game designing process from using a useful lexicon. A clearer language can only benefit us, and it's something that's lacking right now.

Jay Anne
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@Sam Stephens
The appeal of Journey is the whole package. The faint traces of gameplay are there to add to something that makes the whole thing bigger than the sum of its parts. You can say that you personally prefer games with more varied and deeper mechanics and therefore Journey is not your cup of tea, but you cannot say that Journey's formula (which includes its faint traces of gameplay) has not been successful to a big portion of gamers.

I completely agree with your second point. Unfortunately, the conclusion after every one of these discussions is that everyone will choose their own definition, because we won't agree on one. We're also not willing to create unique names to accommodate the different definitions. On top of that, there are connotations that people have behind their own definitions. For example, often when someone says that something is not a game, they sometimes also connote that it's not worth experiencing because it is a poor experience. And those kinds of subjective subtleties are not reflected explicitly in lexicon. If in fact, something is not definitively a game and is instead an interactive graphic novel or a virtual theme park, is that bad? Only if you dislike those things.

Rob Wright
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@Sam
I think I'm beginning to see where we differ on this. You say the choices and assigned value of choices made in Gone Home are meaningless from a gameplay perspective, and that's a valid argument. What I'm saying is that the choices and values affect the experience, or story. Regardless of structure, if you value the story, then choices are NOT meaningless.

Sam Stephens
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@Jay Anne

"The appeal of Journey is the whole package. The faint traces of gameplay are there to add to something that makes the whole thing bigger than the sum of its parts."

I would say that these elements actually hurt the experience. They are distracting, unnecessary, and not particularly well designed in their own right. Journey would have been better had it contained more gameplay, or discarded it all together.

"You can say that you personally prefer games with more varied and deeper mechanics"

It's not that Journey is simple or shallow, but that the gameplay elements don't register. The gameplay in Journey is so light, that it does not even compare to games that are simple and shallow.

This write-up that I found perfectly summarizes how I feel about Journey:

http://critical-gaming.com/blog/2012/7/23/the-end-of-the-journey.
html

Jay Anne
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@Sam Stephens
From the article:
"Overcoming real challenges is a type of journey that is core to video games."

That sentence right there sums up why we must choose to part ways. I don't believe that is an absolute rule. I agree that is a core to some video games, and it makes for some absolutely great video games, such as Dark Souls and Braid. But it does not explain the success that other games have had, such as Journey, Flower, The Walking Dead, Gone Home, etc. If you believe it's because they are so different that they belong in an entirely different category of medium, that's a very respectable opinion. But realistically that's not going to happen culturally, because not enough people feel that way.

Sam Stephens
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@Jay Anne

If games are not challenging, then what makes a game a game?

"But it does not explain the success that other games have had, such as Journey, Flower, The Walking Dead, Gone Home, etc."

Once again, why does it matter if these titles are successful? Movies are successful. Does that mean movies are games? Certainly not. As stated above, the appeal of titles such as the The Walking Dead, Gone Home, and Journey is not gameplay, but storytelling, atmosphere, or other artistic concerns not related to game design.

It's very interesting that these conversations only seem to be happening around video games, and not other forms of games and game studies. The culture around board games and card games hardly have such confusion (probably because those forms of media lack the cinematic presentation video games can emulate). What does Gone Home or Journey have in common with Chess, Ticket to Ride, Hearts, etc besides interactivity?Nothing really.

Why do people care so much if something is not considered a game? That does not make it less valid or worth our time. Sure, there will always people who dismiss products on those grounds, but just ignore them and pay attention to those who have concrete positions and definitions.

Theresa Catalano
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"As stated above, the appeal of titles such as the The Walking Dead, Gone Home, and Journey is not gameplay, but storytelling, atmosphere, or other artistic concerns not related to game design."

I mean, that pretty much sums it up in a nutshell. And this is something that pretty much everyone recognizes, regardless of varying definitions of "game."

So why is stuff like this popular? I think there's a growing segment of "gamers" who actually don't play games for the gameplay. I've talked to lots of people who have told me point blank that they play games mainly for the story. And there's nothing wrong with that, but it just goes to show that these "digital interactive experiences" have a different audience than games with a heavy focus on gameplay. I think it's a failing of our language that we don't have words to reflect that.

Jay Anne
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These are things that are technically games (or you could call them barely-games) that people enjoy. There is not always a correlation between depth of mechanics and enjoyable engagement in a game. It's not useful to dismiss a game outright as being a poor experience simply because its mechanics lack depth or because the penalty for failure is very low.

I remember similar discussions about what separates a movie from a play. A movie like Twelve Angry Men or My Dinner with Andre could easily be thought of as a poor movie because it really is just a play that was captured on camera. Does that mean it's not technically a movie? Does that make for a poor cinematic experience? Some say yes. Others say no.

But I completely agree that these verge on entirely being "digital interactive experiences" and some stray as far as possible from being a game as you can get. I'd be curious how many gamers believe that a digital interactive experience is not a game, due to the fluid nature of language and because the delineation can be technical or pedantic.

Sam Stephens
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@Jay Anne

"It's not useful to dismiss a game outright as being a poor experience simply because its mechanics lack depth or because the penalty for failure is very low."

No one is trying to dismiss Gone Home (or at least I am not). We are just trying to describe the experience. We are not faulting Gone Home because it lacks gameplay mechanics, challenges, and failure states, but it does undeniably lack these elements which are generally recognized by ludologists to be essential components of games.

"A movie like Twelve Angry Men or My Dinner with Andre could easily be thought of as a poor movie because it really is just a play that was captured on camera. Does that mean it's not technically a movie?"

This statement does not really make sense to me. Yes, Twelve Angry Men and My Dinner with Andre are both movies (with the former being an excellent one that makes great use of camera angles, lighting and editing), but that is because they clearly fit the criteria of a movie. My argument is that Gone Home lacks elements central to gameplay, so this analogy to movies only works if you provide a definition of what a game is and
explain how Gone Home qualifies.

Matthew Casseday
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Hi, sorry, kind of new here, but I'm a little confused. Wasn't this covered in "Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics," or has that been debunked?

Luis Guimaraes
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@Christiaan Moleman

What about "systemies" or "mingles", or better yet, "systemingles"? :P

We could just stop slanging "-game" for "videogame" because there's already a word "game" that means not exactly the same. "Videogame" would be an alright term if people just used the full word.

Christiaan Moleman
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Not sure how you arrived at mingles, and systemies seems too cold to capture the breadth of what games can be. Yes, games are built on systems but they are not ONLY systems (else we would just call them simulations). I think the key thing about "game" is that it captures the central activity of "play"... whether it's playing with others or exploring a world (or abstract system) through play. Ultimately I don't think the definition matters. If someone comes up with a new term one day that sticks we'll use that. Until then "game" works just fine.

Patrick Miller
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A miserable little pile of secrets.

Christiaan Moleman
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What is this? YouTube?

[edit: I was under the impression this was a site for professional game dev discussion, not hit & run trolling]

Luis Guimaraes
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Youtube!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNZTIzF0jWQ

Alex Boccia
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I don't care if Gone Home is a "game," or not, it was a subpar product. 20 dollars for maybe an hour and a half of wandering through a 3D space. The Nancy Drew games of the 90s were more satisfying than this.

Ed Barrett
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I realize this sounds trollish, but I'm being completely serious:

Is The Last Of Us a video game? Is the English translation of Pathologic a video game? What about the original Russian version? Is The Sims a video game? Is NHL '96 a video game? Is Minecraft a video game, a toy, or something else? What the heck do you call LSD on the PS1?

Chris Dias
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If visual novels can be considered games, than so can Gone Home.

Theresa Catalano
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But I think a lot of people would say that visual novels aren't really games. Although, there are visual novels with absolutely no gameplay and visual novels with very thoughtful and well integrated gameplay. Some are more games than others.

Mario Kummer
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I really liked Gone Home, I don't know what it is but I would like to get more of its kind. My feeling tells me it is not a game, even if it can't exactly describe why. I would say its like a Holodeck program in StarTrek, its there to experience something but not necessarily "to play".
I think there would be room for other experiences, like visiting a museum or wandering in an beautiful environment which are not games but would work great with todays game technology. But this things should get their own category and maybe they will emerge when VR gets popular.

Rebecca Richards
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The fact that the darn thing has won a number of GAME of the year awards means it fits the criteria set forth by impartial organizations of what they feel games are. It is regularly showcased alongside additional games and is sold and packaged as a straight up game.

The intellectual masturbation over the "what is a game?" in regards to Gone Home is akin to the meaningless discussions of "What is an RPG?"

In that the only people asking that question are people who objectively didn't like a certain game anyway.

Theresa Catalano
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That's not necessarily true. It won "game" awards because there's no other category to put it in.

It has nothing to do with not liking Gone Home, either. In fact the comment just above yours is someone who likes Gone Home but thinks it's not really a game. You can call it intellectual masturbation, but it's never useless to think about what these terms actually mean.

Amir Barak
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I don't think anyone is discussing what is an RPG; though the term Roguelike has seen its fair share of debates lately.

The question of whether or not Gone Home is a game is irrelevant somewhat given its admittance as a game. The issue I have with Gone Home specifically isn't that it is/not a game but the fact that it clearly is not a good game yet has been praised for its gameplay elements in the face of other games (which are, evidently, clearer in their definition of game).

tl;dr Gone Home is not a good game (and if there are awards then clearly we also have some definition of the meaning) yet has received acclaim (mostly from critics) as a good game. Why do you think that is?

Rebecca Richards
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@ Amir "The issue I have with Gone Home specifically isn't that it is/not a game but the fact that it clearly is not a good game "

Oh wow, I didn't know subjective opinions now became objective fact.

"tl;dr Gone Home is not a good game (and if there are awards then clearly we also have some definition of the meaning) yet has received acclaim (mostly from critics) as a good game. Why do you think that is?"

Because those critics have a different opinion than you. There isn't a law requiring you to share their opinions. Given your essay below, your chief complaint seems to be that the game doesn't have more features. That's not really a question of "what is a game" then, is it? That's "what do I wish was in this game?" Obviously that's important to you, so that would affect your experience.

Actually, I'm not sure why you're decrying the discussion as "irrelevant" when you followed up with a claim that this isn't a game but a "book simulator".

@ Theresa "That's not necessarily true. It won "game" awards because there's no other category to put it in."

So basically, it's not really a game even if people who are objectively supposed to be giving awards to games and only games feel it meets the criteria of a "game" simply because...they're completely enamored of a shiny object and want to waste their awards on it?

"It has nothing to do with not liking Gone Home, either. In fact the comment just above yours is someone who likes Gone Home but thinks it's not really a game."

Yea...he kinda didn't. Actually, he said, like me, it doesn't matter what it is. For all intents and purposes though...objectively, it is a game, and trying to change the definition of a game specifically to exclude it is rather suspect.

"You can call it intellectual masturbation, but it's never useless to think about what these terms actually mean."

Or maybe the definition of games is a lot broader than some people seem to want it to be.

Sam Stephens
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@Rebecca Richards

"Or maybe the definition of games is a lot broader than some people seem want it to be."

Game: a form of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.

Theresa Catalano
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"So basically, it's not really a game even if people who are objectively supposed to be giving awards to games and only games feel it meets the criteria of a "game" simply because...they're completely enamored of a shiny object and want to waste their awards on it?"

Wait just a second. Who says they're "objectively supposed to be giving awards to games and only games"? Do you really think they have a strict definition of "game" and follow strict criteria? Because I don't.

"objectively, it is a game, and trying to change the definition of a game specifically to exclude it is rather suspect."

There's nothing suspect about it and no one is trying to change the definition of "game." In fact, the reason I don't like calling Gone Home a "game" is because I prefer to adhere to the traditional definition of the word, because I think the word should have a consistent usage across all media. No matter what kind of form it takes, the concept of "game" has a few common elements: there are rules, there are goals, and there is some type of challenge to overcome. That applies to any type of game: sports, board games, card games, verbal games... I don't see any reason why it shouldn't also apply to video games. (And traditionally it has.)

It's not about exclusion. It's about consistency, and providing more accurate information. Some forms of digital interactive media are game-like, others less so. Some aren't game-like at all. There's nothing wrong with that! There's an audience out there for that kind of experience, and it's great that people are making products for them! And that's EXACTLY why we need better labels, to communicate that information so that people will be more informed!

Again, this is not an attack on Gone Home. Changing how Gone Home is labeled doesn't invalidate the experience. I'm just think "game" is not a very accurate label of what Gone Home is, and labeling it accurately could only be beneficial.

Amir Barak
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@Rebecca
"Oh wow, I didn't know subjective opinions now became objective fact."
And that sentence would make sense unless, as you've so rightly pointed afterwards;
"Given your essay below"
Which details how I reached my conclusions. While throwing around the terms subjective/objective is cute you've not answered a SINGLE point I've raised concerning the gameplay systems and their interactions within the context of the Gone Home experience (or lack thereof).

The topic of whether Gone Home is a game or not is irrelevant at this point because it has been submitted as a game and has won awards as a game and has been praised as a game. EVEN THOUGH MOST PEOPLE ALSO AGREE THAT IT HAS SHITTY GAMEPLAY. Christ, how is that not disingenuous. I'm saying that it isn't a good game, hell, it isn't even a good interactive experience given that the interactive systems are a mess and the story is cliched.

"Or maybe the definition of games is a lot broader than some people seem want it to be"
Or maybe it isn't. Why are you so insistent of Gone Home being categorized as a game? What goal does it serve you exactly? I find it quite suspect to be honest.

Beyond that, I understand and appreciate what the Gone Home team have tried to achieve with Gone Home I just think they failed. There's no harm in failing. Get up, try again, learn and make a better product. But this worship that people have around certain products lately is mind-boggling and not conducive to the betterment of the craft.

Please, counter my arguments, show me how the interactive systems within Gone Home support its inclusion as a game. Then show me how these systems work in tandem to craft a meaningful interactive experience that is different from a book so I can see why you consider it a good game. And if it isn't far removed from a book, let's please review it as one and see how well it stands up with similar products that deal with similar themes (I'll give you a hint, not very well).

Amir Barak
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Gone Home isn't a game, it's a very limited book simulator where instead of flipping pages we're forced to move very slowly and completely un-human like through 3d space. The world itself is completely unrealistic, things don't get wet, we can't jump, we can't run, we have (for some strange reason) a weird scope-like view focus, time has no meaning, we can't go out, some things don't open, things can't be broken, drinks can't be drunk etc. etc.

The stories themselves are about a girl discovering her sexuality, a man discovering his history of sexual abuse, a woman who is sexually frustrated and Kaitlin who's just spent a year in Europe having, I assume, so much sex her voice has gone hoarse from too many screaming orgasms. At least we're keeping in theme here I guess :P
Joking aside, while touching in a few points I mostly found the stories full of deus-ex-machina devices and cliches.

The one thing that confuses me completely when discussing the book with other people is the amount of praise given to the so-called environmental storytelling and interactivity. These two mechanics are intertwined. But what *meaningful* interactivity do we have with the house? What meaningful interactivity should we expect from someone returning to an unknown home after a year abroad and discovering no one home and a "scary" note on the front door..? Is it really slowly going through the house picking up booze bottles, toilet paper and pens?? Really?? There is a very large dissonance between the player actions and the story told. Aaaannnnd let's get into the way the story told.

The stories, all three of them (not really Kaitlin since she's a non-character) are extremely linear (understandable in a book). Readers have no influence on the way the stories unfold nor on the sequence or timing of the main story's forced narration. Yet the pretense of the simulation is non-linearity, especially in terms of the secondary stories (parents) where readers are tasked with stitching together the narrative's meaning; a task made more complex by the false pretense of exploration (we can't really explore, we can only touch/see what the designers made plain to us). This scattering of the story is akin to writing a page-based book but having all the pages randomly assigned and leaving it up to the reader to skip in a hopeful attempt of reconstructing a broken sequence - this, by the way, is not a good narrative technique.

There are other incongruities with the book's interactive elements. First is the inventory/map system which adds a game-like nuance that simply doesn't belong. Then we have the two puzzles which are tacked on and are not challenging and finally is that one instance of being completely removed from the interaction by telling the reader that they can't read the book. Which is a shame because it's a missed opportunity to glimpse Sam's reaction to a monumental event in her life. I don't see why this is such a taboo subject? This entire game is about sexuality and identity, why censor the one item that deals with it directly? The answer, because the pretense of exploration is just that, pretense. The house is an artificial arena specifically designed and completely irrelevant.

In many ways I think it'd have served the story and presentation to have the family much more "normal" rather than being walking cliches. Concentrate on a single thread and incorporate actual characters (this would have lent to a far more interactive and reactive experience).

I think it's cool that the Gone Home team has tried to produce a down-to-earth story in a medium which has heaps of them but I wish they managed to create a more engaging storytelling system. And I really wonder why, when reviewing this book as a game, reviewers consider it so amazing...?

Sam Stephens
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"The world itself is completely unrealistic, things don't get wet, we can't jump, we can't run, we have (for some strange reason) a weird scope-like view focus, time has no meaning, we can't go out, some things don't open, things can't be broken, drinks can't be drunk etc. etc."

Why would things like running, eating, jumping, etc. be necessary in an experience about exploring a house? They would not add to the the core design in any way.

Amir Barak
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And having an inventory, minimap and a reallllllly slow moving main character does?

The biggest issue with Gone Home is that it is so unfocused in what it is trying to achieve that it ends up a mess of incompatible systems. We're Kaitlin exploring her house, coming back from a year abroad and being informed that something really bad may have happened. I'd saying running and jumping are far more likely as movement than hovering forwards/backwards in the way she does.

Kaitlin just came back from a train/bus/cab ride after a long flight. Why not let us make some food and eat? Ah yeah, because Kaitlin is really badly written and is completely invisible as the character.

It's not just about exploring the house, which is the point I'm trying to convey, it's about EXPERIENCING the house. And that's the difference between a book (to a point) and an interactive story. If Gone Home was innovative in any meaningful way we would have experienced Kaitlin, we would have experienced the Greenbriar's house. Not just walked through it like a ghost on a fake tour. So yeah, you're right these mechanics do not add to the core design of floating through a house but then again the core interaction in Gone Home is so flat and derivative it could sure use some uplifting.

Kujel s
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Let's just call Gone home interfiction [interactive fiction]. It's short and simple and darws a clear line between these and games without demoting the value of these creations.

Alex Van de Weyer
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I'd rather just call it a game.

There is actually already a rather false and often unhelpful distinction between videogames and interactive fiction. Much IF contains fail states, rules, meaningful choices etc which people argue are intrinsic to games anyway.

Amir Barak
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Gone Home is neither interactive fiction (given that it has no interactions) nor a game. It's a book, instead of pages we have a screen (still lots of reading though).

Alex Van de Weyer
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Sorry, that's categorically not true. It's not a book.

Amir Barak
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Oh well, since you've clearly responded to each of my points so eloquently I must concede my defeat. You're right obviously, Gone Home isn't a book.
How can it be like a book, that's ridiculous.... What was I thinking???

After all its narrative isn't linear, we can affect the storytelling, there are plenty of challenges, the world is dynamic, the characters are interactive and just leap off the screen at us and mostly Kaitlin's been so well written and fleshed out that she fits perfectly within the context of the premise so she feels real and not just us moving a lifeless camera and we can, through her, interact with the house in ways undreamt of before and not just flipping pages, er, switches.

Phew, I stand corrected. You sure have showed me there...

David Peterson
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A movie has a linear narrative, but it's not a book. A movie could be based on the narrative from a book, but they are different things.

Cordero W
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Gone Home is a great tool for following along the tide of "social justice" and "privilege" renaissance we're having. That is why it won so many game awards. It's all publicity and popularity runs. It's not a game. It was just was created in the media of video games, thus journalists feel like they should call it a game when really it is something else. If one person uses a brush and paint to paint their house, and another uses it to create a painting, you don't suddenly use the former at an art exhibition just because it made use of the media used to make paintings. Therefore, just because Gone Home was created in the same way as a game with an interactive element of moving around doesn't make it a video game.

It also doesn't matter what definitions we try to come up with for video games. That just pulls away the question from what we originally want to say. Gone Home is not a game. We know this not from some literal definition, but from the many experiences we have had with video games for a very long time. We know what's a video game and we know what isn't. Even a non gamer knows that Super Mario Bros is a video game but something like Gone Home isn't because it lacks the elements of a game. No game overs, no challenges, or any sense of growth. You don't "play" Gone Home. You're just moving a mouse and clicking and reading.

Alex Van de Weyer
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I would argue that your game taxonomy is way too limited. Super Mario Bros is an example from the twitch-based action side of videogames, but there's just as much of a rich tradition in text adventures and adventure gaming that makes Gone Home's status at least more of a difficult question.

If we question Gone Home's status as a game, then what is Deja Vu? Monkey Island? Slaine The King? The Hobbit? Castle Master? Silent Hill: Shattered Memories? It's actually much more of a can of worms than just 'deciding' that Gone Home isn't a game - it has implications over 40 years of history.

Amir Barak
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"it has implications over 40 years of history. "
Not at all. Monkey Island and Silent Hill (haven't played the others you mentioned) have meaningful interaction within the context of their worlds. You have challenges to complete, you have characters to interact with, you have an avatar to identify with, there's such a huge gulf between these games and Gone Home that I don't see the reason for all this fear; why would calling Gone Home not a game turn the industry upside-down exactly??

Should we call a game's manual a game too? It has just as much interaction as Gone Home, why isn't it a game then?

Alex Van de Weyer
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I would argue that Gone Home has meaningful interaction (though that sounds a very subjective term), challenge, characters, and an implied avatar. Very hard to argue otherwise, it seems to me.

Indeed, how can you really criticise a first-person game on the basis of 'lacking an avatar'? Is Doom not a game on the same basis? It sounds like special pleading.

Reading your posts I think there's a very strong possibility that you can't really prove it isn't a game, but that it is one that you definitely don't like :).

Amir Barak
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Saying "I would argue that Gone Home has meaningful interaction" isn't actually arguing that it does. Please do show me where the meaningful interactions with the story allow us to be part of the experience in a way that is different from a book.

Are you seriously claiming that Gone Home has challenges? It has two puzzles which are useless and do not fit within the "storytelling mechanics". Again, where's the challenge?

Also, not just characters but INTERACTIVE characters. Where are they exactly in Gone Home?

I'm not criticizing first-person-perspective games for lacking an avatar. I'm criticizing Gone Home for attempting to explain the basic premise of the game with an avatar that makes no sense in the context of that world. Being space marine #3862 makes sense when we're running through space; it does not make sense that Kaitlin is a mute limbless ghost in the context of the story (which is Gone Home's strongest appeal). We are not Kaitlin at any given point in Gone Home because Kaitlin is a camera, we are the space marine in Doom because we can interact with the environment in a way that at least attempts to be meaningful in the context of its world. You might not like Doom's fighting mechanics, level design, monsters, story, weapons, physics, but we are given control over the character and the space marine (while nameless) is still a stronger character than Kaitlin.

"Reading your posts I think there's a very strong possibility that you can't really prove it isn't a game, but that it is one that you definitely don't like :). "
Reading your retort here I think there's a strong possibility that you may not understand what the word "prove" means.

Alex Van de Weyer
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>>> Are you seriously claiming that Gone Home has challenges? It has two puzzles which are useless and do not fit within the "storytelling mechanics". Again, where's the challenge?

This interpretation is totally subjective, therefore of limited use in discussing whether it's a game or not. It sounds like you're defining challenge here very much in terms of a console gamer's action-orientated worldview, but there's no law that challenge has to be either difficult or enjoyable or involve you doing anything much.

Actually I think the basic mechanics of the game would be a significant challenge to inexperienced gamers. Certainly the exploration choices, object interaction, and light puzzles certainly qualify. I think where Gone Home is novel is that part of the challenge is to the player themselves, inviting them to solve the challenge of understanding this environment and the people and their relationships as a goal - but that's precisely why it's been a breath of fresh air to many.

>>> Also, not just characters but INTERACTIVE characters. Where are they exactly in Gone Home?

I don't see why this is a necessary definition of a game. Plenty of games, in fact the vast majority, have characters that wouldn't necessarily be interactive.

Gone Home has characters that you learn about in an often non-linear fashion. In fact one player's experience of each character can be different. The way in which the characters are revealed, therefore, could be argued to be somewhat interactive, even if the story is in many ways fixed (as with the vast majority of story-based games).

>>> I'm criticizing Gone Home for attempting to explain the basic premise of the game with an avatar that makes no sense in the context of that world.

Again, I don't see how that's relevant to whether or not it's a game. It may be a dreadfully bad game, but that doesn't necessarily exclude it from the medium.

Sam Stephens
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It's very easy to conflate interaction with with gameplay. Though gameplay is a form of interactivity, not all interactivity is gameplay. Challenges are recognized by ludologists to be one of the defining components of games. Though Gone Home may have some extremely basic challenges, the challenges in games are of a higher level and are far more salient.

Alex Van de Weyer
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>>> Though Gone Home may have some extremely basic challenges, the challenges in games are of a higher level and are far more salient.

But as far as I'm aware there is no accepted scale of measuring challenge that can distinguish a 'game' from a 'not-game'. And I'm not sure what the benefit of any such scale would be.

Sam Stephens
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These "challenges" are so far to the end of the scale that they hardly are a part of the experience. Following movie is challenging to some extent. Reading takes a certain amount of effort. Solving a math problem can be difficult. Could these activities really be called games? I am talking about challenges of a different nature; ones that can easily be distinguished from common everyday tasks.

Furthermore, few of the challenges (if we can even call them that) in Gone Home are necessary or mandatory. There is no consequence for not completing them; no fail states. The "player" can interact with them or ignore them at their own leisure. This is not a choice in gameplay were value is assigned to overcoming challenges.

Alex Van de Weyer
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>>> These "challenges" are so far to the end of the scale that they hardly are a part of the experience. Following movie is challenging to some extent. Reading takes a certain amount of effort. Solving a math problem can be difficult. Could these activities really be called games? I am talking about challenges of a different nature; ones that can easily be distinguished from common everyday tasks.

I absolutely accept that being challenged is not exclusive to games. We are not talking about what defines a movie or a book. If a game, to be a game, needs challenge, then how do we distinguish the challenges it needs? If, as I would argue, there's no accepted definition for the level or type of challenge, then that definition basically breaks down.

It seems to me that, for the purpose of this debate, there is being set a level of 'challenge-iness' that Gone Home debatably fails, just in order that we can decide that it isn't a game. But I question whether that's in any way useful to anything. It seems very arbitrary to me.

Whereas there's actually a lot to be gained by Gone Home being a game. It's a challenge to game-makers to consider themes and storytelling as more intrinsic to gameplay. To content creators to explore different avenues. And to publishers to consider a more sober audience from a non-gaming background.

It seems to me that Gone Home comes directly out of a game-making tradition, that it has been made with the expectations and familiarity that it will be played by gamers, and that it's a challenging piece in form and content. If by some quirk it comes to be classified as not being a game, I still think it's of greatest use being considered alongside other games.

Sam Stephens
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"We are not talking about what defines a movie or a book."

That's not what I am doing either either. I am just establishing that other activities, from entertainment, to chores, to work, are also challenging to some extent. You have yet to explain why these activities do not contain gameplay challenges. The challenges in gameplay are definitely unique, or why else would people be so drawn to them?

"It seems to me that, for the purpose of this debate, there is being set a level of 'challenge-iness' that Gone Home debatably fails, just in order that we can decide that it isn't a game."

As stated in my previous comment, it's not just about having challenges. DayZ has challenges, but they are not goal orientated (which is why it is more of a simulator then a game). Likewise, Gone Home does not emphasize it's supposed challenges in a way that creates a constructive activity.

But I think you are missing the point by bending over backwards to say that Gone Home is a game. We are going off of what, like, two simple puzzles? It's clear that Gone Home does not privilege gameplay and, unlike Amir Barak, I am perfectly accepting of that. What it does, it does to support the narrative, themes, and atmosphere, which is not what gameplay is inherently about about.

Alex Van de Weyer
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>>> It's clear that Gone Home does not privilege gameplay

>>> Gone Home does not emphasize it's supposed challenges in a productive fashion.

Both interesting (debatable) observations, but really at face value they have little to do with the question at hand. I don't see why a game has to emphasise its challenges or necessarily privilege gameplay above other factors to be a game. From memory there's barely a single cut-scene or lack of control in Gone Home - everything, what you see, what you do, even how you respond to the information you receive, is controlled by the player.

I'd also be wary of too strict a definition of 'gameplay' which is generally a very loose, indistinct term. I think what we might consider gameplay might vary.

>>> What it does, it does to support the narrative, themes, and atmosphere, which is not what gameplay is about.

The second part of that statement I wholly disagree with. If gameplay does not support what the game is attempting to communicate, then it's almost certainly a flawed piece of work. That is why it's a medium, ie a means of communicating something.

Sam Stephens
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"I don't see why a game has to emphasise its challenges or necessarily privilege gameplay above other factors to be a game."

Gameplay is what games are. You can't have a game that lacks gameplay.

"From memory there's barely a single cut-scene or lack of control in Gone Home - everything, what you see, what you do, even how you respond to the information you receive, is controlled by the player."

Yes, your interaction in Gone Home is fairly unrestricted, but again, gameplay is a specific kind of interaction that can be both open and extremely linear (quick time events for example). Just being able to interact with a digital environment is not enough to qualify something as a game . There has to be rules that objectively place value in some interactions over others, multiple outcomes that the player has influence over, and negotiable consequences.

"I'd also be wary of too strict a definition of 'gameplay' which is generally a very loose, indistinct term. I think what we might consider gameplay might vary."

"strict" definitions are just a redundancy. There is no difference between a definition and a strict one. People who say this in the conversation usually don't have a definition of their own (or at least a useful one).

"If gameplay does not support what the game is attempting to communicate, then it's almost certainly a flawed piece of work."

Gameplay does not have to support anything but itself. Though it can be used to communicate ideas, some of the oldest and iconic games do not such as Chess or Go. The experience of interacting with someone on an intellectual and competitive level is meaningful enough.

"That is why it's a medium, ie a means of communicating something."

Games are not a medium. The computer is the medium. Games are a type of transmedia (like storytelling) that can be expressed in multiple forms (board games, card games). Some games, like chess, can exist in multiple forms. Video games are just a type of game, one that has it's own strengths and limitations. Video games are particularly good at emphasizing complex interactions and real-time skills.

Amir Barak
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"Games are not a medium. The computer is the medium"
If that's the case then books are not the medium either, rather the paper they are written on is. Thus books are a form of a linear storytelling technique where readers traverse through the medium in order to experience a story (readers are also free to traverse in any order they wish) without being able to affect it. Gone Home fits this definition quite well once we accept that the medium is no longer paper but digital.

Matthew Casseday
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Truth be told, I do not understand this argument. First, by medium, of course we mean the means by which art/entertainment is conveyed. For literature it is language, for visual arts it is ocular means (varying widely of course between the media that encompasses), and for games/whatever it is play, or, "to take part in." Thus, because of the interactive engagement used to convey a work of art/entertainment, Gone Home fits within the medium... However, the word "game" has both connotations and denotations that suggest that a game engages via challenge, competition, etc. In the end... doesn't it mean that a "games" just happen to be an overarching genre that encompasses smaller sub genres in a medium that man has just so happened to use first and most prominently in this medium? I know this is kind of what most people are saying, but everyone keeps putting particular spins on the wording, making the language sloppy and provoking fights rather than discussions.

Sam Stephens
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"In the end... doesn't it mean that a "games" just happen to be an overarching genre that encompasses smaller sub genres in a medium that man has just so happened to use first and most prominently in this medium?"

You are almost right. Video games could very well be though of as a part or product of a larger medium of digital software. Games in general, however, do not belong to any one medium and exist in multiple forms.

Matthew Casseday
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In most respects I agree, because of course we have digital games, games with boards, games with cards, choose your own adventure, games like charades, etc. However, most mediums have run into similar situations, such as film using celluloid, digital, etc. However, they are effectively irrelevant because they serve the same sense of conveyance. While differences between these materials in other mediums are arguable, games/sims are in a unique position where these differences can be quite great (great example being the difference between tabletop and computer Roleplaying games). At the very least, that's how I formalize it, and I'd be interested in other views.

Alex Van de Weyer
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Sorry - double post.

David Peterson
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I agree that 'game' is a cross-medium term. If you look in a dictionary, there are many definitions for the word. Here are a couple of the more relevant examples:

Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/game

* a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure
* activity engaged in for diversion or amusement

Source: http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/game

* an activity that you do for fun that has rules, and that you can win or lose
* an activity that children do for fun that may not have rules or a winner

So, although the term often implies that there are rules, the definition is actually broader.

There's an interesting article here that discusses the term also:

http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/WhatIsaGame.shtml

In it, the author, Wolfgang Kramer, notes the same issue, and essentially states that the type of games he is discussing is a subset of game, which he terms 'games with rules'.

The key words in either definition are 'activity' and 'fun/amusement/pleasure’. I guess you could argue that reading or watching a movie are activities in that definition, but the definitions for the word 'activity' are more energetic than that. Here' same definition for 'active':

Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/active

* characterized by action rather than by contemplation or speculation
* producing or involving action or movement

A book or a movie is passive entertainment. If you simply experience it in the sequence provided by the creators, is that activity? Probably not. If you decide to jump around in the narrative, by picking random pages, or skipping to different parts of the film, I'd say you are now playing a game - you are actively engaging with the content to change your experience.

If you see kids running around kicking a ball to try and get it into a goal, you'd say they're playing. If you see kids sitting down manipulating dolls or action figures, you'd say they're playing. If the thing they're playing is not a game, what is it?

One has rules, the other does not. One involves running and kicking and has a concrete objective, the other involves sitting, talking and manipulating objects. But they are both activities done for fun, and they both require engagement, or you are not playing. Rather, you are watching.

In the case of 'Gone Home' (which I have to admit, I haven't yet had the chance to play), it seems that exploration is the activity, and it requires engagement to progress. You can argue about the quality, variety or difficulty of the engagement that is allowed, but can you argue that it is not an 'activity engaged in for diversion or amusement'?

Sam Stephens
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"A book or a movie is passive entertainment."

Minor caveat: watching a movie and reading a book are not passive processes. Books and movies just don't happen to us. We have to actively engage with them to understand what is going on. However, our engagement does not change the content, hence it is an active process rather than an interactive one.

Amir Barak
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"an activity that children do for fun that may not have rules or a winner"
This definition specifies children for a reason. Given that Gone Home is not a product which is engaged by children, can be engaged by children or should be engaged by children your argument for using this definition is invalid.

I don't know how much background you have in child and developmental psychology (I don't have any, but my wife has studied the subject and I've listened in plenty. Also I have two kids not to mention that through them I've observed and interacted with plenty others - anecdotal evidence but there is research to support what I'm about to say). A young child learning to crawl and having fun while doing so is, by your definition, playing a game but they aren't, they're being driven by a biological need and a growing sense of control. Even though crawling is a physical activity that is fun for them (until they fall and cry) and serves a goal, it is still not a game. That's a logical flaw in the way you've constructed your arguments. If we still insist on physical activities like that as game then we've just broadened the definition so much that it is useless.

Older children, however, engage in games which are social, speculative and physical (invalidating your further reliance on having the "active" part being not contemplative or speculative). In fact, a common trait of mature games (ie. played by more mature children) is the emergence of rules and inclusiveness of players (ie. meaningful interactivity).

Another example, specifically targeting the following construction of arguments;
"producing or involving action or movement"
"exploration is the activity, and it requires engagement to progress."
"but can you argue that it is not an 'activity engaged in for diversion or amusement'? "

By following this logic you've concluded that Gone Home is a game. Let's follow it some more.
The exploration in Gone Home is performed through a non-physical 3D space ---> associated with children running through physical space.
The exploration in Gone Home is performed by manipulating the keyboard/mouse ---> associated with children manipulating dolls.
Gone Home is engaged as a diversion and for fun.

Let me put forth another activity then; sleep.
Sleep produces a sense of motion [exploration] through non-physical space within us.
Sleep also produces physical movement; we twitch, we turn, heck we sometimes get up and walk around.
Sleep can be engaged when not biologically required; ie. for fun, as a diversion.

Can we conclude that sleep is a game?

Amir Barak
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I'm gonna go play some sleep... it's like 2.30am here. :P

David Peterson
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I'm not 'relying' on active not being contemplative or speculative - that was directly from one of many dictionary definitions for the word. Many games require contemplation or speculation, and yes, I'm aware that reading and watching movies require cognitive engagement in order to actually get anything out of them, but that is totally out of the control of the creator.

As for using children as my example, the argument is still valid. Just because adults may not find a particular game as entertaining as a child would doesn't mean it's not a game.

Although the content being explored in Gone Home is not appropriate for children, the mechanics would still be fine, in a different setting, with different content. Heck, hundreds of games for kids are exactly that - nothing more than exploring an environment, looking for hidden items. This one just happens to have an adult-oriented narrative.

You are free to argue semantics - that's essentially what this discussion is, I guess. Where is the magical line between 'story' and 'game'? For Simon and Amir, the line seems to be 'must have rules and a way to lose'.

For me, whether something that tells a story is a game is more about the intent of the creator. Did the author of a novel or the creators of a movie intend for the consumer to affect the story being told, or simply receive it as told by the creator? Did the creator of Gone Home intend for the consumers to simply watch the story unfold, or were they expecting them to actively explore to discover it?

Some games are mechanical - they are about following rules to achieve an objective. Flappy Bird is a good example of a simple, mechanical game. Others are more about narrative, and revealing it through player action. Many are somewhere in between.

And as for sleep, it can definitely be a game, if you play it with the right person ;)

Amir Barak
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"For me, whether something that tells a story is a game is more about the intent of the creator."
I can't argue this definition since it's nonsensical; if I draw a square on my wall intending to make a brick it doesn't affect the reality of the drawing not being a brick.

"Where is the magical line between 'story' and 'game'?"
There isn't a magic line. These two concepts are different.

"I'm not 'relying' on active not being contemplative or speculative..."
You were the one to bring up those definitions and now you invalidate them? It's hard for me to follow.

"Heck, hundreds of games for kids are exactly that - nothing more than exploring an environment, looking for hidden itemsAnyway;"
Well, most games targeting kids are utter sh*t. If we stopped for a moment to hide behind the "it's all semantics" excuse maybe we could have better tools to understand how to properly critic products and eventually create better products.

David Peterson
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I'll address these in order.

1. '"For me, whether something that tells a story is a game is more about the intent of the creator."
I can't argue this definition since it's nonsensical; if I draw a square on my wall intending to make a brick it doesn't affect the reality of the drawing not being a brick.'

Just because you describe Gone Home as a book doesn't make it a book either. I'm also not trying to defend the quality of Gone Home as a product - I haven't played it, so I can't comment. I've played The Walking Dead series, which are down that end of the spectrum however.

To be clear, my definition of game would be that from Merriam-Webster, that being an "activity engaged in for diversion or amusement".

Yes, it's broad, which is why I was discussing the definition of 'activity' to narrow the scope a bit. More on that below.

2. '"Where is the magical line between 'story' and 'game'?"
There isn't a magic line. These two concepts are different.'

Poorly phrased by me, sorry. What I was trying to ask is, how much interactivity is required in the telling of a story for it to be considered a game?

I would submit that getting from the beginning to the end of a story can be a game. Let's use 'Sleeping Beauty' as an example. The basic setup is that a wicked witch has cast a spell on a girl that will be broken if a prince kisses her. Catch is, she's locked in a tower that is dangerous to get to. Here are some different ways that story could be expressed:

1. A novel; in which the author describes the trials and tribulations of the prince and his rescue attempt.
2. A choose-your-own-adventure book; in which the author provides branching options to the reader and multiple outcomes are available based on the choices made by the reader.
3. A live story telling; in which the storyteller integrates suggestions and choices from his listeners and adjusts the outcome based on those inputs.
4. A role-playing game; in which a dungeon master presents challenges to the role-players which are resolved using stats and dice rolls.

At which point would you say the journey of getting from he beginning to the end of the story has become a game? By my definition, it would be at #2. It's at that point where input from the consumer affects the way the story is resolved.

The Walking Dead series is pretty much a sophisticated choose-your-own-adventure story. You can make some choices along the way, but you can't deviate from the paths made available by the creators - your options are limited. However, it's still a game, because it requires activity from the consumer to progress from one end of the story to the other, and those actions affect the consumer's experience of the story.

3. '"I'm not 'relying' on active not being contemplative or speculative..."
You were the one to bring up those definitions and now you invalidate them? It's hard for me to follow.'

I'm not invalidating them - my point was, I didn't make up that definition. I agree with it. Games require action, and more action than just flipping the page or pressing spacebar to get the next morsel delivered to you. Engagement is different to action.

4. '"Heck, hundreds of games for kids are exactly that - nothing more than exploring an environment, looking for hidden itemsAnyway;"
Well, most games targeting kids are utter sh*t. If we stopped for a moment to hide behind the "it's all semantics" excuse maybe we could have better tools to understand how to properly critic products and eventually create better products.'

Just because a game is bad doesn't mean it's not a game. Just because the content of a game is aimed at kids (or adults), doesn't affect whether it is a game.

Again, I'm not defending Gone Home's quality - as I said, I haven't played it. I actually found most of your criticisms of it to be quite interesting, and potentially useful in helping make similar products better in the future. I just disagree that is is not a game, since it meets my definition, as stated above.

For the record, what is your definition of a game? I don't believe you stated it anywhere.

Luis Guimaraes
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@Amir Barak

"A young child learning to crawl and having fun while doing so is, by your definition, playing a game but they aren't, they're being driven by a biological need and a growing sense of control."

Basically that's what games are all about, but games are not the only way to learn things.

@Everyone else and the thread above

Quoting from my ealier comment:

>Gone Home is a puzzle, you can "solve" it, but you can't "game" it.

David Peterson
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You don't 'game' games, you play games. I'd personally submit that solving puzzles is playing a game.


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