The following is a reaction to Extra Credits season 7 episode 12 “What is a Game?”
I find it clever of you guys to come out swinging at this question. Don’t get me wrong, you are entitled to your opinion and critically, I don’t think you guys are wrong either. Are perhaps simply, you are asking the question mu (wrongly).
Extra Credits finds the question to be the wrong question. According to EC, there is no meaning to be teased from asking “Is (title) a [category].” Is a AAA blockbuster experience like Assassin’s Creed IV a game? Is Thomas was Alone? Is Loneliness? EC then heads into treacherous waters with more categories – can a AAA mass market product really be a game, if it is so different from Loneliness? Can Loneliness be a game, same again? I know this was inspired by a problematic forum thread, but … well hang on.
And in so far as the question gets dismissed, they are right. Categorization is a way of boxing a concept and limiting that concept’s potential reach from its hypothetical full reach. A category is also a word that you can plunk into a search engine and ask for more things like (title). Sure, we know a lot about games in our specialized little corner of the larger meta culture, but we learned dozens of category names as the necessary rote memorization to find more things like what we love. We couldn't have had full access to this hobby without categorization. New people just joining this community need these categories, or they need a healthy skepticism about the utility of those same categories.
An attempt to fix the question:
Are our categories, such as “game,” “interactive experience,” “casual,” and “hardcore,” meaningful in some way? In any way? That is a fair question and the answer is going to be a round no. You can’t love Bioshock, search for more “interactive experiences” in Google and get a hit for Bioshock Infinite.
Can we design new, better categories? I trust (read: search for) games by a particular company, and when that company (Nintendo) got too big and diverse to keep tabs on effectively anymore, I started looking for names to follow. Names of designers, or names of teams (Tokyo EAD FTW! Woot!). This works as a beginner to intermediate level, but I think I hear the criticism coming – you’re only going to get games from one company like that. I can suggest that you can search game like favored brand names, but that gets you a grab bag of quality that is usually hit or miss.
I think that we need better “search strategies” and yeah, I think that includes better categories of games. Extra Credits long three video mini-series on the Western and JRPGs (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for the curious) is excellent and should put the rest questions of why our “genre” categories are also flawed. Certainly only pursuing games that are all “hardcore” or “casual” nets you little, and I am having an allergic reaction to the category “must play.”
Do we need the category “Game” ?
That is a tough call. Everything is a store is a box these days, and I guess you need categories to figure out what you need a video player or eBook reader to display. Certainly there is currently a huge gulf in behind-the-scenes hardware needs caught up in everything we call a “game.” I don’t support belittling anybody’s hard work, but at the same time:
- you need a mobile phone to play an app (not a hard and fast rule, you can totally download apps on to platforms that can’t run them)
- you need a specialized, proprietary TV tuner to play a blue-ray with game data on it (and you could totally get a current box, like a WiiU, that won’t play blue-ray movies).
The generic category “game” is presently the catch-all category that gives the consumer no real idea what device is needed to access the content, and does not assist in finding more content like it. It is perfectly reasonable that the term game come under question – and – when we question what a term means, we start from our own experiences. I grew up playing plastic cartridge games and AD&D, to me those are games. For others, for a whole new generation, the idea of game means digital download you play between texting sessions on an always connected device.
I contend that the problem is semantics. We (that is everyone) feel that games are open to ourselves, that they are things that it is okay for us to open up to and enjoy. We all approached these diverse forms of content because they were called games! How can anyone tell me my type of “game” isn’t a game anymore? How could I say that to anyone else? It’s like having Pluto no longer be a planet! Suddenly, the unlovable chunk of rock and ice is everyone’s favorite planet. Because our ideas of Pluto the planet, not the celestial object itself, are now under attack!
Because our ideas of games are under attack, even if not the games themselves.
But clearly we sense the problem, as the word “game” which, we find linguistic value in, is too generic to be useful. Set aside Google and consider the clerk at Target. We've got $50 to blow on a great new game, so what is in stock? The clerk will probably start with the popular stuff like Battlefield or Grand Theft Auto V. And why not, they are still games. Getting rid of the label “game” for “interactive experiences” didn’t broaden our minds in this example. How’s the clerk to know that we are a sucker for deeper, meaningful experiences that he happens to have in the bargain bin, like Plants vs. Zombies or something like that? We didn’t specify it! We had no language to specify it! I feel that is where the artificial labels of “casual” and “hardcore” come from. Game X’s content is different than my definition of game, so I’ll give is a specialized category.
And from this idea, is born every racial, gender, and difference slur ever born among speaking beings. I am not going to defend the practice, nor can I pretend to be outside of it.
But I contend again that this result is only because of the arbitrariness of the categories, the insensitivity of these particular categories that can be, frankly wrong! You can find apps with similar content to full games, and you can find meaning in both types of content. Our methodologies for talking about games is wrong here, not the need for having more meaningful and balanced categories.
To my knowledge, there is no reason why you cannot use one of our more reliable, well tested categorization systems for games, something like the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress systems, because those systems rate the content of the works, not the systems or broad mechanics or the like. They come with their own baggage, no question, but given how thoroughly tested these academic systems all are as categorization systems… I wonder…
… surely we have done worse!