What of a Game is the Game?

There is something in every game denoted as “gameplay” which as a term, a friend has noted to me, is bullshit.
What you do in the game is the game, is it not? “You don’t talk about the bookread of a book, or the musiclisten of a song,” is what I sort of recall him saying a long time ago, and it’s true — when we talk about games, it is implied that the thing we’re going to do is play them (but then what about Let’s Plays? People frequently watch those!).
Arguments arise, constantly, about whether games are art — but the problem is nobody can agree on what “art” is, and there are certainly those who question what really constitutes a “game”, even if it is done by some in an utterly ridiculous fashion (could not find the sought-after link to ridicule; oh well).

We can all agree that a movie is not a game, I’m sure. A video of a game being played is also not a game, although it may relate one.
Moving on from that, Pong is a game.
Spelunky and Portal are games.
Even games that people ridicule for being more cutscene than game (the ever-elusive term) are still “games”, right?

Then where do we draw the line? Would a movie suddenly become a game if a mouse cursor were added, thereby allowing us to move it around and “interact” with the movie in that we can make it look like our little hand cursor is picking the nose of the main protagonist’s nose during a dramatic scene (making it, I’m sure, hilarious to each of our inner 12-year-olds although to what degree he or she has been repressed is up to you)?

Of course not. That’s a movie and a mouse cursor! Even without the movie, the mouse cursor isn’t a game. What about a movie where you play a Pac Man-like game at random intervals, interrupting the flow of the movie? Maybe we’re getting a bit closer, but that’s just a movie rudely interrupted by a game.

Then what if at certain points in the movie when a lapse in time continuity is required, the game (instead of simply jumping by time) had us play a little game like Pac Man? Perhaps it would be more like a game if the chosen game meshed more solidly with the movie we were watching, even if ultimately we had no effect on the outcome of the movie part at all.

Nobody would want to watch a movie with bits of game, would they? Of course they would; these are simply called games with lots of cutscenes.


You have been made privy to a little bit of my thought process. So what’s my conclusion? Do I have one?
We can draw the line finer; what about games who use their own game engine for cutscenes or these “in-game movies”?
What about games like Half Life (and eventually Half Life 2 and Assassin’s Creed and probably other games) where you can walk around while shit’s happening all around you (but still have no effect on anything)?!
On top of all that, don’t think that words somehow get away with being pulled into all of this: We still have yet to consider visual novels (and interactive fiction?) and all things of that nature where the story carries on as it chooses, with you — the player — often only making a few important choices and sometimes solving puzzles in between and stuff. How far must they go in either direction before they gain or lose the status of “game”?


“Video games” (computer, console, what have you) are complex beasts because we grant them special treatment. They are a combination of everything and anything that is poured into them as long as they are interactive and enough people agree that “Yes, this is a game”.
A game need not have sound to be considered a game.
A game need not have great visuals — or visuals at all — to be considered a game.
A game need not have writing or a story (expressed in any way at all) to be considered a game.
A game needs some form of interaction, even if the interaction is not necessary for the game to do ‘something’. (For example, you can play Pac Man without interacting: you’ll just lose very quickly.)
But a drawing program isn’t a game. A music-making program isn’t a game.


I can’t conclude. I won’t. Games need to be interactive and they need to be useless; without the first they’re a song or a movie or a book, and without the second they’re a useful utility program (except for the parts that actually are useless, which may be considered games within a useful utility program). What makes up a game? Everything. What is necessary? Uh… not everything, I guess.
Why is it that combining a Game with a Movie in equal parts ends up spitting out what we would almost unanimously consider a Game (though many may joke about it not being one, or criticize it on having too little interaction, it will still be a “game”)?
Have fun figuring this out, because I sure can’t.
I sure am going to go make some more games, though. It’s a lot easier than thinking about what they are.


About Droqen

Droqen is a game designer/developer/creator/etc. from Toronto, Ontario. View all posts by Droqen

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