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I never understood the debate on whether or not Depression Quest or Gone Home were games. They are not games. They will never be games. Because they do not fit with what a game really is.

game dictSo let’s back up, what do I mean by that? Well, there is a huge debate going on about what makes a game, a game. Some people argue that a game needs a fail state, while others don’t believe that is a requirement. Well, how do we get around this? Easy, look to the past. Lucky for most people I actually own a Living Webster dictionary dating back to 1977, to see what they define as a game: “A diversion in the form of chance, skill, endurance, or a combination of these, pursued according to certain rules.” It is a synonym of “Sport”

And if that in and of itself is not enough, what are some things that we define as games that are not considered Videogames? Well, we have Board Games (Monopoly, Checkers, Chess), Card Games (Magic The Gathering, YuGiOh, Go Fish, Poker), Dice Games (Dungeons and Dragons, Backgammon, Risk) and even Party Games (Apple Bobbing, Beer Pong). Sports are also considered games as well, such as playing a game of Basketball. We have a pretty decent understanding on what makes a game a game, so it does not make any sense to me at all why people believe that there is some form of debate on what makes a game, a game.

Games are not like Art, which as little to no real defining characteristic outside of “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination,” a game has always been defined as being competitive, and having some kind of winner, even if the winner is not a human being, which is why that “Test your strength” hammer game normally seen at fairs is still considered a game. Because even it has some kind of fail state, and follows certain rules.

Journey-Screen-One“Games” like Journey, The Stanley Parable, etc, are not games because they don’t test you in chance, skill, endurance, or anything, and are not pursued according to any rules outside of “keep going forward or turn off the system.” You can’t break any rules in these media, and cannot fail in any sense of the word. They are, however, very interactive films. They are stories being portrayed in which you have some control over the main antagonist, but that is all. One good “game” that I really enjoyed is called To The Moon. It portrayed a very good story and I liked it a lot. But like Journey and Gone Home, are not games by the definition of the term. They are interactive films, and there is nothing wrong with that.

We should allow interactive films and interactive stories to be included alongside real games like Zelda and Call of Duty. There is absolutely nothing wrong with interactive narratives as a whole, which is why nobody is arguing that Journey and To The Moon don’t belong with other more popular games. Nobody has an issue as long as the media does not suck. So we as a culture should and do allow interactive narratives to be sold and played alongside real games, and even for the most part put them under the same widespread label of “games.” But I guess in the end, it is simply nothing more than a Semantic Dispute.

But what do you think about this issue? Should games like Journey and Gone Home be considered games?


Lucy Walcott

Lucy Walcott is a writer who loves to talk about political issues and other things. She has been an avid gamer since she was little, focusing almost exclusively on RPG and hack and slash games. Some of her favorites includes The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Ys, and Breath of Fire. Her favorite systems includes PlayStation, Nintendo, and Steam.



  • Guest

    I would say that Journey is a game. it reminds me Shadow of the Colosus in the explorative, puzzle solving aspect.

    Gone Home is more of an interactive story than a “game.”

    Depression Quest however is most definitely not a game. It’s a multiple choice quiz. Its about as much of a game as a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

  • Rogar the Greater

    Due to there being at least some interaction (in that you have to explore the house in order to find out what happened), I’d say Gone Home still fits the definition of a game by a very small margin. A shitty game, yeah, but a game nonetheless.

    Depression Quest, on the other hand, I can’t really say the same.

  • Tyler Youngblood

    I dont mind that games like gone home or depression quest exist and people enjoy them. I am just tired of the anti gameplay hipsters it has bread. I am tired of hearing about how bad gameplay is and how problematic gameplay is. I am tired of hearing how gaming needs to grow up and be more like gonehome. I love the far cry series since 1 ( even the xbox spin off titles like predator) but I am getting tired of how people call its first person shooting “problematic “.

  • Erthwjim

    Although I do agree that DQ, Journey, and Gone Home are more interactive novels or film than they are games, I don’t have an issue with them being called games, as long as people understand that those “games” don’t represent the majority of video games out there (which I think most people realize that). Also the people that develop these “games” should realize that by associating their product with the word game they are opening themselves up to certain criticisms they would not have to worry about if they never claimed it to be a game.

    I can’t think of an analogy that would allow these people to understand what they’re doing. but perhaps someone writing a comic book and asking it to be judged as a novel? Or maybe someone that made an appetizer asking it to be judged as an entree? Maybe someone else can think of a better comparison, but that’s kind of the gist of what I see it as.

  • Rogar the Greater

    The creators of Gone Home probably realized that if they made it a short film, it would have gotten trashed.

  • Guest

    Yeah, #fullmcintosh’s “Games need to stop being fun” thing blows my mind!

  • Guest

    To be fair, some places consider Watchmen to be a novel.

  • Fenrir007

    I find this entire debate incredibly unproductive. In my point of view, the main reason why we call something a “videogame” is to decide shelf space. “Where should I stock this ‘X-com: UFO Defense’ big box thing? Alongside toys?”. Well, shove it into that big section called “videogames” we just made over there! This also applies to digital distribution.

    To further describe what sort of videogame the consumer is looking at, we have a multitude of labels to go with it (first person shooter, visual novel, walking simulator heh). So, let’s say you have a Visual Novel and you need to decide where to stock it. Why the hell would you not put it alongside videogames, in the subcategory “Visual Novel”? Sure, plenty of them have only minimal player input, but is there any other place that makes sense to stock it at? Unless we make a new category – and we have no reason to do so – we don’t. Many of them are played on game consoles (or computers, which are also associated with games). Why complicate things further, if dropping them alongside videogames and labelling them as “Visual Novels” already does the trick?

    I feel that people discussing this expect this shift in classification to have some implicit effect on games – perhaps they believe distancing certain games from what they consider “true games” will make the medium evolve or whatever. I, on the other hand, can only see confusion resulting from it. The system works as it is – why change it?

    So, I guess my personal opinion regarding if Journey or Gone Home are games is – I don’t give a shit, I consider them games out of convenience (and the latter is a very shitty game). I don’t see any sort of academic debate on this issue bringing forth anything remotely useful beyond intellectual onanism.

  • Erthwjim

    But did Watchmen advertise itself as a novel? I guess that’s what I’m saying, don’t call yourself a novel and not expect to be judged as a novel. If the reader (or gamer) wants to consider your product a novel, then by all means I have no issue with them calling it such, but if you call your product as such, expect it to be judged by the same standards other products in that category are held to, and don’t get mad when people feel it doesn’t hold up to other products in that category.

  • Guest

    Your right. At the time it was coming out they considered it a comic. a very good comic, but nothing more.

  • TeLin特林

    I personally feel Gone Home is more of a game than Depression quest.

    At least in Gone Home the player has more control…instead of just simple choices in the form of an “adventure group.”

    I think a lot of the animosity comes from many(seemingly on the Anti-GG side) are pushing for these type of games.

    I’m not sure I’d call it “fear,” but at least for me….it scares the shit out of me if games devolved to what the “Anti-Gameplayers” want.

    Like the writer from Dragon Age 2(Helper)? Wants a “skip the action” button to get to the story. Just the “adventure story” type choices.

    Ugh…go read a book/watch a movie.

    Why sit down with a control to watch something that is levels below CGI films?

  • Fenrir007

    I know a pretty unfun game. It’s called “my goddamn job”.

    If I wanted to play games that aren’t fun, I would just put some extra hours at work. At least I’m getting paid to do it.

  • I have to say that the label “videogames” for the examples given is not correct. A game, as stated, needs to have rules, some sort of goal, which requires effort and there’s always a chance to lose due to competition.

    The quintessential games, the ones that should come to mind whenever this question arises are the ones we used to play as kids, like tag or hide ‘n’ seek. If a video game is missing basic things like the spirit of competition or the ability to lose, it’s not a game. Hell, I’ve said it somewhere before, but if things like depression quest are games, then so are all the interactive encyclopedia CDs from the 90s.

  • goodguya

    I think the subject of game definitions being a contentious is like that because there are lines which are being crossed constantly. There is no straight center wherein we can say two lines exist, that of “game” and “not game”.

    I will as liberally call things not-games as I will call what others think of as not-games as games. The primary thing for me in these definitions is the notion of “challenge”. If a “game” provides no degree of challenge, it’s not a game. I haven’t played it, but I believe Journey is a game because you do actually have to face enemies and challenges of moving around the environment. Flower, however, is not a game despite it having a score. It’s adding game elements to a challengless space.

    Gone Home is a game as much as Myst is a game. I don’t even understand why people argue this. It’s like System Shock 2 without the good bits, but it’s still a game. Dear Esther is the poster child for not being a game. There is no challenge. It’s a “Virtual Installation” as TB would call it.

    Calling something a not-game is not an indictment on its quality. It’s just as much as saying that tic-tac-toe is not an action game or that some arcade shooter is not an “in-depth” game. They provide a framework for understanding them in the interactive space. Is this for you? Well it’s not a game, so are you interested in playing a piece of software which provides none of the challenge of a game?

    There is discussion to be had, as with anything. Don’t try and put up a brick wall when taking a stance on something with a lot of connotations like this. I just think that those people who are super defensive about their game’s or not-game’s place in the spectrum are just loony. Be willing to talk about systems and mechanics if you want to be some sort of “innovating artist”, rather than blocking your ears when the debate comes up. You may not realize what is actually being said.

  • I’ve been having this argument with myself for years, long before it became a bone of contention. There seems to be an idea, among gamers and non-gamers alike, that videogames are something qualitatively different to, say, board games or field games. I think the fact that so many AAA titles especially are big production numbers with acting and story and whatnot confuses people. Perhaps they think it’s only an accident of history that we call these things we play on our consoles and PCs “games”, and not – as some pretentious souls would have it – “interactive entertainment” or some such formulation.

    But the way I’ve always framed it is that a game has an object. You see it in the rules for board games (I’m thinking the family, Monopoly/Trivial Pursuit type here): “The object of the game is…”. It’s usually the first line; it’s that important to the definition of the game. They are, to employ a phrase used disdainfully by anti-game types, “goal-oriented”. There can be no debate about this: games are goal-oriented. If it’s not goal-oriented, it’s not a game. Football without goals is just kicking a ball around. Which can be fun, but it can’t be called a game.

    For what it’s worth, I started thinking along these lines when people began to talk about “genres” in gaming. Most of what we think of as different genres are really different games. Every FPS is basically the same game, with relatively minor variations. Which isn’t to dismiss them; it’s just an observation that at root, the object – shoot stuff in front of you – is the same. (If you doubt this, consider capture-the-flag. It really is the same game every time. Again, not necessarily a bad thing. People have been playing soccer for about 150 years and still enjoy it.) Every driving game is basically the same game too, although sometimes they’re Pac-Man. (Think about it.) It’s a very helpful way to think of videogames, I find, and definitely relevant here.

  • Shane

    Wittgenstein has already successfully (in my opinion) tackled the philosophical problem decades ago: http://www.philosophy-index.com/wittgenstein/family-resemblance/

    Coincidentally, he used the word ‘game’ as an example of how “some words do not have a single essence that encompasses their definition.”

    No single thing is common to all uses of the word ‘game’. For instance, not all games are played for fun or as recreation; games like hockey and football are played professionally, and some casino games are played out of addiction. Not all games have scores or points, nor do they all have teams or any equipment that would define them as games and not some other activity.

    Wittgenstein says that rather than each use of the word ‘game’ having a relationship to a common feature of reality or of the thoughts behind them, that is, to a single essence, the relationship between the uses of the word is more interesting. It is here that he brings up family resemblance.

    Wittgenstein says that the way in which family members resemble each other is not through a specific trait but a variety of traits that are shared by some, but not all, members of a family.

    To illustrate this point, consider a family of four siblings: Jane, John, Sally and Tim.

    Jane, Sally and Tim all have red hair, while John’s is brown.

    Jane and Tim both have tall, wide foreheads.

    Tim, Sally and John all have very distinctive, elongated noses.

    John and Jane both have numerous freckles.

    None of the features mentioned are common to all members of the family, but they all resemble each other in some way — there are family traits that show up in multiple members of the family.

    For Wittgenstein, this is how ‘game’ and many other words have a consistent meaning. Common features of games, like recreation, scores, teams, rules, etc. are present in various games but not others, but the general overlapping mesh of these features is where the word gets its meaning.

    Hence, the meaning of some words is a relation much like family resemblance.

    I suppose for video games, the same “family resemblance” concept applies, except on a smaller overlapping mesh of features.

  • MrAndrewJ

    ET and Superman on the Atari 2600 came to mind when I finished Gone Home. Gone Home did at least feature some objectives, even if it missed the “game over” state of those older titles. Gone Home also apparently had a problem that even the developers may not have always called it a game.
    I’m comfortable calling both Gone Home & Depression Quest games. With sincerity more than sarcasm: Choose Your Own Adventure books were my Gameboy in the mid 80s.
    Were the games any good? I guess that depends on whether they achieved their goals.
    I would only beg to be honest about them. Gone Home is a strong interactive narrative using a first person game engine and only a few puzzles to solve. Depression Quest was made on an open source text adventure tookit. It resembles a somber Choose Your Own Adventure book and shows a limited view of what clinical depression may look like.
    In both cases I can think of similar media that could be “played” without debate. I don’t think there should be shame in calling those games, nor shame in wanting to play another AAA first person shooter.

  • Verther

    I think Lucy Walcott misses the actual point. All you say is true, Lucy, but the problem stays. We need a comprehensive term for all forms of interactive entertainment, because “game” doesn’t cover ones like Journey or Gone Home. It is also somewhat diminishing to call Journey or Heavy Rain “games”. To give the genre a comprehensive term means liberating it from the debate and the confusion. It’s something alike “is a movie without actors a movie?” The answer is yes, because movies are classified according to how they are made, not their content (a documentary is still a movie). That is the issue with “game”, because as you correctly state, it implies a losing state and a test of skills or luck. A new term is needed and has to be used in the proper public setting to be popularized, kinda like “graphic novels” has become a new term for “comics”, which, nowadays, often have nothing comical in them. All videogames have an interactive component, and that should become the source of the name. “Interactivies” is horrible, though. “Inters”? Bad. “Interacts?” Even worse. “Interactive novels”? Just plain wrong.
    Who’s the hero who will find the right term? Because unfortunately, a new term is needed.

  • Thomas Fährmann

    When i read an Ebook and i jump randomly from side to side then i now call it gaming. Plain and simple. Then i write down some bad experiences I had in the past and upload it somewhere to a website where you can read all my anonymous BS.
    At the very end of my random and anonymous BS (because you dont know me in private you KNOW!) you can call yourself a well educated non-gameplay gamer that is a special person of a deeper understanding of the living and the dead things.
    Thanks to 2014 that we live in a new kind of fairy tale where everyone defines everything new and the stupid media supports it as long it makes them ad revenue!
    Thanks to my sisters on planet mars and props to the galactiv conquerors of planet zulu0815 behind the death star obsololililum. All hail the idiotic zeitgeist and the hipsters!