What Exactly is a “Video Game” Anymore?

Image by Flickr user:  Christopher Schnese

It would be an understatement to say that video games have changed in the 42 years since Pong! first began making the medium popular. Indeed, since then games have progressed from moving lines and dots to full 3-dimensional worlds built to feel alive. Along with the visuals, the objectives have changed too; from simply getting a high score, to finishing the game, to a myriad of other purposes (with the idea of a “score” almost becoming a foreign concept outside of multiplayer). Video games aren’t just games anymore, they’re something more. But what exactly are they if not games?

Image by Flickr user: JBLivin
Image by Flickr user: JBLivin

They aren’t the simple things that they were even 10 years ago. “Games” today aren’t mindless; they carry messages and ask tough questions(The Last of Us/ Spec Ops: The Line). They can be chaotic battlefields for having it out with fellow players (Call of Duty, Halo, etc.), or be nothing more than a calm walk through a virtual environment (Dear Esther). They can an entirely hands on experience that depends solely on the player to move forward (BioShock) , or can merely bring the player along for the ride (Heavy Rain).

They’ve become complex simulators, allowing us to see what life would be like as other people, get glimpses into other professions, and even discover how we would fare if left in charge of institutions ranging in size from small families (The Sims) to entire civilizations (Civilization). We even used them as a means to reach out and touch our own history, and even explore the possibilities of how the modern world as we know has come to be (Assassin’s Creed). Taken as a medium, gaming isn’t just playing games anymore.

With all this diversity of play and purpose in the medium, the term “video games”  in the traditional sense isn’t just an over simplification, it’s the wrong term entirely. Video games aren’t “video games” anymore, but experiences; digital experiences which challenge their audience in ways that no other medium can.

They’re still changing too. In all likelihood, in five years time,that which we call a “video game” will be something entirely different from what we’ve come to expect in the here and now.

What do you think a “video game” is these days? Are we approaching the limit of what they can be? Or are there still discoveries yet to be made?


7 Comments Add yours

  1. geekoutsw says:

    To me, a game is an interactive medium that ultimately is fun. Something must be controllable and there has to be defined rules, no matter how loose the rules. All games, however, are sets of rules which when given a visual representation are fun to feed input into.

    Video games will mean so much more to civilisation as the years go on. If you had said when Pong first came out that many years on, people will be playing games together from all across the world with computers and consoles with super realistic graphics, people might have laughed at you.

    Now, it’s hard to believe a game like “Pong” is the reason we are where we are. Ultimately: Games, be video game, board game, pen and paper or just games you play with friends, are inherently designed to be fun 🙂

    Great post and a great question.


    1. Hatm0nster says:

      Great point. It’s still a game so long as there are rules and some element of “play”.

      Still, it’s becoming difficult to see the rules in some. Take Dear Esther, it’s more or less wandering along a path. What are the rules in there?


      1. geekoutsw says:

        Amusingly, even a game that says “make your own rules” has rules to keep it a game.

        It is interesting how minimalistic you can make a game. Kick a can down the street and see how many times you kick it: people consider that a game.

        This is why I love gaming, it’s ridiculously diverse. From can kicking to being an entirely different (fictional) person, gaming has no median, hence it appeals to such a crowd 🙂

        But I agree: how far can we go? 😉


  2. Kooky says:

    To me, video games haven’t really changed much because I think their main purpose has always been to provide us with experiences that we would’ve not otherwise been able to have in real life and provide us with a distraction from the real world.

    Even when playing Pong!, you could imagine yourself as a great athlete. The very first games ever made were ones where you could be a tennis player, a strategist, or a captain of a spaceship.

    What’s changed over the years is the delivery of these experiences. Rather than just having players create their own stories, creators can now express the stories they want to tell and create a deeper immersion because of how technology has advanced.

    There are so many things in the world that have been here for centuries and yet, are still being improved and developed today. Video games have been here for less than a century and ideas are constantly bounced around to create new ones, so I don’t think we’re approaching a limit just yet. Virtual reality is showing promise and I doubt developers will stop there.


    1. Hatm0nster says:

      True VR is finally starting to show some real promise. Have you heard of the “Omni”? It’s a stand you strap yourself into that works in concert with an Oculus rift, allowing the user to physically walk around a virtual world.


  3. duckofindeed says:

    You’re right, video games are indeed more than games, and many people don’t seem to realize that. They are so much more, and I see them as more of an opportunity to experience a different life other than my own. It allows us, as you said, to be someone else and explore places we could never go on our own. We can be soldiers and aliens and even little purple dragons and explore places that only exist in the imaginations of those who created them.

    But, video games only let you do so much. They only let you make so many choices. Most games only have one outcome, even if you can make some choices throughout the game. Maybe someday games will become even more advanced, and our choices will be even more meaningful and create even more outcomes. Then, if we can really influence our world, we will be able to be an ever bigger part of the games we play. Then, we can really see how OUR choices would affect events in that world, not just the choices of the characters we are controlling.


    1. Hatm0nster says:

      Won’t that be an incredible thing! The thought sure makes one excited for the possibilities that lie ahead!


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