|It looks nice, but is it a game?|
First Disclaimer: This text was oringally written in German, but since I would like to share my thoughts with a wider range of people, I decided to translate it. Due to the difficulties which naturally come with translations as well as my sometimes shaky understanding of the english language, there might be some weird formulations, words and even passages which do not make any sense at all. If so, feel free to ask and I try to explain it better. If you think that Google Translate does a better job then I, here is the original.
Second Disclaimer: This is some-kind of op-ed piece. Nothing of which I say is really researched and besides of my fairly deep understanding of epistemology is entirely based on my 'feelings' and 'opinions'. This of course means that it is highly subjective and should be treated like that. See it as something to think about, not as gospel, as this is how it is intended to be understood. If you still get mad about it, take a walk, calm down and think about it.
Is it really a game?
This is a question which seemed to pop up more and more often within the last two years. Prominent example such as Dear Esther, Thirty flights of Loving or Proteus seem to be on the very edge of what is normally perceived as a 'game'. You can almost bet that when you talk about one of those titles on the internet, someone will show up to explain everyone else that the mentioned title is not a 'game' but an 'interactive experience' (whatever that is). This comment then usually spawns a very long debate on which end no one really knew how it started.
This here is my contribution to this debate, although I don't think that this really is a debate. Like most other debates on the internet, it's more like a pseudo-debate dominated by people who aren't really interested in debating an issue, but more in forcing their own opinions onto everyone they come across.
So, what is a Game?
I could start this by talking about etymiology, semantics and philosophy, I could dig out some obscure definitions of the word from people who seriously think that you could categorise human creativity. I could then compare these statements and come up with an arbitrary taxonomy about the term 'games'. I could then give my system a completely ridiculous (but at the same time very intelligent) sounding name like 'ludopsychographic rhombus-diagram'. And then I have to hope that my chair does not collapse under the weight of my own, overinflated ego.
So let's not do this, let us do something more else instead.
Games are creative. Every game is fictional, be it in its arrangement (rules etc.) or because of what you're doing while playing it (like pretending to be a pirate or something like that).
Games are alsways human-made. There are no games in nature itself, every game is created by us and exists within our cultural framework. We use games to create our own worlds in which we have complete control over its rules and laws. This stands in contrast to the 'real world' (meaning everything which was not created by us). We did not control the rules on which the universe operates (if it even has rules at all) and it probably does not care about our existence either.
We're pretty much helpless in this real world, but in our own, fictional worlds? Here we have complete control over everything. You hate gravity? Just create a world where you can fly.
Science is a game too. By using our sheer limitless imagination and a set of preliminary defined rules, we try to learn how the 'real world' functions.
But reality is a pretty hard to grasp and it's essentially out of reach, so what we do instead is building a 'reality game', in which we try to mimic reality as close as possible and in which we think that we have some kind of control over it.
But those Power Fantasies are not limitless and from time to time, reality comes over and, like some kind of infinitely sized school-bully, kicks down our sand castle of carefully constructed rules and laws.
What is our reaction towards that? We build higher walls, try to confine the rules of our reality game, because deep in our hearts we fear reality. It's something we can't control, it's something we don't understand, it's something which is bigger then us.
We don't like to feel insignificant. This is why we build artificial worlds in which we have the complete control and in which our very existence is the most important thing.
Yeah but what has that all to do with videogames?
Well, Videogames are part of this system. Not only that, but Videogames give us the opportunity to recreate and interact with those fictitious worlds.
Worlds in which we are important, in which we are in control, in which we determine what happens. Worlds which put us in the middle of everything and where our existence has a clearly defined purpose.
Take away even one of those elements from the player and he starts to feel insecure. He starts to ask questions: What am I supposed to do? Why am I here? What is the meaning of all of this? He starts to question the purpose of his virtual existence. He starts to feel vulnerable, because he's confronted with things which lie outside his direct control. He's reminded of reality.
'This isn't a game!' is his defense for events like those. It's an attempt to regain control over the unknown by defining a set rules in order to confine his virtual reality within a set a of controllable and well-known parameters. He starts a 'virtual' Reality-Game.
The attempt to force Videogames into some kind of arbitrary definition which help us to define what is and is not a game, is a game in itself. It creates a world in which only objects which fulfill a certain set of parameters are allowed to exist and which only these object are relevant. But it is a game which, in contrast to science, is not helping us in any way to cope with reality. It is in fact a game which limits our imagination and which tries to put a fence around human creativity.
But most of all, it's pointless. Like reality always finds a way to demonstrate us, that it does not care about how we define it, our creativity can't be put behind a fence either.
Videogames give us the opportunity to create quasi-material recreations of worlds which used to only exist within our minds. We must not limit this opportunity by trying to force them into some kind of pre-determined ruleset.
Proteus is a Game. Thirty flights of Loving is a Game (although I didn't understand a single bit of it). Dear Esther is a Game. The discussion about whether or not those games are games is a game too.
It's time to treat them like that.
It's time to treat them like that.