Image from Flickr User: Thomas Schrantz

The Big Question: What Really is a Video Game?

Image from Flickr User: Thomas Schrantz
Image from Flickr User: Thomas Schrantz

When we decided on the topic of “defining a video game”, it seemed rather easy at first. If you’re even here reading this, that means you have an interest in the subject, and in this day and age, if someone told me they didn’t know what a video game was, I would be rather shocked. And then I would get to converting them into a gamer as quickly as possible, for the sake of mankind itself.

While we know what a video game is, I don’t think the definition of the term is accurate. When I looked up the word “video game” on the Internet, it was defined vaguely as a “game played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program on a television screen or a display screen”, but nowadays, everything is done electronically on a screen, so what does that really mean? Because I, personally, don’t consider the Solitaire you have on your computer to be a video game, nor would I consider playing chess online or checkers or any of those other kinds of games to be video games, either. And yet, based on the definition, they are as much video games as Super Mario Brothers or Halo. What about those text-based games? Are they not video games, since they involve text rather than images?

I used to consider video games to be played on consoles, while PC games were their own category, a distinction I no longer make, especially when there seem to be an increasing number of games available on both. Nevertheless, console games seemed easiest to define, and yet, at the same time, I once had this game on the Super Nintendo for learning to play the piano, and I’m not really sure that counts as a video game. And so, the more I think about it, the more confused I get. For example, I never really thought of Angry Birds or those other games that are popular on the Internet (believe it or not, I have actually never even tried them…ever) to be video games in the truest sense of the word, and yet I’m basing this off of the fact that Angry Birds merely differs from what I grew up with and so isn’t included in the same category as Donkey Kong Country and The Legend of Zelda games from my childhood.

So, after all this rambling I have just forced upon you, I have come to the conclusion that the definition of “video game” is subjective and as personal as these games are to their players. I have realized that the definition I have been using all these years is really just a summary of what I like to see in a video game. I think there should be a goal, but Animal Crossing has no goal, and it’s certainly a video game. I prefer it if there is a plot and characters, but Tetris appears to be lacking both. In the end, I believe video games are too personal of an experience to really define. They are too varied to have any one definition, and so I have but one definition I have devised that I think will suffice.

If you are here, then you must have some personal connection to video games. I enjoy making costumes, but I don’t look at web sites about the topic, except for advice. Video games are not what most people think, and I think that’s why there are many out there who don’t take them seriously. Video games aren’t just mindless ways to kill time. They are personal. They are personal ways to interact with something that doesn’t exist in the real world, whether you are platforming or adventuring or simply decorating your house and talking to your animal neighbors. There is a connection between gamer and game, and that is why I don’t consider Solitaire a video game. I don’t feel any personal attachment from playing such a game, but I most certainly do when playing Kingdom Hearts or Okami.

The definition at the beginning of this post is too cold to accurately convey what games really are and what they are to those who play them. My life is different because of them, and better, and I don’t think my life would improve thanks to simply “manipulating images produced by a computer program”. They mean something to me and anyone else who is willing to label themselves as a gamer. And so, I have finally arrived at my definition. Video games are electronic games that I can personally connect with.

So, what is your personal definition of a video game? What kinds of games do you consider video games and what do you not?

Duck: an aquatic avian of immense charm and an irresistible quack; not edible

9 thoughts on “The Big Question: What Really is a Video Game?”

  1. ‘My life is different because of them, and better, and I don’t think my life would improve thanks to simply “manipulating images produced by a computer program”.’

    Couldn’t agree more if I tried!

      1. Thanks much. It’s hard to define something that holds so much meaning to me, but after I rambled long enough, I got it. Rambling leads to the answers to all life’s mysteries.

    1. People fail to realize how much video games really mean to those who play them. But, us fellow gamers know what a video game really is. We know. And I feel sad for those who won’t give gaming a chance because they don’t understand what it really is.

  2. Wonderful summation! This has been a fascinating question to consider, and I think you hit the nail on the head in saying games are “personal,” because they are. They are different things to different people, and yet they are everything to everyone.

    1. Thanks much. People look at games and see a frivolous pastime, but they miss the personal connection us gamers have with them. They touch something deep within my soul, and they are so much more than an obsession or a waste of time like so many others want to label them.

  3. Awesome article! If I had to sum “video games” up into a one word, it would probably be “experience” – they’re just as much an experience as watching a movie, reading a book, or listening to a piece of classical music. (In many ways, they’re a culmination of all of these things.) The interactivity of those experiences allows me to flaunt my own personality in them, which is something that not many mediums can accomplish in quite the same way! (That’s why I love video games so much!)

    1. That’s pretty much the perfect word to describe video games. When I talk about them, I often say they are preferable to movies and books because you get to “experience” video games, and you are only a passive bystander in other forms of media. I love being a part of something rather than just part of an audience.

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