What is a video game?

rosden's picture

'What is a video game?' is a prediction of what future game developers will accept as videogames (well at least the games as art movement). It's about showing you SOME of the steps or movements in game development that developers in the future will work towards and pass.

Ultimately it's about showing how fundemental elements of what we
think a videogame needs COULD be broken down

I was working on this for some time and stopped around 2 months ago.
All that was really left was to finish off the last section of the context/commentary and pretty all of it up by putting it in a pdf and making it easier to read but I've lost my motivation to finish that off right now. So in the future I may do it but just in case I dont I am uploading it now.

Made For: 
An event


Random observations (apologies if I restate anything in readme)

(First four were pretty simple and I don't have anything to say about them.)

5_2 was quite an eye-opener; by this definition even a still image like Where's Waldo can be called a "video game" if it is presented digitally.

6 reminded me a lot of idle games like Cookie Clicker distilled to their most basic form. 6_2 would be the early game, where the "generate resources" button is actually important, and 6_1 would be the late game, where you've bought enough resource generators that you no longer need to manually interact.

7 as well was intriguing. If I have an image of a sudoku puzzle open in an image editor, do I have a video game on my hands? (Also: the second part reminded me a bit of some screamers that tell you to "concentrate on this image" then interrupt it.) The possible states in this "maze" are a lot more complex than in normal mazes with only walls and paths, so even if I took a still image of the second part and drew over it, it would still be a bit tricky to figure out where every box is at any given moment. It's still technically a game, but a very inconvenient game. Spent a while pondering this before moving on to 8!

8 was kind of a predictable extension of 7 (especially with the name "imagine"). Graphics here are very nice. I would argue that 8 is no longer a game the way the second part of 7 is, since there's no way of knowing how it actually works. Would those clouds in the sky fall down and kill my character Cat Mario-style? Would I have to enter the pipes somehow because my character can't jump high enough to reach the staircase? With 7 we are at least given an explanation of the mechanics, and will know exactly how the second level will work... that is, assuming there are no surprises like invisible walls or deadly crates. (While writing this I also realized we don't know whether multiple crates can be pushed at once in 7, though if the second level were impossible to solve without pushing multiple crates at once we can infer that.) I'm tempted to say that 8 is just a mockup and not a game if the players cannot possibly know how it works, but you could say the same about a Sudoku puzzle if you're not familiar with Sudoku (and the rules are not printed near the grid). I'm assuming 9 will break the pattern here... (I'm sure it will, since it has such a larger filesize.)

9... not sure why it's more than twice the filesize of 8 but even simpler (though it is borderless windowed for some reason whereas the other games are fullscreen), definitely still part of the pattern. I would say that this isn't a game the same way 8 isn't, and even the instructions do not lead me to imagine anything like a game - if it's only a character moving around a nondescript white void, there's no objective in sight, and no game. (As withPac-Man Without a Cause.) I would argue an objective is the most basic thing needed for a game.
That got me thinking: if I had a "game" that was only a level editor for 7 - maze or something like it, and with no levels built in, it would not be a game but rather a tool for creating games. So if I just doodle around and make a puzzle, that's not a game, that's design work. But if I then show my puzzle to someone else, or play a puzzle someone else made, then it's a game. But even that carries some consequences: would Super Mario Bros. be a "tool for creating games" that its developers happened to package their own game with? With Super Mario Bros., I can "create" a game with it by making a ROMhack, sure, but can I also "create" a game by pressing Start at the title screen and showing someone else the controller? Can each level be called its own "game" or is only the entire experience a "game"? Looking back, can design work itself be a "game" if your objective is just to make a level you're satisfied with?
I could say a game is only a game if there's an objective set for you by the game's creator, but again, if you strictly abide by that definition, you might regard Sudoku puzzles as just meaningless numbers on a grid unless you are explicitly told to fill in the grid as you would legitimately complete a Sudoku puzzle (something people inherently assume rather than needing clarification for now). Yet if you ignore that definition, you might think random numbers written on a wall constitute a sudoku puzzle with an invisible grid and very messily aligned numbers (and perhaps a few numbers wrongly inserted that need to be stricken out), even though to solve that nonexistent sudoku puzzle would just be entertaining yourself from nothing. ...but perhaps it really is a game once we recognize it as a game.
So all I can say for sure is that the definition of "game" is not a clear-cut definition the way "prime" and "composite" are, but we can still be experienced enough with the world to tell when things are almost certainly games. If you saw me sitting in front of a screen holding a controller, and on the screen was a gun in the bottom-right and monsters in the center, you (hopefully) would recognize that I'm playing a first-person shooter, and not claim that I'm just pushing buttons in response to a predefined motion picture. But would you know this through sheer intuition or former experience? (e.g. playing a FPS and knowing what it looks like, or previously having seen something like this and being told it's a FPS)
I'm guessing 10 is like 9 but telling you to imagine what happens outside the bounds of the window - that would explain the name, and why 9 is windowed.

10 I did not predict correctly - in the end I don't know why 9 was windowed! I suppose if this is a game, 9 is too, since in 9 you're told to point at the screen (whether it means with your finger or with the mouse is ambiguous), which constitutes an objective. Of course this goes to prove, again, the definition of "game" is difficult to fully grasp, much like with "art" or "music" (though the issue almost never comes up in mainstream games, art, and music).
So I guess anything that invokes physical action could be considered a "game", since in the moment your objective is to complete that physical action. Then the act of typing this review is a "game" as I am probing my brain for suitable words to put here and typing them as well as I can. Blinking my eyes constitutes a "game" apparently as long as I'm driven to complete the motion, reflexively or otherwise. But blinking my eyes is something I know very well not to be a game. Even if someone finds blinking to be the most fun thing in the world, that doesn't make it a game - that just means they're easily entertained. If we want words with the slightest subjectivity to have meaning, we can't just say things are indisputably in certain categories just because one person thinks they are. (Though this is entirely a thought experiment, I understand, and nobody's saying these definitions are objective.)

The text in 11 ("Daurkx wgkpc shf dstpojjbszz") I do not know the full meaning of, and I am not skilled enough with linguistics to tell if it actually does say something under some code language. But I saw "dark" in "daurkx" and "pc" in "wgkpc", so I dimmed my screen brightness and considered the game finished.
The meat of 11 in the readme I think I actually already pondered about earlier on in this comment. All I can say is that it's not a video game if it isn't on a screen of some sort. Though I wouldn't be surprised if the meaning of "screen" could be somehow deconstructed as well. (For example: pins popping out of and receding into a wall could be seen as a rudimentary 2-color display)

12 isn't a game any more than a piece of paper is a game, though the notion that both can be games reminds me of 4'33" and a particular strip in the webcomic "Irregular Webcomic!". (The annotation in that strip is a fascinating read, by the way, for more discussion on what counts as "art" and what's just meaningless color.)

bpseudopod's picture

Some thoughts on #4

#4 is interesting to me precisely because it's something that's actually been going on for quite some time, though not in the way the creator of this game visualizes it. I'm talking about the speedrun community (and related disciplines; score attack, TAS, completionists, etc). One of the most fascinating segments of the speedrunning community is the researchers, people who don't actively speedrun (they might TAS) but instead rip apart the game looking for new and faster techniques. Especially in older games, this often takes the form of tearing apart individual sections of memory in order to catalog all the hidden variables, and in particularly robust communities, people will document in detail how every mechanic works, down to the actual programming responsible for them. Maybe no community does this more than the Super Mario 64 community. If you haven't already, take a look at pannenkoek2012, of "Watch for Rolling Rocks in 0.5 A Presses" fame. Across two channels, he documents everything from cloning extra stars via glitches to the exact algorithm behind the characters' eyes blinking.

The readme brings up a few questions about whether feedback is essential for play, but the notion of how technology effects play is, I think, also worthy of exploration. Building off that, I have a few questions of my own:

  • What's the difference between exploring a game's systems externally (via examining the software) and internally (through experiencing play)?
  • What effect does examining a game's inner workings have on the player's experience of it?
  • How does the growth of technology expand the horizons of play possible within a game?
  • How does one future-proof a game, i.e. make it resistant to memory analysis, decompiling, debugging, etc if so desired?

Edit: It occurs to me that the idea of wargames, where people try to gain access to computer systems (contrived but based off real-world technologies), might be useful in discussing at least the first and last point.

gisbrecht's picture

Played this a few days ago-

Played this a few days ago- works fine on linux thankfully. I don't have much to say that others have not but I find it an interesting ritual to read a text file to understand the works. How would the effect of the games change if the context was in the games itself? In a way it feels a more metafictional practice than the 10th game...

clyde's picture

Nice PowerPoint. I enjoyed

Nice PowerPoint.

I enjoyed working through the text and the demonstrations together. What I enjoyed most was how many of the demos are arranged as dualistic comparisons. I like seeing them in quick succession and with commentary like this. Your interest in enumerating through these aspects comes through.