Games are Nothing

Video games are the computer's native artform. They're the next big thing in sports. And while we're at it, they make some pretty sweet toys. Video games are everything and nothing in particular. The previous statement made perfect sense. Yes it did.

So, to put what you're about to read (and what you've just read) in context: I'm a relative nobody on the internet, so it surprises me when I get a lot of responses to my writing. What surprises me even more is when someone goes the whole nine yards and responds with an essay of his own. Especially since the essay he responded to was, looking back, mostly total garbage.

I was in a foul mood when I wrote it, and to the person who responded to it, I'll take this time to apologize if it rubbed you the wrong way. I take full responsibility.

The rest of you listen up. This is important.

The big idea behind that old essay of mine was this: Video games are failing to reach their full potential because the industry sees them as nothing but toys. Is that correct? Yes and no. We're almost getting there until we hit the word "Toys." Remove that word.

So what do we put in its place?

That's not the point. The point is the rest of the sentence.

The rest of the sentence is gospel. You could put any word in there and it would still work. Including "Art."

Games are Nothing

"I dare you to say that to my face, punk."

Now why on earth would I say something like this? After all, I'm certain I fall squarely into the "Games as Art" camp, as evidenced by my whole blogging history, and by the fact that I went to the trouble of coming up with the phrase "Computer's Native Artform." And the whole point I was trying to make in "The Toy Conundrum" was that "Video games aren't toys! They're Art!" But think about it: If my beef was that they were treating games as one thing and one thing only, wouldn't I seem a little hypocritical? (And, as the rebuttal I got so kindly pointed out, what's so wrong with toys, anyway?)

...Okay. Now what? Are they art or are they toys? The right answer is that the question is wrong. So, this statement is not even wrong. It doesn't even aim that high.

And by the way, they're both, and then some.

All this a bit confusing to you? Think about television. Would you consider it an artistic medium? I hear Game of Thrones is pretty good this time of year, so we'll say yes. But where does that put the news, or a Public Service Announcement, or the FIFA World Cup (Another big deal around now?) The FIFA World Cup isn't art; it's sport. Neither are the news and weather, but I'll go out on a limb and say they're pretty important (especially the first one, as my squealing relatives can attest.) So if television is an artistic medium, and these things are not art, then what are they doing on my television?

Games are Nothing

Beautiful, beautiful non-art.

The answer is simple. A television isn't an artistic medium. It's a box. In all seriousness, it's nothing more than a way of transmitting images. What those images are and what they mean is up to you (assuming you ever got on TV (yeah right.))

It's a mere means of communication, it's format, not content. All mediums are like this. Radio is music, drama, current events. A photograph can be an ode to Mother Nature or an aid in a criminal investigation. Print runs the gamut from fiction to nonfiction reference to activity books and every topic in between. And before television invaded our homes, we used to go to the cinema for our news.

Video games are no different from any of that. And that's okay! Just because they can be one thing doesn't mean they can't be others. They're just another means of communication, tied to computers. Even better, they're a dynamic means of communication because of their interactivity. So what do you want to communicate?

  • The ultimate test of twitch reflexes, riddled with traps, bursting with 1ups, and full to the brim with arcade goodness?
  • A simulation of the inner workings of an office cubicle?
  • A cross section of the deepest ravines of your turbulent soul?
  • Goat Simulator?

Whatever, buddy. Go wild. You can do ANYTHING. (*raises hands, sparkle sparkle*)

Perhaps the thing that makes this so difficult to realize is the word "video games" playing tricks on us. It wouldn't be the first time. I'm not even sure what I think of that word anymore. I mean, I like it, but it's evidently really inaccurate and it just keeps making things worse. What we call "video games" is more likely a spectrum containing a wide variety of interactive experiences, covering the arts, sports, games, toys and who knows what else. They all exist in a media landscape where, free of any such formal categorization, they have freely mingled with elements of each other, which doesn't sound half bad.

On the other hand, realizing this comes with its own problems. In particular, trying to categorize the heaving lot of these "mingled" games would be a compulsive organizer's worst nightmare. Or wet dream, but you get the point. It's something potentially wonderful, but the theoretical ramifications of it are so terrifying that I almost want to crawl back into my cave and wait for time to sort things out.

Games are Nothing

This gets especially complicated once we get into theoretically competitive games with a distinctive solo mode. e-Sport or digital game?

But all that aside, we have, at least, a new sense of what video games are and what they're for. Turns out they're good for lots of things:

  • For socializing with friends
  • For spending some well-deserved "me time"
  • For building
  • For training your mind and body
  • For learning
  • For experimenting
  • For advertising
  • For competing
  • For introducing the world to people like you...
  • Or just to kill some time between flights.

And that thing you're thinking of, right now? Video games are for that too.

Video games are all-encompassing, art and craft, story and toy.

Video games are nothing, and they are everything in the whole world.

So, see that "Interactivity Spectrum" picture I made for the header image? Yeah, that's all wrong. I mean, what would it be measuring anyway? Now, that's where you come in: If there really was an Interactivity Spectrum, what would it look like? What you include? What would be where? What would we be measuring? I'll be waiting to hear your answers in the comments below!

Contact page here.

So...this is on my Tumblr now, so I guess it makes sense to leave a link.

(And by the way, would you believe I've been writing here for a year now?)