Friday, August 22, 2014

Grown Ups VS Gaming - Part 2 of 4: Troubling Terminology

This post is part two of a series beginning with this post.

What if books were called paper scribbles?  And instead of reading books, you looked at them.  Thus instead of "reading a book", you called the activity looking at paper scribbles.  That's a rather demeaning way to describe the act of mentally digesting literature, no?  And what if films were called flashy pictures?  Does watching flashy pictures sound less distinguished than viewing a film? And what if music albums were called noise gimmicks?  In that case we never played a record, rather we spun noise gimmicks.  Now there's something a proper grown up would not do 'eh?  But luckily in all of those mediums, there exists classier terminology widely accepted culturally.  Too bad video games got a bad rap then.

Think about the name "video game" objectively.  Is that not a rather rote term for something as amazing as what it actually is?  The marriage of technology, multiple art forms, artificial reality, and actual interactivity... a brilliant cluster of potential.  Yet we commonly call this phenomenon simply a "video game".  Apparently a description that an unknown reporter coined for the magazine Vending Times during a Chicago tradeshow in 1971 (source).  Granted calling an unusual bit of technology a name based on its pure fundamentals was understandable... at that time. Unfortunately 43 years later this saddled name does not adequately encompass the scope of the medium today.  And yet we are still stuck with it culturally.  The medium therefore suffers the consequence of ignorance based on its illicit implication.  It's not the "video" part of course.  That just implies a picture in motion, fair enough.  It's the "game" part.

"Games are for children."  This is not an uncommon thought for a grown up to have.  Okay, sure, "ring around the rosy", "duck duck goose", "hide and go seek", "tag your it"... these are games that children commonly play.  As an adult, I don't find those activities very alluring.  It sounds about as fun as running around in the dirt kicking a ball.  Oh, sorry, that's soccer.  A game grown men are culturally allowed to play and are often paid millions of dollars to do so.  Honestly I don't have any problems with soccer.  But I do have a problem with any adult who has issues with other adults playing soccer video games.  Just because they're video games.  Yes it's hypocritical.  But in some folks' minds soccer is not merely a game see, because society leaves off the "game" part of its namesake conveniently.

So what's a better name for "video games"?  A common phrase I've seen in critic circles is interactive entertainment.  I agree that's a better description than "video game".  However, I don't particularly adhere to it either.  Primarily because it attributes the medium as being purely entertainment.  I don't deny a huge swath of the medium is geared towards that aspect, but it's hardly solely that.  Video games have long been used as training tools by the military and commercial pilots.  In that sense video games cease being entertainment, and are called simulators instead.  But we can't call the next Mario title a simulator.  Unless you're training to squash turtles and slide down questionable conduits.

What then are some better names for the term "video game"?  If you have some, leave me a comment below.  Personally, I'm fond of the descriptor "digital".  I can't offhand think of any electronic video game that isn't digital.  Continuing with that theme, digitals consist of programming code.  When this code executes, that's called "running the program".  So howabout instead of saying, "I'm going to play video games," instead you said, "I'm going to run digitals."  I think that sounds pretty badass and cyberpunky myself.

Whether or not you like my suggestion, I do hope you agree that "video games" as a descriptor of the medium is just outmoded.  It's a term that's overly simplistic and demeaning, if not outright archaic and slanderous.  Said nomenclature perpetuates the myth that video games are nothing but games amongst the culturally biased.  I strongly believe as a society we need to replace this term with one of greater breadth and relevance.  This could go a long way towards alleviating some of the prejudice and misconceptions non-gamers have towards gaming itself.  On the next Ardent post in this series, I'll talk about some of those misconceptions, explaining why they're both illogical and hypocritical.

This series is continued in this post.


  1. Something I really hadn't thought of before. It's not unlike the UAS industry (unmanned aerial systems). They've tried to come up with multiple terms for what they do (UAV, UAS, whatever), but it seems like the only one that ever sticks is the one with a negative connotation in the public mind, "drones". Never mind that "drones" aren't a good descriptor of what they are at all, and are in fact dumb planes used primarily for target practice in the military for the better part of a century.

    Still, there's a potential argument that we should just embrace the terminology, as it's likely not going to change, and work then on people's perception of the actual activity through positive means. Just as the UAS industry is slowly showing all the good work that can be done with drones, so too can video games be demonstrated as something beyond mere "childish toys".

  2. The thing about the name "drone" is that it insinuates this is a fully automated device that doesn't need human intervention to perform its duties. From what I understand though, the drones in the military are actually being controlled remotely in real time. That would mean they are actually glorified RC planes, not futuristic Skynet robots as the media spins it.

  3. Yep, pretty much. You can give them flight paths, though, but for any sorts of uses like the military has, they've got someone watching a video feed the entire time. So yeah, glorified RC planes pretty much nails the typical use-case.