Let’s talk about the recently released Beyond: Two Souls for a second. I have one question for you. Is it a game?
Seems like a simple question right? We call it a video game, so you’d think it’s a video game. It has a “goal” that you want to achieve: getting to the end. There are areas you can succeed and fail in. That all sounds game-like, right?
But then there are things that muddy the waters a bit. For example, there is no way to die, or even to permanently fail. The game will continue on, no matter what you do, right up until the end. There aren’t really “rules,” just tiny button prompts and quick time events. In fact, whenever a scene takes a turn toward more “gamey” aspects, such as cover based shooting sequences,, it becomes less fun than slower and simpler scenes. Not to mention there is no way to “win” Beyond. All you can do is finish it.
Here’s what David Cage said about Beyond as a “game” in an interview with Gamespot. "Some people can be very conservative about this medium and this is sometimes frustrating," Cage said. "Some people wish that games would always stay what they were in the past 30 years, just with more polygons. No one should be allowed to define what a video game is or should be; no one has this power."
"A video game can be so many different things. Angry Birds is a game; Call of Duty is a game; World of Warcraft is a game; Gone Home is a game. Who can decide 'you are a video game', 'you are not a video game', 'you are not a part of this family?' No. Let's open this medium to whoever has different ideas and it's great to see people trying to do games where shooting is not the main thing."
But, does that really make “game” the correct moniker for the things we are making? According to our internet overlord Google, game is defined by, “a form of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.” Beyond and games like it (even games like The Last of Us), certainly don’t fit that definition. There isn’t a lot of sport, it’s certainly not competitive, and it’s “play’ as much as watching a movie is “play.” There is skill involved, specifically in not failing quick time events, but that doesn’t makes you “fail” at the game. Heck, even in Dragon's Lair you died. It’s almost as if it’s just a high-tech version of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. So ask yourselves, were Choose Your Own Adventure stories games? Or were they just… books?
Perhaps we need a new name for the things we are creating. Instead of “video game” maybe we should try “interactive media?” Perhaps we can call this “digital entertainment?” Or maybe “two way experience?” OK, that last one was bad, but I’m not a name guy. My point is, we have gone far beyond digital versions of Scrabble and Monopoly. What we are making now is art. We don’t call visual art “painting games” so perhaps it’s wrong to call these interactive experiences “video games” as well.
- Angelo D’ Argenio is a freelance staffer at Arcade Sushi. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the staff at Arcade Sushi or Townsquare Media. (He also is a big supporter of the “games as art” movement. Maybe Video Art would work as a name?)