On Definitions

As human, it is crucial that we are able to exchange ideas. However, one undeniable fact is that our language has limitations. One such limitations is the inability to clearly, concretely define things. What is life? what is death? what is red? what is blue? what is a video game?

These things we often think we know, but when we try to draw a clearly defined boundary on any one of these things, we often find we cannot do it. For example, at what point does one colour become another colour? How do you differentiate between a shade of pink with another shade of pink? Further more, how do you describe any colour with out mentioning “it’s what …. looks like?”. Language does not exist in a vacuum, and as such, much of what we talk about are based entirely on our personal experience. When different people have experienced different things, the same words would means something slightly different to each one of them.

Furthermore, languages changes over time. Consider words such as cellphone, where ten years ago, it would be a device you made calls with, now days it’s a gaming console, music player, person cinema and fashion accessory all rolled into one.

In the case of video games, we cannot satisfyingly define what it is. We can give typical characteristics, but we cannot give all conclusive definitions. When we really need a definition, we could say something like, it needs to have a goal, it needs to be entertaining (though what pertains as entertaining in itself is problematic), it needs to be interactive (and similarly how much interactivity constitutes as interactive), but then exceptions will always exist. On the other hand, if we do manage to come up with a definition that is all encompassing, then it would probably be so broad that it can’t help but include some item that we typically categorise under other labels. And the definition itself would probably be so broad that it becomes useless for practical purposes.

And lastly, what a video game is today may be very different to the video game ten years from now. We must be open minded, and accept that there will always be exceptions.


One thought on “On Definitions

  1. I was thinking about this question – about what a video game actually is – and I came up with one ( entirely disputable and possibly awful ) possible definition. A video game is a visual language and set of icons that generally exists in the presence of a particular activities and objects. I came to this conclusion when I was thinking about the film “Scott Pilgrim VS The World”, which is often thought of as a “video game in cinematic form” . Engaging Scott Pilgrim, , does not require any of the activities that we usually associate with video games – it does not require the use of a console, computer, or ios device, it does not require the use of a control, and it does not need continued engagement in order to progress. ( I.e, you can leave the room and Scott Pilgrim will keep playing, whereas the protagonist of a video game would wait for your instructions/ commands ). So what elements of a video game does it display ? Primarily, the visual language of a video game, in the form of interfaces ( which display information like the protagonist’s health, his accumulation of rewards and things like the names of his opponents ), clearly distinguished character roles ( i.e it is obvious which characters are the “player-characters”, which are the disengaged NPCs, and which are the “opponents” ), and an environment shaped according to the needs of gameplay ( i.e at one point a concert hall is changed into a convenient battle arena, through the movement of the crowd and physical changes to its spatial dimensions ).

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