What is a video game?

What is a video game?

If you go to Gamedefinitions.com, a definition of game appears: it is "a formalized system limited by arbitrary boundaries". But if you click on "I disagree", another appears: "a non-mandatory activity within a safe space" or "a set of rules involving an artificial conflict that represents a subset of the world". The idea came to Paolo Pedercini, the Italian behind Molleindustria (developer of video games such as Democratic Socialism Simulator and Unmanned). The vastness of definitions gives a good idea of ​​a widely open question: still today, defining what exactly a video game is is not easy. A video game is, in fact, a language, a means and, at the same time, a result: how to explain what it is in a few words?

Yet, we share the term video game with a set of very different experiences. . Lichenia, Wheels of Aurelia and Returnal, taking three products at random, are very different expressions of the same medium. If we disassemble them one piece after another, we would find elements so different from each other that we wonder how they can represent the same medium (the video game, in fact). How could we take DOOM (with its dynamic shootings, three-dimensional graphics, powerful music) and put it on the same shelf as Mountain, a game where a mountain talks to the gamer, in a limited and vast experience at the same time?

The question is not unique to the videogame, but also involves other media sectors, such as TV, cinema and photography, according to Matteo Bittanti, associate professor at IULM in Milan, coordinator of the first level university master in game design and author of books such as "Video games. Performance, entertainment, streaming", edited by Mimesis Edizioni and edited together with Enrico Gandolfi. "With this I do not want to say that the issue of nomenclature is not important, on the contrary, it is central; but it is less linked to the intrinsic characteristics of the medium and more to the correlated social, cultural and political perceptions" underlines Bittanti. One example is the use of the term "digital video" to refer to video art. "Similarly, the term 'graphic novel' aims to culturally elevate some expressions of comics using terminology akin to the most 'noble' form of expression in literature (novel is the English equivalent of novel, ed)" he adds.

"It comes to mind - Bittanti goes on - McLuhan's thesis according to which new media, when they emerge, are generally qualified as devoid of artistic and cultural value, but indirectly end up elevating the previous media to art". The reference is to the world of cinema, initially perceived as "disengagement, novelty and gimmick" and then became art "when television reaches the mainstream". The same can be said, according to Bittanti, for TV: from kitsch (with quiz shows and variety programs) to "new and powerful form of storytelling" as soon as the video game arrived, which in turn inherited. the role of waste of time. "Today no one describes TikTok as an art, while the idea that the video game has become one is now widespread, even at an institutional level", points out Bittanti.

Mountain is a very different experience from the typical ones associated with the term 'video game'. Trying to establish the poles that allow us to define the video game, interactivity is the first feature that comes to mind: in doing so, however, here is another dead end. "The very notion of interactivity is strongly contested, especially in the context of game studies, also in light of the fact that today media hybridization dominates in things like Bandersnatch and visual novels".

"The artistic achievements- expressives of the video game are already more than relevant and one should not feel any envy towards literature or cinema "comments Francesco Toniolo, professor at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, co-author of" Crystals of dreams and reality. The culture of Final Fantasy ", author of" Cross-media storytelling. From literature to videogames ", both published by Unicopli, and co-editor of" Emozioni da Gioca "(Poliniani), soon to be released.

"You are just following a different path, appropriate to the medium you are in. I consider the term videogame already complete and very noble". According to Toniolo, in short, the game "is one of the most important and serious activities that a human being can perform, so I don't feel any shame." The video game can show its seriousness not so much through a new definition, but through "concrete examples", which show its expressive potential. "Changing his name is a magic trick that can convince someone, but that does not solve the root problem in any way," he adds.

In Wheels of Aurelia, interaction is limited: the user is limited to make choices in the dialogues. Even the movement of the vehicle can be autonomous. Also according to Toniolo, the definition of what a specific medium is a discussion that also affects other sectors, such as books and cinema. "In many cases it seems to me that those who identify these defining problems in video games are not so much thinking about issues of heterogeneity of the mechanics, which I do not see as a problem, just as it is not a problem that essays, novels and poetic miscellany are 'books', but to the seriousness and value of what video games offer "says Toniolo. "As if to underline that there is a generic nature of topics and themes in which high and low is mixed and this is not liked".

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During the trial between Epic Games and Apple, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney , he explained, answering the judge's question, that a video game "tries to build some sort of goal to achieve, unlike open experiences like Fortnite's Creative Island". Is this definition sufficient? "It's never easy, but the question of the goal is correct" answers Toniolo. "The fact is that even some more open experiences have objectives, even if they may not be the classic 'kill 500 goblins' or 'collect 25 titanium plates' mission. And to achieve those objectives, resources are needed. Again, not necessarily. the resources are gold, wood and green gems. They could be stories and dialogues or information that you have tracked down in the game and that you need to decode the story that that product is offering you, "he continues. "These are also objectives, they are regulated and are linked to certain resources that can be acquired and spent in various ways".

The term videogame, according to Toniolo, can however be limiting because it would exclude all experiences that are not "video ", like audio games. "In any case, they are mere taxonomic issues concerning particular cases which, sometimes, one is not even thinking about when discussing the potential limitation of the term" sums up Toniolo. For Bittanti, "videogame is an umbrella term that indicates a plurality of media experiences just as photography indicates a set of iconographic artefacts and practices and exactly how 'video' today applies to a multitude of 'things'".

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