Understanding Video Games

Over at Unwinnable I have a new piece about the phenomenal… thing… that is That Dragon, Cancer.

Writing the piece got me thinking about one of my favorite books of all time, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.  In addition to being one of the first theoretical works about aesthetics that I read as an undergrad, it is also the first time I ever encountered scholarship in an alternative form.

You see, Understanding Comics explains how various aspects of the medium work to create meaning while itself being an example of the medium.


One of the extremely useful things McCloud does in Understanding Comics is that he doesn’t take for granted what actually constitutes “comics.”  Instead, he works to craft an academic definition for the medium that encompasses things like newspaper comic strips, superhero comic books, graphic novels, and even (in the sequel, Reinventing Comics) webcomics.

He calls the umbrella that arches over all of these forms “sequential art,” a name that, he argues, gets at the root of what makes comics a unique medium apart from, say, film or literature.


While he doesn’t insist that we all use the specific term in casual conversation, he does point out that this more precise name will help us to both discover the origins of comics as we look through art history and to chart the future of the medium.

And so I got to thinking: is there an catch-all term that could define all the different things that we colloquially describe as video games?  A technical term that we would be content to apply to everything from so-called “Walking Simulators” to First Person Shooters to MMORPGs?

And would it be possible to craft a theoretical work defining this new term that is itself an example of the medium?

My plan is to craft a Twine game or a Visual Novel sketching out just such a new term.  So watch this space for the Game Development Journal as this process unfolds!

But as I argue in my piece for Unwinnable, I think that we should stick with the term “video game” in casual conversation and not be so worried about excluding certain titles because they are too casual or non-competitive or are on a different platform or have a political or educational purpose.

As it stands, I think a lot of the debates about whether certain titles “count” as video games or not are more arguments about who games “belong” to (see, for example, the mocking description of That Dragon, Cancer as “SJW Bait”).  If a new definition could help ease this


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