In its broadest terms, a "game" includes anything that actively engages human interaction with some form of end goal. Baseball, pinochle, horseshoes, Monopoly
, and yes, even Words with Friends
. However, personally – and I believe for a majority of players – when considering nominees for game of the year, I don't instinctively think, "What's Zynga done recently?" This definition of a game, in terms of the current argument, is too broad. I do have some
Video games have the ability to grab the concentration of their audiences, engage players fully for hours on end, and evoke intense emotional and physical responses, but not always in equal measure. It's these last two criteria that form the crux of my definition.
Shooters, for example, rely heavily on physical interaction – scanning the environment for enemies, tracking red dots and ammo loads, flinging fingers across gamepads – and less on narrative or emotional impact. The same can be said of platformers, fighting games and many RTS titles. That observable, tangible reaction makes it easy to define these as games for the player and his audience.
This empathy is why we devour Journey and remember Ico.
As demonstrated repeatedly throughout the years, video games affect players in deeper ways than purely physical; this year's outcry over the story in Mass Effect 3
is a great example of emotional investment in a video game. The unseen impact is often more pronounced and memorable for players, and is a large reason we continue to play games – the mental high, better than any television show, movie or book. It's better, to some, because they had an actual hand in telling the story, deciding the outcome. The physical component, but rooted in an emotional entanglement. This empathy is why we devour Journey
and remember Ico
The best games combine these two impact paths – emotional and physical – and find a balance complimentary of their unique genres and universes. Black Ops
includes zombies because a shooter lends itself to physical prowess, and such an absurd plot twist doesn't matter to players who mainly want to shoot all the things. The Walking Dead
includes zombies to tell an intense story of human survival and uses a more emotional format, point-and-click adventure, to deliver that experience to players who crave the serotonin roller coaster.
A game, in this debate, is a combination of physical input and emotional investment, both used to complete the goals of the world. A good game conquers both of these parts in a seamless, entertaining and memorable manner. Now that we have a definition:
Not all of them are good games, but any title that involves screen-to-human interaction and tells an involved story, is a game. Point-and-click adventures, by nature, do exactly this.
If shooters are unchallenged as games because they lean disproportionately on the physical aspect of the definition, then adventures can be equally accepted for using mainly emotion. Games such as The Walking Dead
not only rely on emotion, but incorporate bursts of purely physical moments in an exacting manner to heighten the impact and draw the player deeper into the story. They are balanced within their shared genre.
"I guess, from somebody's perspective, like if you really love shooters, you wouldn't see adventure games as being that much of a game. They're definitely more on the story side."
"I guess, from somebody's perspective, like if you really love shooters, you wouldn't see adventure games as being that much of a game. They're definitely more on the story side."Jane Jensen, Gabriel Knight
That's Jane Jensen, the writer behind the point-and-click Gabriel Knight series and recent Kickstarter success Cognition
. She has a vested interest in the definition of adventure games, but also in storytelling as a craft. She defines herself as a writer first, and within games she consistently chooses to create adventure titles because they support the best use of her skills.
"In my opinion, adventure games are the best storytelling medium in games, although you certainly can have a nice story in other genres," Jensen tells me. An adventure game, she continues, is "definitely a game. If you've ever developed one, you know how challenging it is. There's so much interactivity in trying to take a story and a plotline and enable it to be approached in a number of different ways and have that sort of open-ended interactivity.
"Personally I've always been a fan of puzzles – logic puzzles, pencil puzzles – so I love that aspect of adventure games as well. To me, that makes them a game, the fact that they have that sort of thing woven into them."
Of course the easy response in this definition debate is, "It depends on who you ask." Yes, when each individual person first hears the phrase, "adventure games aren't games," his mind draws on unique scenarios and reacts according to these diverse personal experiences. This answer, however, doesn't do anything to further the debate or affect anyone's perspective (including your own). This is why defining a game is so important, before the debate about adventure games, or any game, can even begin.
So sharpen your definitions, gather your wits, broaden your mind – and start arguing.