Videogames are an interesting medium with a contentious name. Some videogames provide players with open spaces for them to navigate and explore. Other videogames let players create their own rules. Others still are virtual representations of board games or real life games, while a large number of videogames are stories that players navigate through. Some videogames even have little, if any, components that anyone could recognize as a game. Indeed, videogames can sometimes be games and other times they can be gameless stories, but they are always something that the player (another contentious term as sometimes the player is more of a reader) experiences. For the past few years, I have dedicated my time researching the rhetoric and composition of games. I have presented and published on games as rhetorical texts, and my focus has always been, to borrow a trope from literary studies, “the game itself.” Indeed, I have a book coming out later this year on the composition of games – one of a three part series, and what Reviewer 4 said was “a magnificent text that brings closure to the Bogost / Ensslin era of game studies.” So, having done everything I set out to do with regards to what videogames are, I turned my gaze inwards to engage in a bit of much needed introspection and asked myself: how do videogames make me feel? This question can be interpreted in two ways. First, it can be taken as “what are the processes by which videogames make players feel?” I’m not too concerned with that question (yet). Instead, I asked it in its second sense: what are the feelings that videogames elicit from me when I play?
I’ve been hitting Dauntless hard during last few days. I think I put in about 10 hours (2 per day), and I enjoyed most of them. I even purchased an Intro Bundle with a cool Ninja transmog (it makes any armor look like a badass ninja). For a while, I enjoyed the mindlessness of popping into an island, hunting down a monster with three other players (ok, more like wondering around until I found the monster), and then battling it to victory and then upgrade my weapons and armor.
Recently, however, I noticed something that made me enjoy the game far less.
After a brief conversation with an acquaintance, I have come to realize that many people seem to misunderstand the concept of a video game. In my conversation, I discussed with my friend the merits of several video games, including the recent Bloodborne, versus that of many indie titles like Gone Home. In the conversation, the idea that the always controversial Depression Quest, to quote my friend, “is not even a real video game”, then he went on to discuss issues such as win or lose conditions and degrees of interactivity – elements which, curiously enough, I discuss in my hopefully soon to be published manuscript that I am currently editing to begin pitching at publishing houses. In order to illuminate my friend’s perspective – and that of many others – I thought I should write a bit about what it means to be “a video game”, because why not beat a dead horse with a stick, right?