Finally, We’ve Stopped Debating What Makes a Game a Game

Less whining makes for better games.


What Remains of Edith Finch released recently amid… Less quibbling about whether or not it’s a game than usual. What a beautiful world. The growing acceptance of arthouse games is an encouraging sign and, when this promise finally bears a full harvest, it will be evidence that video games are just as enticing and interesting an area of expression as any other.  

 Since (I have to imagine) man first stepped out of the primordial soup, fans of electronic gaming have been debating not just the merits of certain products, but whether or not they deserve to be considered a part of the medium.

This reached new heights a few years ago when Gone Home was awarded Game of the Year honors from Polygon, the publication praising the deftness with which the game handled its central character’s nuanced emotions, accomplished through minimalist design decisions that had more in common with Myst than anything else. The fact that Gone Home was selected over much more gameplay-focused titles, such as Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us, and Bioshock Infinite, invited a deluge of condescending commentary, most of which was centered around what it meant for gaming that a release as decidedly not fun to play as Gone Home was considered the best titles to come out of 2013.  

Gone Home What Remains of Edith Finch

This debate has a habit of resurfacing every once in a while and, when I first saw footage of What Remains of Edith Finch, I steeled my psyche for yet another bloodbath of incessantly repetitious arguments set forth from atop high horses, yet the blood didn’t flow. The stones weren’t hurled. The cavalry wasn’t mounted. Take a look at the game’s steam page for instance; In my read-through of countless user reviews, I only found one that used the term “walking simulator” in a negative manner. This occurrence was a very pleasant surprise. For years I have been waiting for these silly, pointless squabbles that will never be resolved to cease; if gaming is ever going to assume the stature of other forms of media, the subsiding of these arguments is imperative.   

Let’s take a look at recently released books. As of the time of writing, three of the six best selling books on amazon are a new Neil deGrasse Tyson book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, and Rick Riordan’s newest mythological children’s novel. On NPR’s list of the Best Books of 2016, one can find Don Delillo’s Zero K right next to Bruce Springsteen’s memoir. Clearly, by both commercial and critical metrics, being a fun read is valued just as highly as being a highly literary book, or one with something to say to a very specific group of people. This harmonious coexistence of varieties of book is also seen in cinema, and is something that we, as people who love video games, must strive to embrace. There is nothing to be gained from exorcising all of the walking simulators from our midst, or, for that matter, assigning less value to games that typify dumb fun. Though one of those is more to my taste than the other, they are both video games. They allow players to sink back and enjoy a world, be it through the entirety of the controller or the arrow keys alone.  

Diversity of content is something to sought after in gaming, just as it has been achieved in literature, cinema, and television. Though some may prefer the bombast of a new superhero film to a plodding character study with a script longer than Against the Day, no one questions that they are both movies; they use light and sound to tell a story, no matter how dissimilar the employ of those particular waves are. Just as Blue Velvet can coexist with Star Trek IV, so too can What Remains of Edith Finch live alongside Nioh. Once that is accepted as fact, there will only be more great stories and gameplay experiences for everyone, each getting the press that they deserve, making gaming something that anyone can enjoy.  

Hal Olson
I'm not too picky when it comes to video games; if it's fun or has a good story, chances are I'll be a fan. My favorite game ever is Super Metroid, but other favorites include Metal Gear Solid 3, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Disgaea, Final Fantasy VI, and Xenoblade Chronicles.

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