The semantic shift of “games”

13 Aug

Because it is very very late indeed, I am obsessing about the detail. This time, I think it is justified.

One of my Facebook friends posted a link to a summit on “The future of girls, gaming and gender” – to be held today, Thursday August 12th. (Yes, technically it is already Friday, but the event is in Columbia where it is not yet).

The mission statement for the event says:

The 3G Summit [is] a visionary 4-day initiative that convenes 50 urban teenage girls with five leading women game designers and scholars for intensive dialogue, inquiry, game-play, and mentorship. Through multi-faceted workshops and a public forum, this initiative will critically confront gender representation and participation in our society’s fastest growing cultural medium.

What a fantastic event it sounds! I wish I could be there – more, I wish that the Bigster could.

On further examination, though, these “leading women game designers” are “leading women VIDEO game designers” (or PC game designers or whatever term you want to use) – they’re building DIGITAL games. All of them.

This is something that I have noticed elsewhere as well, that concerns me a little.

See, “gamers” (by which I mean players of traditional and modern boardgames and card games) are losing ownership of the word game. Game designers are people who design digital media; gamespot sells games for PC, Nintendo and Wii. Gamers are people who stay up late with only a monitor for company. “I bought a new game this weekend” no longer means Woo hoo! Princes of Florence, baby! – it means Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Lego Wii has claimed another victim.
I had brunch with some other mothers from my children’s school today, and they were talking about giving their children “a weekend without games”. This was clarified as “without electronic games” but it was clear that the two terms were used interchangeably.

I’ve not seen a lot of convergence between digital and, well, cardboard, although many boardgamers dabble in digital games to a greater or lesser degree. Sites which allow online play, as well as apps produced under licence, blur the boundaries somewhat as well. The people move between the two media, but we’re not seeing digital games that are played with a printed board, or boardgames that interface with digital tools (although I am sure that Reiner is working on a few – perhaps The Island could be considered an early stage of this). Digital gaming tables could move us further in that direction, although I imagine it will be some time before they are widely adopted.

It used to be that a “game” was a cardboard thing and a “video game” or “computer game” was the digital equivalent. Are we moving to the other extreme, where “game” means digital and we need to specify “boardgame” or “card game” if we mean the other kind?


Posted by on August 13, 2010 in games


3 responses to “The semantic shift of “games”

  1. Daniel Solis

    August 13, 2010 at 4:55 am

    We’ve seen this semantic shift in other media, too.

    Once, a guitarist was assumed to play the a wooden instrument with big sound chamber body. Now, that instrument is specified as an acoustic guitar, as distinct from an electric counterpart.

    Cameras rapidly experienced this shift, too, as more people got digitals over 35mm.

    Me, I’ve been using the phrase “acoustic games” for a while. “Non-digital” feels like a game lacks something, but “acoustic” or “analog” simply means it doesn’t need to be plugged in to be played.

  2. Iain

    August 13, 2010 at 10:31 am

    “Are we moving to the other extreme, where “game” means digital and we need to specify “boardgame” or “card game” if we mean the other kind?”

    We’ve already moved there – at least as far as the mass media is concerned.

    “Acoustic games”? Heh. Though probably more meaningful to non-gamers than “analog games” (an expression which requires some knowledge of computers to decode.)

    It doesn’t help that board gamers also play card games – so maybe we need to spread the meme of “acoustic games” further. “Social games” perhaps? “Unplugged games”?

  3. Fraser

    August 13, 2010 at 11:26 am

    It’s time to get the old Mi-Sex Computer Games song back on the charts 😉


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