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Is Gone Home a game? Why the argument is worth having

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There are still people arguing about Gone Home. They're not debating whether or not the game is good, they're debating about whether it's a game at all. In case you think this is hyperbole, check out the responses to Nintendo's tweet about Gone Home coming to the Wii U.

nintendo tweet

Those questions can sometimes be dismissed as trolling, and the idea that anything can be a game can likewise be dismissed as starry-eyed naïveté. You could argue that the argument itself is pointless, but that opens the door to some even goofier questions: Is standing in line for the new iPhone a game? What about grocery shopping?

The argument can seem like a waste of time, but the latest episode of PBS Game/Show, embedded above, does an excellent job of laying out why it's worth having, while paying attention to both sides of the debate.

Trying to come up with a single definition for what a "game" is can feel like a useless, self-indulgent way to pass the time, but in the process of arguing whether or not something is a game you are forced to think about your entertainment. Both sides are sharpening their knives on the same whetstone, and in the process we're learning more about each other. You can't argue your side well without spending at least some time thinking critically about the entertainment you're consuming.

Give the video a watch. It made me think about the debate in a better light, and now I'm more interested in hearing from people who maybe don't think some of my favorite games are games at all. Formalism is limiting in any art form, but by giving us something with which to disagree, at least in my case, they've helped to give the conversation a bit of shape.

You can't reject a set of rules until those rules have been laid down, and both sides of the debate help us understand the act of playing a game, even if we can't agree about whether the think we're playing is a game at all.