A game play


You may notice Total Rendition is being described as a Game play, rather than a (video) game. The term "video games" probably inadvertently devalues the very medium it tries to describe. Sure, Lana Del Rey makes it sound nice, probably exactly because her song Video Games invites you as listener to deconstruct the term - intentionally or not. However, if we are going to evaluate the term "Video Games" for its merits in describing the medium "video games" itself, it falls horribly short. Now undoubtedly, some of you readers may think: Why bother being so pedantic about terms and names? Yet, the usage of the term "video games", within the "video games" industry itself, is just plain harmful to the very things referred to by it.

The term "video games" prevents things being called by it, from being taken seriously on a cultural level. How something is called, will influence how we treat it: We call movies either movies, cinema or films; We can also speak of books or literature; Or theatre or plays. In the earliest decade of the 20th century, movies used to be something of a freak attraction on circuses and travelling carnivals; something of novelty. Therefore, cinema wouldn't ever have emerged as a seriously considered medium, if it occurred to no one that cinematic art could be separated from circuses and travelling funfairs. Yet for some reason, an equivalent of this separation has yet to occur with "video games". Which arguably has become a bit of a misnomer as well.

To understand why that is, we have deconstruct this a bit: "Video" indicates it is a moving set of images stored on a data storage device, like a CD, DVD, Blu-ray, VHS or a Nintendo 64 cartridge; "Game" can also indicate a board game, like Chess. Most "Video Games" can now be downloaded on a data-storage medium through platforms such as Itch.io or Steam, as opposed to being carried by a data-storage medium. However, that's a very technical nuts-and-bolts distinction. While "video games" tend to have rules how to conduct the game in the same manner chess has, some "video games" also have many things in common with film, theatre and literature. For instance, may feature a specific visual image, music and sound, plot and even written dialogues and monologues to be spoken aloud by its characters. It are on these accounts, that "video games" offer expression, which makes it a unique medium.

You can invent a story around a particular Chess game and indeed, you can study its mathematical complexity and the intellectual capacities necessary to win a game of Chess. However, you can also invent a story around a Fortnite match. Of course, Fortnite may put a higher premium on speed and tactics, as opposed to thought and strategy, as is the case in Chess. Nevertheless, a Fortnite match probably has a much higher degree of mathematical complexity than a game of Chess has, as well, in that it is less likely that any two games will ever be the same. However, Fortnite in itself doesn't express anything meaningful. 

Maybe we want to start describing "multiplayer (video) games" as E-Sports instead, as opposed to "multiplayer (video) games". And to be frank, I do think there is a very legitimate case to be made to view E-Sports as legitimate sports, worthy of inclusion at the Olympic Games, as it requires actual skills in terms of timing, precision, tactical thought and speed, in order to be successful on a competitive level. Yet, it cannot be considered art in its own right. If Roger Ebert understood by "video games" E-Sports, he was absolutely right to say "video games" can never be great art. In fact, E-Sports aren't played for the art contained therein. Maybe Fortnite and PUBG are each an E-(Sports) Arena, like Wembley Stadium and the Amsterdam Arena, with Battle Royale, Team Deathmatch and Capture the flag being the E-Sports themselves.

So, what term should we use for a "singleplayer (video) game"? I'd suggest game play, as in analogous to stage play. Now, many a "video game" critic uses the word "gameplay" to describe a specific element of a game play; in this conventional usage, "gameplay" describes the rules of the game (play). Nevertheless, if you recall game plays such as Bioshock, Grand Theft Auto III through IV, System Shock, Deus Ex, Myst, Beyond Good & Evil, Little Big Adventure, Planescape Torment and so on, you will notice that we are really dealing with plays here. Plays, just like stage plays. However, while stage plays have (typically) no input from the audience, game plays by contrast are gamed upon by the audience, as opposed to just watched and heard. The audience is encouraged to game the system of the play. Indeed, the means by which the audience games upon the system can become an art form in its own right. 

Thus, my job as a game playwright would be to design a system that you - as the player - can game, although, as it is known, also shares some similarities with a dramatic mediums. And as a medium, game plays still have yet a largely untapped potential for dramatic expression, not explored to the degree as, say, movies or stage plays have; It may therefore perhaps be quite reasonable to expect that the boundaries between "singleplayer (video) games" and "multiplayer (video) games" will widen over time. To the point that the two will relate to one another, not simply as two separate media, rather in fact, as two separate fields. There can still be artistry in sports, chiefly by the athlete, as there can be sportsmanship between artists. However, those are ultimately two separate things. Game plays are already a world apart from E-Sports (Arenas) like Fortnite or Counterstrike. 

Nevertheless, for too long, Game Plays and E-Sports were lumped together with the very awkward term "video games". However, if we are frank, that is like saying stage plays (like Caligula) and field sports (like soccer) are the same thing. To be fair, the cheating scandals in soccer sometimes do seem like a stage play sometimes. However, E-Sports are played, Game Plays are gamed. The fact that both feature videographic images displayed by a personal computer, smartphone or console is really just a technical qualifier; E-Sports by definition rely on computers to set up the venues (i.e. Fortnite, Counterstrike) by which the player's skills are competitively measured; With Game Plays (such as the Witcher, Planescape Torment), computers merely made game plays logistically feasible as a recurring event. I'm definitely saying that game plays such as Planescape Torment could theoretically have been performed at a theatre without needing computers. However, it would be a one-time event; It would likely be too lengthy, have too many plot divergences the actors would have to take into account and create too much frustration with props that would otherwise have to be rebuilt each playthrough. So game plays are performed on computers because logistically it is (currently) the only way to make them work.

So for clarity, Total Rendition is a Game Play, not an E-Sport. You may call it a "single player video game", if you really insist...

-Mordechai Gabai

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