Videogames or Video games -- What Are We Talking About?

Since I'm now beginning to work in earnest on my dissertation, I'm dealing with the issue of which words to use. Most writing about video games chooses from the available options (computer game, video game, videogame, electronic game, digital game, interactive entertainment, entertainment software, etc.) and makes a case for why one term is different from another. The differences between, say, "computer game" and "video game" seem pretty clear, but what about "video game" and "videogame"? Most dictionaries do not include it, but some writers consciously use "videogame." Among the stack of books on my desk right now, for example, Ralph Baer's and Ian Bogost's both use "videogame."

I feel like this is a perennial question within game studies circles, but I can't find any outright discussion of why someone would choose "videogame" over "video game." Part of the problem lies in getting Google to tell the difference. I can speculate or come up with my own reasons, but what do you think? Which term do you use?

Quick survey

I took a quick survey of some of the books I had at hand, and found it to be pretty much even. Of course, some writers (like me) probably use both interchangeably, but here's what I found from a quick glance through: Videogame Video Game Bogost x Galloway x Baer x Burnham x Bolter x Juul x Wolf x Frasca x Douglas x Krzywinska x King x Ryan x I can't really a see a pattern, to be honest. Other notable authors seem to use neither. Eskilinen, for example, uses "computer games," and Salen and Zimmerman use "digital games." If you can't tell who each of the authors listed are or want to know what book I looked at, by the way, just ask.

I will take digital games instead

I will take digital games instead.

No Video

I try to avoid the prefixing appendage all together, as I think its implicative of major cultural issues offending the medium. For instance, the term "video" associated with game implies that the play's central focus is on a screen's output. Wii seems to side-step this paradigmn, and the medium of interactivity is much wider still, extending to ARGs and table-tops RPGs and immersive VR environments. I say lets let go altogether and start using more precise terms.

I agree that's a practical

I agree that's a practical approach, but do you think it's specific enough? I mean, there are lots of things that could be called gaming that aren't necessarily of interest to those of us studying those things you plug into a TV and play with a controller. Gambling comes to mind, for example.

Also, since for my current project I am interested in the specific aesthetic influences of early video technology, I'm keeping "video" for now. Even though there are lots of non-visual elements that we can say are part of the game experience (audio, haptics, environment), the visual display is still the primary medium through which we experience the game.

I agree with you, actually, I just worry that "game" invites too much ambiguity or isn't as clear to someone outside of the conversation.

Euro/North Am

Europeans seem to use "videogame" more than North Americans, who prefer "video game." The IGJA prefers "videogame" so I guess game journalists who abide by the IGJA style guide and/or are European would spell it that way.

That's interesting. Also

That's interesting. Also according to the IGJA style guide wiki:, the compound version "videogame" seems to be preferred when it's used as an adjective. So if I read that right, it would be correct to say "videogame criticism," but not "I'm playing a videogame."

Ralph Baer, at least, does use the term in the latter way, but I didn't consider how people use it in my chart above.

It might be interesting to

It might be interesting to note that non-academics are struggling with this issue as well for different reasons entirely.

Doug Lowenstein of the Entertainment Software Association recently proposed at the LA Games Conference that the industry switch from videogames to interactive entertainment in an appeal to the public to take games more seriously as a medium.

I am happy that this has been brought up because every time I write a paper I struggle with this terminology. Right now, as usual, I am writing about both video and computers games and I hate having to use such a long phrase to describe my subject of interest. Eventually, once I am confident my reader realizes that's what I am talking about, I just start using "games."

In a way, Lowenstein's plea resonates with me because I like the political motivation of the switch and the blanket term, but I hate the length of the term and the problems of defining interactivity.

We need something as efficient as Film or Television.


Many europeans use the

It's true that many Europeans use the compound word because of its equivalence in romance languages (cf. "videojuego").

But I use the term "videogame" for rhetorical reasons. Separating the words, in my opinion, suggests that videogames are merely games with some video screen or computer attached. But, I believe that videogames are fundamentally a computational medium, not just the extension of a medium like board or role-playing games (although there is also a genealogy there). I think that closing the space, in part, helps consolidate this concept. Personally, I'm only interested in gaming as it relates to computation. That doesn't mean I don't think gambling or board games or whatnot are useful, it just means that they are not my primary focus.

As for the argument that "videogame" implies video display, as Patrick suggests above, I don't really care. I'm more interested in common usage, and the fact is that people use "videogame" to refer to the kinds of artifacts I want to talk about. I think video qua television screen is a vestigial effect of the arcade era and nobody is really confused about it.

For the same reason I abhor terms like "interactive entertainment." I think inventing terms like this is a bit like trying to rename film or photography. More precise terms are more dangerous because they will lead to fragmentation. Jane McGonigal and I have had inconclusive conversations about whether ARGs and other so-called "big games" are videogames. I contend that they are, if they make significant use of computation (so, Cruel 2 B Kind, the game she and I created, is a videogame for me!). "Videogame" is a fine equivalent for "film" if we'd just stop worrying about it so much. And forcing the term into broader usage will help expand the medium much more than making up new words for each sub-type.

Incidentally, my stake-in-the-ground on this is on page xiii of Unit Operations. I'll paste it in here when I'm on a computer with the Word file... (too lazy to copy right now) ;)

videogame as computational game

This may well vary by region or subculture or era, but I've always understood the term "videogame" to be roughly synonymous with "console or arcade game", as distinct from "computer game". Back when I was an avid computer gamer (rougly 1994-2002), I didn't consider myself a "videogamer", and saw that as a separate cultural, aesthetic, and technological scene.

I suppose console- or arcade-style games on a computer might still count as a videogame, but I wouldn't personally call a game like Starcraft a videogame. I don't particularly object to lumping them together, but to my ears it sounds like the sort of thing a non-gamer (like a Congressman complaining about "violent videogames") would be more likely than a gamer (and especially a computer gamer) to do. Admittedly, my outlook on this category of games, whatever you want to call them, is heavily 1990s-centric.

I would agree with you on

I would agree with you on this point Mark.

Computer games and console games still have very distinct interfaces and thus very distinct play experiences; blanketing them under the term videogame seems to elide some very important distinctions in favor of a console model. I say this because I associate "video" with a television interface. I think you are also right to point out the fact that the gamer community definitely makes and continues to reinscribe a certain division between console gamers (videogamers) and PC gamers (hobbyists) that cannot be ignored.

That is why I struggle in my own writing, always forcing myself to differentiate between the two. In that way I really don't mind the term "digital game" for its utility. Of course, I also would not want to just discard the various other sub-terms (videogame, computer game, arcade game).

Perhaps all my problems could be solved by using the blanket term videogame and then breaking it down into console games and computer games?


Computer game for me.

Computer game for me.
It is taught within IT schools, designed by people who are IT savvy, and computer games are based on the constraints of computers (and I include consoles as they surf the net, and their peripherals usually end up avail for computers and they are at heart graphics focused pcs).
Video games with or without space imply for me an end product not easily configured or otherwise modified by the end user.
Using Google for a defining meaning? I would avoid as
-the field is growing and specialising, while GOOGLE finds everything related past and present
-if you took VR to be what Google means you may well think a QT panorama qualifies. Sorry, it does not.

Videogame uber alles

"Videogame" refers to a medium, "video game" is the combination of two different concepts (I totally agree with Ian on this) - True, the term videogame might be inadequate to describe things like Spore or SimCity, but "interactive entertainment" is awful. I find myself using "Ludic Simulations" more and more but it's probably just as bad. as a non sequitur: my mentor Gianni Canova argues that the real "video game" is cinema. Italians tend to use the word "videogiochi" rather then "video giochi", especially after two espresso. And what about "digital games"?

Video game terminology

In Japan here we use "terebi geimu" or TV Game since the tradition here has been more set-top box instead of on the "pasokon" short for personal computer.

I'd agree with an earlier comment that US splits the term video game while UK and by extension Europe use the fused term videogame. Nothing to back it up other than personal experience, though.

Google has spoken: It's "video game"

"Video game": 43.7 million hits
"videogame": 13.8 million hits

As for video game vs. computer game vs. digital games: I think it's a good idea to use common terms and only coin neologisms for good reason. Most people I have asked felt that "video games" included console and computer games, but that "computer games" excluded console games.

Usage vs. rhetoric

I'm not sure I want Google to decide anything, but "video games" is clearly more common than "videogame." I use the latter for the rhetorical reasons described above, but I'm admittedly less concerned about splitting hairs over whether we need the space or not, compared with using one or the other instead of one of the less desirable alternatives described above.


Jesper, I got an even wider difference between the two at something like 60 million to 11 million. I think "video game" may get slightly inflated numbers because it's possible to find sentences where "video" falls before "game" without referring to video games, but the majority is clear. The question of use is interesting because, although I think the general public still knows what we're talking about if we say "videogame" it may give pause long enough to get something interesting across. Incidentally, if you do a google site search on each term, you find about the same distribution.

As far as the question of who uses which, I confess I haven't been at all conscious of which I use and I go back and forth. I think I probably do tend to use a longer term in the beginning of a paper and switch back to just "game" as the paper moves along and the reader understands what I'm talking about.

This conversation is really interesting, though, because it shows there clearly are different reasons for being conscious about terminology. I posted this entry because I'm attempting to write the introductory chapter to my dissertation, and in looking for a way to get into the different strands of game studies, I thought I could argue that the vocabulary writers use reflects their assumptions about the topic. That may work as a rhetorical ploy, but I don't know if it's true.

Still, I think it's possible to come up with a critical narrative (besides the rhetorical strategy Ian mentions) that explains a given writer's choice regarding the space. Since the current section I'm working on in my chapter pits Half-Real and Unit Operations against one another, and Jesper and Ian are both contributing to this thread, I'll use them as examples. Jesper uses the term "video game," and his argument is that video games are composed of rules and fiction. Since rules are an essential component of games, and fiction is co-involved but, in his words, "immaterial" to the definition of the game, there's something of a rift between the game elements and everything else, including video or whatever technology is being used. This means that the argument is adaptable to different types of games, and separating the terms as "video game" leaves "video" appropriately as a conditional modifier.

For Ian, on the other hand, unit operations are all about the interlocking of available discrete units to produce expressive meaning. This happens in other media, but what makes videogames interesting is the way they can capitalize on the different kinds of units like code, rules, and display technology to accomplish their unique expression. So the term "videogame" combines two discrete elements in describing a medium which uniquely capitalizes on their coming together.

How does that sound? My point is not that either are correct, just that there are different uses that do seem to have some plausible relationships to the theoretical context.

Another nuance I didn't mention and that seems less common is to speak of "video gaming" (or whatever kind of gaming). The only example I could find on my book shelf is Alexander Galloway's Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. His use of the verbal form does seem to anticipate his central claim that "if photographs are images, and films are moving images, then video games are actions."

My 5cents (for what its worth)

Hi folks,

I've been thinking about this point myself. I initially resolved it by following the IGJA's term 'videogame'. No problems...

However, in my contact with North American scholars at the APCA conference in San Diego March 2005, I noticed a quite significant trend for North American scholars to refer to them as 'digital games', Nathaniel Garrelts was the chair of the videogames panels, and he obviously took this on board (hence the titles of his books). I felt at the time that this term was rather useless, because it would involve translation for everyone who was not a videogame scholar (I was about to do an ethnography, and I imagined asking people about which digital games that they played). Anyway I was reading a lot of anthropological material at the time and from that discipline there is a real demand that the researcher use the terms that are deployed by the people themselves (understandable I think).

However, since I read Aphra Kerr's new book I think that 'Digital games' is more appropriate as an umbrella term to describe the field in general. This then allows us to move between different levels of focus to examine the technological forms of gaming. Its okay for a handle, a generalisation of the field, that allows scholars to talk about the field. But when discussing individual games a more specific approach should be taken. Different issues circulate around different material form and those can be located by reference to the site of consumption (its to mobile, domestic [console; PC], public [arcade; LAN]), and the connections it engenders (multiplayer, two-player, mmo, etc.).

Whats more important for understanding whats going on (the embodied experience of playing) in a digital game?
1) Knowing that Second Life (for example) is a digital game, not a video game. [e.g. the sentence: The digital game Second Life has been a constant source of ....]
2) Knowing that Second Life is an MMORPG that can be played on a PC (or Mac) and is thus consumed in both Domestic spaces (peoples homes) and public spaces (cyber cafes)

Its important to have a term that scholars can use to talk about this kind of games generally, whichout it being confused with a specific kind of game. Its also important that the term is able to encapsulate transitional catergories like ARGs

Good luck with sorting it out Zach! I will be interested to see how Half Real and Unit Operations inter-relate


Tom -- I'm not sure I understand from your comment why you think "digital games" is a more appropriate term. That is, does Aphra make a particular argument for this (I haven't read her book yet), or was it the suggestion of the term. I usually have mixed affinity with the word "digital," despite the fact that I teach in two degrees with the word in the name :)

To be specific

Ian (and everyone else) Sure Aphra has a three paragraph discussion of what is at stakes with the term digital games in the introduction of her book (pages 3-4).

Her concern is that many designations are platform specific (videogames, computer games). She states that 'This book uses the term "digital games" to refer to the entire field and to embrace arcade, computer, console and mobile games in all their diversity' (3). Thus she uses digital games to refer to the entire field (4), while the other terms are used to deal with specific 'subsectors of the field' (4).

Check it out, its pretty sweet, really different from your work and the other work that Zach has been discussing here (Juul, Galloway) because its trying to describe how the digital games industry operates globally. I recommend it as teaching material.

Cultural issues

This is a matter for me as I'm researching and trying to write a final dissertation for my graduation degree in Visual Communication, and I need to clarify exactly the terms for my masters (since most of them aren't used to play videogames).

This is an interesting point of view, specially here in Brazil. There is a popular tradition that "videogame" (or "video game") is what North American names "console" (they are taken as synonyms here), thus we are used to call "games" any digital games, and "jogos" (portuguese-br translation of "games")as any kind of games (board games, for example) and even so the term "jogos" refers sometimes to digital games as well, depending to the context (like some of you showed above).

The fact that our primary language isn't english "helps" us, in the way that we associate the product (videogames in general) with the place of origin. Exemplifying this I could say that (BR)"Oh, there is something new coming here, they call it 'games'" and then we use that term. For you all it is definetely more complicated, because "Oh, we just invented something new, what should we call it?" - being gross, of course.

I personally sympathise with the justification contributed by Aphra, and I do understand and totally agree with the point of Ian Bogost. I'm sincerelly in doubt of what term makes more sense or fits well the case. Maybe It's something linked to my past and popular tradition, assuming that I'll choose "videogames" rather than "digital games". The latter one sounds me "too much academic", and I'm not used to face a videogame like If it was more than pleasurable (I'm just starting my academic researches, and someday I may figure that the other term was more precise and/or correct).

Does a space really matter?

I may be misreading Ian's comments, but I'd have to disagree with any assertion that a game which makes significant use of computation is a videogame by default. (Please feel free to correct me) This is the same reason that I agree that 'interactive entertainment' and 'digital games' are empty calories terms. Ian mentioned genealogy and I think that should be the operative word in this discussion. Broad definitions of videogame and terms like 'interactive entertainment' and 'digital games' narrow our discourse at a time when we need to radically expand it.

Is Cruel 2 B Kind a videogame because it employs computation? I'd argue not. I think it is something else. Is Electronic Battleship a videogame (or any other electronic-ish boardgame for that matter).

I will go out on a limb here and say that Electronic Battleship is, in fact, a boardgame. I'd also argue that the Battleship game I picked up on a GBA cart last week still remains a boardgame. GBA Battleship doesn't take advantage of any conventions which we generally associate with the videogame medium. People can probably argue with me on that one, but I will still contend that GBA Battleship is still fundamentally a boardgame despite its use of computation and presentation on a video screen.

In a similar vein, I'd also argue that the Texas Hold'em GBA cart I have, is still fundamentally a card game.

What does this have to do with "videogame" vs. "video game?" You might have noticed that I have referred to "videogame," "boardgame," and "card game." Someone could probably dig up some polarized argument I've made on the issue in the past, but now, I don't see that a space really matters. I think the what is important is we retain a conscious record of where the games we play came from, and when those games evolve into something else, we call that spade a spade.

...which is why I'd argue that Cruel 2 B Kind is not a videogame. It shares some qualities with videogames (computation of action.), but it is truly something else. I'd call it a pervasive game, but I know the game's co-designer calls it a ubiquitous game. Does that differentiation matter? Truthfully I don't know- but it seems slightly more significant than a space.

Finally, I think terms like 'arcade game' and 'computer game' still hold value because they refer to distinct traditions within the broaden medium of videogames.

To hell with portmanteaus. To hell with etymology.

I don't see why we're quibbling about whether it is digital, or computer, or video, or whathaveyou. Anymore that we're quibbling about the 'game' part-- considering the 'gameness' of these works is often also in debate. It doesn't matter one whit.

I'm with Ian-- it's videogames.

I don't care what the word is made up of, or where it comes from. I only care about how it is used now. I think the popular idea of 'videogames' and the specific definitions of platforms, contexts and game definition are in fact separate. And I also think much of which we study is in the former category-- that abstract cultural feeling of this thing called videogames. And this does include the Sims, and does include pervasive games, and everything else part and parcel of that culture.

It's time to leave the component definitions behind...they're not helping. And if that seems confusing, look at it this way: 'art' has at least 3 intertwined but distinct meanings; fine art, design assets and technical craft. If we can consistently tease this out for people, surely I can explain that videogame doesn't necessarily relate to ideas of video [display] or game (but can).

But IMHO the space just confuses the issue.

I use "video game" because

I use "video game" because it really bugs me when the auto-spell checker in Word underlines "videogame". ;-)

...same thing

really, it's just the same thing.

Video Game versus videogame

In my work on this subject I default to "video game," (and there after to VG) not because it is more or less specific than "videogame," "console game," or computer game. To be technical about it, videogame should be hyphenated video-game, as the two terms can stand alone as objects, though grammatical treatments of words are ever changing and this is not really relavent to this thread.

To my point then, I use video game becuase a video game is at least two things: 1) a game, and 2) one that is played using some form of video projection (be it on a TV, CRT, plama screen, LED, or the little LED blips on the old hand held sports games of the early 80's).

I will, however, use a more specific term when the context requires(i.e. when talking of how a game works specifically on a PC, I use "computer game," which clarifies any differece between this game and the same title existing for a console system--this is especially true when talking about controlling an avater via a keyboard versus a joystick.

Anyway, I hope this helps. I would use Video Game, because regardless of the platform the two terms, Video and Game apply, and the term "videogame" seems to me syntactically incorrect.

Chris Chasteen

Some quantitative stats

In my recent research I was searching for gamestudies related articles in ISI Web of Knowledge and in Scopus. I searched on "computer games", "video games" and "digital games". So, I got the following amount of "rough material":
computer games - 1300 articles
video games - 899 articles
digital games - 96 articles
Then, after manual cheking this article on "relevance to the topic" by reading titles and abstracts, and deleating irrelevant articles, I've got the following results:
computer games - 356 articles
video games - 518 articles
digital games - 28 articles
And the final step was counting of the "relevance percentage". As you can easily guess it was:
computer games - 27%
videl games - 57%
digital games - 29%
It is for you to interpret this ;)

Game Theory

There are a lot of reasons why this question is relevant - one, we already have a minor confusion with game theory, a field of academics all to its own. The connotations of people outside academia are also important, and I think there are some unique connotations to the term "video game" that could tamper with public understanding.

None of the terms I've heard really fit the bill. The terms that don't create the "game theory" confusion sound really contrived, like corporate public-relations language - "entertainment software?"

So...I'm really not sure. I use "video games" myself, anyway.