ClassicGaming.com Reviews our Vintage Games Book

Bill Loguidice's picture

Marty Goldberg and ClassicGaming.com just put up a great review of our book, Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time, available at booksellers worldwide, including Amazon.com. While I naturally disagree with the reviewer trying to differentiate what a "videogame" and a "computer game" is based on display - I believe anything that generates its own changeable display of a sufficient resolution qualifies as a videogame (in other words get over the word "video" and treat it as the concept it is, making it both past and future proof (which is one of many reasons why I prefer it as a single word) and not beholden to what amounts to Ralph Baer's convenient legal argument) - overall the review is a positive one. Check it out here.

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Orakio "O Gagá" Rob (not verified)
This may be a good opportunity...

... to say once again that I love this book. Since I skipped many old computer systems, the book brought some classic computer games into my attention. I've played "Beyond Castle Wolfenstein" for a few hours last week (i didn't even know the game existed prior to reading the book) and the game is so good it hurts!

Now I'm about to start playing Ultima I. I knew it existed, of course, but the book really sparked my interest. By the way, I plan on playing as a Bobbit Wizard, will this make the game terribly hard? Should I use a fighter instead? I imagine that playing as a wizard will be harder, and that's fine by me, but will it be VERY much harder?

Once again, congratulations for such an amazing book!

martyg
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Explination

Bill, glad you liked the review, just a further explination though - my usage of the term is not based on Ralph's (actually Magnavox's) legal argument, but the actual history and etymology of the term. The term simply did not exist at the time of OXO, Tennis for Two, and Spacewar! for a very good reason - because it arose out of a very specific technological descriptive: describing games hooked up to a television (both home and arcade), which were referred for much of the 70's as "TV games", and used exclusively during that decade to describe these home and arcade TV based setups. In fact, even Nolan has claimed the term was coined by a reporter after seeing Pong at a trade show - it's not a Ralph Baer centric issue. Also, per your statement above - vector CRT's have no resolution, there are no rasters involved. Another problem with using the over generalized "changeable display" definition (and one we grappled with for a while at Wikipedia on the handheld games page) is that includes older handheld/tabletop games that should be clasified as "electronic games" or "electronic toys" (think Adventure Vision among others). It did not arise as a concept, but a descriptive. It's evolved in to a "concept" presentation via pop-culture influence during the 80's (when everything under the sun began being marketed under the banner), and some attempts at revisionist PR by places like Brookhaven, and earlier by Dave Ahl's '83 editorial (which even he revised in a 1987 presentation by correctly differentiating and referring to games like Tennis for Two and Spacewar as "computer games"). The term simply was not used in the manner you're proposing, before the 80's - a noted example are articles of the time such as this refered to these older games as computer games as well. My only gripe out of the entire book was that if you're going to use the over generalized pop-culture version of the term (and a space being present is irrelevant, the root "video" - who's definition is specific and clearly defined - is still there), you should really spell out and present your reasoning like you did very well with other definitions in the book. And you're certainly entitled to use your own belief of the definition - after all, it's your book - you just need to clarify that for the reader. It's a wonderful book, and I'm going to be recommending it to a few video game college programs as a potential course book.

Rowdy Rob
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"Videogames"
martyg wrote:

My only gripe out of the entire book was that if you're going to use the over generalized pop-culture version of the term (and a space being present is irrelevant, the root "video" - who's definition is specific and clearly defined - is still there), you should really spell out and present your reasoning like you did very well with other definitions in the book.

Hi Marty.

The more "hardcore" enthusiasts (like us) might argue more rigid definitions of what constitutes a "video game," but the general masses have already defined the term. They may not be able to break down "raster" or "vector," but people in general know a video game (or "videogame") when they see one.

"Asteroids" and "Defender" were both "video games," in that they both used "video" displays. Yes, there is a difference between "raster" and "vector" displays, of course, but they were both electronic games with video displays. They sat right next to each other in the arcades, and were used in the same manner, regardless of the display.

The "Vectrex" console might be problematic to define, since it doesn't involve a "changeable display," yet it still understood to be a console gaming platform. Is it a "video game," a "computer game," or "electronic game," or some unique new definition? Most people would define it as a video game.

As Matt pointed out, language is fluid and constantly evolving. If someone said "I'm gay" in the 1930's, it would have an entirely different meaning than it does now. Movies were called "moving picture shows" back then. Probably the reason the definitions were, as you pointed out, so muddled back in the early days of video games was that video games/computer games were a new industry, with many differing opinions. Over time, we've settled on "video games," and everyone knows what you're talking about.

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martyg
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Vectors and whale penises

I understand, acknowledge, and respect what you're saying and where you're coming from, and I'm sure you guys understand the same with me. Like I said, my main reason for the gripe (and it was the only gripe out of the entire book) was that taking the time elsewhere in the book to define genres, etc. but not present your definition of video game, which Matt stated now should be in the 2nd edition. I'm not the only one who defines or looks at the term as I do, which is why I felt it's important to state your position and why. Regarding the language evolving thing, I didn't address that before but I feel the issue is actually the opposite of how you guys are using it as an example - that people are taking a term that's evolved to something else today and putting something previous in that context in hindsite. I.E. taking the context of "gay" now and laying it back on the 1930's version would provide an incorrect context and descriptive on what was being addressed in that 1930's version. Just as taking the current usage of "dork" and laying that context over the earlier version of "whale penis" would do. That's exactly what I was referring in my position on people taking the current pop-culture infused version of "video game" and going back and applying it over the earlier accurate technical definition in hindsite - it leads to technology confusion. The same way some kid not knowing what "gay" meant back in the 30's would get a chuckle watching an old musical auotmatically thinking it meant it's current "homosexual" context. Which is why you have to be clear whether you intend the 1930's version of of "gay" or the current homosexual context, the original penis version of dork or the current mental capacity insult, and the original technical discriptive version of video game vs the current generic one - especially for a term that's not even 40 years old yet. That whale penis thing did bring an interesting question to mind though - does San Diego really mean a whale's vagina in German? ;)

Just need to address your above statement as well (and this has nothing to do with the definition of video game we were talking about, so that's not what I'm getting at here as this is purely a technical discussion) - a vector and raster are not both video displays. What they both are (the actual commonality you were aiming for) is CRT displays, however CRT itself != video. As you know a CRT display is simply a vaccum tube with one or more electron guns that light up a florescent screen. A vector CRT display directly manipulates the beam to draw points, lines, etc. A video CRT moves the beam in a clock like manner to produce rasters filling the screen with an image, and includes additional circuitry for decoding a video signal. Video itself is explicitly tied to representing the transmission of still images (transfered in succession to create animation). I.E. the transmission of a signal encoded image, decoded and displayed on a screen. A vector CRT does not deal with any of that. And those are not definitions that have evolved or changed over time as "video game" has, they're readily available in any dictionary, encyclopedia or video electronics book.

Nous
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The term videogame is a bit

The term videogame is a bit of a misnomer - obviously vision is the dominant human sense and traditionally videogames have used electronic screens of various types to visually depict their simulated universes. What we see while we play in front of a screen, any screen, is what dominates our perception of the whole experience, hence the term.

That is not to say that the visual aspect itself is sufficiently unique to differentiate or indeed describe what videogames really are. In short, videogames are uniquely defined by their ability to internally simulate universes which one or more human users may interact with - or, in my opinion even better, simulated universes which themselves may interact with one or more human users.

You see, most games are visual in nature because that's our nature (not the game's); in fact one can envision clever contraptions that allow one to play traditional games (almost any one of the pre-computational era games in human history) via arbitrary chains of visual indirections that end up being shown up on an electronic screen or being displayed on a panel of some sort, without the need of an artificially (computationally) simulated universe. Pinball is one such fine example, but more could be devised to prove the point, though most may not be practical in reality.

Interaction is also not a defining aspect of videogames, by the way. All games require some kind of interaction - simply kicking a ball through a goalpost is a game where the user interacts with the ball via the newtonian laws of our real, physical reality. What makes videogames unique in all human history is that they are only possible because they use a computational unit and memory (a kind of "internal space" with some permanence) that can independently "think", that is compute, *anything* at all (given enough computational power) unconstrained by the physical reality in which we live and thus simulate and bring to life, in real time, worlds that were previously only possible as static depictions at best, or usually as pure conceptions existing in one's own mind impossible to meaningfully express and convey to others.

In short, the defining aspect of videogames is their ability to simulate anything at all, given enough computational power. It is the act of actively simulating an artificial world in realtime, and having that world interact with us in its own terms, that is unique. Neither the visual aspect (the screen, the graphics, etc) nor the fact that human users can act within the game (the controller) is anything new. It's not that we can "see" them or "talk" to them - it's that they can "talk" back to us that is so amazing, that is actively interact with us with a degree of depth and complexity that only unconstrained computational simulation allows, and that's what defines them as a whole, as a medium that allows the expression of new types of ideas.

Long story short, obviously there is no real difference between a computer game, a console game played on a TV, a coin-op game, a vector-based game, a handheld game, etc. They all share the exact same defining characteristic that makes videogames what they are: computational simulation.

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"Elegance has the disadvantage that hard work is needed to achieve it and a good education to appreciate it.

-- Dijkstra

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Bill Loguidice
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Terminology

Right, Nous, it's a convenient, socially understood term, that's all. It's like you have "movie", "music", "book" and "videogame". After that, you further break it down into sub-type to clarify specifically what you mean. Whether the definition of "videogame" is elegant or not, at least people understand what the heck you're talking about, and I really don't believe it requires further explanation as a master descriptor.

The legendary "Electronic Games" magazine took an interesting approach by calling it, ahem, "Electronic Games", and breaking it down from there, but it's not that term that stuck, though perhaps it could have been a more encompassing one.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Nous
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I totally agree, there's no

I totally agree, there's no need to further explain the term in most cases - certainly not in your book - and, as I said, distinguishing based on the type of screen (TV for consoles, monitors for PCs/computers, handhelds, etc) is completely missing the point.

My clarification does lead to some interesting conclusions though, which may be of interest to some of us on here. For example, let's take three distinct examples of games: Dragon's Lair, Electro Mechanical coin operated games (such as pinball), and D&D tabletop games.

Someone who takes the "video" in videogames literally as being the defining characteristic of videogames, would say that Dragon's Lair is certainly a videogame, pinball resembles aspects of one, whereas a D&D game has almost nothing in common (other than the fact that some videogames later borrowed themes and rules from such games).

According to my clarification it's the opposite!

Dragon's Lair has almost nothing in common with the core essence of videogames (there's no real simulated universe within, no computation whatsoever - it's just a sequence of clips that the user can view if he remembers an arbitrary sequence of button presses that end up being conceptually equivalent NOT to ingame interactions but to "play" and "stop" commands on a video player).

EM games are equivalent to a tiny subset of videogames but fail to qualify as such because they are entirely dependent on ONE and only one type of computation: physical reality. Obviously a videogame can also perfectly simulate those types of computations in order to produce an almost identical gaming experience.

On the other hand. a D&D session has some very interesting properties: there is a very rich artificial universe with a large number of world entities and rules that are all intricately interconnected - the universe actively "runs" and interacts with the human users in "realtime". The one thing missing here is not the "screen" (as one could imagine a tabletop game being played ON a screen - but still using a human dungeon master to drive the experience), but the fact that instead of a CPU an actual human mind is used to simulate and "run" the universe, constrained by the game's rules of course.

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"You must not give the world what it asks for, but what it needs."

-- Dijkstra

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Matt Barton
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simulated universe
Nous wrote:

In short, the defining aspect of videogames is their ability to simulate anything at all, given enough computational power. It is the act of actively simulating an artificial world in realtime, and having that world interact with us in its own terms, that is unique. Neither the visual aspect (the screen, the graphics, etc) nor the fact that human users can act within the game (the controller) is anything new. It's not that we can "see" them or "talk" to them - it's that they can "talk" back to us that is so amazing, that is actively interact with us with a degree of depth and complexity that only unconstrained computational simulation allows, and that's what defines them as a whole, as a medium that allows the expression of new types of ideas.

Long story short, obviously there is no real difference between a computer game, a console game played on a TV, a coin-op game, a vector-based game, a handheld game, etc. They all share the exact same defining characteristic that makes videogames what they are: computational simulation.

Interesting discussion. However, I'm not quite sure it truly distinguishes the set of objects we wish to classify.

One distinction I've seen used is the between gameplay "surfaces" and simulated worlds or fields. For instance, a tennis or basketball court is only a "surface," whereas we might call Brittania a "world" or simulated reality. This is helpful in some cases; for instance, if we want to explain the differences between Tetris and King's Quest. Clearly there is an issue of narrative space here. The surface upon which one plays Tetris has no historical fiction, whereas the world of King's Quest is demarcated precisely by such a telling. I wouldn't call Brittania (Ultima's world) or any other fictionalized gameworld a "simulation," however, since that seems to be referring precisely to the mechanics of representing that world, not being that world. The "being the world" is not a function of the code or the computer, but rather a mental phenomenon. To that end, my Brittania is different from any other Brittania, etc.

I also see a slippery slope between arguing that, say, Pinball Dreams is a simulation of a pinball game, whereas an electromechanical pinball game is the real thing. I'd of course argue that there is no "real" pinball game, since such a thing exists only as an ideology. Any physical manifestation of that idea, be it Pinball Dreams or an electromechanical (or even a purely mechanical) is always already a simulation (or simulacrum). Indeed, you can easily illustrate this point by bringing together any number of pinball experts and asking them which particular pinball machine is THE pinball machine; they would most likely argue that no one such machine "is" pinball, but rather pinball is a set of rules, and since no one can agree on those we switch to "conventions," and eventually we can find enough hybrids, exceptions, and exploded binaries to muddle the whole thing up yet again. As Plato would argue, "pinball" is not a physical construct but rather an entity in the domain of ideas, and its representation--whether purely fictional, electronic, or as gears and wood--is incidental and not even interesting. Is "pinball" any less real for someone who has only played Pinball Dreams and never even seen an electromechanical pinball game?I think in many ways it could actually have more substance, particularly if that person knew something of the code and the physics of the game and its limitations.

If we really want to get at what a game is, perhaps a sensible route is the phenomenological; a careful observation and self-reflection of one's own experience during the event. What are you feeling, what are you thinking, etc., at each moment of the session. Perhaps that cognitive log might lead to insights into what pinball is. Or one could argue (and I think convincingly) that pinball is meaningless in anything but a social or cultural sense. In that case, Pinball Dreams or Pinball Fantasies might very well constitute a more "authentic" pinball experience than any electromechanical or any other representation, since arguably the "idea" of pinball extends beyond physical constraints and the incidental factors of earth's gravity and so on.

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Matt Barton
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This is one I've sweated

This is one I've sweated over a good deal, but truth be told, I don't think there's a perfect word for what we're trying to get across. However, I think it's important to bear in mind that etymology (the root or original meaning of words) is not always as relevant as some may think. For instance, if you call someone a "dork," that is an insult, yet the etymology of that word is "whale penis." This is just one of millions of examples of how a word has changed its meaning almost completely. This is just to say that the meaning of words is a social convention, not anything intrinsic to the words themselves or what their coiners intended.

"Videogames" seems as good as any other word to describe a certain class of things. But it is arbitrary. However, again the social nature of this process will mean that certain words "stick around" a lot more easily than others. We could coin a new word; perhaps "barlog" games; but who's going to use that? It's easy to coin a new word for something, but much harder to make it stick. Look at how hard companies like Xerox, Post-It, and even Google have worked to keep their words out of the common lexicon to mean something specific. Yet I hear few people saying "did you see my adhesive note?" or "why don't you just Microsoft Live Search it?" It's easier just to say "post-it" or "google" because (a) everyone knows what you mean, (b) it takes a lot less effort, and (c) using something else will likely distract the audience by calling attention to itself.

I see the same thing with even a single genre--take Zork. Is that an "interactive fiction," a "text adventure," an "adventure game," or an "electronic novel?" I've seen all of these and more used to describe it, and I can sympathize with all of them. However, if I'm going to enter a certain community of Zork fans who want me to refer to it as "IF," fine, I'm happy with that. My point is simply that if that's what the folks in the community agree to call it, for the sake of the discussion I will also use the term, even if I'm partial to text adventure or whatever.

Some of the scholarly books I've read on the subject lump in things like the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books as well as electronic games and even mechanical devices and "poetry generators." I think this sort of thing is cute, perhaps, but again it seems to be taking the words and their meanings too literally and not abiding by the social conventions. No sensible person would ever claim a book, jigsaw puzzle, and deck of cards were all the same thing as Pac-Man.

Anyway, I think "videogames" is about as good as any other. It certainly seems less problematic than something like "computer games," a term that is getting increasingly fuzzy now that console games and pretty much everything else is fusing together. "Electronic games" also makes sense to me, though I see where some might make a big deal out of things like Simon or Electronic Battleship and want to keep those things out of the equation. I also see the logic behind referring to them as "entertainment programs" or "game software," since that gets at the critical element of coding (but of course rules out games that don't use software).

The etymology of "video" just means "to see," going back to the Latin "videre." We could argue that "videogames" just means any game of which seeing is important and not worry about the industrial history of the word and its connections to TV. Of course, that covers a lot of ground, since sight is important in most games--and all of these neglect audio and input methods, which are also important. Nevertheless, the "video" part seems to suggest electronics and audio/video, as in "VCR" (video cassette recorder), a device that also has audio functionality.

In short, until I see a word or term that really covers the ground in a succinct and convenient way, "videogames" will be my choice. Even if some argue that it means something else, those people might consider jumping on the bandwagon. If enough people use the term, it will become the accepted term for what we mean (i.e., the dictionaries will cover it). In addition, you can always provide a definition or explanation of the usage in your text if you think it may confuse the audience.

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martyg
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Perfect...

Matt, what you just stated is a perfect and eloqent explination of your guys' position and why you're taking it, and something I would have loved to have seen in the book itself. I realize that the title and it's subtext leaps over the issue by leaving out "video" or "computer" and just stating "Vintage Games" and "influential games of all time", but it should be a subject (if even just in the preface) you guys consider including in your next revision.

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