Video games or videogames?

-Shawn Trautman

I know, I know. The obvious, cheeky answer to this is “yes, please,” so let’s get that out of our system. Good? Let’s move on.

Currently, there is no accepted norm regarding the term that describes our favorite medium, with both “video games” and “videogames” in common use. These terms are used interchangeably, sometimes both in a single piece of writing, and there seems to exist no industry or grammatical standard.

While this may seem to some an abstract, semantic argument only fit for academics, I believe the words we use to describe things send powerful signals as to the way we feel about those things, and therefore are worth considering. Think about this: if you are going to tell your parents or a new significant other what you are reading right now, would you choose “comic book” or “graphic novel”? Probably the latter, as that term hold more cultural respect and significance. It sends a signal that says, “this has all the literary and cultural importance of a novel; it just happens to be in a graphic format,” while “comic book” still sounds like a genre for kids.

The same holds true for the terms “film” as opposed to “movie” (or worse, “flick”). The word “film” is most often preceded by the words “art” or “foreign,” while the word “movie” is more often preceded by “action” or “superhero,” and these rarely switch places. But with videogames, it is not specific genres that have a naming problem, it is the whole medium. I’ve just let slip my choice, so I’ll go ahead and spell it out: I believe the proper term is and should be videogames, and I’ll tell you why.

As I mentioned before, the term “graphic novel” insinuates that it is a novel, just in graphic form. That’s because the way it’s set up, “novel” is the noun (what it is), and “graphic” is the adjective (what it’s like). The same holds true with the term “video game;” a “game” is what it is, and “video” is just the type of game. This implies that videogames are just like any other games (hopscotch, Monopoly, or hide-n-seek), they just happen to be involve a screen of some sort.

This is selling videogames horribly short. These are not simply graphical representations of Candy Land; these are interactive artwork. Videogames can surprise, engross and enrich us in ways nothing else can. This is a wholly separate and unique medium that deserves its own designation, rather than just being a subset of “games.” And while I believe that having “games” in the title at all is a bit problematic, we have probably relied on it for too long to simply throw it away and start fresh, which is why I think “videogames” works so well. It is separate but related, and already in use.

While I think this makes perfect sense, and people are beginning to come around to this line of thinking, most of the world hasn’t caught up yet. Even as I type these words, Tumblr (and Google and Yahoo) is telling me that “videogames” isn’t a word, that maybe I have accidentally run two words together, or am just making things up. We as people who play (and especially people who write about) videogames need to change this. We have to treat games with the respect they deserve or else no one will. We need to use capital letters and italics on game titles, we need to adhere to standards of stylistic and journalistic integrity, and most of all we need to get on the same page about what we want people to call, and therefore think about, our beloved medium. Because if we don’t respect ourselves enough to put in two seconds of thought as to the very basic question “what do we call these things,” how can we expect outsiders to give videogames the respect they have earned?