It’s been said over and over again, but I’ll repeat it nonetheless: Videogames are unique from any other kind of medium because of a single factor, and that is interactivity. Additionally, they don’t need to have a story attached, they can simply be a bunch of mechanics/behaviors put together; like Tetris.
From this definition Photoshop is a videogame, Open Office is a videogame and even Linux is a videogame. What’s the difference? Well, one could say that the intention of the developer is what counts, the software was made for a especific task. Then again, one could toy around in MS Paint doodling penis monsters and giggling like a schoolgirl for ours on end, treating the software like a creative tool or even like a toy, no matter how Microsoft intended their users to behave. When one does the exact same thing in Spore … what’s the difference? The process is identical except now the penises are not crude phallic drawings but hideous phallic abominations that can dance around and conquer the universe for your own amusement. MS Paint is a tool and Spore is a videogame even though at some fundamental level they are both the same.
Backtracking a bit, if we could differentiate videogames from tools by the intention/focus of the software, then what’s exactly the focus of all videogames? To entertain would be the most logical answer, but then what is the marriage? It’s certainly interactive and there’s an implicit goal of survival, but the focus is not to entertain and it shows. The mechanics in the game are an analogy of what happens in a real marriage according to the author. It’s considered a videogame and yet the focus is squarely on representing a marriage in abstract mechanics (Granted, at the expense of the user who may find the game to be nothing more than a nonsensical mess).
Now I have to wonder: Is there really a definitive way to separate videogames from other types of software? I think the line, if ever there was one, is a complete blur now.
Even though this doesn’t look like it, it’s a really important matter. Trying to define what a videogame is and what isn’t, can help us explore those boundaries and blur the line even further. Those middle points, those hybrids, those experiments, those software pieces that blur the line around the videogame industry are going to broaden our expectations, our ways to design, to develop and even to view videogames.