February 6, 2004

“This is not a game”

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 12:11 am

“This is not a game” is what some hypertext fiction authors began to say of their work in the late 1980s. As Stuart Moulthrop notes in our interview at The Iowa Review Web, they said this to differentiate themselves from the work coming out of the interactive fiction community, and the comparison wasn’t meant to be neutral.

“This is not a game” is a slogan of alternate reality gaming. As Jane McGonigal tells us in her “‘This Is Not a Game’: Immersive Aesthetics and Collective Play” (pdf, html) gameness is denied in these experiences that are made up of elements found on far-flung web servers, on voicemail systems, and even on bathroom walls. For the Cloudmakers — formed to solve the mysteries of The Beast, the promotional game for the movie A.I. — this denial may have been a vital ingredient in the belief of some players that their group was also suited to solving the mysteries of the September 11th attacks.

“This is not a game” is also what some people say when confronted by The Sims, which others view as one of the most popular games of all time. It’s not a game because it doesn’t fit with some game definitions. (Is there, for example, a “winning state” toward which players of The Sims are progressing?) Rather, it’s a resource-allocation simulation focused on architecture, interior decorating, and suburban life.

“This is not a game” has been said of projects like Facade by those who would prefer these projects be called interactive drama, or cyberdrama, or… For some of these folks, The Sims might not be a game because it’s a novel generating machine, rather than because it’s a resource allocation simulation. Yet, at the same time, Facade is in the running for a major game award.

I think I’m coming to the conclusion that I don’t really care what is a game and what isn’t. I’m interested in things that are playable — as are all the works I’ve discussed here. That’s why Pat and I included things like Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv’s Text Rain in First Person. That’s why my interests also include “instrumental texts” and “textual instruments” (pdf, html w/o images).