Wordplay with a Distracted Apprentice


Maybe ten decades from now someone will stumble across us arguing about what to call these things and laugh. I’ve always spelled it video-space-game, because I think of the term “video game” as a compound noun, like “comic book” or “hot dog.” The New York Times and The New Yorker also put the space in there. Kill Screen uses the one-word “videogame,” in line with what the Videogame Style Guide (obviously) prescribes. The Wall Street Journal recently used “video-game,” which is probably the worst of them all; the dash just brings attention to itself and evokes old-timey language like “bumble-bee” or “black-bird.” Daily Variety goes in the opposite direction and calls it a “vidgame,” which for some reason feels insulting (though I suppose that’s the point of much of their vernacular).

Space or not, “video game” is a pretty unsatisfactory term if you think about it. It shares a problem with “comic book” in that it is really a misnomer: most comic books are not comic at all, and “video” games depend on many vast domains besides the purely visual. Plus, “game” imparts an air of triviality; we use “game” in a lot of phrases that indicate a certain distance from consequences with a negative connotation, like “gaming the system,” or “dating is just a game to him,” and so on. Both terms have alternatives proposed by their industries, “interactive entertainment” or “electronic entertainment” and “graphic novel” or “sequential art,” which feel like conscious attempts to escape prior undertones of frivolity.

The movies have lots of great terms for themselves, though. I’m a little jealous of this. There’s “film” (from the physical medium), “the cinema” (from the cinematoscope), “motion pictures” (mock-serious, but still better than “interactive entertainment”), and, casually, a “flick,” shortened from “flicker show,” which is a really beautiful and evocative word.

But we alas have video games or videogames or vidgames or games. Where can we really go with this? “Video” is itself is a neologism, created just last century from the Latin videre, “to see,” and coeval with snappy little words like audio or radio. At a time when extremely silly confections like blogosphere or webinar seem to catch on despite themselves, I kind of miss these old-school technological coinages. And “game” is an Anglo-Saxon word, woefully imprecise, meaning a dozen different things in all kinds of contexts. Maybe instead we can summon the Latin ludere “to play,” from which we already get a couple game studies terms like ludology or ludonarrative, and pop it into yesteryear’s word making system.

Yes, that’s it: we’ll call a video game a “ludio” and be done with it.

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