“Definition of Videogames” by Grant Tavinor

In the volume 6 of Contemporary Aesthetics, Grand Tavinor takes on task to define videogames. He accepts that “videogames cannot be defined by a simple necessary and sufficient condition definition of videogamess”.1 He proposes that a video game can be defined by disjunctive definition (e.g., X is a game if A or B). His proposal is as follows:

X is a videogame if it is an artefact in a digital visual medium, is intended primarily as an object of entertainment, and is intended to provide such entertainment through the employment of one or both of the following modes of engagement: rule-bound gameplay or interactive fiction.1

My initial impression is that the definition is problematic.

The first condition, the requirement of digital visual medium, is needed, according to Tavinor, to exclude games such as Chess or Sudoku when they are not played using computer.1 The condition, however, seem to exclude games such as Metris2, which is a digital game that does need monitor; the game is essentially Tetris without pictorial or textual presentation of the state of the game. Does this mean that Teris is a videogame, but metris is not (even when the both are played using the same hardware)?

The second issues is the concept of interactive narrative. To me it is unclear what that term means, and it is not clarified in adequate level of detail (at least for a formal definition).

Third issue relates to the usability of the concept of rules in context of videogames. I have discussed this earlier on the post On Rules, Game Systems, and Practices.

Despite my initial critical impressions, the article contains knowledgeable discussion, and I definitely need to reread the article and give it a further thought.


  1. Tavinor, Grant. (2008). Definition of Videogames. Contemporary Aesthetics 6. Available http://www.contempaesthetics.org/newvolume/pages/article.php?articleID=492.
  2. Inspire Code. Metris: Musical Tetris, http://inspiredcode.net/Metris.htm.

Published by lankoski

Petri Lankoski, D.Arts, is a Associate Professor in Game Studies at the school of Communication, Media and IT at the Södertörn University, Sweden. His research focuses on game design, game characters, role-playing, and playing experience. Petri has been concentrating on single-player video games but researched also (multi-player) pnp and live-action role-playing games. This blog focuses on his research on games and related things.

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