What is a game? Is Proteus a game? Are you a game? And why?


game [geym] noun: wild animals, including birds and fishes, such as are hunted for food or taken for sport or profit

There it is in black and white. Simple enough, right? So why is there an esoteric debate raging over whether or not Proteus can be considered a game? Is it because it lacks certain defining characteristics such as those we would typically associate with “games”? Yes, pretty much. Proteus has no real objective, placing you in a digital paradise populated by curious, pixelated flora and musical, humming fauna before gently inviting you to explore using simple visual and audio cues. It’s wonderful, you should play it. If you’re at all confused as to whether you’re playing a game however, I’ve compiled a definitive list of what is and isn’t a game. Take a look.

Framed painting of a goose — Is it a game? No

This framed painting of a goose with the caption ‘GOOSE’ is not a game. But is it art? Yes, all paintings are art. Some films (the black and white ones) are also art. Are games art? Now you’re getting to the tough questions. Luckily, I’ve got all the answers! No, games are not art. As a rule of thumb art must involve paint or be a statue of some kind. Art can be found in museums.

Doom 3 — Is it a game? Yes

Doom 3 is a game developed by id Software. You can tell it’s a game because of how it shows up on your computer screen and not along the tops of castle walls (those are crenellations) or floating hundreds of feet above the earth, held aloft by a non-rigid balloon or “envelope” filled with helium gas (that is a blimp). Blimps and crenellations are not games, Doom 3 is a game. Next.

My ironing board — Is it a game? No

My ironing board is not a game. It collapses flat for easy storage and has a special heat-resistant tray on which I can place the iron while organising items of clothing or clapping excitedly at something I’ve seen on the television. These are not typical features of games. My ironing board, therefore, is not a game.

Hover! — Is it a game? Yes

Hover! was included on the Windows 95 installation CD under the ‘Games’ category, alongside a shareware release of Terminal Velocity. Both of these games are games. The WMV of Weezer’s Buddy Holly, also included on the Windows 95 installation CD, was not a game.

The Windows ‘Maze’ screensaver — Is it a game? No

Sadly, the Windows Maze screensaver was not a game. This is a tricky one however, as it looks just like a game. They key difference here is that as soon as you move the mouse in an attempt to enter this incredible 3D world, the maze vanishes and you’re left staring dumbly at the desktop. Like trying to escape into Narnia only to bump your nose on the back of the wardrobe.

Nickelodeon 3D Movie Maker — Is it a game? Currently unknown

It is a matter of some debate whether this piece of software created by Microsoft, Nickelodeon and a series of now defunct graphics studios in 1995 falls into the category of ‘filmmaking tool’ or ‘game’. Personally I believe it would fall into the former, but many would disagree, pointing to the broader Microsoft Kids toolset and its cannily interspersed mini-games, of which 3D Movie Maker is but one component. I’ll leave this one up to you.

Proteus — Is it a game? Yes

Proteus is a game because it appears on Steam between ‘Project Freedom’ and ‘ProtoGalaxy’, and those two are definitely games. And I’m not sure if you noticed, but Steam only sells games. (Actually, it sells things that aren’t games too, but they get their own section. Proteus is in the games section. Ergo it can only be a game.) Also, the man who made it, Ed Key, says it’s a game. And he’d know.