vgsg_small.png[This special editorial by Benj Edwards deals with the ever-fun issue of the correct form of 'videogame' vs. 'video game' in game (or indeed, any!) journalism. GSW management would like to make it clear that they don't much care either way, but enjoy Mr. Edwards' unsolicited chutzpah on the matter. Let battle commence!]

Earlier this year, the "International Game Journalists Association" (IGJA) published its first "Videogame Journalism Style Guide." In their style guide, which is mostly a glossary of video game terms, they included an entry entitled "videogame" that reads:

The Videogame Fallacy

No doubt you've heard of "videogames" before, but perhaps in a more conventional form -- with a space between "video" and "game." The Style Guide authors' decision to firmly favor one form over the other has generated no small amount of criticism in the video game world, and for good reason. In all my travels on the Internet, I have yet to find a sound basis for their declaration. On August 3rd, 2007, the IGJA published their first official defense of the "videogame" decision on their blog in an entry titled "The Videogame Style Guide FAQ."

In this article I will rebut, point-for-point, all of the arguments put forth in the IGJA's FAQ as to why "videogame," as a term, should be preferred over "video game" in journalistic usage. During the process you'll see why the IGJA's argument (at least as written by the FAQ author) is completely arbitrary and logically bankrupt.

I captured the FAQ section entitled "Why do you say that ”videogame” is one word? Everyone knows that it should be two words" on August 11th, 2007 and have reproduced it below, in its entirety, in blockquotes and italics. My responses to each section are interspersed throughout.

Rebuttal to the IGJA

Why do you say that ”videogame” is one word? Everyone knows that it should be two words.

First off, everyone does not agree that it’s two words. Heck, not everyone even agrees that it’s either: some publications insist on calling them all “computer games,” and a few even use the hyphenated “video-game.” Many publications and gamers were using the one-word version long before we settled on that as the preferred usage. In a Joystiq poll (, a full 45 percent of respondents preferred the one word version – far from a consensus either way.

Yes, some people also probably call them "computer games," "interactive entertainment," or even "veedjio gamirez," but that doesn't make any of them the best term for the medium. The authority of certain forms of words are not dictated by what a niche group of interested people prefer in an unscientific poll, but what the world at large actually uses and understands. So the Joystiq poll won't help; we need to survey the collective writings of mankind. At the moment, the closest tool I have at hand to help me do that is Google.

Using Google, we'll take an informal poll on the popularity of "video game" versus "videogame." As of this writing (08/11/2007), a search for the term "video game" returns 80,900,000 results, while "videogame" returns 12,000,000 results. It's a colossal understatement to say that the usage of the term "videogame" is in the minority on the Internet. Of all 92,900,000 uses of the terms "videogame" and "video game" combined (both presumably talking about the same thing), 87% use "video game," while only 13% use "videogame." Even barring all other arguments I put forward, that result alone should be reason enough to either change the IGJA's style guide entry on "videogame" to "video game," or at least list both of them as acceptable forms.

Still, of the countless editorial decisions that make up the guide, none has stirred up as much controversy as the decision to call “videogame” a single word.

Indeed. Hence this article. And there's a good reason for the controversy. The IGJA's decision to cite "videogame" to the exclusion of "video game" in their style guide is markedly amateurish. That decision serves as a telling example of why any serious journalist should approach the IGJA with suspicion, at least until its administration grows beyond its founding members.

A lot of the debate seems to stem from an interesting conflict of linguistic conventions. While most “game” terms are usually written as two words (board game, card game) most “video” terms are, according to the AP Stylebook, written as one word (videocasette, videodisc). Interestingly, there seems to be similar debate surrounding “ballgame” vs. “ball game,” with the two versions often used interchangeably in written discourse (also interestingly, “base ball” was regularly written as two words until the 1880s – now that form seems archaic).

Why not "cardgame" or "boardgame?" Those are great questions that I'll address below. I see no reason why any compound word with the term "video" in it should serve as a precedent that says "video game" should become "videogame." And using "baseball" as an example is like saying "Space Invaders" will some day become "spaceinvaders" through casual usage. Both are specific types of games. We're discussing the medium as a whole here.

A much more appropriate example would be discussing the difference and relationships between the terms "motion pictures" and "movies," "films," or "cinema." When the people who made motion pictures realized that they wanted to be taken seriously as a unique, new art form, did they declare in "The Motionpictures Style Guide" that henceforth, all motion pictures shall be known as "motionpictures?" Note that even though most people today call motion pictures "movies" or "films," the term "motion pictures" remains accurate and descriptive of the medium as a whole. There may, some day, be a new, cute term like "viddies" or "gamies" (or a serious, artsy one like "digitals" or "machinima") that takes over from "video games" in the popular lexicon, but that's no reason to either forcibly banish or contract the term "video game" now. When and where that happens is a function of the march of time and the unpredictable chaos of culture. Even then, the term "video game" will still accurately describe the medium, just as "motion picture" still accurately describes a movie.

The subject at hand is that of compound words. The logic of compound words (at least in American English, the language covered in the guide) is that you push individual words together when their meanings separately do not adequately to refer to the referent. So, “butterfly” is one word because that insect is not a kind of fly and doesn’t have much to do with butter. Following this logic, “videogame” makes more sense as one word because “video” does not really modify “game.” Instead, it is attached to create a different class of game, one distinct from the broader notion of games.

A vague interpretation of the "logic of compound words" can't justify the arbitrary and sudden unification of two words in a style guide. Compound words typically get the way they are over decades or hundreds of years of usage, not upon the decree (or the applied "logic") of a supposed authority at a single point in time. The "butterfly" example makes absolutely no sense. If video games were commonly called "butter games," then I'd understand -- heck...let's call them "buttergames" instead; I'm all for it. But in fact, the term "video" in "video game" is very descriptive and purposeful. Your claim that "video" does not modify "game" in the term "video games" is patently absurd. Video games are called what they are because they are games played using video displays. More on this below.

And that’s the nut of it. We felt that videogames were more than just a type of game. Consider, for example, that a videogame like The Sims is largely unrecognizable as a game in the classic sense. While it does have an explicit set of rules, The Sims has no explicit goals and no real sense of competition with a human or computer-controlled opponent. While it’s undeniably a “videogame,” it’s not really a “game” like Monopoly.

Here, the author argues that we should use the term "videogames" because certain games...I mean, The Sims that fall within the medium's purview are not actually games. Then why not just get rid of the "games" part altogether and call them "videos?" Oh yeah; that term is already taken. We need the "game" part of the term to describe that these "things" are entertaining diversions, and we need the "video" part to show that they are dynamic and visual. Neither word is arbitrary or non-descriptive, unlike the "butter" in "butterfly."

And The Sims, by any mainstream definition I know, is indeed a game. So is Monopoly. So are Klondike solitaire, soccer, video handball, marbles, and charades. They're all played differently with different goals, technologies, tools, and accessories, but they're all still games. The explicit goal of any game, even The Sims, is to have fun while playing it. That's what makes a game, and that's all that matters.

And while we're transcending mediums with non-games, let's get back to an earlier issue: Why not "cardgame" or "boardgame" instead of "card game" or "board game"? Because, like "video game," the terms (as they currently stand) sufficiently describe what types of games we're talking about.

Following the IGJA's "videogame" logic, why call something as intricate and strategic as "Magic: the Gathering" merely a "card game?" Doesn't that insult the artistry and depth of the game play (which is leagues beyond the primitive sybology of "Go Fish" and "Old Maid")? Why not invent a new term for complex card games that neither use "cards" in a traditional, 52-card sense, nor are purely games, but also collectible works of art -- "cardgame" -- to define the new and exciting medium (in "The Cardgame Style Guide, no doubt)? I'll tell you why: because it sounds like the work of a pseudo-intellectual advocate whining to the world that card games aren't taken seriously unless the term for them is only one word long.

The whole idea of the “video” modifier has similarly turned out to be less and less accurate — the types of displays available to present videogames have grown to include everything from LCD screens and monitors to audio-only devices for the blind. Despite the ruckus, “video” no more modifies “game” in any intelligible way than “butter” does things that fly. Only together do we really know what we are talking about.

It's true that when video games were invented, they all used television (video) signals generated and sent to cathode-ray-tube-based electronic displays as output. But as electronic display technology has evolved, so has the meaning of the term "video," along with the meaning of the word "television." The term "video" is now generally understood to encompass nearly all implementations of "a series still images shown rapidly in succession to simulate motion on an electronic display," (my definition) whether it be on a CRT, LCD screen, plasma display, or fed directly into your brain through an as-yet-unknown display technology.

So the video "modifier" is neither inaccurate, nor obsolete, nor in need of revision. After all, the IGJA is still keeping "video" in "videogames" isn't it? Why include the term at all if it is vestigial and inaccurate? By your logic ("'video' no more modifies 'game' in any intelligible way than 'butter' does things that fly."), calling them "buttergames" wouldn't make any appreciable difference, since you argue that the word "video" is completely arbitrary in the term. And wait: in the last paragraph, you just argued that "game" part of the term is superfluous too. So pick a name, any name... "butterfly," "toadscenes," and "malleable guava extract" could all do the trick equally, if only everyone knew what you were talking about.

And by the way, I don't believe that many people would put games that use audio-only output devices into the category of "video games." Perhaps we should call them "audio games" ... or "audiogames" if the mood strikes.

We decided that the very act of writing a videogame style guide was a clear indication that there was something new, novel and notable about the medium – and, as such, that it deserved its own singular word to describe it. And this, as far as we can tell, is how you get words like “cupcake.” Clearly, “cup” modifies cake in a sort of obvious way. But the notion of a cupcake is distinct enough from the greater range of cakes that we created a compound word out of it. And videogames seem to be at least as important, if not more, than cupcakes.

This "new, novel, and notable" medium (that's been around since 1967, by the way) doesn't need a new word; it has a perfectly good term ("video games") that describes the most new, novel, and notable thing about it: it consists of games played on a dynamic electronic medium known as "video." They've been called "video games" by the public since at least 1971, according to Nolan Bushnell in an interview I conducted with him last March. The term, as it stands with a space squarely in the middle, is just fine as it is for the time being. And once again, the term "video" in "video games" is still as descriptive and relevant as it always has been.

I like your argument: "Video games are singular like cupcakes, therefore, they're videogames." (I'm paraphrasing.) When the singular art form of "cupcakes" becomes a medium of creative expression on par with the versatility and depth of movies, literature, and music, then, maybe, your analogy will make some sense. The word "cupcake" is over 170 years old. Do you think it got that way because a couple guys in the 1820s wrote "The Cupcake Style Guide?" It may very well be that, like the transition from "cup cake" to "cupcake" (assuming there actually was one), we are in the middle of a historical transition between "video game" as two words to "videogame" as one word. But as it stands, the usage of the latter term is still in the minority, and the declaration of its correctness is, at present, still pointless and arbitrary.

It’s also important to note that the idea of videogame as two words was never written in stone. Yes, the AP Stylebook opted for the two-word variant (see next question)but it’s worth pointing out that Europeans often use the one word version (see James Newman’s Videogames) and that much of the academic community seems to prefer ”videogame” as well. (See Ian Bogost’s MIT Press books, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames and Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism as examples, and please feel free to argue with these two very bright authors.)

It doesn't matter what terms those particular academics use or how smart they are. They're still in the vast minority in their usage of "videogame" in the United States, birthplace of the video game. Also, we're talking about the American English term for "video games" here (as you said yourself earlier), not European terms, so using that as an example is irrelevant. For example, just because the French call "video games" "des jeu vidéo" doesn't mean we should call them that. They have completely different forms for a lot of words, including, among others, "jacket," "toilet," and "ballerina."

In the end, there is no official style guide police force. Your particular editor, outlet or website might prefer to use the two-word version. These are editorial decisions that, in the end, need to take place on the local level.

Exactly. So why not at least put both terms in the guide instead of ham-fistedly anointing one over the other, then desperately and unprofessionally defending your choice with weak or irrelevant justifications? The majority has spoken, and they have spoken "video games."

Just keep in mind: This decision, like all decisions behind The Videogame Style Guide were not made randomly, or lightly!

The decision to declare "videogames" just so might not be random or lightly made, but it is still ill-conceived. A thousand chimps concentrating as hard as they could on one topic could claim the same thing, but that wouldn't make their ideas more intelligent or correct -- even if they did have 3,000 years of professional video game journalism experience between them.

Why Not Call Them "Videogames"?

  1. The term as it stands (with a space) is perfectly adequate and unambiguous in modern usage, describing games played through a dynamic visual medium.
  2. "Videogame" has no distinct meaning to differentiate itself from the already existing and most widely recognized form, "video game," so the change is arbitrary. Any arbitrary change against the standard introduces unnecessary confusion.
  3. What are you trying to prove? The forced usage of the term "videogame," sans space, sounds like a sulkingly defensive attempt to make this particular entertainment medium transcend its "kiddie past" and finally be accepted by the mainstream as a full-fledged, freestanding art form. The only problem is that video games, like any other creative human endeavor, are already a serious freestanding art form in league with movies, music, theater, and literature -- and all this with the modest space in tact. You could call video games "poo on a stick" and they'd be no less artistically distinctive or impressive (But please don't, unless you want to start a fight with the "pooonastick" faction).
  4. Video games have been called "video games" since the early 1970s, and there's no good reason to stop that trend.

So hit the space bar already.

[ Benj Edwards is a freelance journalist, video game historian, and Editor-in-Chief of Vintage Computing and Gaming, a "blogazine" devoted to classic games and vintage comptuers. ]