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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Video Games, Videogames or Computer Games?

Sunday, April 07, 2013

I have been having a relatively productive Easter writing two articles, one forthcoming in Alluvium (watch this space) and another on the representation of ageing in video games (about which I'll say more in a future blog post).

As I have been doing this, I have been thinking about the problem of terminology for what is still a relatively young discipline. When I first published on the topic three years ago, I made reference throughout to "computer games" throughout my book chapter. Writing my latest articles, I have noticed myself using "video games" and "videogames" interchangeably. Which is the correct term to use?

This is more than just a stylistic nitpicking of which we literary scholars are so fond. We need to agree upon a common term so that information is easily findable in journals and books, with metadata used consistently.

The pre-eminent journal in the field, Game Studies, describes itself as a journal of "computer game research" but the articles within it adopt "videogames," "video games" and "computer games" more or less interchangeably. Because of this variation, I have to maintain three Zetoc alerts for the three main search terms - and even these may not be sufficient, if articles happen to use more idiosyncratic phrases such as "digital games."

I have done a Google Ngram query (for "video game, videogame, computer game") which confirms my hunch, based on my general reading, that the most commonly used term today is "video games." The phrase "computer game" begins to tail off around the year 2002. The word computer is roughly synonymous with the desktop personal computer, but of course the last decade has seen a shift away from the desktop so that the major platforms now are laptops, tablets, mobile phones, and game systems such as the Xbox. "Video game," by contrast, has risen in popularity, so that today it is used roughly three times more than "computer game." On the majority vote, "video game" seems to be the term to use. It is also the more logical, since "computer game" implies games that run on computers, a term that most people would not apply to the likes of smartphones, which are an increasingly popular gaming platform.

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Posted by Alistair at 2:24 pm

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