Totilo At Play

June 10, 2009

Game Diary - June 10, 2009: But Is It A Video Game?

Filed under: Totilo Game Diary — stephentotilo @ 8:00 am

solitaireI played Mario vs Donkey Kong through DSiWare a bit yesterday for a pending Kotaku review. But let’s not waste time on that when there’s a big, cosmic question to be answered.

Help settle a friendly argument I was having last night.

If someone claims to have not played video games since they were a kid — BUT this person has played solitaire on their computer recently — then, are they, in fact, wrong? I say they have played video games lately. The person on the other side of the argument tells me that computer solitaire doesn’t count as a video game.

Which is it?


  1. It’s a video game. For me, the definition of a video game is Interactive Electronic Entertainment, and Solitaire on a computer definitely fits that.

    Comment by Shauntu — June 10, 2009 @ 9:23 am

  2. I think you could make a reasonable argument that card games, mahjong, chess and other board games don’t qualify as video games. Instead they are their base game format delivered via the medium of a a computer.

    I think this only holds true if the rules are the exact same as the base rules, but in the case of solitaire that’s true. I’m not sure whether I’d consider the introduction of an AI to be sufficient to call something a video game, although if it is that would mean Garry Kasprov has played a video game in his match with Deep Blue. After thinking about it a bit, I’m inclined to say that he has.

    Comment by Greg Sanders — June 10, 2009 @ 9:26 am

  3. As game programmer from Las Vegas (where “Game programmer” means programs slot machines) computer card games are considered gaming only if the odds are on the house side.

    Comment by Zahara — June 10, 2009 @ 11:03 am

  4. They are games presented in video form…hence, a video game.

    Comment by Scopique — June 10, 2009 @ 11:30 am

  5. I consider them to be a video game. To me a video game is a game that is played in a digital form on a TV or computer instead of a physical form such as a game board with miniature pieces or playing cards.

    Comment by Billy — June 10, 2009 @ 11:33 am

  6. It is most certainly a video game. It might not be one in the traditional or common sense of the world, but it certainly a game that is enjoyed on the computer. I think the problem is that most people consider video games to be an interactive experience and card and puzzle games don’t give off the same feeling as games like BioShock, Uncharted or WOW do.

    Comment by Marko Dj. — June 10, 2009 @ 11:34 am

  7. Is.

    Also, tell them to move onto a real video game, Freecell.

    Comment by PacoDG — June 10, 2009 @ 11:34 am

  8. What about Tiger-type games clipped to your keychain? A digital Magic 8-Ball?

    Sure, technically they count… but if you’re trying to use it to classify the person as having played games or not, it might be kind of a stretch.

    If someone shoots some hoops in their driveway, but “hasn’t played sports” since high school, where would you draw the distinction?

    Comment by Jeremy — June 10, 2009 @ 11:34 am

  9. I’ve encountered the same debate several times. I think people have different views on what “video game” means. Our less tech savvy friends that play Solitaire see games like this as a throw-away/time waster. However they see “video games” as something you buy and put hours into.

    If it’s casual or can be played in short bursts it “doesn’t count” heh.

    Comment by SweetTea023 — June 10, 2009 @ 11:35 am

  10. Literally, yes. In terms of game experience, no. I’m not sure that analogizing or arguing equivalences gets us anywhere. It’s like arguing what is and what isn’t a sport.

    When I play MLB 09 The Show, I don’t say “I played baseball today.” Similarly, when my Dad plays bridge online, he doesn’t say he played a video game.

    Comment by Owen — June 10, 2009 @ 11:35 am

  11. Not a video game.

    It’s just a physical card game that they have put in digital form on your computer. It’s not a video game if you play it on your living room floor with actual cards.

    But then, I don’t think Wii Fit counts as a video game either. I think there’s a line between delivering entertainment via a PC/Console and an actual built video game.

    Comment by eye-shuh — June 10, 2009 @ 11:36 am

  12. Minesweeper or bust.

    Comment by Chris — June 10, 2009 @ 11:36 am

  13. They are playing a video game.

    Comment by rog0705 — June 10, 2009 @ 11:37 am

  14. It and its ilk are video games and Nielsen ( agrees.

    Comment by Sean — June 10, 2009 @ 11:38 am

  15. A game needs to take advantage of the medium to count as someone playing a video game.

    Lets say you went to a theater, and watched a movie where it just showed one paragraph of text on the screen at a time. Is that a movie? Technically, yes. Have you just experienced a movie? no. You’ve just read a short story.

    The same goes the other way. If you have one of the newer board games that uses integrated electronics to give the user a different experience, then is that board game perhaps a video game?

    Your friend has simply used a deck of cards simulator.

    Comment by Mr. Glass — June 10, 2009 @ 11:39 am

  16. Yes, if they’ve played computer solitaire then they’ve played video games recently. But it doesn’t really matter.

    Focusing on the “gotcha” question of whether solitaire counts towards your friend’s “gaming” time, you miss the much more interesting question of why he doesn’t play any other games. What makes computer solitaire so accessible and intriguing to people who’d never even consider themselves gamers? Why he doesn’t consider computer solitaire a video game? Perhaps he has a negative, childish connotation to the games he thinks he hasn’t played since he was a kid, but somehow computer solitaire breaks through this, to the point it doesn’t even count as a game to him.

    Comment by Kyle Orland — June 10, 2009 @ 11:39 am

  17. Of course it’s a video game. Why do people get all up in arms about the proper definition of a video game? It’s like if I said the Addams Family is not a movie because it was once a TV show, even though it has had two theatrical releases.

    It’s a physical card game that was put on the computer, yes. And guess what? It’s now a video game.

    Comment by Ari Velazquez — June 10, 2009 @ 11:40 am

  18. No - it’s not a game *designed* to be played on a video screen. I always come back to my edge case: Battle Chess isn’t really a video game, even with the animations. That means Uno, Solitare, Monopoly, Parcheesi, Hangman, and the others are out. The medium makes it more *convenient* to play - or perhaps prettier - but the mechanics aren’t designed with the video screen in mind.

    Comment by Sachin Agarwal — June 10, 2009 @ 11:41 am

  19. It’s a video game in the same way that sociology and psychology are the same.

    Comment by Nick LaLone — June 10, 2009 @ 11:43 am

  20. Yes, solitaire is a video game.

    I would more interestingly like to know why this person believes that they hadn’t played video games lately. Just because it is simplistic doesn’t mean it’s not a video game.

    And to Mr. Glass, solitaire on the computer does take advantage of the medium in various ways. One is allowed to dynamically change the rules, there is a timer, there is a scorekeeper, one is afforded the capability of changing the speed with which the cards are dealt, and you can even change the appearance of said cards.

    Find me a deck of cards that can do all of that, without using a computer and a visual display device, and you’d color me impressed.

    What I’m saying is, that by your own definition, Solitaire is a video game.

    Comment by Jake — June 10, 2009 @ 11:51 am

  21. It’s a video game, plain and simple. The term was developed to describe a computerized game that requires user interaction. If this person was playing actual cards the whole time, then they could say they haven’t played video games. But put anything into an interactive, computerized format - horseshoes, cribbage, tic-tac-toe - and it becomes a VIDEO game.

    Comment by Dan — June 10, 2009 @ 11:54 am

  22. You’re technically correct, Stephen. Your friend DID opt for the video version when he could have pulled out a deck of cards.

    I’m with Kyle though, in that it would be more interesting to pin down why your friend is so keen to highly distance themselves from gaming, especially when they associate with someone who just did the pilgrimage to E3.

    Comment by Anthony S — June 10, 2009 @ 11:57 am

  23. Technically it is a video game. The thing is that the games he was referring to (the ones he no longer plays) are/were “designer” games. Games designed for a single person to enjoy and participate in more than something like a “folk” game. Games like checkers, poker, solitaire, these are all folk games with loose rules meant to be simple to hand down from person to person, which rise up and evolve out of ease of use. There is a distinct difference between the two types of games even through they’re both “video” games.

    Comment by Matt Williamson — June 10, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

  24. I agree with Mr. Glass. There is a difference between what I think of as a simulator vs. a videogame. A videogame uses the visual medium to wrap game design into metaphorical constructs. A simulator abandons metaphor, and attempts to be as literal as possible.

    Now, simulation is an element of many videogames. But the key difference between a pure simulation and a game is the concept of rules. So, for example, Metal Gear Solid may attempt to be a war simulator, but there are rules that bind what you can do, what strategies to deploy, and so on.

    In other words, a videogame applies game design on top of simulation, whereas computer solitaire is the opposite: a simulation of a game design.

    Comment by Dan Hiester — June 10, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

  25. Good question, obviously. I think I side with those that say card games, unless they have some type of original game design, are not video games.

    Comment by mikesnider — June 10, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

  26. @mikesnider Then you have to argue what is ‘original game design’. Aren’t the speed at which the game occurs, the way the score is kept, the ability to select from multiple rulesets, and the ability to customize the look of the game all ‘original game design’?

    I’m confused if some of you have actually played solitaire… which seems silly, but there is definitely more to it than being a ‘card game simulation’.

    Comment by Jake — June 10, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

  27. Semantics of simulation vs game aside, for the purposes of the original discussion, it’s a game. I’m pretty sure Totilo’s friend doesn’t fire up Solitaire because they don’t happen to be carrying a deck of cards around with them. It’s convenient diversion material. It may not be as in-depth an experience as say, Flight Simulator X (published by Microsoft *Game* Studios) - but it doesn’t have to be; vive la difference.

    FWIW Neilsen seems to concur - check their State of the Video gamer report( - where Solitaire clocks in well ahead of such lightweights as World of Warcraft.

    It’s interesting this example comes up a day or so after Newsweek’s Six Days in Fallujah feature. There Peter Tamte is trying to argue people offended by Atomic Games’ er, “project” are potentially doing so because of its designation as a “game”…and hence a trivialisation of events.

    (Furthermore it has to be a game - because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to brag about my staggering high score (6900+ prior to my last OS reinstall)

    Comment by Justin Kranzl — June 10, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

  28. It’s a video game, but at the same time, it’s not. I can’t contend that it’s a game played in video format. However, I can contend that it’s a simple card game simulation that doesn’t provide any more immersion or enjoyment than can be achieved playing with a deck of cards. Sure, there are additional options and features, but none of those are impossible to accomplish without a computer.

    I believe there can be a distinction between simple computer games and video games. I think an easy way to distinguish between the two is to evlauate whether or not the person playing that game exclusively is a “gamer”. I’m not even talking about hardcore vs. non-hardcore. I’m talking about people who choose “video games” over alternative forms of entertainment to occupy their free time vs. people who play a game due to boredom.

    If a person plays solitaire for eight hours a day at work, does that make them a gamer? I don’t think so. They’re certainly not in the same category as a person who works all day looking forward to getting their CoD4 or WoW fix that evening. Is someone a gamer because they occasionally play Mafia Wars on Facebook? Not compared to someone who reads video game blogs and plans out their next three rentals from Gamefly. Hell, not even compared to a five year old kid who loves Wii Sports.

    The vast majority of people who exclusively play simple computer games like Solitaire do so because there’s simply nothing better to do at the time. If you tried to hand them an SNES and a copy of Super Metroid, they’d probably say “No thanks, I don’t play video games”, and I think that’s a perfectly logical statement.

    Comment by Minor Setback — June 10, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

  29. So, according to Minor Setback, if someone, just one person, plays Super Mario Bros just fine, but says no to Super Metroid with the statement that ‘No thanks, I don’t play video games’, then Super Mario Bros is no longer a video game? Cause I actually have encountered multple people in my family who are like that. One of whom is a housewife without a computer, so has never played Solitaire, and the only game she plays is Super Mario Bros and dismisses any other game with the claim that ’she doesnt play video games’.

    What if just one gamer who does play CoD4 and WoW and ALSO plays Solitaire — does that now make Solitaire a video game? I am sure there are many!

    Comment by Shauntu — June 10, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

  30. Is it pushing the boundaries of game design? No.
    Is it on the bleeding edge of technical prowess? No.
    Does it feature online connectivity and achievements? No (unless you count personal bests).

    It is an entertaining form of software just like every other of its type? Yes.

    Your friend may not play console or handheld video games, but that is most definitely a PC video game.

    Comment by GohanGVO — June 10, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

  31. It’s a video game, but not a videogame.

    Comment by Craig — June 10, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

  32. Thanks for the useful info. It’s so interesting

    Comment by JamesD — June 11, 2009 @ 6:27 am

  33. I didn’t expect this much debate about this! Good stuff, folks. Thanks for all the replies.

    Comment by stephentotilo — June 11, 2009 @ 8:31 am

  34. I think you’re taking my examples a little too literally, Shauntu. I might not have expressed what I meant properly. In a nutshell, what I meant was that as a whole, if a game is played due to sheer boredom more often than it’s played for fun and entertainment, I don’t think it qualifies as a video game. It’s just a simple computer game.

    Maybe distinguishing by who is and isn’t a gamer is a bit too complicated. I meant for the examples to be generalizations that are not immune to exceptions.

    Regarding the people Shauntu mentioned who play SMB exclusively: if they’re playing SMB for fun, I consider them gamers, which means SMB would still qualify as a video game. If they habitually play it out of sheer boredom, they’re in an extreme minority. Most people play that game because they love it, and there’s no other game (or other medium of entertainment) they’d rather be engaged in at that moment.

    The housewife friend who plays SMB but claims she “doesn’t play video games”, is technically correct in saying so. However, if she were to say either “I don’t play any video games”, or “I’m not a gamer”, I don’t think she could be more wrong.

    Comment by Minor Setback — June 11, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

  35. To Minor Setback: At this point, aren’t you changing the topic of discussion to ‘who is a gamer’ rather than ‘what is a game’?

    Comment by Shauntu — June 11, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

  36. Not changing, but including. It seems relevant considering the circumstances surrounding the debate brought up in Stephen’s post.

    Really, though, that’s just a footnote to my main point, which is that I think there’s a difference between video games and simple computer games. I’ve just been trying to discuss what I consider good methods for distinguishing between the two.

    Comment by Minor Setback — June 11, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

  37. It’s a solitaire simulation videogame.

    Comment by justvashu — June 16, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

  38. Solitaire. Included by default on every single Windows PC in the world is probably the most played video game. This Video Game has a graphical user interface and a click-and-drag concept to play; it’s definitely a Video Game.

    Comment by 3D Players World — September 3, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

  39. video games are good to relax and forget the real life, i like to play video games with my son, i like like 2 time a week.

    Comment by rafael ascanio — September 5, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

  40. I don’t think it counts.Its still a card game.You just happen to be using a computer.Anyway its a dumb argument.

    Comment by David — September 22, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

  41. I don’t think it counts.Its still a card game.You just happen to be using a computer.Anyway its a dumb

    Comment by David — September 22, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

  42. I don’t think it counts.Its still a card game.You just happen to be using a computer.Anyway its a dumb argument.Dj

    Comment by David — September 22, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

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