Every video game is an interactive experience, but when does an interactive experience become a game? Video games by their very design require input from an external source, most commonly a keyboard, mouse, controller or joystick. If a game played itself it would essentially be a video. However, even many videos now offer some level of interactivity. As we move towards simplified interfaces and more accessible content, the lines start to blur on what can be considered a video game.
Laserdisc systems were one of the first mainstream media sources to bring a simple interactive experience into the gaming sphere. In 1983, Dragon’s Lair hit arcades and served as one of the first popular laserdisc games – titles featuring arcade cabinets that operated around a fitted laserdisc player – in the west, paving the way for the likes of Space Ace and Time Gal which have since gone on to become cult classics. These games make use of prerecorded animation instead of the standard character and background sprites, whilst only requiring very basic input from the player to progress the story.
Laserdisc players used simple directional and button inputs, similar to what you would find on the average television remote control. Arcade set-ups simply transferred these inputs to a standard arcade joystick and buttons, creating an experience that the average gamer would easily identify with. This minimal interactivity along with fixed story progression and impressive visuals offered an appealing game experience worthy of the arcade and eventually home use. The popularity of laserdisc games dropped significantly in the late 80’s, but the idea of interactive movies continued on through future disc formats, such as DVD and Blu-Ray, in a more limited capacity.
Moving into the late 90’s, Bandai’s electronic pet-simulation Tamagotchi had become one of the biggest toy fads of the decade. It too made use of simple button commands to create an accessible and intuitive interactive experience, not dissimilar to that offered by the laserdisc games of the previous decade. Although Tamagotchi is considered a toy, the presence of a dot matrix LCD screen used to display pixel-art characters is very comparable to a traditional video game. In this writer’s opinion, this marks where the lines of what can be considered a “game” really start to blur.