For years, many people have been use the word “videogames” to describe various different things – often a similar category of games playable in arcades and at home thanks to digital electronic technology and using video displays. Sometimes this category is distinguished from “computer games” which are played on general-purpose home (or, if one is lucky, office) computers. Often people nowadays who think about gaming don’t think of specific classic titles (Zork, Hunt the Wumpus, Star Trek) as videogames but are willing to consider them computer games.
It’s not universal to use the single-word term. The OED has only an entry for “video game” (with 1973 and 1983 references), although “videotape” is listed as a single word. In Racing the Beam, Ian Bogost and I compromised on using “videogame” as the adjective form and “video game” as the noun form, so we wrote phrases such as “videogame players” but also wrote of “popular video games.” Perhaps this was the worst of both worlds, but no one, not even our copy editor, railed at us about it.
The problem that I see is that I like to explain to people, often in writing, that I study “computer and video games.” If I use the term “videogames,” what would I say? “I study computer games and videogames”? “I study computer. Also, I study videogames”? “I study video- and computer games”?
In an effort to make videogames seem like their own special thing (which was provided to me by one editor as an explanation for why the one-word version was used), Bioshock for PC is verbally classed in an entirely different category from Bioshock for Xbox 360. Given my work as an editor of the MIT Press Platform Studies series, I certainly recognize the real importance of the subtle difference between these two – but it seems awkward as a digital media scholar to actually go and call them different things, and it seems like that is what the sleek and special term “videogame” compels us to do. Maybe I need to become retro and go back to the two-word version of the term.