Some People Would Rather Not Call Video Games 'Video Games'

Susan Orlean has written wonderfully about an orchid thief and sundry other topics, but she's avoided video games. Hadn't played one since Pac-Man. Somehow, she got a Kinect. She likes it for what it's not. (Hint: What it actually is.)

In a December piece for the New Yorker, she describes her brave dip into video game waters.

The Kinect is a long skinny piece of equipment with a little camera eye. It is connected to an Xbox, a computer game console that connects to a television monitor. You start the process of playing in a very interesting way-you are instructed to move furniture out of your way, which is not something that ever was required in order to play Pac-Man. Then you wave at the Kinect, and it peers at you like a little robot, sizing you up and putting you into the game on the screen. You aren't an avatar, mix-and-matched with a cartoon person; this is you as you, beamed into the actual game. I have no idea how this happens, but it does, which is in itself pretty magical. And then you play. I realize now that the Kinect isn't a video game; it's an activity environment that happens to be on a screen. Someone who didn't play hooky during science class as often as I did could probably explain this better. The closest thing I can compare it to is making shadow puppets with your hands on a wall; your hand is still your hand but it's also the shadow creature, and you manipulate them both, simultaneously.

The piece continues with her son playing Kinectimals and her playing Dance Central. (Coincidentally, Kotaku's two favorite Kinect games.)

She has fun with those video games.

What's the key line in Orlean's piece? I submit that it's this: "I realize now that the Kinect isn't a video game."

Reminds me of 57-year-old Elizabeth Bewley's newfound despair when she went shopping for new Wii games: "We were really disappointed because all the ones I saw are really like video games."

Technically the Kinect isn't a video game. It's a sensor, a controller. But that's not the distinction Orlean appears to be drawing. She's happy to play this thing that isn't really a video game. That's ok. We know her secret. She's a gamer now. Welcome back.

Connected [The New Yorker, Thanks Christopher!]