Mark J.P. Wolf weighs in on the videogame/video game debate in the opening chapter of The Video Game Explosion: A History From Pong to Playstation and Beyond:
What exactly constitutes a “video game”? Although the term seems simple enough, its usage has varied a great deal over the years and from place to place. We might start by noting the two criteria present in the name itself; its status as a “game” and its use of “video” technology. These two aspects of video games may be reason for why one finds both “video game” (two words) and “videogame” (one word) in use: considered as a game, “video game” is consistent with “board game” and “card game,” whereas if one considers it as another type of video technology, then “videogame” is consistent with terms like “videotape” and “videodisc.” Terms like “computer games” and electronic games” are also sometimes used synonymously with “video games,” but distinctions between them can be made. “Electronic games” and “computer games both do not require any visuals, while “video games” would not require a microprocessor (or whatever one wanted to define as being essential to being referred to as a “computer”). Thus, a board game like Stop Thief (1979), for example, which has a handheld computer that makes sounds that relate to game play on the board, could be considered a computer game, but not a video game. More of these kinds of games exist than games that involve video but not a computer, making “video games” the more exclusive term. The term “video games” is also more accurate in regard to what kinds of games are meant when the term is used in common parlance, and so it will be the term used here.
It’s clear why Wolf would choose to say “video game” instead of electronic or computer games, but it seems to me that he never really explains why this is preferable to writing “videogame” as one word. Moreover, he mischaracterizes the motivation behind those who consciously choose to treat “videogames” as one word. The reason I write videogame is not because I consider them to be a “different type of video technology.” That would imply that I am giving priority to the video element of videogames at the expense of their gaming roots. But that’s not the case at all. I don’t consider videogames to be a new type of video technology, I consider them to be a new type of technology, period. It is a technology and a medium composed of two preexisting mediums–i.e., games and video–but one which remains irreducible to either one; more precisely, I don’t think of the videogame as a new form of video or a new form of game, but rather as an entirely new form in and of itself, one with distinct characteristics and powers of expression.
Simply put, both games and video are essential precursors to the modern videogame, but if you believe that the medium is more than the sum of its parts, then it follows that we give it a name all its own. The advantage of using videogame as one word, then, is that it acknowledges and transcends these precursors in one fell swoop. It is a new word, a made-up word, but one that is very clearly anchored in the medium’s roots.
This is a surprisingly divisive issue, but I find it endlessly fascinating. For more points of view, check out this impromptu debate that took place over at Gameology 2.0 in 2006. Perhaps my favorite comment in that thread is the one by videogame critic/scholar Ian Bogost, who wrote in support of the one word spelling. (I only discovered this recently through his twitter feed–wish I had read it prior to my last post on the subject!) Bogost:
I use the term “videogame” for rhetorical reasons. Separating the words, in my opinion, suggests that videogames are merely games with some video screen or computer attached. But, I believe that videogames are fundamentally a computational medium, not just the extension of a medium like board or role-playing games (although there is also a genealogy there). I think that closing the space, in part, helps consolidate this concept. Personally, I’m only interested in gaming as it relates to computation. That doesn’t mean I don’t think gambling or board games or whatnot are useful, it just means that they are not my primary focus.
As for the argument that “videogame” implies video display…I don’t really care. I’m more interested in common usage, and the fact is that people use “videogame” to refer to the kinds of artifacts I want to talk about. I think video qua television screen is a vestigial effect of the arcade era and nobody is really confused about it.
For the same reason I abhor terms like “interactive entertainment.” I think inventing terms like this is a bit like trying to rename film or photography. More precise terms are more dangerous because they will lead to fragmentation. Jane McGonigal and I have had inconclusive conversations about whether ARGs and other so-called “big games” are videogames. I contend that they are, if they make significant use of computation (so, Cruel 2 B Kind, the game she and I created, is a videogame for me!). “Videogame” is a fine equivalent for “film” if we’d just stop worrying about it so much. And forcing the term into broader usage will help expand the medium much more than making up new words for each sub-type.