There’s a show called Cash Cab. Comedian Ben Bailey drives a cab in New York and offers to give people a free ride for as long as they can answer trivia questions without getting three wrong – and they get cash for each correct answer as well.
One question that came up today had to do with games. I have to admit that I don’t really remember the question, except that it was something like, “Inspired by light guns … [blah blah blah] … this game is known as WHAT?” The two guys in the cab seemed stumped, thought about it for a while, and just before time ran out, answered, “Space Invaders!” Way wrong. Bailey responded, “Sorry! It’s laser tag.” One of the contestants (who seemed to be in his late 20s) then said, “Oh, an actual game.”
Nice. We can see something interesting about prototypical games for these two guys and in particular the one quoted above. And not just prototypical games, but “games” as mentioned in different contexts. Now, I’m not sure what sort of context a quiz question is, but it’s probably close to neutral (the ever-elusive message-in-a-bottle-received-while-on-a-deserted-island that (many) semanticists and (some) pragmaticists wish they could get a handle on). Whatever context it was, it led them to interpret “game” as “video game” (could have had something to do with the actual content of the question…I really should have been, uh, paying more attention? Instead of doing coursework?) while the question was asked. But then when the answer was revealed, somehow a game like laser tag is more like an actual game: a game game, if you will. Now, laser tag is pretty video-game like in concept – but you just run around and such. Seems to suggest that an “actual” game is one that involves physical activity. Makes you wonder if, say, Battleship would have been an “actual” game. It involves interaction with things that are not displayed on a monitor, so much closer to physical activity than space invaders.
[The title should have reminded you of a certain paper by Jila Ghomeshi, Ray Jackendoff, Nicole Rosen, and Kevin Russell on how to find good salad recipes.]