A very simple response comes to mind:
“Tadhg Kelly, please stop trying to tell me ‘what games are’. To be extremely blunt, judging by both your site and your CV, I don’t think you’ve earned the right.”
Granted, I haven’t earned the right to tell anybody what they should think is or isn’t a game either. But I’m not trying to claim it.
You know who HAS earned that right, though? Anna Anthropy. Remember her? The woman who’s supposed to be at the vanguard of the “zinesters”? Her output has been excellent. Lurid title or no, Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars demonstrated a clear mastery of simple, elegant, oldschool game design, and she went into no small amount of detail in explaining exactly how she employed that mastery. She’s done that over, and over, and over. She’s a good critic and a great designer.
If she’s calling stuff like Dys4ia a game, I’m going to be very reluctant to disagree with her, because she’s actually really good at making and judging the things.
The funny thing is that I’m not actually a gigantic fan of the anti-mainstream backlash. I get it, but I think that there’s more mastery and craft in mainstream than the “zinesters” are necessarily always willing to admit. I also don’t root my disagreement with Kelly in the political and identity elements of games as Anna does. (Though I do respect those responses.)
I’m simply not impressed by these attempts to turn games into empty systems of rules, and to straitjacket criticism by forcing critics to engage them solely as systems of rules. If that was EVER the case, it’s long over. It’s over in board games, it’s over in card games (CCGs are far more than their rules), and you’d best believe it’s over in video games.
If you want to know “what games are”, you don’t need Kelly. Go read Grant Tavinor for the definition of games:
X is a videogame if it is an artefact in a digital visual medium, is intended primarily as an object of entertainment, and is intended to provide such entertainment through the employment of one or both of the following modes of engagement: rule-bound gameplay or interactive fiction.
INTERACTIVE FICTION. “Rule-bound gameplay”… OR INTERACTIVE ‘EFFING FICTION.
This problem is solved. This discussion is OVER. Grant Tavinor solved it back in 2008. Now go do something productive.