Sunday, October 30, 2011

“Analog” versus “Digital” in Games

Blogs are informal, and occasionally allow the writer to indulge himself, as in discussing his pet peeves.  One of my pet peeves is the misuse of the terms analog and digital to represent non-electronic games and electronic games.  I prefer the terms tabletop and video because they are more mellifluous and more directly address what people typically mean when they say analog games or digital games.  I use video rather than computer because of the odd notion in many quarters that game consoles don’t count as computers. (They’re just limited and specialized computers, computer wannabes, really.)  So I have to use video in order to include consoles.  Baseball is an analog game, but sports are not usually what people mean when they talk about “analog games”, nor are they talking about “tag”or other children’s games.  They usually mean games played at a table.

Something that is analog is continuous without discrete units or detents.  Time is analog although we try to divide it into smaller and smaller pieces.  Sound is also analog, although we have been able to divide it into such small parts that we can’t tell the difference between the digitized sound on computers and music CDs as compared with actual sound. ¹(Definitions from at the end of the article.)

Something that is digital is divided into discrete units with nothing in between.  The result of a die roll is digital: it’s a number one through six and cannot be 1 ½ or 2 3/4.  Modern computers do everything in “ons” and “offs” (1s and 0s), hence they’re digital.

There are analog computers, such as a slide rule for those who remember such things.  In World War II one of the reasons to develop digital computers was to replace the analog computers that were laboriously used to calculate ballistics tables for artillery.

You can see then that many tabletop games are in fact digital.  Therefore it makes no sense to use “digital games” for electronic games.  Nor does “analog games” work for non-electronic games.  I actually used “electronic” and “non-electronic” for a while, but they are too cumbersome.  So I substituted “tabletop” where that’s appropriate (again, baseball is not a tabletop game, but is a non-electronic game).  And I substitute “video” (or sometimes “computer”) for electronic games.

While I am probably fighting against a tidal wave, I can only say that using “analog” to describe tabletop games and “digital” to describe video games does not make sense.

of or pertaining to a mechanism that represents data by measurement of a continuous physical variable, as voltage or pressure.

5.      electronics: responding to discrete values of input voltage and producing discrete output voltage levels, as in a logic circuit: digital circuit
3.      representing data as a series of numerical values
4.      displaying information as numbers rather than by a pointer moving over a dial: a digital voltmeter; digital read-out
1.      of, relating to, resembling, or possessing a digit or digits
2.      performed with the fingers

¹Yes I know there are still people who claim that they can tell the difference between analog sound and digital sound, and there are a few nuts who claim that digitized sound is destroying modern ears.

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