To cite a video game, follow the template of core elements, as you would for any other source. Below we provide in-depth explanations for each element in a video game citation.
In establishing our guidance for citing video games, we consulted Eric Kaltman, Stacey Mason, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s “The Game I Mean: Game Reference, Citation and Authoritative Access,” and we encourage you to read their work for further discussion on the nuances of referring to and citing video games.
Title of Source Element
Begin with the title of the video game. Always include the full title and subtitle of a game, like you do for any other titled source.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns
Since game developers “are responsible for the game’s storyline and feel” (Zegarra), you may wonder why a works-cited-list entry for a game would begin with the game’s title, rather than with the game developer’s name in the Author element. The developer’s name is instead placed in the Publisher element, along with the publisher’s name. See the section on the Publisher element below for details.
List the director of a video game in the Contributor slot, as you would a film director. Some games may not credit someone as a director, in which case you would not include that element in your entry.
Alan Wake 2. Directed by Sam Lake and Kyle Rowley, Remedy Entertainment / Epic Games, 2023. Sony PlayStation 5 game.
If you focus your discussion on a voice or motion capture actor’s performance in a video game, include the actor’s name along with the director’s in the Contributor element, the same way you would for actors in a film:
Death Stranding. Directed by Hideo Kojima, performances by Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen, Kojima Productions / Sony Interactive Entertainment, 2019. Sony PlayStation 4 game.
Modern games are frequently updated after they are released. Those updates, also known as patches, can result in significant differences in games, such as bug fixes or new game content. Including the version number is not required in your citation, but if the game’s version is relevant to your discussion (e.g., you are discussing how a patch added new content to a game), include the version or patch number in the Version element of your entry:
Alan Wake 2. Directed by Sam Lake and Kyle Rowley, version 1.000.014, Remedy Entertainment / Epic Games, 2023. Sony PlayStation 5 game.
Where you find the version number will vary based on the game or on the platform used to access a game. For example, recent game consoles often allow users to inspect a game file’s technical information, and the version number may be included in that type of information screen. So if you are using a recent game console, the console’s instruction manual may provide guidance on how to access that type of information about a game file. Another place you might find the version number is somewhere on a game’s start or title screen, though not all games display the version information there.
Include a video game’s developer and publisher in the Publisher element of your entry. There are two reasons for including the developer in the Publisher element. First, a video game’s in-game credits or physical box might not make it clear how much input the game’s publisher also had in creating the creative elements of a game.1 So including the game developer’s name and the publisher’s name together in the Publisher element eliminates any possible confusion about a publisher’s role. Second, it may be difficult to determine who is the publisher and who is the developer of a game when you are looking at the game. It’s possible that you might find text that says “Developed by” or “Published by” in a few different places: on the video game’s physical disc, on the back of its box, in its instruction booklet or manual, in the in-game start or title screen, in the in-game credits, and so on. However, some games, particularly ones that were created many years ago, may not include such identifying text. So including both names in the Publisher element eliminates the need for any guesswork.
If a game is developed and published by the same company, only one name would need to be included in the Publisher element, and if the developer and publisher are not the same company, separate the names with a slash.
Here is an entry for a game that was developed and published by the same company (Cyan):
Firmament. Cyan, 2023. Microsoft Windows game.
Here is an entry for a game that has a different developer and publisher (Next Level Games is the developer and Nintendo is the publisher):
Luigi’s Mansion 3. Directed by Bryce Holliday, Next Level Games / Nintendo, 2019. Nintendo Switch game.
Some games may display the name of the developer or publisher near the name of its game engine, which “is a specialized piece of software that allows a development studio to combine all of their work into a finished product” (Martin). In MLA style, you should not include the software that a work is built with or runs on in your works-cited-list entry, so the game engine name should not be included in your entry. If you are unsure whether a name is for a game engine or publisher, you may need to do a Google search to check. If the game engine was relevant to your discussion of the work, you could include that information in the body of your essay or in a note.
Publication Date Element
Include the year that the video game was published. Similar to the name of the game developer or publisher, you may find the publication date for a game in several different locations, such as the game’s physical disc or cartridge, on the back of its box, in its instruction booklet or manual, in the in-game start or title screen, or in the in-game credits.
Final Supplemental Element
Identify the platform you play a video game on (e.g., Sony PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, etc.) in the final supplemental element of your entry. That information is important in identifying the game that you are citing, since some games are released on multiple platforms simultaneously. Even if a game is exclusive to one platform when it is first released, games can be ported to different platforms later, so it is helpful to identify the platform even in those cases.
1. For an in-depth discussion of the similarities and differences between game developers and game publishers and their roles, see Zegarra.
Kaltman, Eric, et al. “The Game I Mean: Game Reference, Citation and Authoritative Access.” Games Studies, vol. 21, no. 3, Sept. 2021, gamestudies.org/2103/articles/kaltman_mason_wardripfruin.
Martin, Jennifer. “What Is a Game Engine?” University of Silicon Valley, 20 Oct. 2020, usv.edu/blog/what-is-a-game-engine/.
Zegarra, Tomas. “Game Developers vs Game Publishers: What’s the Difference?” HP, 19 July 2020, www.hp.com/us-en/shop/tech-takes/game-developers-vs-game-publishers.