I’ve always been referring to the act of enjoying a visual novel as “playing”, but apparently not everyone agrees. My boyfriend isn’t really a fan of the stuff and always corrects my “play” to “read”. He thinks that if it doesn’t involve skills it can’t be played. (reading is a skill, right?) At the same time I think a VN can have much more layers than just reading. There’s music and pictures too, so read doesn’t quite cut it for me.
On the other side I really admire visual novels with simulation elements. The ones with daily planners, stat-raising, inventory, wardrobe and things like that. It really makes the whole thing seem more like a game. Each format has it’s cons though. This type of VN can be annoying sometimes because skipping big chunks of story isn’t an option the second time around, like it is for pure visual novels. I have played Tokimemo GS 1 and 2 and I have suffered through the hours and hours of save-load and got to the end just to somehow realize I’d screwed it up at some point.
I definitely consider these types of visual novel as games, since they are more interactive. As for skill… something like an idle game is still a game although there’s little to no skill involved, just clicking and upgrading.
Regardless of the way you prefer to call it or the type of games you enjoy, I do think visual novels are becoming less of a niche. I mean there are even some on Steam. It makes me happy to see the medium “growing up” and reaching more people. Looking forward to the day I can be the girl saying, “Oh, you like that game? Well I’ve been playing visual novels since before you learned how to use a computer. Also get off my lawn!” ^_^