I’ve decided that I’m pretty much out of my depth now, at this time, when it comes to trying to write a proper academic quality/style paper about the problems I’m looking at, (mainly because I have no academic background), but at the same time, I really feel the need to do something with what it is I have found.
There are still a couple of other good reasons why I’m not really able to write such a paper too – though mainly because I only really began studying this problem purely for my own satisfaction, and so never recorded the full evidence of my findings to begin with. Since this problem is so basic, simple and fundamental, however, and because much of the necessary information is deliberately available to the public, it shouldn’t be that hard to piece and display all the necessary information and research together if necessary, which of course it would be for such an academic paper.
All of this is part of the reason why I’m instead choosing to concentrate on writing entries for my blog, here on gamasutra.com instead. The only real concern, however, is of course that enough of the right/required people get to see and read what I’ve written, and are able to do something about it. But that is not entirely within my power to dictate, of course.
It’s taken me quite a while to piece everything together about this matter - I had a very big ‘duh - banging head on table’ moment about six months ago when I finally recognised what the underlying problem truly was. It is something so simple that I can’t believe it took me a year to fully figure it out – (though considering no-one else appears to have figured it all out by now, I suppose I can’t complain too much).
Unfortunately, I seem to be fighting other problems with this matter – I’ve already had to re-write this a couple of times, either because I was never happy with it, or because my computer decided it didn’t like me :(.
So, here it is – (finally!) - the foundation of (most of) the problems I see in (mainly/especially video/computer) games today, especially when concerning their design.
The (new) first and most important post for my blog:
An Examination of Games as a Matter of Linguistics – Introduction & Background:
The initial realisation I had, when I began to recognise what the nature of the problems were that I have always seen and had with computer games, was spurred by an argument with one person from rpgforumsonline.com, about the nature and definition of computer-based role-playing games, (cRPG’s), in March/April 2009. Although I knew there were problems already at that time, and tried to explain my argument about some specific problems I saw in cRPG’s themselves as best as I could, (which is where the initial arguments with others on that particular site began), it took that long argument/conversation on MSN Messenger for me to take the first step towards grasping the nature of the problem itself, at least regarding what I was focused on at the time, which I now know to be merely a symptom of a much larger and deeper problem:
The lack of recognition and understanding of the relationship between, (and the differences of), games and art.
The cause of the argument, was that the person I was arguing with, (and a lot of people I’ve spoken to since agree with this), thought that cRPG’s are defined also by the stories they have to tell – i.e. their plot and narrative.
Such a definition, however, has never worked for me, since I’ve never played games for such a reason - I focus on purely what the game allows me, the player, to do. Because of this, defining games, or types of games, by their art, something that happens to me, the player, never sat well with what I perceived games to be about, and so I started to do some digging into how and why people could have such an opinion.
(I fairly quickly realised that the main reason people feel this way about cRPG’s in particular is because they are the only type of game (so far) that tell them the kind of long, more developed story which they are looking for. This is why people who want that from their games then start to confuse them with a type of game that is produced with such a thing. If more, different types of games were also produced with that style of plot and narrative, however, then maybe such people would be happier, and also realise that such things have no place in the definition of games, or types thereof, in general?
(It’s an equivalent of defining fantasy films by their long almost symphonic music, when there’s nothing stopping other types of films existing with (or without) such a soundtrack, because films are not defined by their soundtrack in the first place, or for shorter films, with suitable (shorter, simpler) pieces of accompanying music, from existing, let alone for different films to use the same music! (See Airplane II for using Stu Phillip’s (original) Battlestar Galactica theme, for example))).
That eventually led me to recognise that the problems were with the nature of the words game and art themselves, which is when I started to realise that other, similar words, because of how they are used, such as puzzle, competitions/competition, (I’d like use the plural to differentiate between the two main different uses of the word competition, since only the activity/event labelled as a competition, can be plural – or at least that’s what you’d expect, of course, based on the rules of English grammar. Unfortunately that’s not fully the case based on how the word is used – competition is also used to represent an activity based on the goal/outcome to be competed for too – (such as a ‘cup competition’) - which can be used separately and differently from the use to represent competitions as an activity in their own right), and even work and play, toys and tools, seemed to be causing problems for games too.
As soon as I recognised that the problems were a matter of language, however, everything I’d seen before, and considered to be a problem with games, (even if I wasn’t sure why), started to make sense – it just took me quite a while to figure out exactly what was going wrong and causing all these problems within the language itself – some of which have never been recognised for their true nature, even if the main symptom underpinning everything is seen to be a problem today, (though without fully understanding its full impact currently).
During the argument, however, I used one particular word in a way which seemed to fit perfectly in describing what it is I saw, as to what cRPG’s, (and even games in general I soon realised), are really about. Although the use of this word in such a manner seemed to be entirely consistent with how it is used in the language, its definition(s) said otherwise. Needless to say, since it is the definition(s) that is/are inconsistent, they therefore need changing. Although this felt important at the time, since the word is a very simple, basic word we teach to young children, it took me until recently to fully understand just why changing, and using this word in such a manner was so important, and fit with the other problems I was looking at. Since its place is in helping to solve the problems I’ve found, however, talking about it will have to wait until the next post – this post is purely here to describe some of the problem(s) itself/(themselves), and the means of finding and recognising such a solution, not any actual possible solution itself.
I’ve had quite a few attempts at explaining what I’ve found over the past year or so, but it was only (fairly) recently that I truly saw what the real underlying cause of all the problems actually is, and was able to link that with the problems, now symptoms, that I had seen before. So, it’s now time to re-write all I have written before, and start again, to explain what it is I see and have found – to explain why the words game, puzzle, art and competition, are not fully recognised or understood for what they must represent, based on their use, either in isolation and/or in relation to each other, at this time. And if that doesn’t sound like a matter of linguistics, then I don’t know what does…
Part 1: Recognising the Basic Problems:
The problem we have with the word game would appear to be very simple:
We don’t know for sure what it is the word represents, either in isolation, or in relation to other words and the rest of the (English) language.
Since this would appear to affect, and even become, the very foundation upon which everything this web-site is concerned about is built, it would therefore appear to be very important.
The first, very basic question, then, is why?
This is, in fact, an extremely good question. (EDIT:) The word game has come to represent something very basic and simple that has existed for millennia, maybe even as long as humanity itself, and there are many equivalent words in other languages - some of which are far older than the word game, (since how it used today has probably only been consistent for a few centuries). However, since what the word game now represents has existed for so long, regardless of the word game itself, and has been recognised as such, why are we still then having problems recognising what it represents today?
Given that part of humanity itself is involved in studying how such language is used and therefore what it represents, in order to educate and inform the populace as to understand its use for itself, and also given the common and long-lasting use of such a word or its equivalent, how can this problem even/still exist?
In order to examine and understand this, we must first, of course, understand language itself:
A language, in itself, is a structured form of communication – it exists primarily to transfer information between people/entities, either directly, or indirectly. It can be used for other purposes too – such as storing or securing information on an individual basis, but this is of secondary function derived from methods of indirect communication - (writing/drawing etc.).
There is another main ‘side-effect’ of (at least) our own spoken languages, however, that is also relevant to this problem – people think in the main language they know. This means that such languages have a big influence on how people view and perceive the universe surrounding them, even if the recognition of some basic concepts, (simple numbers/colours etc.), are either innate or gained through other means than just a spoken language. Such languages, because of how they can provide labels to things, allow people to organise their thinking and perceptions to aid in understanding such concepts in a manner that can be more precise and developed than they would be otherwise. (There have been quite a few studies about this, even recently).
Humanity is, of course, a race of individual people, each with their own perspectives, knowledge and understanding of the universe surrounding them. Unfortunately for language, in order for it to be useful and able to transfer information consistently from one person to another, such individual subjectivity needs to be overcome.
For this reason, part of humanity itself is concerned about the education and the informing of humanity about whichever language it happens to be concerned with. For the English language, this of course involves many types of lessons at all levels, and such things as dictionaries and encyclopaedias, in addition to many people studying how the language is used, in order to keep such information and education up to date and relevant.
Such languages are of our own, human, creation. Since humanity is always changing and evolving, in addition to the world surrounding us and our other, additional creations, our language itself also changes, as it must, in combination. Such language is therefore studied as it evolves, in order to decipher its meaning, so others can be educated and informed as to what information it is being, or can be, used to transfer.
All of which, in regards to the word game itself, has failed.
The word game, or rather, the information it is meant to represent and therefore transfer in its use, has become individually subjective. This means that what some people use the word to represent may not be consistent with what other people believe the word to represent. For instance, someone might use the word game in a situation where another believes the meaning to be consistent with other words instead, such as puzzle or (a) competition. Since the meaning of these words is not recognised or perceived consistently, the language cannot do its job – transferring the same information between people.
Now, since humanity is naturally subjective in this manner, language is almost never perfectly consistent. But again, this is why so much support is required for languages to function, especially on the scale such as that of the English language, so that they can at least be used in a manner that is consistent enough for them to do their job.
So how, and why, has the word game, in itself, become so subjective and inconsistent? And how and why are other words, such as puzzle or competition, being affected too?
The root of this problem is, of course, how the language itself is used – how these words are used within the language - both in isolation and in relation or combination with each other and other words – i.e. their context.
The main basic, fundamental problem that is causing problems for the word game itself, both in isolation and in relation to the rest of the language is therefore very simple:
How we use the language itself, is affecting what we perceive, recognise and understand other words in the language itself to mean, regardless of how the words are actually used, because of how they are, (what they represent is), described.
And this is why the part of humanity that should be involved in creating consistent and even ‘standard’ descriptions of such words, for people to be taught and informed about, have failed to do their job, in regards to at least this one particular word – I have yet to find even a single dictionary or encyclopaedia that has defined the word in a manner that is fully consistent with how the word is actually used in itself.
However, I’m going to be examining what the word game represents, based on such use, in isolation in a later post. Most of what I’ll be talking about then will not be strictly limited to the English language, either, since what the word represents in such a manner tends to be very consistent worldwide, throughout most of humanity. Obviously this is vital for understanding the word game, and what it represents, in itself.
However, this post is here to examine the word game in relation to the rest of the English language as a whole, and the reason I’m starting from this particular position, is that it would appear to have far more importance for the English language in general – not just for the word game, or its equivalents in other languages.
Part 2: The Word Game and the English Language:
As I’ve said before, the definition of the word game and what it represents is not a problem that exists in isolation within the English language itself. There are many other words that are either affecting or being affected by this problem we have with the word game.
The main words that we are concerned with in such a manner are those I’ve mentioned before:
Art, puzzle, competition (in its entirety/all of its uses and meaning), and work and play, (which also involves and includes the words toy and tool) - all used as nouns.
The largest clue as to the underlying problem we have is therefore within this group of words, including the word game itself.
The word game has two main uses within the language:
1) As representing an activity
2) As representing an object that can and is created and intended to be used within, or even to enable, such a specific activity.
Such uses are not unique to the word game. Indeed, looking at some of the other words above, we can see that the words art and puzzle can also be used in a similar manner, (though art as an object is used instead to represent the/any end result of such an activity, rather than any objects used within).
One of the biggest problems affecting the word game for what it represents in isolation is the confusion between the two uses above, based on how we use the word. Again, this is something I’ll be looking at in detail later. However, given that this particular problem seems to affect more than just the word game, but also art and even puzzle, maybe there’s more to this particular problem in regards to the language in general?
Is there any reason why the two uses of the word game, above, should be able to be confused for each other, given what these words represent in relation to the rest of the English language itself?
The answer is yes, and it also helps us to understand how and why some of these other words have also become confused or affected by the word game and what it represents.
The main problem here, has to do with how such words are seen to be related, not just to each other, but also to the rest of the language, due to, again, how such a word is described.
These main way by which all these words, and what they represent, can be recognised to be related, is of course by describing the type of word they belong to within the English language.
And it’s here, that we find the root of the problems affecting the word game in relation to the rest of the language itself:
The word noun and its description(s) and definitions.
Part 3: Nouns:
The real, underlying problem, of which such problems with the word game are merely symptoms, is that nouns in themselves, when used in such a manner, are not fully recognised for what they represent…
The how of nouns, in regards to their place in the English language, is recognised and understood:
(Quote: http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsANoun.htm – nouns)
“A noun is a member of a syntactic class:
The real problem we have at this time is in fully understanding what it is that nouns represent.
The reason for this, is a symptom of the problem above - because of how we use the language to describe the type of word(s) nouns in general represent, along with how and why they do so, both in isolation and in relation to other types of word, (verbs/adjectives etc.).
For example, my Mini/Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines nouns as merely representing a person, place or thing, which is obviously incomplete, since game, art or puzzle etc. are not truly represented by any of these.
Wikipedia fares a bit better, defining nouns as representing a person, place, thing, event, substance, quality, quantity, or idea.
(Note A: The Wikipedia entry for noun has changed since I originally wrote this, but it doesn’t matter much, since it’s mainly changed the organisation of the content, more than the content itself, and the previous entry partially quoted here helps to explain the problem just as well, (if not better), than its current entry I feel).
(Note B: Some people may wonder why I’m not using other dictionaries, such as the full multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary instead as examples here. The answer(s) to that particular question are that:
a) I feel that using dictionaries that are in widespread/common, and even ‘casual’ use would better reflect the perception and understanding of the majority of the population, and
b) I feel that using these two examples is all that is necessary to describe the problem itself – any more examples would just repeat the same/similar symptoms – again, obviously a full academic study would need to go into greater detail here).
Based on this definition, games and competitions would probably be considered events.
(Nearly every dictionary/encyclopaedia uses the two same words to describe what this type of noun represents, of which the word event is the most prominent. The other word used in doing so, I’ll explore later).
But the word event is not enough to cover everything this type of noun should. For instance, maybe the word art, even puzzle, and the word competition itself, would not really fit within any of the above categories at all, yet they are still nouns, even of the same type.
In fact, the word event itself, based on what it is perceived as representing, again, because of how it is described, appears to have problems:
“The existence of such general nouns demonstrates that nouns refer to entities that are organized in taxonomic hierarchies. But other kinds of expressions are also organized into such structured taxonomic relationships. For example the verbs stroll, saunter, stride, and tread are more specific words than the more general walk - see Troponymy. Moreover, walk is more specific than the verb move, which, in turn, is less general than change. But it is unlikely that such taxonomic relationships can be used to define nouns and verbs. We cannot define verbs as those words that refer to changes or states, for example, because the nouns change and state probably refer to such things, but, of course, aren't verbs. Similarly, nouns like invasion, meeting, or collapse refer to things that are done or happen. In fact, an influential theory has it that verbs like kill or die refer to events, one of the categories of things that nouns are supposed to refer to.”
Here we start to get to the real cause of the problem.
The mistake that is being made here, is the reason why words such as game, art, puzzle, competition(s), work and play (as nouns) (amongst others), are causing problems, (when such a type of noun they represent, is actually recognised to exist):
The word event is not the best way of describing what it is that this type of noun represents, and their perception as such is probably why the boundaries between such similar nouns, (as-well as other types of noun), and verbs in particular, (for this type), are not being fully recognized. Events are perceived and described as being ‘things’ that happen, and since the language is seen to treat such words in a similar, if not identical manner to ‘things’, that is what people perceive the words themselves to represent. Since events are ‘things’ that happen, and verbs are also recognised as representing actions, which are also perceived and even defined as ‘something’ happening or being done, a lot of confusion is caused.
Since verbs are the only type of word which is consistently used and taught as representing actions or ‘things that happen’, the type of nouns that are perceived to represent the same thing are causing problems, because nouns and verbs cannot be the same thing, because they are not used the same way!
This is causing a split, between ‘things’ that happen, for this type of noun, and things ‘that happen’ for verbs – neither of which truly work to describe what they both represent in relation to each other.
The problem here, is that we’re generally using (a long list of) words to describe what nouns, (and maybe other words), represent in a manner that is not really suitable. It’s not really working to show how all these words are both different but related to each other, as-well as to other types of word – using words such as event, simply is not precise enough to describe and define a type of noun by itself. Using individual words such as these to describe what other words represent, especially considering such ‘taxonomic hierarchies,’ simply moves the definition from one individual word to another.
The overall problem with the type of word we call a noun, at this time, is that the overall archetypes of such words it encompasses are not fully recognised or understood – and therefore the words we try to use to describe them do not do their job – to show how, why and what they are, both in isolation and in relation to other types of word.
The reason why the latter is a big problem is that only one type of noun represents things that can, and do, exist in isolation, and are also treated as such by the language itself. Other types of words, such as verbs, adverbs or adjectives, therefore usually relate to such words by necessity in their use.
The first main type of noun is therefore:
Noun 1. A word representing a ‘thing’.
This type of noun (generally) represents things that can and do exist in isolation, independently of any application, behaviour, state, or quality – that can be tangible: people, objects, animals/plants, substances, and even places, (towns, villages), etc., or intangible: information, ideas, concepts, time and space etc. - and are therefore treated by the language in such a manner, that can therefore have such applications and behaviour, states or qualities added or applied to them by using other words, such as adjectives and/or verbs/adverbs in combination.
Of course, the line between tangible and intangible things can be crossed in both directions – we can have intangible representations of tangible things, and tangible things that contain or promote intangible things.
However, there are other types of ‘thing’ that do not exist in isolation based on how they are labelled – such as those labelled by their (even potential) behaviour, (for example, actor or narrator) - those labelled by their properties/qualities/attributes, (such as a safe, or stronghold) – and those labelled by their relationships – (mother/daughter/friend/enemy etc.).
Even this recognised type of noun does not fully exist in isolation within the language, and although can be described in such a manner (as 'things'), the context of their labels still needs to be taken into account for any relationships with other types of word.
The problem we have with the word game and similar words, however, is that the type of noun they belong to isn’t fully recognised at all. Again, using single words to describe what they represent, such as event, does not work – as the Wikipedia article said, the ‘taxonomic hierarchy’ falls apart here, due to this problem - the words that belong to this type of noun do not represent ‘things’ that can, or do, exist in isolation at all. Since the single words we’re currently using do not describe such words for what they represent by their relationships with other words, even of another type, it should be unsurprising why we’re having problems understanding and recognising what these words represent.
Based on how such words are used, it would appear that there happens to be two additional types of noun, however, one of which the word game, and the similar words above, belong to.
Both of these types of noun, due to the basic and obvious relationships between the words they represent, and other types of words within the English language, should be extremely simple to describe and define – or at least, that’s what you’d expect…
Unfortunately, however, due to the way we describe such words, and fail to recognise the overall relationship between them, even words which are obviously related are not always described and defined in a consistent manner by such a relationship.
The main problem why we have problems with these words, however, is all because of the way we use the word ‘thing’ in the English language, in a manner that is not fully consistent with the type of noun above. This is not a problem for using the language in general, but becomes a problem when trying to describe other words for what they represent in a consistent manner, especially if we want to try and be as objective as possible to minimise any subjectivity surrounding the language.
Even verbs suffer from the same problem:
Verb n. a word describing an action, state or occurrence.
But action, state and occurrence are not verbs, and belong to the same type of noun that we are currently trying to describe. (Using the word state here is an additional problem, but we’ll come to that later).
Using the word thing in descriptions as ‘things’ for the first type of noun, and ‘things that happen’ for both verbs and this type of noun is therefore the underlying symptom causing nearly-all the problems we have with the word game.
The last type of noun, however, is also problematic, because of how such words are described – even if not using the word thing in itself – since, again, the type of words such nouns are related to, is described only for what it represents in relation to the first type of ‘thing’/noun, and is therefore hard for another type of noun to relate to:
(From my Mini-OED):
Adjective n. a word adding information about a noun,
The obvious problem we have is that we have another type of noun that is related to such a type of word, and therefore just describing such words in relation to nouns in general, is not going to allow such a description to do the job it’s supposed to. Again, such a type of word is probably understood as being ‘a word that adds information about a ‘thing’.’ Now, since the second type of noun is perceived as being a ‘thing that happens,’ it does appear work for that type of noun, which is consistent with how the language is used. But since people are getting confused between such different types of ‘thing’ it still doesn’t really help.
The last type of noun, is therefore adding to this problem, as it is related to such words in a similar manner to how the second type of noun is related to verbs, and yet the language we use to describe such nouns has no mention of such a relationship.
All of the problems affecting the word game and other similar words – (and probably a lot of other words in the language too, I have no doubt) – are ultimately a symptom of this one – usually due to getting confused between the different uses and meanings of the word ‘thing’ – for games in particular, getting confused between ‘things’ in themselves and ‘things that happen’.
Again, one of the reasons for this, is that the word game, does not strictly represent a ‘thing that happens’. The reason for this is that verbs are the one type of word that is used in a manner as representing such a ‘thing’, and not nouns. But since this is how both such nouns and verbs are described and defined, the difference between the two, based on their use and (obvious) relationship, is not recognised. Unfortunately, this problem also affects the third type of noun too.
Because of the way we use the language, and because of how the rules of English grammar dictate the types of word based on such use, there is therefore only one way of consistently describing the second type of noun:
Noun 2. A word describing ‘applications of ‘things that happen’’
This type of noun represents applications of ‘things that happen’ that can be either directly related to, (and ultimately derived from), individual verbs themselves, or exist, and therefore be represented, in a more abstract form. Flight, as an application of fly, movement as an application of move, speech as an application of speak, activity or action as applications of act, along with words such as work and play, (in general), are therefore all examples of a direct application of such ‘things’ when represented by similar verbs. Event, state, game, art, puzzle, accident, party and even economics would all be more abstract examples of applications of ‘things that happen’ as represented by such nouns within the language.
Again, because of how the word thing is used in ultimately representing such words, different words and their types (especially nouns) seem to be confusing for people to recognise and understand. Unfortunately, the third type of noun doesn’t really help either, though it, thankfully, doesn’t really affect the word game very much (if at all).
The third type of noun, in a similar fashion to how the second is related to verbs, is related to adjectives. Unfortunately, because of how adjectives are currently described in themselves, trying to come up with a consistent description for this type of noun is very hard. We can’t simply define this type of noun as representing:
Noun 3. A word describing ‘applications of words adding information about a noun’
So we need another way of describing adjectives themselves, first. As I said, however, this is not going to be easy. In fact, I was thinking very hard about giving this part of the problem a miss completely, but then thought I’d give it a go, and see what people think…
So what is it that adjectives represent in a manner that can be further applied, which is what the third type of noun represents? Unfortunately we run into an old problem – having to use a long list of words, such as properties, qualities or attributes, in trying to describe such a ‘thing’. Again, in a similar manner to the problems with verbs and the second type of noun, these aren’t really suitable for such a description.
As I said before, however, what we are ultimately talking about, are ‘things that other things have’, and so, given the description of the second type of noun above, the only method I can see working – (ish!) - for this type of noun is:
Noun 3. A word describing ‘applications of ‘things that other things have’’
This type of noun represents similar applications of ‘things that other things have’ that are usually directly related to, and derived from, adjectives. For example: agility is an application of agile, (along with strength/dexterity/intelligence – (and other attributes used in cRPG’s)), happiness is an application of happy, beauty is an application of beautiful, truth is an application of true etc.. There are some which represent more abstract applications, however, such as colour.
Now, before we go any further, it has to be said that one of the problems we have with the language, and how words are described and taught, is that the relationships between some of these words, are not being recognised in a consistent manner. Again, this is probably not helping people fully understand how all the different types of word are related, and therefore some of the basics of how the English language functions.
Based on how the language is used, however, the descriptions given above, are really the only way of describing such types of word in a manner that is fully consistent, not just with how they are used, but also how the rules of English grammar dictates their relationships and type.
But the basic problem we have, that is causing so many problems with the word game, and similar words - i.e. getting confused between the different uses of the word itself - probably/almost certainly exists because of how we use the word ‘thing’ to represent these different concepts in different ways depending on its context, which every word used to describe their type of noun ultimately represents in regards to the word game.
Using the word ‘thing’ to describe the first type of noun, is not really a problem, since it is fully consistent with the main use of the word and what it represents. The second, and even then third, types of noun are also consistent with its use too, of course, but therein lies the problem.
Simply describing all these types of noun by using the word thing does not, and is not helping people understand what these words represent in a manner that is consistent with how the words are used, either in isolation, or in relation to each other. Since using the word ‘thing’ to describe the first type of noun does not appear to be a problem, (thankfully!), only the description of the other two types of noun is therefore a problem.
Unfortunately, I cannot see any real solution for the third type of noun at all – indeed, I’m not even sure of how best to describe adjectives themselves in a manner that would allow such a related description for this type of noun – ‘things that other things have’ is really not suitable at all. If anyone else has any ideas, I’d love to hear them, but because of that, and because it is not directly related to the problems with the word game itself, I’m going to leave it for others to figure out.
As to the second type of noun, however, well…
The problem we have is that every word that is being used in place of ‘things that happen’ is, by its very nature, an application of that very ‘thing’. This is the reason why using words such as action and state in the description of verbs isn’t really working either, when it comes to understanding and recognising their relationship with this type of noun, to which such words truly belong.
(The word state is the other word used to describe this type of noun in various dictionaries/encyclopaedias. The mere fact that the word state is used to describe both nouns and verbs is obviously a big part of this problem, but again, I’m still going to come back to this word, again, later).
So the problem then becomes, ‘how do we describe a word as being an application of itself?
The answer is, of course, we can’t. It is simply not possible to do so without breaking the basic rules of English grammar. For this reason, the words event or state are not suitable to describe this type of noun at all.
So I guess that’s it then? We’ve hit a brick wall called the rules of English grammar, which we can’t break without too many consequences. So people will continue to get confused between the different uses of the word thing – (either directly or abstractly) – to represent the different types of words, and therefore the different uses of the word game and the other words it’s being confused with and for, and also affecting and being affected by. The level of abstraction we need in order to describe this type of noun in relation (and in addition) to verbs, as an abstraction and replacement for ‘things that happen’, does not appear to be permitted by the rules of the language itself, (though at least ‘applications of things that happen’ is more consistent with its use than merely ‘event or state,’ which are currently used instead).
Or is it?
Is there any possible scenario which would allow such a ‘thing’ to happen? Or rather, is there any way in which the language can be used to bypass this problem altogether?
What if the language was already used in a manner that would allow such a thing to happen? What if there existed a word, within the English language that, based upon its use, would be perfectly consistent with being a replacement for ‘things that happen’ and therefore help to describe both nouns and verbs in such a manner? What if the word would actually be more descriptive than merely using the word ‘thing’ in such a manner, that would then allow us to describe these words more consistently with each other in general?
Does such a word exist?
I feel that it does.
The one word that I think can replace things that happen and therefore describe verbs for what they represent, and also this type of noun in relation to them, based entirely upon my own perceptions and understanding of its use within the language – and it would appear to completely break the rules of English grammar in doing so - is:
But the word behaviour is not quite the same as those we have already found to describe this type of noun, such as event or state. The main reason for this is that the word behaviour is an uncountable noun, whereas all the other words being used to describe this type of noun, happen to be countable – (for example, you can have 5 events/states/actions, but not 5 ‘behaviours’).
This means that the word behaviour, even as an application of behave, is not treated by the language as an application of things that happen, at all – instead, it is treated as representing things that happen all by itself, usually in the context of being applied to things, by using the word in combination with other such words.
This word therefore doesn’t need to be described as an application of itself, since it is not such an application in the first place, even if it appears to be, so the basic rules are left intact.
But this word would then fall outside of such types of noun that we’ve recognised here, and even outside of such descriptions of the word noun for what it represents, according to the definitions we’ve seen. The only part that is certain is that this word is still a noun, since it is consistent with how such words are used. Thankfully, that is all that really matters – obviously trying to group nouns together based on what they represent both in isolation and in relation to other words, is a premise that cannot be completely fulfilled. Of course, having to make the word behaviour then fit within a general description of the word noun, is still problematic, and again, is a problem I’m not sure of how to solve myself, just yet.
But because such relationships are not being fully recognised at present, and the situation is causing problems for many different words within the language, (including the word game), just because a few words – (in this case, one word, behaviour) - might not fit within such groups, doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking at in general, especially when such a word can help such groups of words be described and defined in a manner that is consistent with their use and relationships within the language. So, because of this, we can now describe both verbs and this type of noun in a manner that fully reflects what it is they represent, both in isolation and in relation to each other and other types of word:
Verb n. a word describing (or representing) behaviour.
Noun n. 2. a word describing (or representing) an application of behaviour.
This type of noun describes or represents applications of behaviour that can be either directly related to, (and ultimately derived from), individual verbs themselves, or exist, and therefore be represented, in a more abstract form. Flight, as an application of fly, movement as an application of move, speech as an application of speak, activity or action as applications of act, along with words such as work and play, (in general), are therefore all examples of a direct application of such behaviour when represented by similar verbs. Event, state, game, art, puzzle, accident, party and even economics would all be more abstract examples of applications of behaviour as represented by such nouns within the language.
Any word that exists as both a thing and an application of behaviour, such as game, art or puzzle, therefore involves two different types of noun, and therefore effectively exists as two different words, of identical spelling/sound, in general within the language, each requiring their own definition. Just because one use of such a word may be derived from another use, and therefore may be seen as a subservient definition, does not make them identical within the language.
The word game has a use as both an application of behaviour, which requires its own definition, and a use to represent certain things or objects that can, (and are intended), to be used within, or to enable such a (specific) application, which would therefore require a separate definition, derived from the first. Since what either definition of the word represents can exist independently of each other, they cannot be the same ‘thing’, and therefore are technically two different words of identical spelling, with different, but related, meaning. Since the word game, in representing a thing that can be used to play a game with, is not used in a fully consistent manner to represent all objects which can be used in such a manner, recognising and using such a definition is ultimately not very important or helpful for understanding games in general.
This is why getting confused between these two uses of the word game, and therefore its definitions, is causing so many problems.
One of the other main reasons why using the word behaviour in such a manner is useful, instead of ‘things that happen,’ or it’s currently recognised representations, (event/state/action/occurrence), is that it allows us to describe and recognise the relationships between some of these words, such as art and game, in a more consistent manner. It allows us to describe them as representing different applications of different behaviour, when applicable, without having to use the word thing at all. This is extremely helpful, since one of the main problems we have, is in recognising that these words differ in what they represent in such a manner – especially when it comes to recognising such different behaviour - but we’ll come back to that, later.
Before we go any further, though, is there really any way in which we can use any similar words or function within the language, to solve the problems we have with the third type of noun?
Is there any similar word we can use to represent such ‘things that other things have’ – i.e. direct/abstract applications of certain adjectives - in a better, more consistent manner with how the language is used?
The only three words I can see being even remotely suitable, are unfortunately equivalents of event or state, rather than behaviour – i.e. countable nouns – such as ‘quality, property or attribute,’ and so describing this type of noun as applications of such things, simply isn’t going to work.
As I said before, I’m completely stumped when it comes to figuring out how to describe this type of noun in a fully consistent manner with the rest of the language itself and its rules.
But I still feel it’s an important part of understanding the language in general.
(There are of course other types of noun – though proper/common and collective nouns only really apply to ‘things’, and countable and uncountable nouns, (which we’ve already come across), apply to all three types. Using the terms concrete and abstract to describe nouns is no longer necessary, since such a description does not function properly in describing what they represent in relation to the rest of the language, and is part of the symptoms of the problem we have with nouns, currently).
Although understanding and recognising the relationship between adjectives and their respective applications is important for the language it general, I would like to focus the remainder of this post upon the type of noun that is causing the most problems for the subject at hand – that representing applications of behaviour.
So, if we use the word art as an example, although this word does not really represent an event in itself, (more of a record of events, or the process/behaviour of creating such events or record thereof), it does represent an application of behaviour, (as does the word event itself). There are also many other such nouns of this type that would have problems being defined and described as ‘events’, and yet have no such problems with being applications of behaviour, such as competition, gait or economy/economics).
The other word used in addition to the word event, that also appears to be causing further problems at this time in recognising and understanding the relationship between different types of words and the behaviour they represent, is state.
(The word state is the other word used to describe this type of noun in various dictionaries/encyclopaedias. The mere fact that the word state is used to describe both nouns and verbs, is obviously a big part of this problem).
The word state, is used to describe and represent the condition of a thing or things at any particular time. Behaviour, in itself, is not a state, and therefore verbs cannot be described as representing such a thing. The word state, however, does represent an application of (such) behaviour, and so is therefore consistent with this type of noun – many such verbs can even be applied in themselves as this type of noun, to represent the state of such behaviour. However, the behaviour or condition the word state can represent an application of, can be described, and represented by verbs, nouns (such as these) or even adjectives, (such as a state of being active), where appropriate. It should be obvious, then, that this one word cannot, (and should not), therefore, be used to describe or represent either verbs or nouns in general, either in isolation or in relation to each other – its presence in such definitions currently, is therefore a problem.
Some forms or types of behaviour can be referenced to and represented by groups of words of differing types, including verbs, nouns and adjectives, such as act, (verb), active, (adjective) and action/activity/actor (noun), each representing the behaviour itself, applications thereof, the property of such behaviour a thing may have, and a thing that behaves in such a manner. Different types of words may therefore represent the same or similar behaviour in different ways within the language. The same words may even represent different aspects of the same behaviour depending on their use too, such as the word act, which can be used as a verb, to represent some behaviour, or a noun, to represent an application of the same behaviour.
(Of course, the relationship between nouns (representing ‘things’) and verbs (representing behaviour) can go the other way - some words that represent behaviour, may be derived from, or identical to the things that can, are used, or do behave in such a manner, or are even just involved in such behaviour – such as the words/verbs sailing, brake or bomb for example.
Strangely enough, some people really do not like the fact that the language can be used and therefore behaves this way, itself – (‘verbing’ nouns). Yet such a capability, since it is fully supported by the language itself, cannot be a bad thing at all. The language is merely doing its job – allowing us to transfer different information in different ways – and so long as it allows us to do so consistently, there shouldn’t be any problem. The fact that the language fully supports all the different types of word to be related to every other in lots of different ways, in such a consistent manner, should be respected, not scorned! (Yes, even if the language is being used in a manner you may not like – I personally hate the use of the word shutter instead of shut as a verb, but it unfortunately seems to becoming more common, (especially in the U.S.))).
Some nouns of this type are therefore easier to understand and define, since they are part of a group of such words, and/or simple applications of verbs or adjectives themselves.
Other words, however, are not, but still represent (often simple) applications of behaviour that are easy and/or common enough for most people to learn and understand, such as accident, party or even event etc..
Some of the other applications of behaviour this type of noun represents, because they are not directly related to, (or recognised to be related to), any simple or single verbs (or even adjectives), that can then help such words be easily recognised and understood, (both in isolation and in relation to each other), can therefore represent more complex applications, (and/or (as) states also representing such an application), of behaviour. (For example: economy or economic). Such a level of abstraction between the two is another reason why some words, (possibly including the word game), are probably not always fully recognised or understood for what they represent, either in themselves, or in relation to each other, based on how they are used.
Part 4: Further Symptoms
The English language, as it is used and perceived at this time, unfortunately, is not very well equipped to help people recognise or understand the behaviour that some of these types of word represent, even in (occasionally) the most basic manner, depending on, and because of, how abstracted the word is from the behaviour it represents an application of, or is merely perceived to be.
Because of this, some applications of behaviour tend to be thought of and recognised, and then described, in a subjective manner based on an individual’s perception of such behaviour and any thing or entity that is behaving in such a manner, because of how the language is used and taught to describe such a ‘thing’ in the first place, (when such behaviour is actually recognised to exist), (whether it is recognised as being subjective or not):
Treating the behaviour itself in isolation (verb) and generally replacing any objective subject/object (noun/thing) taking part in such behaviour with a subjective representation, which can then affect the perception of any such applications of or to this subject/object, while also treating many such applications as ‘things’ that happen.
This means that fully recognising, understanding and describing the behaviour and applications thereof that some of these words represent, in a consistent, objective (as possible) manner, so they can then be perceived, understood then used and applied consistently (enough), especially in a manner that shows their relationships based upon, to and by such behaviour, can be a problem.
This problem is so basic and fundamental, that some people are even having trouble understanding and recognising the difference between things that people do, and things that happen to people, when being represented by some of these words, (possibly the most basic behaviour of all), (especially related to the word game, and/or other similar words).
Indeed, the word art, for instance, represents a very basic and simple application of some very basic behaviour, yet the perception of this word as representing such a ‘thing’ is not consistent enough - its definition and the perception of what it represents is still causing problems today.
This is all caused by the problem described earlier:
The subjective manner in which words that represent behaviour in the English language are used, then affects the perception and then use, then definitions, (then perception etc.), of what other words, (within the language itself), actually represent.
What we’ve wound up with, then, are subjective and inconsistent definitions for some of these words, either or both in isolation and/or in relation to each other.
The two main symptoms that this problem has created are:
1) An inability to recognise the difference between a word’s (objective) definition and its (subjective) application. (Since the definition is now subjective, the line between the two has become blurred or non-existent for many people). This also then leads to:
2) An inability to recognise and understand the relationships between many words, (such as art and game for example), based upon, to and by the behaviour, (and applications thereof), they represent.
The first symptom is especially problematic, since it is a failure of the English language itself to do its main job: transferring information consistently between people. The difference between what a word represents in itself, and how it is then further applied, especially within the language, by using other words in combination, is an extremely fundamental part of the English language’s functionality, and for a good reason. It should be very unsurprising that problems exist, and are being caused by such a lack of recognition and understanding of the difference between the two. This matter is not just affecting the word game: it’s also directly affecting other words already mentioned, such as art, puzzles and competitions, (and even competition itself), and also, indirectly, affecting other words and how they are used and applied, such as toy.
As a brief example, my mini-OED defines art as:
“The expression of creative skill in a visual form”
But with the addition of visual form within such a definition, it actually becomes a subjective application of what the word art represents, and therefore such words have no place in its definition! As such it is inconsistent with how the word is used in general within the language:
Art has greater use in the language than just referring to such visual expressions – it is also used to represent aural, (music/song), culinary, (food), and even other types of expression which may use and combine many such applications, and affect a combination of senses – within the terms con-artist or artful, for example. It is also used in other ways, such as martial art, too, that would not be fully consistent with such a definition. Also, for example, the motto of this very site is ‘the art of making games’, and yet trying to describe it as ‘the expression of creative skill in a visual form of making games’ doesn’t really work, (though it appears to on the surface, only because video games use such visual expressions).
Again, what people perceive the word art as representing, has affected (some of) its recognised definition(s), irrespective of its use. Similar problems exist for other words I’ve mentioned too. (I’ll be writing a post on each word I’m examining in turn, eventually/hopefully, in which I’ll go into more detail and demonstrate this problem where applicable).
Unfortunately for the word game, such a process has now started feeding back upon how the word is used too, which could have some very bad inconsistent results within the language for such a word and what it represents, let alone other similar words and the relationships between them.
Such definitions also do very little to demonstrate and describe just how all these similar words are related to each other, especially to and by the behaviour they represent.
Thankfully, this is not necessarily a problem for every word representing applications of behaviour that are not directly related to verbs or adjectives. This is good, because the method I’ve identified for understanding and ‘fixing’ the problems with the main words I’ve mentioned, (especially the word game), would not necessarily be suitable for all words of this type. (The solution is only really useful for words representing applications of (the?) very basic types of behaviour, which, thankfully, is all that is necessary for the words I’m/we’re looking at).
Part 5: Recognising the means of a ‘solution’
So, now we have identified the root of the problems with the word game in relation to the rest of the language, we need to figure out a method by which they can be, if not completely solved, (since part of the problem is the basic subjective nature of humanity and human beings themselves), then at least heavily mitigated by how the language can be, will be, and hopefully is to be used, (and therefore taught), to represent and describe such words that I have identified a problem with, in a consistent (as much as possible), objective (as necessary) manner that also demonstrates how they are related to each other, independently of any subjective applications or representations.
One of the main causes of the problem is the subjective nature of the applications, states and qualities applied to the main type of words which are currently consistently recognised as representing behaviour – verbs.
The English language is normally used by replacing the objective subjects and/or objects related to such behaviour with a subjective representation, based on their (any) relationship to the beholder, especially people – (he/me/we/them/you/us etc.) - and when describing any behaviour that is applied to them. This can make understanding and recognising anything more than just simple applications of behaviour, (which is generally directly related to and/or derived from similar verbs), objectively, problematic, if not simple or common enough for people to learn easily, or so abstracted from such basic behaviour that the link between the two is already broken. Of course, when many people have no full recognition or understanding that they are, in fact, being subjective, and not objective, (because that is how they have always thought and used the language), it makes any subjective language that they normally use, more influential.
Unfortunately, the reason why this has become a problem, is that, instead of describing such words in a consistent objective manner in relation to the people/entities taking part in such behaviour, they leave the people/entities out of the definition entirely, leaving just the behaviour and applications thereof, by itself. Since people will naturally add their own subjective perception and viewpoint to such a definition or description, without any objective foundation upon which to build it should be unsurprising that such words have slowly become subjective based on their use.
What we need then, is a method of describing and representing people/entities, (and more?), and their (basic) behaviour in a consistent objective manner, with no inherent and easily substituted subjectivity, that can then be used to describe these words (and more!). We therefore need a consistent objective representation of a person, (or entity), and such behaviour within the language, that exists independently of any subjective representation – (any and all subjectivity should need to be applied in addition, using other words in combination, similar to most other nouns, in a manner consistent with the rules of English grammar). Since how we use the language at present is still very powerful for what it enables, independently of describing and defining other words, however, changing how it is currently used to meet these objectives is not a viable solution.
Such a solution would therefore need to be an additional method of describing and defining such entities and their behaviour, including demonstrating their relationships to and by such behaviour, in a consistent, objective manner using the language as it currently exists, so we can then define all these words by the behaviour and applications thereof that they represent, as consistently, and as objectively, as necessary/possible.
Does such a method of doing so, already exist within the English language?
The answer is yes - (I hope!) - or at least it could, should, and would exist, currently, (and would have existed for centuries, even), but for a (now fairly familiar?) problem…