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Part 4: Competition And Competitions
by Darren Tomlyn on 04/17/11 11:39:00 pm

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Contents   <--- Please start here if this is the first post you're reading - (it's called part 4 for a reason).

 

Part 1: An Application of Compete

The word competition has a number of main uses, with linked definitions or references based upon such use, many of which are causing problems for the word game.  All such definitions, however, represent applications of behaviour, and are therefore the same type of noun and word.

All of the definitions of competition are either directly, or slightly more abstractly, derived from, (as an application of), the word and verb, compete:

 

Compete v. to try and gain an outcome or goal at the expense of, or in spite of, someone or something else.

 

The most basic use of the word competition is therefore to represent a simple application of such behaviour – usually the state of competing - trying to gain a story, (of any kind), at the expense of, or in spite of, someone or something else.

The adjective competitive, therefore represents having the property of such behaviour.  Unlike compete itself, however, the word competitive can be used as to describe a subjective perception of how easy or hard such an outcome/goal/story is to gain – how competitive such an activity/application of behaviour is perceived to be.  Such an use, however, should not be confused with a subjective application of whether or not competition exists in itself.  (Another word used in a similar manner is contest).

The main problem we have with the basic use of the word competition, as representing a simple application of compete, is that, again, people mistake its application, with its definition.

In other words, people recognise and even define competition, by the outcomes or goals to be gained, rather than the process, and behaviour, of trying to gain them.

This is why many people have trouble fully understanding games, since the word game represents within its application such a process, independently of any goals or outcomes.

Since the word compete, and therefore the basic use of the word competition, represents a process of trying to gain a goal or outcome – the goals and outcomes to be gained can therefore be completely subjective, and/or merely perceived to exist.

For this reason, competing, and competition as its basic application, can be perpetual.  It, of course, often is - its part of what we call life.

 

Part 2: Competition and Competitors

The second use and definition of competition, is to represent those that are being competed against – (as the competition, and/or competitors).

The next problem people have is in recognising not just the presence of competition, but doing so by recognising who is actually competing (against each other).  The reason for this is the lack of understanding and recognition of the presence and role of one of the two types of relationship between such competitors - the two types of competition represented by such a relationship:

1)  Direct

Direct competition is used to describe competing against someone (or something) in the same activity or event, usually at the same time and place.  Direct competition is usually recognised and understood without problems because of this.  (It must also be fully understood that competition is not the same thing as interaction).

2)  Indirect

Indirect competition is used to describe competing against others that are not taking part in the same activity or event, usually at the same time or place.  Since such competitors are not present, recognising that they are being competed against is a very large problem for many people.  The main part of the definition of compete that is usually relevant for such indirect competition is, of course, the ability to compete in spite of something or someone else - usually the environment/setting itself - such as in outdoor games, (football/tennis/golf), or in activities where it is the primary element being competed against, directly - such as time-trials/rallying etc..

The main reason why indirect competition is so hard for many people to understand and recognise, is that, again, all of our lives are spent in indirect competition with almost every other person and many other living things on this planet.  It is so pervasive, that most people have learned to ignore it, and/or not even think about it.

But games, as competitive activities, which therefore involve people trying to gain a goal or outcome at someone (or something) else’s expense, can use both direct and/or indirect competition in many different ways.

Games are, of course, not the only competitive activity – even puzzles can (depending on their application?) be recognised as being indirectly competitive activities. Work and play can both be competitive, and involve competition, even if it’s not what they represent in themselves, independently of game or puzzle.  (Another use of the word competition also represents such a specific activity too, but we’ll come to that later).

In order to fully understand and recognise the presence, role, and difference between direct and indirect competition, I will therefore use a game, in this case, golf, as an example:

My friend and I fairly regularly play a round of golf at a small local golf course.

So, there I am, standing at the first tee, ready to play.  Who and what, am I about to be competing against during the round of golf I am about to play?

Direct:

1) My friend

I am of course competing directly against my friend whilst we both play together within the same activity and game of golf.  We are both competing to try and gain the best (lowest) score.

2) A score – (par)

Since neither of us have a particular score we’re trying to beat already – (which, if we’ve played before, can happen) – we’re therefore using the par score of the course itself to relate our own personal scores to and by – and also try and beat.

3) The weather

Since we are playing outside, and the weather conditions affect the behaviour of the ball itself, it is also being competed against.  (There have been many times when it won and we went home too).

4) The course

Just like the weather, the course itself is obviously there to affect and enable our behaviour.  If we weren’t competing against the course – it wouldn’t be golf - the game wouldn't exist at all…

 

Indirect:

1) The people who designed and built the course.

This should be obvious - and yet the equivalent in computer games is not always recognised as being competed against.  All single-player games, and even (some?) puzzles, for this reason are indirectly competitive activities.

2) The person who created the par score for the course, (if not the same as those above).

Since the main score is related to the par score of the course, (if not playing for single holes at a time), it is also being competed against.

3)  Anyone else who has recorded a score that I/we know of that can be compared to and therefore competed against.

High-score tables or equivalents in games achieve the same thing – giving people an extra level of competition, indirectly from the player and the individual game they're playing, itself.

 

The setting, as indicated before, is of course one of the main ways in which games can involve indirect competition, such as golf, above.  Computers, however, also allow games to act on their own behalf, usually through some sort of computer-controlled entity, which also involves both forms of competition – (directly against the game itself, and indirectly against the people who designed and created it).  An objective goal or target – such as a score in golf, or a time in a race, however, generally also allows for additional indirect competition to take place.

Just as with play and enjoyment, however, goals and targets are more of a reason why we behave in such a manner than what the behaviour itself actually is.

For this reason, the third use of the word competition presents problems.

 

Part 3: A Cup/Trophy/(or other such reward) Competition

The use of the word competition in this manner is as an application to represent a competitive activity by the goal/outcome/reward being competed for.  Such a use, therefore, does not affect its definition in any way, and so does not require any entry in a dictionary per se – it’s purely a matter of use to be referenced, rather than a separate definition.

The reason this use of the word is causing problems for the recognition and understanding of many competitive activities – such as games, puzzles or competitions themselves – is that it does not describe, and therefore represent, any specific behaviour other than the act of competing itself.  Describing an activity or event as a ‘cup competition’ or equivalent, therefore does not give any such information about the type of activity itself.  The perception afforded by such a description can therefore cause problems since it is so generally incomplete.  Describing, say, an event such as the Olympic games, as a ‘medal competition’ has no bearing on any specific activity it represents being a game or a competition in itself.  Calling such events ‘competitions’ is not, therefore, helpful in letting people know what type of competitive event or activity – what application, of what behaviour – is actually taking place.

Calling any competitive activity a competition in this manner, although consistent with the use of the word competition itself, doesn’t really help people understand related words, such as game or puzzle, for what they represent, both in isolation and in relation to each other.  Since the last use of the word competition also represents an activity in itself, the further relationship with this use of the word is also affected:

 

Part 4: Competitions

The word competition is also used in a more specific manner within the language, than just to represent any competitive activity and behaviour.  There is a specific application of behaviour, a further application of such competitive behaviour, that the word is used to represent.

The word competition, therefore has a use as an application of itself.

A competition of this kind, is an activity or event, in which people compete to be told a story – to be told whether or not they have (usually) won or lost - (usually within a structured environment (governed by rules) - though not always).

The behaviour of the competitors themselves, however, is not represented or described by such a use - the process and behaviour by which such a goal is to be competed for is therefore unimportant.

This is causing problems for games at this time, since many games, including cRPG’s, involve stories told that are being competed for – (such as ‘loot’).  Depending on the application, and the perception of the player/person taking part in such an activity, an activity may be seen as either a game, or a puzzle or a competition, based on which behaviour is seen as being more important – the process of reaching a goal by writing a story, a story being interacted with, or the story told as a result of such a process.  Indeed, depending on how such stories being told are applied, a single activity may even change from one to another based on a person’s own perception at the time.

Such competitions, based on stories being told as they are, are not fully compatible with games – though it can depend on both the application and the player’s perception.*

The two main methods by which such stories are told in competitions, are:

1) A ‘judge’s’ opinion.

People can be told whether or not they have won or lost in a competition, directly by and from other people giving their opinions of whatever they had to do to compete.  Such people are called judges.  Any event that involves or requires a judges opinion to decide the results of such competitive behaviour is therefore a competition, not a game/puzzle etc..  For this reason, boxing must therefore be considered a competition – even though it is possible to win entirely based on the competitor’s own behaviour, this is not a consistent outcome.  Since a story told always outweighs and replaces a story written, especially if appearing after any such story has already been written, such an activity must therefore be described and defined as a competition instead of a game.  Other examples of competitions would be figure skating/diving/Britain’s Got Talent/X Factor/Dragon’s Den/The Apprentice etc..

2) A random draw

A random draw or selection is the other main method used to choose who wins and loses in a competition.  The main type of activity which uses such a method is, of course, a lottery.  Random draws, however, may also be used within an activity itself, to add another element to be competed against or for.  Depending on such an application, it may also turn such an activity into a competition - it all depends on how reliant the outcome is on the random draw itself as opposed to the ‘players’ behaviour – whether it is dependent on the story written or told.

Raffles, slot machines, roulette, blackjack – indeed most activities involving gambling in general – are competitions – people are competing (by whatever behaviour, though many of these involve interacting with stories being told too), to be told whether or not they have won or lost – it is not dependent on their own behaviour, a written story, which it would have to be in order to be a game.  Of course, when the gambling industry decides to call itself the ‘gaming’ industry, even though it uses very few games, and manages to convince people that such competitions are also games, (though it should be obvious they are not, based on the study of the behaviour they enable and promote, and therefore represent), it is not surprising people are having problems understanding the relationship between the two.  (Yes, I had someone on this very site try and convince me that roulette is in fact a game, not a competition, (form of lottery)).  (Of course, the problems with gambling/competitions and games go back to an outdated use of the word game itself - one which hasn't been fully picked up on and informed/taught to people correctly and consistently).

 

Which, of course, brings us to poker.  But I’m going to leave that for now, since I’ll be using it deliberately as an example later, to explore the relationships between competitions and games of chance and skill.

 

*(EDIT: Competitions are technically completely incompatible with games - they cannot be used to enable each other, but, becuase it is possible to swap from one to the other very quickly, and have each promoting the other without any problems, many people struggle to understand the difference, based on their perception of what is happening at the time.  (I'll cover the difference and relationship between enable and promote in a later post)).

 

So is that all then?  Have we covered all the problems with competition, competitions and games?

Not quite.  There is one other area – one other method by which people have approached games and competition that is causing problems for both:

 

Part 5: Game theory

Game theory, at its root, is the mathematical study of the behaviour basic games can represent applications of.

Unfortunately, however, without being so specific about the behaviour such models are applied to, ‘game’ theory, no longer really is.

What game theory has become, because of how it has been applied in many other areas working with such behaviour, is competition theory – models and studies of competitive behaviour, whether within structured environments or not, and not just within games themselves.

Since such models are not being limited by their application to people and other entities writing their own stories, but also interacting with stories being told (puzzles) and competing to be told a story too (competitions), as-well as just general competitive behaviour, from biology all the way up through psychology to economics and beyond - (cue XKCD: http://xkcd.com/435/ ) - the perception of such applications still being relevant and applicable to games themselves – especially the use of the term ‘gamification’ to represent such applications - is causing problems.

Again, without specifying what behaviour is being applied by the use of such study of competition and competitive behaviour, the understanding and relationships between competition, competitions, games and puzzles is being affected in a negative manner.

 

The term 'gamification' should really be called 'competitification' - using rewards and competition to promote other behaviour - (that may, or may not, be compatible with the word game).

Which brings us round to understanding how and why puzzles are being affected too.  What are puzzles, why and how can puzzles involve competition and how are they related to games?

Well, we’ll find out in the next part:

Here - Puzzles.


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