Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
A Way to Better Games: Establishing Functional Theory
View All     RSS
July 29, 2014
arrowPress Releases
July 29, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


 
A Way to Better Games: Establishing Functional Theory

June 19, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

We each have a small part to play in how the next few decades of video game history will go. The future will certainly always continue to evolve. So far, most of what we've seen has been a slow, somewhat random progression of somebody stumbling onto the next big hit design that then gets cloned a thousand times over.

This has been the pattern with digital games since day one, and so it's easy to feel that this will always be the pattern. And as it currently stands, the official game plan as of right now seems to be this:

- Continue to increase the levels of graphics technology...

- Try out some new input devices...

- Hopefully, some interesting new designs will pop up.

That was the game-plan 40 years ago and it's still the game plan today. In about four decades of development, how far have we really come with regards to game design? If you only look at the abstract gameplay -- the rules of a game -- how much have we really advanced?

Our technology and ability to implement stuff certainly has evolved, but have our game design sensibilities? Do we feel like game design, as a craft all its own, has really matured? Is it even on a path to maturation? What is the path to maturation?


Okay, maybe this is what game design was missing all along!

In my opinion, we have grown, but we haven't matured. We are still shooting into the shadows of the game design dark ages. We are still waiting for our scientific method, our Enlightenment, our Renaissance. I think that we can never achieve those things until we come up with a useful, functional way to refer to our medium in the first place.

Talking About Words

My previous article, What Makes a Game, stirred up quite a conversation here on Gamasutra, so I thought I would take a moment to reflect on some of what was said in response. For those who haven't read it, my basic proposition was that in "video games", we actually have several different kinds of interactive systems. My article was an attempt to break these types of systems down into several sub-systems. Specifically, I proposed new definitions for "contest", "puzzle", and "game" (I review this in more detail in the later section, "Types of Interactive Systems"). The absolute biggest disconnect occurred due to confusion about my definition of the word "game".

It must be understood that I am not trying to override the current definition of game. Instead, I am proposing a new, additional definition for the word (as well as new, clearer definitions for "puzzle" and "contest", although these are closer to the common definitions) that can help us to define different kinds of systems. One doesn't necessarily need to use the word "game" to refer to the concept I proposed, but I feel that out of all the words in the English language, it is the best one we can use to the specific type of system I proposed: a contest of ambiguous decision-making.

My real point is that within "video games", there exist several types of distinct systems. This shouldn't be too contentious; very few people would disagree with the idea that The Path and Street Fighter are not the same kind of animal. They both exist to do very different things and have very different kinds of mechanisms that allow them to achieve different goals. Regardless of what words you use to point to them, the most important thing is that we -- creators and others who are serious about understanding interactive systems -- understand the fundamental differences between various kinds of systems.

Talking about games in a productive way is currently nearly impossible, because the word "game" has not only many different definitions, but many different connotations. So many arguments occur solely because of two parties are intending a different definition for the same word, or even a different "coloring" or "flavor" on the word, which causes an emotional reaction. Since video-"games" are such a massive cultural phenomenon, the word "game" has a lot of cultural and personal baggage that gets dragged along with it.

Several commenters appeared at first glance to be disagreeing with me, but in actuality were probably not, due entirely to this problem. For instance, Ara Shirinian seemed to want to disagree with me on the grounds that under the current, descriptive definition for "game", ambiguous decision-making isn't necessarily an attribute. Guitar Hero doesn't have any of that, and it's a "game" (by the current definition), so it would appear as though my argument that ambiguous decisions are a fundamental part of "games" falls apart right there.

Except that, of course, my definition was a presciptive one. Precisely because Guitar Hero doesn't have ambiguous decision-making, it does not meet my criteria for a game. Obviously, I agree that it does indeed meet the criteria for the extremely vague "activity engaged in for diversion or amusement " definition of "game" (which is the first dictionary definition in Merriam-Webster.)

Jason Bakker implied that I was trying to put games (as I define them) above games (as most people define them). The only reason anyone would have to respond this way is if they have a romantic attachment to the word "game". If someone proposes a theory that throws some of your favorite titles' "game-status" into question, then that could be seen to them as an attack. Of course, there's nothing wrong with not being a "game", by my definition or anyone else's. Legos aren't a game, but I'd rather play with them than play some medicore 2D fighting game, despite the fact that the latter is undeniably "a game" by any definition.

I know I'm not the first to point this out, but we don't really have a super-solid definition for the word "game" to begin with. Many have been proposed, many have been repeated. Yet there hasn't been one in the history of digital games that everyone has agreed on. My definition is just one more, and so it shouldn't be a threat to anyone.

Further, it should be understood that my definition is a tool. Unlike so many definitions that have come before it, my definition is not doing its best to explain what games are, it is prescribing a philosophy about what games should be. It is a lens, a paradigm, through which we can better understand interactive systems.

One of the more popular responses I got was along the lines of "the current definition works just fine", implying that a new proposed definition wasn't necessary. These people were correct. For most people, the current dictionary definition for game is not causing any major problems.

However, my proposed definition wasn't for most people. It was for game designers, game journalists, and others who want to understand these systems in a more profound and helpful way. Understanding that within our current concept of "video game", we have several different types of systems is the first necessary step toward the development of functional theory.

Sadly (yet predictably), there seems to be a bit of an anti-progress attitude among some I've encountered in our little world of talking about games; a resistance to changing how we think about games. Some have even gone as far as to argue that the way forward is backwards; that we need our words to have less explanatory power than they already do.


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Related Jobs

Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States
[07.29.14]

Associate Cinematic Animator (temporary) - Treyarch
Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States
[07.29.14]

Senior Environment Concept Artist - Treyarch (temporary)
Wargaming.net
Wargaming.net — Chicago, Illinois, United States
[07.28.14]

User Experience Lead
University of Oklahoma - Norman
University of Oklahoma - Norman — Norman, Oklahoma, United States
[07.28.14]

Game Art Director






Comments


Christer Kaitila
profile image
Please continue to propose a functional ontology for gamedev. This article merely illustrates the need for one. Enough defensive preaching to the choir! I was hoping to actually see such a theory.

To date, the one person I've seen who might be able to help you is Tadgh Kelly (What Games Are). Google him, connect, and write this book asap. Please! IMHO the industry needs you to develop this so please keep up the great work. =)

E McNeill
profile image
Raph Koster's concept of "game grammar" may also be of help: http://www.raphkoster.com/tag/game-grammar/

Keith Burgun
profile image
I'm familiar with Tadgh, we've had some email correspondence. I think we definitely have some differences of opinion, but I do credit him with being one of the people who are trying.

You say preaching to the choir, and that might be partially true, but you'd be surprised how many serious game-intellectual types are against the pursuit of the kind of theory I'm proposing (largely since it requires admitting that there is this special "game" system).

JB Vorderkunz
profile image
Tadgh does the same thing as this guy, you're right about that. Both seem to be telling people "what games are" and ignore or dismiss anyone who sees it differently. That's totally what the game industry need.

:/

See Greg Costikyan's article in "Second Person" - artfully sums up the point that you can draw your line around "game" but you'll always exclude something that LOTS of people call a game and enjoy as such. Only Sith deal in Absolutes. The only rule is there are no rules.

Joe Cooper
profile image
Tadgh is trying to define -something-. A definition does not need to cover everything that has ever been labelled a "game". We need to accept that we throw the word "game" around to describe a wide variety of entertainment products. Everyone time someone tries to make a -useful- model, people with products not covered feel that they're delegitimized. This is a good way to not develop at all.

Mark Venturelli
profile image
And JB's comment having 6 "likes" proves that Keith is absolutely not "preaching to the choir", unfortunately.

E McNeill
profile image
I generally like focusing on abstract mechanics (as my game Auralux demonstrates), but I don't like the narrow tone taken here. Anna Anthropy's point about bringing in new creators isn't just about getting a greater volume of games; she's hoping to bring in people who aren't diehard fans of existing games or part of the usual demographics, the people who are most likely to create crazy new stuff when left to their own devices.

Similarly, I think that game jams are not just opportunities to hone the craft of game development on derivative works; they can be (and are) used to create games that change the way we think about how games work and what their boundaries are. There are many small games that have inspired and educated me in this way, like The End of Us (http://the-end-of-us.com/) and The Love Letter (http://www.kongregate.com/games/axcho/the-love-letter).

Understanding abstract mechanics is a noble and good pursuit, but it's ultimately focusing on depth when there's huge tracts of breath still unexplored. Every time a Johann Sebastian Joust or Dear Esther comes onto the scene, the power of games as a medium is drastically increased. You (and I) can pursue the mechanical depth, but we should embrace the breadth as much as possible, too.

Keith Burgun
profile image
Well I will admit that Anna's idea will almost certainly end up leading to progress, but I think it's a bit of an indirect path. We don't need to involve 5x as many people or whatever, we just have to work towards establishing useful constructive theory.

>Every time a Johann Sebastian Joust or Dear Esther comes onto the scene, the power of games as a medium is drastically increased.

How so?

E McNeill
profile image
(Clarification: I should have said "the perceived power of games" or "the potential of games" is drastically increased.)

> How so?

By broadening the possibility space. By pointing in directions that weren't even being considered before. Dear Esther showed me that it's possible to have a compelling interactive experience with just mostly-linear exploration and lots of narrative ambiguity. J.S. Joust hearkens back to folk games like tag, reminding me that the screen does not have to be the mediator of the game. The End of Us showed how a game might focus on feelings of joy and loss rather than fiero, while The Love Letter showed me how aesthetic feelings like anxiety might be put towards creative narrative purpose.

Keith Burgun
profile image
Those kinds of emotional story-based endings you're talking about are not specific to "games". They can be explored in just about any medium that you can express a story in, and so they are not of special interest to a game designer. Actually, you are talking about the medium of storytelling and how it can be used to do different things, which of course I agree it can.

As for J.S. Joust - I have not played it. But from videos, it seems to be a very thin parlor game suitable probably only for repeated plays by children. From a game design perspective I don't think that it's really very exciting. Yes, the input device is different. It seems roughly as interesting as laser tag.

E McNeill
profile image
> Those kinds of emotional story-based endings you're talking about are not specific to "games". They can be explored in just about any medium that you can express a story in, and so they are not of special interest to a game designer.

Except that Dear Esther: The Movie would be a lot less engaging than Dear Esther the game. Similarly, in The Love Letter, the feelings produced by the game are almost entirely colored by the narrative background, while the narrative itself would be terrible if isolated. Story and its interplay with gameplay should be of great interest to a game designer. Your dismissal of this confirms that your approach is needlessly and wastefully narrow.

> But from videos, it seems to be a very thin parlor game suitable probably only for repeated plays by children. From a game design perspective I don't think that it's really very exciting.

And yet, playing it for the first time was one of my favorite parts of GDC (and trust me, that's a high bar). Perhaps I have the mind of a child (and so do the judges at IndieCade, and so do the game developers who voted for its GDCA award), but it seems more likely to me that the game is doing something novel and finding fun in a place that most people previously weren't looking. To ignore that power is to limit the potential of your designs.

Jason Bakker
profile image
Thanks for the mention, although I'm not sure you understood my point. Although you did catch that I have a strong emotional connection to games, as I guess most of us do :)

I definitely support you in your quest to find a grammar and common theory behind game design, but similar to E McNeill above, I feel that you're approaching it in a somewhat combative and narrow way. You can convince me that discovering a new way to look at game design through a scientific and methodical approach is worthwhile without belittling and dismissing all other methods of advancing games as a medium.

Similarly you say that "game" is a word that has a lot of baggage attached to it, but still insist on using that as the word to describe ambiguous decision-making, adding to the baggage and confusion? It's a bit late here, but I'll try to comment again in the future with some constructive alternatives.

In any case, I look forward to seeing the progress of your theoretical pursuits - if I have a request, it would be to consistently test your theories against real-world scenarios.

Keith Burgun
profile image
>you say that "game" is a word that has a lot of baggage attached to it, but still insist on using that as the word to describe ambiguous decision-making, adding to the baggage and confusion?

It's unfortunate, but do you know of a better word in the English language?

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
I'll make an AI to follow your guidelines, better and faster, until it's good enough to replace us all.

Also, almost 99% of the time you use the word "Game" in the article it's not "Game", but short for "Video-Game" which is a pseudonym to "Interactive System". As I understand you see a problem with the pseudonym.

Still, designing games is the best game ever. And good games don't have optimal strategies.

Blake Reynolds
profile image
Can you make an AI bot to compose a piece of music as wonderful as the Rite of Spring or The Empire Strikes Back? That's the analogy here. Guidelines are not algorithms. They are principles that say "this works, and produces consistent results." It's up to the artist to then make decisions as to how to implement these principles, expand on them, be innovative, make variants, etc.

Functional music theory is based on the same solid infrastructure it was back in Bach's time, but now it's infinitely nuanced and complex. good functional theory is like a good spine. It leaves room for all the smaller, more subtle moving parts to operate. Without Bach's understanding of basic species counterpoint, we would not have the mind-bending sophistication of Miles Davis or Stravinsky.

In this same way, if we continue on this "spray and pray" path, we'll never establish the baroque equivalent of that spinal foundation. And therefore, we'll never be able to reach the heights that 20th century composers reached. Sure we might stumble haphazardly onto progress, we might be that broken watch that is right twice a day, but we're interested in having a steady hand; producing quality work CONSISTENTLY.

Erik Behar
profile image
"spray and pray" is the negative version of "evolution" ?

Make stuff, see what works make some more of the stuff that works.
Survival of the fittest.

Worked pretty well for nature.

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
That's my analogy too. You can't.

Music theory is about atom and molecular science: you find the smallest particles, classify it, and work from it.

We already know that most games and mechanics today are Hide-And-Seek, Whack-A-Mole, Puzzle, Simon, Creation, Race, Status, Deception.

Paved roads only lead to known places.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
Well I wont say organization and method are not good things.

I'm prototyping a survivor horror game, so I decided for which feeling, mood and situation I wanted to create for it, through game play. Then I went through about weeks until found the desired mechanics.

Had I analyzed those atoms one by one asking "how would this one help me achieve my goal, and how would it be implemented?", there's a chance I would come to the same conclusion in about a fraction of the time.

Just like you want to paint a scene and aim for a mood, you go for the colors and shapes analyzing what they're good for and how they'd fit you composition. Or which instruments and tones will bring that song the mood you're aiming for. Or narrative devices for the story you want to tell. Or this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5pen3QMgzQ

Looking for the building blocks of video-games is great and should be done without a doubt. They'll help you achieving your goal. Hitting your target.

But they won't give you a target to aim for.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
Chance is one of those things that fall into Perception. A player might embrace chance and play it to the fullest as a game of decision and managing the odds to maximize effectiveness, or just see it as random and skill-less and despise it altogether.

Player perception is a soft ground and depends on the goals of the game and the target audience.

Lars Doucet
profile image
The article is interesting and I like a lot of the ideas you're expressing here, but your metaphor and tone are needlessly combative. I'm not trying to attack you - you just come across as dismissive (similar to how you felt Anna Anthropy was being with you).

Here's what I mean:

"We are still shooting into the shadows of the game design dark ages. We are still waiting for our scientific method, our Enlightenment, our Renaissance. "

"We're on the precipice right now, between a world of darkness and enlightenment."

Your metaphor of Science vs. the Dark Ages is based on a popular myth that has been widely debunked by the vast majority of serious historians (from both secular and religious perspectives):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Ages_(historiography)#Modern_ac
ademic_use

I'm not trying to be pedantic - the point is that this flawed premise weakens your argument.

The scientific revolution owes its existence to the many centuries of scholarship, educational infrastructure, and culture that laid its foundation. It didn't just spring to life one day when people decided their ancestors were stupid, ignorant, and wrong.

The popular myth that middle age Europe was superstitious and anti-science simply doesn't stand up to empirically verifiable evidence from the historical record.

Likewise, the myth you're implying about contemporary game designers being shrouded in ignorance and darkness is equally flawed. If there is to be a "scientific revolution" in game design, I highly doubt it will come from a wholesale rejection of the "dark" and "ignorant" techniques we're using now.

I'm not saying you're explicitly making such accusations, or suggesting we throw away everything that's come before, but that's what your metaphor strongly implies.

In "The Art of Game Design" Jesse Schell uses a similar metaphor to yours (his is the search for the periodic table), but with more nuance and historical accuracy.

Less hostile rhetoric will make people more receptive to your ideas and more interested in understanding and joining your quest rather than fighting against you.

Keith Burgun
profile image
Maybe the "real dark ages" weren't actually "dark" as it's commonly meant. However, the last 15 years of videogame design were.

It's not a "flawed premise". At worst, it's not a good analogy, I can admit that being the case.

>The scientific revolution owes its existence to the many centuries of scholarship, educational infrastructure, and culture that laid its foundation.

I understand, but there were breakthroughs, great thinkers, people who laid out groundwork for further generations to build upon.

Brandon Perdue
profile image
I also noted that a lot of what is being said here is said, with different metaphors attached, in "The Art of Game Design."

Keith Burgun
profile image
Brandon: The Art of Game Design is one of the better game design books out there, but I think it suffers from a "spray and pray" style of writing. It's literally like, 100 different things which all may or may not be useful or helpful. It isn't making a focused claim about the nature of games, which I am.

Brandon Perdue
profile image
I agree that "The Art of Game Design" is a survey, as a whole; but from what you've presented I find that Schell makes his points better, however general they may be. And lots of them will pertain only to certain games and situations.

Even if you've fully thought out your classification system (and I think you would assert this), you at least haven't presented it here in a way that makes the nuances clear. Several people in the comments here have asked questions about parts they see as incomplete (as presented), and thus far you've been more combative than informative in answering them.

I recommend you reassess how you are presenting your ideas, because I think your message (which might be quite useful) is getting lost in your rhetoric (which is not).

Mathieu Halley
profile image
>>"We are still shooting into the shadows of the game design dark ages. We are still waiting for our scientific method, our Enlightenment, our Renaissance. "
>>"We're on the precipice right now, between a world of darkness and enlightenment."
>Your metaphor of Science vs. the Dark Ages is based on a popular myth that has been widely debunked by the vast majority of serious historians

Personally I like to use a variation of this analogy when I try and explain the state of game design to students. In my analogy, I refer to the current state of game development practice as being akin to something resembling the art of alchemy - It works for the most part and there's a certain amount of functional understanding of the underlying mechanisms. What game development has not reached yet, is the stage where alchemy evolved into chemistry and medicine.

Lars Doucet
profile image
@Mathieu:

Props! Alchemy is a MUCH better analogy (also the one Schell uses in his book). Obviously Alchemy was limited in many ways, but it was the direct predecessor to Chemistry and without it, the advent of modern Chemistry would have been much delayed, if it was discovered at all.

This metaphor understands history better, and values the contributions of the past as the foundation for modern work (rather than setting up the false dichotomy that the past is somehow "holding back" the future simply because it's ideas are older).

Other general thoughts not specifically directed @Mathieu:

As for functionalism, I think that there's a lot of good work to be done in our quest for our "periodic table," but I also agree with others here that the field of game design is likely a lot broader than just that.

The real question: is game design a hard science (study of things, forces, etc) a social science (study of people), or a humanity/liberal art (analytical/critical study of people)? I'd argue it encompasses all three.

I think a functionalist approach can help shed some light on the "harder" side of the field, but we should be careful not to exclude the rest.

Blake Reynolds
profile image
Lead artist for Dinofarm Games here! I'll be working with Keith to respond to some of these, because I definitely share his philosophy. Perhaps it will help the discussion to see some of these principles in action. Aside from being a shameless plug, our kickstarter campaign illustrates these principles at work with our upcoming title, "Auro."

In Auro, we throw out many vestigial game tropes, and bring others heavily into question. It is a dungeon crawling, random tactics game. but there's no experience system. there are no items. There is 10-12 HP for the entire game. Most monsters have 1 HP, some have 2. You only do as much as 2 damage, and that's rare. Dealing direct damage is very difficult, and never optimizes your results. All of these considerations were in support of one thing:

Using tactical skills in concert with one another to make efficient machines of death. It's all about relationships between pushing monsters around, reorganizing them, setting yourself on fire and propelling yourself like a rocket, making slippery floes of ice and launching monsters across them into a watery grave, and all the while avoiding the tactical abilities of the monsters themselves!

Auro is unlike anything you've ever played, and, though it's not all visible from this early alpha footage, the proof is very much in the pudding when it comes to Keith's philosophy.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dinofarmgames/auro/posts

E McNeill
profile image
Looks like a good game with excellent focus. I love this sort of design direction.

I'll just note that most of the criticism here is not with that philosophy. Focusing on mechanics in the abstract is all well and good; just don't ask me to exclude other approaches that continue to be fruitful too.

Joe Wreschnig
profile image
"In Auro, we throw out many vestigial game tropes, and bring others heavily into question. It is a dungeon crawling, random tactics game. but there's no experience system. there are no items. There is 10-12 HP for the entire game. Most monsters have 1 HP, some have 2. You only do as much as 2 damage, and that's rare. Dealing direct damage is very difficult, and never optimizes your results... Auro is unlike anything you've ever played..."

Really? Because it sounds a lot like Zaga 33. I mean if it's like that, it'll be a good game. But like Keith's "new" definition here, your game sounds like it will be an awful lot like something I've played before.

(It's also relevant because the author of Zaga, Michael Brough, has written a good bit about this essay on his blog - http://mightyvision.blogspot.com/2012/06/games-vs-games-vs-games.
html - and it makes points Keith is trying to make without being exclusionary.)

Keith Burgun
profile image
@Joe Wreschnig

>Really? Because it sounds a lot like Zaga 33.

I promise it's almost nothing like Zaga-33. But nevermind my promise, here's the facts:

At its core, Zaga-33 is a game about deduction (for the items) and tactics. Auro is entirely completely about tactics and using spells in synergy with each other to create big combinations. There are no "unidentified items" in Auro.

In Auro, your attacks deal no damage! That's a pretty big one. Instead, you're trying to knock actors off of the stage (or damage them with abilities).

Zaga-33 has no score system - instead, it has a final level that you're trying to beat. You might try to argue that the "level you got to" is a score system, and that's fine. However, Auro's gameplay is fundamentally tied into the scoring system. Like, everything you do is tied into it. Auro has no "last level", it's entirely about beating high scores.

In Zaga, all of the special abilities you find are randomly collected. In Auro, you choose them.

Zaga-33 has squares (4 directional movement) and Auro has hexes (6). Might sound like a small change, but if you know anything about abstract tactics, you know that this is actually a *massive* change.

Beyond all of that, there's a ton of surface level differences. We have fully animated pixel art, an original thematic JRPGish score, a separate story-mode, extra playable classes etc.

In short - both Zaga and Auro have something in common - they both could be classified as "boiled down roguelikes". However, that's about where the similarity ends.

Also side note, there was a recent ROGUELIKE RADIO wherein I chat with Michael Brogue: http://roguelikeradio.blogspot.com/2012/05/episode-36-coffeebreak
-roguelikes.html

Bart Stewart
profile image
I refer the honorable gentleman to my previous statement: "play > game." ;)

That is, the one necessary hierarchy I see is the one that says "game" is a subset of "play." A functionally satisfactory definition of "game" would be "rules-based play." This clearly distinguishes games from puzzles (knowledge/reasoning-based play) and stories (emotion-based play) and action/gambling (sensation-based play) in a way that's both generally understandable and usable by game designers.

I didn't mention the chart last time because experience has taught me that when you propose categories as a way to illustrate an idea, most people will focus exclusively on nitpicking the categories instead of responding to the core idea. That said, I believe multiple neatly-nesting levels creates too complicated a system. For example, how does cooperative play fit into that model? Where does something like Portal 2's co-op play fall on that chart, and how does putting it there usefully explain what distinguishes it from multiplayer Minecraft?

I'm all for making "interactive electronic entertainment experiences" that are more satisfying. But I think that will come from gaining a better understanding of people and the different things they find enjoyable than from creating hierarchies that define "better" only as "more like a game."

Brandon Perdue
profile image
I think you've got a good point here. I'd also posit that, when trying to formalize a system of this kind, categories might be too limiting. If the objective is for game design to "mature", I'm not sure how reasonable it is to start by putting up fences, so to speak. There's something to be said for formalizing certain things, but at the same time, especially in a realm as (relatively) young as video games, I think it's important that we leave space for things we've yet to even conceive of (perhaps because they won't be possible for years to come).

Which is not to say that it's pointless to formalize anything - it's not - but that it's probably a bit premature to attempt a hierarchical system into which all games could fit. That would be a huge task to begin with, but even if someone were to succeed at it, the odds of it becoming obsolete in the foreseeable future would be, I'd wager, high.

Blake Reynolds
profile image
"how does cooperative play fit into that model? Where does something like Portal 2's co-op play fall on that chart, and how does putting it there usefully explain what distinguishes it from multiplayer Minecraft?"

Portal 2 is a puzzle. plain and simple. An example of a vestigial "video gamey" thing that should have been removed was thematic death. There is zero reason for it other than theming. The portal 2 multiplayer is a puzzle with 2 agents attempting to solve it at once. It's no different than 2 people working on a riddle together. "2 heads are better than 1." But once they're solved, they're garbage. Try playing the portal 2 coop a second time with someone who's never played it.

When it comes to Minecraft, I'm unaware if the current ruleset. When it was first released, it was unequivocally a bare interactive system. There is no goal. "Survival" is not a sufficient goal, because at what point have you "survived?" That is not a win condition. When 2 people play minecraft, they are 2 agents both playing with this bare interactive system, in this case, a digital toy.

However, like Keith's chart, a bare interactive system can be made into a puzzle, contest, and then game.

Minecraft+a hand made maze=A puzzle inside of minecraft.

Minecraft+ who can dig the deepest hole fastest with nothing but 50 diamond
pickaxes=Contest within Minecraft(this involves no decision making. You could argue that maybe someone discovers an execution technique that completely redefines the contest and shatters all previous records, but that decisions was not meaningful in an endogenous 'game' sense. It just means he redesigned the contest and now everybody will be doing this new optimal execution unambiguously)

Minecraft=who can dig the deepest hole the fastest=game within minecraft. If this were the goal, all the elements in minecraft would be at the players' disposal, and real ambiguous decision making can be made. Do I tech up to diamond tools as quickly as possible and just go for it? Do i take a big risk in getting some dynamite, hoping to find resources quickly? Maybe I won't be able to make dynamite if I dig in a certain spot. Do I make 50 stone pickaxes or 20 iron ones? What is my opponent doing and what would be a good counter-strategy to this? How would I adapt to a change in my opponent's strategy and how would i adapt to a windfal/pitfall in the random world generation?

You see? THAT's a game. The players would make the house rules within the minecraft architecture. That doesn't make minecraft, in and of itself, a game. Now this proposed game might be really solvable and breakable, and then we could, by using this criteria, say it's not a very "good game" regardless of how many people enjoy it. That's the point. it doesn't matter how many people enjoy it. what matters is being able to talk intelligently about how to improve and refine theses interactive systems.

Think of it this way. The flicker shows in the old nickelodeons during the beginning of motion picture technology were seen largely as a trivial bit of amusement. Without establishing principles, guidelines and functional theory for the art of cinema, we would never have gotten our Scorsese films. I mean, maybe once or twice here and there by luck, but we wouldn't have cinema as the mature, respected art form it is today.

Keith Burgun
profile image
>For example, how does cooperative play fit into that model?

Cooperative play? I mean, it doesn't fit on the model. You can have a cooperative puzzle (jigsaw), contest (tug of war), or game (Pandemic). It's like asking how "platforming" fits into the model, or something.

Michael Meyer
profile image
You are equating more people making games with "more of the same". Do you not see that half the reason we don't see as much variety as we could is that a fairly narrow demographic dominates the world of game development? More people making games is how you STOP getting more of the same.

Keith Burgun
profile image
Well, without guidance, it has proven to be true over the last 10 years. Yes, we've already got SO MANY more people making games. And with only a small handful of exceptions, it has meant that we got more puzzle platformers and tower defense and other things that we don't need more of.

Robert Fearon
profile image
It's not a small handful of exceptions, there's more games and game types being made than ever before. If all you're seeing is puzzle platformers and tower defence games then I humbly submit that the problem is one of your perception than a reality.

Aside from a resurgence of previously assumed long dead genres like the adventure game (which from the likes of Gun Mute to Machinarium to The Land Of Dreams and on is proving itself in rude health thanks to more people writing games), we've got masses of roguelikes (hello you!), we've got masses of puzzle games being made from the most basic up to English Country Tune and beyond, there's explorations in shooty games from the standards to experimental stuff like Leave Home, we've just had an entire week of indie explorations in first person shooters pass us by...

And then there's masses of games emerging that don't fit so neatly into these definitions and that's great. It means stuff is working.

It's simply a great big fat massive lie to claim that it's mostly puzzle platformers and tower defense games and I'm not only saddened by your claim that it is the case but I'm also saddened by you assuming the stance that "we don't need more of" these games. Why don't we need more of these things? Because you said?

Joe Wreschnig
profile image
"Yes, we've already got SO MANY more people making games."

In the industry we've got a large number of mostly-homogenous people (mostly men, mostly white in North America / Europe, mostly Japanese in Japan, mostly straight, mostly middle-class, mostly young, mostly STEM-oriented - all disproportionately so even compared to other entertainment and technology industries) making a relatively small number of games.

That means we're getting a very small number of cultural viewpoints. It also means that whatever viewpoints a person may have tend to get boiled into something unidentifiable when mixed with 200 other people's ideas for 2-4 years.

Restricting what we consider valid expressions of games doesn't solve either of those problems.

Keith Burgun
profile image
What's really interesting is how contentious my article is with videogamers, and how non-contentious it is in the boardgame world.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Brandon Perdue
profile image
Well, I'd argue that board games (taken as a whole) and video games (taken as a whole) are very different beasts (even if we assume that things like Dear Esther are not included in the latter). There are video games that act very, very much like board games - and for those I suppose your system works. But there are many others that don't.

For instance, you don't really get "twitch" gameplay in a board game. The closest thing I can think of is the occasional instance of a game that requires some manual dexterity, like Jenga, but that doesn't happen much in "hobby" games. But that sort of gameplay is everywhere in video games because the hardware allows that to be doable.

There's also the matter of board gaming being a much older form; the potential of the physical medium, a board, dice, and so on has been tried and tested for much longer. There's a lot more examples of what works, what doesn't, what's been tried. Video games are still in their relative infancy, and they are so tied to advances in technology that the field is hardly static. What is impossible today won't necessarily be so tomorrow.

Joe Wreschnig
profile image
@Brandon,

"For instance, you don't really get "twitch" gameplay in a board game. The closest thing I can think of is the occasional instance of a game that requires some manual dexterity, like Jenga, but that doesn't happen much in "hobby" games. "

This is a great concrete example of how someone can dismiss a huge class of games through ignorance.

For example, James Ernest has been experimenting with real-time card game designs and dexterity-based games for years (Brawl, Fightball, Diceland).

For example, in the past couple years we've seen several crokinole-inspired boardgames married with traditional mechanics for more tactical depth (Ascending Empires, Catacombs).

And this is only the adult enthusiast market. Operation, Don't Break the Ice, Ants in the Pants, Hungry Hungry Hippos, as you say Jenga, and real-time mechanics in otherwise turn-based games like Uno - this is not an uncommon mechanic in family or children's games either.

Unless you've played ALL THE GAMES - and no, you haven't - the only practical effect you can have by trying to circumscribe and exclude designs is to discourage or dissuade people who might design them and to erase the games of that type that already exist.

Rory Kent
profile image
Did Shakespeare need to study the definition of 'play' to make important works?
What we call them is irrelevant, at least until games themselves are relevant. Critical study of a medium comes after the fact, and while it does help artists understand their form, it is only through the study of previously successful pieces that it is able to do so. For the moment, games are still an absolute fledgling with only a few examples of enough depth to be noteworthy. At this time the 'spray and pray' technique works fine: we have new people with new ideas constantly, and ideas are what we need. Sure, there's a fair amount of rubbish, but there's also been a huge amount of growth in the past 4/5 years alone, almost entirely due to this influx. When the development stops, only then should start focusing on culling the herd.

We don't need an Enlightenment-esque scientific theory. Games are not a science. It is the 'scientific' view of games that has given us the WoW and MWs of the world. Games need to progress as an artform, with all the inefficiencies and hopeless amateurs that come with that.

Finally, as a fan of atonal and avant-garde music, your parallel with music theory offended me. (Kidding :P)

Keith Burgun
profile image
Art and science blend seamlessly into one another. It's not as though art functions outside of rationality. You may not understand why a person likes something, or why something seems effective, but that doesn't mean that there is no reason for it.

Michael Joseph
profile image
I dig the fact we're trying to find answers to the problem of game design that sometimes feels like it's fallen into a rut. Let's leave no stone unturned.

I think the issue is a lot simpler.

Let's say games/interactive systems generally consist of
- Rules
- Mechanics
- Aesthetics
- Narrative
- Roles - (eg I want the player to feel like a railroad mogul, a city manager, a god, a general, a fighter pilot, a space adventurer, a hitman, a lab rat for science!)
- Message/Expression/Purpose (as in the purpose behind making the game assuming it's not just cloning or filling a genre with a product to compete with the offering of others. Why is my first person shooter worth making at all?)

If we chart the progression of each of these categories from Pong (rules and mechanics driven, no aesthetics, no narrative, no expression) to SWTOR or RAGE (narrative and aesthetics driven) and especially if we examine the games just PRIOR to the 3-D hardware acceleration revolution and the first person shooter revolution and the resulting industry & market expansions, and compare them against subsequent games, I think what we find is that aesthetics started to dominate and drown out some of the other elements of game design. Roles have narrowed. Narrative is recycled over and over. The purpose/message/expression in the social games space seems almost completely void.

There is too much imbalance.

Look at the genres that have essentially had their big budgets revoked (there are obviously some exceptions)
- flight simulations
- space simulations
- 4x games
- point and click adventure games
- turn based tactical games (xcom, jagged alliance, etc)
(sure we'll remake XCOM but it will be in the form of a shooter lulz)

So perhaps there's a dilemna with trying to go back to creating varied and more purposed AAA games when maybe there are just not big enough markets for them. I don't know. I want to believe that if there's a will there's a way to do everything... beautiful aesthetically pleasing games with meaningful gameplay where the designers have something to say and that the masses will want to buy.

Message/Expression/Purpose ideally should spearhead design and dictate the design of the other elements. We talk about music... isn't that the basis of the best music? Fiction too for that matter. Surely we could classify film/tv/music/literature that doesn't really say anything as disposable/unmemorable entertainment too.


Brandon Perdue
profile image
I suspect this is a function of the market more than the designers. This conversation seems to assume that if only designers would be better at making games, games would be more interesting; but it's important to recall that, unfortunately, video games are operated as pretty big business, and the designers don't always have the freedom to deviate. Sometimes the guy funding your game says, "We want Call of Duty and what you give us better look like Call of Duty." Sometimes you've got to put a giant spider in third act, you know? And we all know that sometimes publishers push games to release much earlier than the development team would prefer.

Michael Joseph
profile image
@Jacob

thanks. I have been keeping an eye on Enemy Unknown.

also check out this very promising looking game with xcom style combat
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/70755535/dead-state-the-zombi
e-survival-rpg

Christopher Casey
profile image
I have a few problems with this article. For one, I think it slightly mischaracterizes Anna Anthropy's point about opening up game design to the masses. It is actually quite contrary to "more of the same," and I think she might object to the idea that -- with truly great tools for newcomers to express themselves in the medium -- it would result in "a million more tower defense clones" or something like the App Store. I'm not sure the tools she has in mind for creating this kind of freedom are viable, or even that the desire to take advantage of them by "outsiders" really exists, but that's another discussion entirely.

Secondly, I'm not sure the timescale on which a game can be enjoyed is particularly relevant to its design worth. Maybe I'm missing the point, but what is wrong with a game that is self-aware enough to know that it is meant to be consumed in a few days, or a week? Isn't it much worse to pursue a scale that isn't commensurate with the content, resulting in a weak or confusing experience? It seems to me that it is perfectly fine to enjoy games in bite-sized chunks. Some of my best experiences as a gamer have been those that focus on crafting great experiences that know when to end themselves properly.

Raymond Grier
profile image
I think the diagram should include toys (something you play with but has no clear objective beyond one the user may decide to persue). Few video games qualify for my definition of toy but maybe more should be made. It would put more emphasis on quality and less on massive numbers of grind sequences reusing material to artificially lengthen the experience. Quality over quantity.
Also, someone above touched on what isn't a 'puzzle'. Classically a puzzle is something that had a solution (possibly more than one) which the 'player' would think through. Games like Tetris and Jewelquest don't really have definite final solutions (except maybe in special game modes) so they aren;t really puzzles even though they are often lumped into that category.

Keith Burgun
profile image
It does include toys - toys are a bare interactive system.

>Few video games qualify for my definition of toy

Minecraft, Flight Simulator, even GTA is a toy (unless you've started a mission).

That's right, Tetris is not a puzzle. Erroneously called one because it's abstract, or possibly because its pieces look jigsaw-like.

Jamie Roberts
profile image
[edited]

"I've long been of the view that we don't need more games, we need better games."

This statement assumes these two goals are mutually exclusive, rather than mutually supportive. It's kind of like the people who say, "Why are we wasting money on the space program when people are starving?" One is not a direct cause of the of the other, and as a society composed of large numbers of people we are capable of pursuing multiple goals simultaneously.

I understand your argument in the original article, but statements like the one I quoted muddy the point.

The music analogy brings up a related debate: Remember the arguments back in the day that rap wasn't real music? People would say "rap isn't music because it doesn't have a melody." Those people were on the wrong side of history (and music).

I don't know that this categorization scheme is a videogame version of the (false) "rap isn't music" argument, but it brings it to mind, and it's something worth thinking about.

John Salisbury
profile image
These things have probably already been raised in the other discussion (sorry at work researching other things so I won't bang on), but other efforts have been made to delineate types of games according to both what they are and how they are experienced.

Have you looked at say:
Chris Crawford's The Art of Computer Game Design, who (if I remember right) tries to make a pragmatic distinction between puzzles and games.
Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen's Patterns in Game Design which attempts to categorise everything we might call a game in terms of how they might be experienced, stripping everything down to a set of detailed taxonomies.
A decade ago it was commom for academics in the field to use Roger Caillois' play terms, but how useful they are depends on what you are trying to achieve.

Keith Burgun
profile image
I have, I like Crawford's work but he's not quite as clear as what I've laid out here, if you ask me.

I don't know Staffan Bjork, I'll have to look that up.

Nicholas Noe
profile image
Decided to register to post my thoughts on this matter.

Here's another definition of game that I believe applies and is interesting from an academic standpoint.


A game has the following intrinsic properties:

Game = Rules + Judgement

Furthermore, the rules define the judgement using one of three things, possibly in combination:

Chance, Decision, Execution

Rules are defined as one of the three elements in the second statement. A judgement can by anything as simple as "You've completed this game" to a scoring system, a message that you've died, etc. It's any intrinsic communication to the player about the game state based on the rules.

Chance is any random element. A decision is any element that the player chooses. An execution is any difficult physical action that a player must do.

While the author said that it was interesting to look at the frequency and quality of the decisions in a game, I'd say it's interesting to look at the frequency, quality, and possible interaction of all three elements.

Keith Burgun
profile image
I like what you're saying, and almost totally agree, but not all games have an element of "chance" (depending on how you define that word) - something like go or chess would be an example. Also, not all games have elements of execution - usually turn-based games don't.

Nicholas Noe
profile image
I never said that a game must include all three elements in its rules. There are plenty of games that only include one type, or just two. For the most part, gambling games have only chance, abstract board games like Chess have only decisions, and rhythm games have only execution.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Joe Wreschnig
profile image
Your music theory analogy is bogus.

One thing music theory does not do is try to define what is and what is not music. Rather music theory is the theories of whatever we've decided to call music, and that definition is fluid - and mostly expanding - over time. It is the deconstruction of music, but not the circumscriber or master of it.

If there is a functional game theory, it's got to be about what we are already calling games. Not what you want to call games. Not "all music but hip-hop and John Cage", because they are music. Not "all games but Dear Esther and The Path" because they are games. Restricting the field to ignore stuff that's not to your preferences or counter to your personal aesthetic agenda just makes you ignorant; continuing to do it even when it's pointed out to you just makes you prejudiced.

(There's nothing wrong with having preferences or a personal aesthetic agenda. The problem is when you start telling people the *entire form* must revolve around your preferences or aesthetic goals, and *your* words are right, and *their* words are confusing, and by the way you happen to be a member of a class that's been systematically oppressing the people in the other group in other aspects of society for centuries.)

Asking for diversity is not "spray and pray" and if you think it is you missed Anna's entire point. To use your fish analogy, you want to teach people to fish because fish is all you know and all you eat. Maybe you tried some kale once and it tasted gross. But the point of her talk is "look, here is beef, here is chicken, here is tofu, here is the whole culinary world, you don't have to learn to fish if you don't want to because you don't even have to eat fish, and anyone who tells you you need fish is full of shit." (If anything spray and pray" is what the industry is doing now - throw 20 bald men against a wall of zombies and aliens and see what happens to stick.)

It's funny how every time someone says "hey maybe games should have less sexism/racism/reinforcement and trivialization of social problems in the status quo" they're accused of censorship (or worse). Here we have you saying "hey let's not bring these entire conversations into our professional community" which is way closer to censorship, and people are like "yay now we have a firm artistic foundation we can finally have smart people tell us what we enjoy about games".

Keith Burgun
profile image
Jacob is correct in how you're mistaken, here. But further...

Music theory could never have come about if we didn't get to the agreement point of being able to say something like:

"Music is notes in the chromatic 12-tone scale, in a sequence that creates melody, harmony, and rhythm".

Once we were able to agree on *that*, we were able to start building theory and guidelines. Until we can do something similar for "game", we won't be able to develop theory.

Joe Wreschnig
profile image
"Music is notes in the chromatic 12-tone scale, in a sequence that creates melody, harmony, and rhythm".

It's 2012 and you're still using a conservative definition of music to dismiss rap (and noise and found sound and 4'3"" and etc.). Then you try to tell me that's not what you're doing and by the way let's dismiss some games too!

Keith Burgun
profile image
Joe, my definition does not dismiss rap at all. It does dismiss 4'3", but that's because it's literally not even sound.

Kevin Lim
profile image
Joe, music has had 400 years of amazing work(as well as mediocre probably) produced based on established Music Theory which I think Keith here summarized pretty well in that one definition.

Keith's definition of games might be conservative after a few years of game design theory but I think it's pretty radical in the today of game design.
And I do hope we get to a point where the definition becomes too conservative because that would mean we've expanded as a field. So please do keep arguing as we probably don't want to be stuck on a single dominant discourse and then stagnate.

But as an academic exercise for understanding and improving the theories of our field I think defining and categorizing interactive systems is important and exciting too, and not a personal, censorship agenda Keith is trying to push.

Thanks!

James Hofmann
profile image
Universalism in game design is problematic. This is a philosophical field at heart, and as philosophy, it's ultimately only as valid as the perspective which generated it. Change your perspective and you may change your definitions; the Greek philosophers have remained relevant for several thousand years because their perspectives are still potentially valid. For similar reasons, artworks remain valid for roughly as long as people agree with the underlying philosophy. Once people disagree, it's "not real art" anymore.

This also means that a truly universal nomenclature for game design has to address all perspectives in the way that music theory can address all styles of music. If you aren't doing that - and apparently you aren't - we'll steal the bits of vocabulary that work and then resume debate on unsteady, unclaimed grounds, because the questions haven't actually been resolved.

Ultimately I feel Anna Anthrophy's statements are correct - we don't need "the guidelines," because that starts too big. That's like asking "who created the universe?" You can make up some opinion, but it's just an opinion and it doesn't represent an advancement or broadening. We need specific insights, reflection, and correlation. We need outrageous philosophies _represented_ in games. These things will motivate additional vocabulary and theory.

ignace saenen
profile image
I wonder what happens if I build a chess game out of lego's.

There IS value in analyzing and exploring game design 'theory'. As much as I see and agree with the arguments 'against', I am firmly convinced that there has to be room for this. Human kind has managed just fine with fuzzy definitions and entanglement of concepts for hundreds of years, without questioning why or how. Yet, every time someone did make a new level of abstraction, definitions get sharper and become more useful to describe systems and mechanics, which in turn become tools to explore. You can't argue against the value of enlarging such a tool set.

At the same time, I feel that most of the sentiments against the 'scientific method' here are also valid. You can argue that innovation is often the sum of previous discoveries, however 'true innovation', in the most utopic/romantic sense, is a new way of thinking, a new way to see things, a different take on things, carving out a new path branching away from the threaded ones. That, after all, is what 'play' is. It is what we long our games to exhibit, and so the reaction to see a mechanical approach to game design feels contradictory. I have no problem being 'romantic' about this.

I think everyone sees that last graphic as much as a definition as it is an invitation to prove it wrong.

And as a human, am perfectly fine with that contradiction :)

Keith Burgun
profile image
>I wonder what happens if I build a chess game out of lego's.

I assume you mean a chess SET (i.e. stuff that you can play Chess *with*). It's impossible to build the GAME of chess out of legos or any other physical stuff, since games ARE sets of rules. You can play Chess with legos. You can play Chess with rocks. You can play Chess with a chess set.

However, you can also play Checkers with a chess set, and then you're playing the GAME OF CHECKERS.

>I think everyone sees that last graphic as much as a definition as it is an invitation to prove it wrong.

I welcome your attempt to do so.

Altug Isigan
profile image
Calling games a certain mode of communication would be probably wiser than calling them a medium. As a mode of communication, games can utilize so many objects to deliver their content and to make people participate, their potential to put things into their own service is limitless.

Patrick Glenn
profile image
Don't mean to offend, but the word "Medium" is synonymous with "Mode of Communication". All forms of art, or mediums of art, are in one way or another communicating an idea or theme, attempting to evoke a response from another person. Just wanted to point out that they are the same thing :)

Altug Isigan
profile image
Hey Patrick,

wasn't thinking of McLuhan but Jakobsen and meta-language when I wrote that. But you have a point, of course. My fault :)

Daniel Milan
profile image
I actually agree with most of what you say. However, a question popped up in my head: where would you put Tetris? Specifically, the old Tetris that was completely random in which pieces you would get (I'm using what you said in your previous article).

I tried to put that game in one of the levels but I found it pretty difficult:

- It is an interactive system. That's pretty obvious.
- It is NOT a puzzle. It does not present you with any kind of problem to solve since it starts with a blank space that starts to fill as the pieces fall. A "traditional" puzzle gives you a problem from the beginning (i.e. complete the picture, put all the rocks in their corresponding holes, get to the exit, etc.), but in this "game" you don't have a problem to solve. There is no "solved" situation or any "win" situation for that matter.
- It is not a contest. Your final outcome can be measured and compared with others (or with your previous outcomes) and therefore it generates competition or, rather, should we call it a meta-competition? The "game" itself does not offer a direct competition, unless you consider the pieces as being your enemies. Moreover, there is no way to "win" a classic game of Tetris, and a contest needs a winner and a loser. (Note that this is a part where I'm not entirely sure and I know it's pretty arguable)
- By logic (using your chart), if it is not a puzzle and it's (arguably) not a contest, it's impossible for this kind of interactive system to be a game. However, Tetris presents you with ambiguous decisions, like you mentioned in your previous article. So it does have the "elemental" constituent of a game.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

Kevin Lim
profile image
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/06/20/music-to-my-thumbs-tra
nscribing-braid/

I don't know if you've read this recent article, but I thought it relevant in a very basic starting point kind of way.

Good luck with your theories!

Mark Venturelli
profile image
Thanks for writing this, Keith. I haven't agreed so much with an article on game design here at Gamasutra since, well, your last article (even though the excessive "preachness" of your conclusion was a little off-putting).

Still sad to see that, unlike the way-too-optmistic gentleman from the first comment, the vast majority of people at Gamasutra still don't scratch the surface of what you are trying to communicate. Reading this comments section did make me a little sad, I must confess.

Keep doing what you are doing. I should get some writing done myself too, even if just to echo this attitude of yours, that I find commendable.

Also, I would like to highlight one of the most important parts of your article to the other readers: games, historically, were never designed to be such throw-away things, that can be mastered (or, dear me, "completed") in hours or minutes.

I very much subscribe to and reinforce the choir for deeper games.

Oh, and to everyone else, stop getting offended when something is not a "game". There is nothing wrong with it, get over it and maybe we can finally move on to deeper, more meaningful discussions.

Keith Burgun
profile image
Thanks, Mark.

Andrew Whitaker
profile image
I agree with your goal here, and after a few anecdotes have some psudo-academic contributions:

I'm reading a biography of John Von Neumann, the primary developer of Game Theory, who interestingly expressed that things that can be "solved" like chess, checkers, and especially Tic-Tac-Toe are not games because once the "game" has been solved, play becomes trivial or mechanical, and is just a specific and well-understood form of computation.

I've also heard, comically, that "Any competition where a 60 year-old can dominate a 25 year-old is a game [vs a sport.]" implying the requirement for a degree of fitness [or if we applied this to video games games, mental superiority and/or physical reaction time] to stay competitive.

I do however feel that for practical purposes "Games" are the largest group, though they intersect rather than include the other groups (though each of these categorizations could exist independently or in any combination rather than being nested subsets). Could it be that "Interactive systems" conspicuously do not list their contribution because that contribution is decisions? Interactive system that don't call for decisions are just Systems (like the regular book compared to interactive fiction).

To give further examples you have games that are not interactive, but are rather spectated. You have puzzles that are not interactive such as a mystery novel or crime drama. You have contests that are not puzzles, like a free throw contest. That leads me to my distinction between tests(of skill or some other trait, evaluated heuristically) and contests, where there is an, at least minimally, intelligent agent opposing the "player". (I contend that a test with set victory conditions or a set fail state that can be run with an isolated participant could easily be converted to a contest by adding an opponent who is trying to win by any combination of reaching the victory state first or by a greater margin than the "player" or by inducing the player's fail state [depending on the rule set, without triggering it's own fail state, as some "games" consider triggering a draw as victory while others consider it forfeit or defeat])

I'd refine your definition of a "Puzzle" too from "an interactive system plus a goal" to "a system plus an attainable goal with a non-obvious path." Because, as in a mystery novel, the system need not be interactive to contain* a puzzle. The goal must be attainable, or it may only be a "game" to a cruel organizer and rather a form of torture to the participant(s). And the path must be non-obvious otherwise it's just an activity with nothing to figure out. The first two of which bring up the question of perspective. Football may be a game to the players, but merely a form of entertainment to the spectators, unless they're placing bets, then it goes back to being a game(by at least one of the traditional definitions).

*Notice I didn't say "to be a puzzle" above, as very few things people consider games ARE puzzles but most of them CONTAIN puzzles among a myriad other elements.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Keith Burgun
profile image
"Spectating a game" is not a game itself (by any useful definition anyway) - did you mean to imply that it was?

>"a system plus an attainable goal with a non-obvious path."

Why does it have to be non-obvious? Are you saying that if even a somewhat difficult puzzle is obvious to someone, then it's not a puzzle? I could maybe accept this on similar grounds that a solved game is no longer a game...

In a way, though, a mystery novel IS interactive, in that people try to "guess" before it's revealed. If they succeed, they feel like they solved that puzzle. I'd call that a similar level of interactivity to puzzles. It's knowing what number to put in the Sudoku boxes, without actually putting them down.

Andrew Whitaker
profile image
I meant non-obvious in the most academic sense that a "puzzle" that consists of a ball next to a player with the goal of picking up the ball (with no impediment such as in octo-dad) it can hardly be called a puzzle. I did not mean that something as relatively relatively obvious as a ball on the other side of a short barrier with the goal of picking up the ball (presumably by first stepping over the barrier) could not be a "puzzle". I'm just saying there must be some intervening step not stated in the goal.

And as for spectating I was just trying to demonstrate that each of these levels of hierarchy can exist independently or in any combination, and need not build on one another. If you can state that there are such things as interactive games, there must be by inference, non-interactive games... aka spectated events.

I addressed that partially in the end of the second-to-last paragraph, that it can be a "...question of perspective. Football may be a game to the players, but merely a form of entertainment to the spectators, unless they're placing bets, then it goes back to being a game(by at least one of the traditional definitions)."

So I'm not looking to make assertions so much as I am to explore the concept. These are definitely edge cases, but if the issue was always black and white we wouldn't need to have the discussion about defining "game."

Paul Laroquod
profile image
'Spray and pray' is how the entire edifice of life and evolution was created. It also happens to be how every medium and art form was colonised and perfected. I wouldn't dismiss 'spray and pray' so lightly: it is a mathematically superior method of advancement. Its only drawback is that it gives the lie to self-important theoreticians who believe they can change the world by figuring it all out in advance instead of just Doing Things Until They Work.

Kevin Maxon
profile image
"Most importantly, we will understand that games can and should be judged by the quality and frequency of the decisions they present us with. The quality of a decision is determined by how interesting it is: how much depth and dimension there is to calculating the decision, and how much ingenuity an answer requires. Games should also have a high frequency of such decisions, since they are what make games games. Many of the games of today allow you to make one such decision every 20 minutes or so, and we will be able to see how terrible this is."

This is where the article becomes problematic. Defining games could be useful, but knowing what a game is does not mean knowing what games ought to be. If a drawing is to be defined as any work on or of paper (this is a popular definition), does it follow that a better drawing ought to be proportionally more paper, or ought to have bigger paper? Obviously not. This is the same for games. We need to know what makes games good, not what makes games games, unless our goal is to make things that are gamier and gamier for some reason. My goal is to make things that are better, personally.

I think this is also why commenters are so defensive of the word game. I mean, partially they're being defensive because prescriptive definitions like these are aggressive destructions of their own mental categories. But your definition of games is intended to be used to make value judgements. They aren't just upset that some really great video games don't qualify for Dinofarm's definition of 'game,' they are upset that those games are being judged, based on that criteria, as being bad games.

Joe Wreschnig
profile image
"Or the 2012 IGF Pirate Kart, which was much-celebrated by Ms. Anthropy: is there even a single title out of those three hundred games that you could see yourself playing even a month from now?"

Oh, the irony of this quote given that Hexagon was on that one.


none
 
Comment: