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Video: Playing with 'game' - What games can be, and what they can mean
February 5, 2014 | By GDC Staff

February 5, 2014 | By GDC Staff
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Design, Video

"Games are meant to wiggle; they're like machines. You poke and prod at them to see what comes out the other end. That is the overall scope of play of the system."
In this free GDC Vault video from GDC Next 2013, Raph Koster takes a craft-centric approach to the question "what do we make, who do we make it for, and how can we best make what we want?" in the talk "Playing With 'Game'."

Additionally, GDC Vault has made free a video of Koster on how games and social media are converging. Most recently, Koster has shared here how he analyzes games, evaluating a game's systems and overall experience.

About the GDC Vault

In addition to this presentation, the GDC Vault offers numerous other free videos, audio recordings, and slides from many of the recent Game Developers Conference events, and the service offers even more members-only content for GDC Vault subscribers.

Those who purchased All Access passes to recent events like GDC, GDC Europe, and GDC Next already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscription via a GDC Vault subscription page. Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company by contacting staff via the GDC Vault group subscription page. Finally, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault technical support.

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Darren Tomlyn
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I had a conversation with Raph on his website when he published the slides used in the video - and having watched the video/listened to his talk, that went with them, the problems I was trying to get him to see still remain.

The moment any 'word' is used as part of a language, it AUTOMATICALLY becomes part of a bigger picture, based upon and around the rules such a language has - in this case English, for the 'word/s' game, and the basic rules of English grammar. (The " are there for a good reason I don't really have time to go into here - I'm still waiting for Neil Mercer (@Cambridge University) to reply to what I sent him, before I post what I have so far.)

The reason why the 'word/s' game has/have problems is because these rules are being ignored, if not outright denied, because people do not understand what they are, and how and why they form the most immediate context in which words, such as game, have, to consistently exist.

So rather then focus on words as a matter of language, people instead focus upon them as a matter of communication in general, at which point all the subjectivity appears, because that is exactly what language exists to counter - to enable more consistent communication.

It is also this reason why people feel that language is inherently subjective, in itself, even though this is wrong - because they do not understand how language uses a collective understanding, (that therefore needs to be taught and informed to people), in order to function and therefore exist.

The reason why we can use the same word to represent information that is then consistently recognised and understood (enough) to be communicated between different people, is that the rules of language enable and allow it to happen.

The more abstract and intangible the information is that we want to communicate, the more reliant upon such rules it becomes. There should be no surprise, then, that what we perceive the word game as representing, (since what it represents is based upon and within a very abstract, derived, concept within the English language), has become so subjective, when such rules are ignored and denied.

Unfortunately for Raph, all his video has done is proved this point rather well, since such rules have obviously been ignored.

But understanding that, would mean knowing what such rules are, and why they're applicable in the first place - which is part of the problems we have...

And even then, the problems with our understanding of language do not exist in isolation, and are symptoms of a greater problem.

RJ McManus
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Would "people should use language precisely/consistently but they're not" be an accurate summary of your argument? If so, how do you propose that this be fixed? It doesn't seem like something that will just go away, or something that should be specific to the word "game".

Who decides all these "rules" you speak of, or the proper definition of words, when the dictionaries disagree with each other? And if these are natural/automatic processes as you suggest, then isn't common usage the ultimate source of such things? If so, there's really only so much we can do imposing usage-based rules on our usage, correct?

Darren Tomlyn
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The problems and solutions begin and end in academia - it's the only place the negative feedback-loop we currently have is broken and can be fixed:

inconsistent study->inconsistent teaching->inconsistent/problematic use->inconsistent study...

Note that I've never used the word precise, just consistent (enough).

The fact is, is that the basic rules of English grammar already exist - regardless from where or whence they came. But we don't fully understand them, so we have problems, because we do not fully understand what it is we need to study in the first place, (because we don't understand language itself).

The key to everything are the basic rules of grammar - these are based upon and around a functional taxonomic hierarchy of concepts, either basic or complex, that all the pieces of information belong to, and determine how their representations are used.

The problems we have currently are:

We don't know what all these concepts are, especially in relation to each other - (since only one concept can and does exist in isolation to begin with (things) and therefore acts as the root of the entire hierarchy itself). This also has a massive negative effect on our understanding of how to describe such concepts, too.

We don't fully recognise that multiple, even unrelated and disparate concepts can cause a similar manner of use.

From my own observations and study, I have concluded that the English language has 20 basic concepts within its functional taxonomic hierarchy.

To understand a game, however, the immediate concept we need to recognise it as belonging to, isn't currently recognised or understood, if even to exist at all. (If that doesn't help explain why we have problems understanding it, then nothing will...)

The fact is, is that there are a couple of basic concepts that are a simple reflection of how humanity perceives the universe around us, (including things), and yet we don't understand how to describe all of them, because we don't understand how they are ultimately related to things within the overall functional taxonomic hierarchy - and instead try to describe them in isolation, when that's not how they exist.

Of course, this problem is then amplified for games, because the word itself is used in a similar manner to things, even though the concept games belong to, doesn't and cannot exist in isolation. (There are 4 concepts that pieces of information can belong to, that causes their representations to be used as nouns, and only one of these - things - exists in isolation. (And if you think that's bad, there are 7 used as adverbs.))

EDIT: In my original discussion with Raph about the content of his slides, I asked him a very fundamental question, which only has one consistent answer that Raph did not know, recognise or understand. Maybe with what I've written above, the matter will become a lot clearer:

(Note that you can just cheat and read the current version of my blog - inconsistent/incomplete as it is ;) ).

All the pieces of information represented by the 'words' game, art, puzzle, competition, work and play are directly and/or indirectly related to each other in a single manner. What is it?

(The reason there is only one answer is because it has to involve direct relationships, and so must be inherent to some of the information itself, regardless of application.)

RJ McManus
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Fair enough, although I think it's a bit of a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" situation with regard to (1) not understanding the nature of things because we lack the linguistic concept, and (2) lacking the linguistic concept because we don't understand the nature of what it would describe.

I think I agree that the most troubling aspect of the debate regarding the meaning of "game" is the fact that people can't even agree what group of things it would belong to. It usually boils down to "should we consider 'games' as defining the boundaries of the medium, or as a subset within that medium?"

I personally see "game" as being neither a medium nor a genre, and my favorite comparison is to "story". Neither stories nor games are media, as they occur across various media including literature and software. They also seem to operate on a much broader level than what we usually think of as "genre", which to me is more "what something is about".

I would say that what ties these terms together- perhaps also including things like "art" and "play", as you mention- is that they describe the ephemeral state of a system that includes a subject (an audience) and some element of the subject's environment (more specifically, an object of media). This is likely an old concept, but if I had to choose some term for this, I might pick "modes of experience".

Taking it further, we can also use things like "game" and "story" as cognitive tools to structure our experience, even when the aspects of what usually indicates a "game" or "story" (i.e. a defined goal) are not all intrinsic to the media object itself. In other words, it seems somewhat dubious to draw a hard distinction between (1) "games" that have a defined goal and (2) "non-games" which, even if they lack such a designated goal, are often designed with players creating their own goals in mind. If goals emerge during play- as is the case with many contemporary "role-playing video games", it makes no difference in my mind.

I anticipate that you may be unhappy with this line of thinking, but the simple fact is that different people can have different experiences of the same thing regardless of how consistent our language is. The only subsequent question is whether we should ignore such variance and focus exclusively on defining the thing itself, or if we should accept some subjectivity (which as you point out need not be linguistic subjectivity) and focus on the more germane matter of defining the experience.

Darren Tomlyn
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As I've been saying - the reason we're having problems is that the basic framework within which all the information exists for the English language, (regardless of its representation), isn't fully recognised and understood.

Without knowing what all the functional concepts are - and as I said, there's a lot of them, (at least 20, though there are three additional ones I'm not sure about, including cardinal numbers (as distinct from determiners?)) - nothing can be perceived, recognised and understood in a consistent manner, let alone studied, described and taught.

In short our entire understanding of the English language in general, is currently compromised.

The only reason our language manages to function at all, is because some of these concepts are inherent in how humanity perceives the universe around us, ourselves and each other, and so can be recognised to a limited degree, even if our description isn't fully consistent, and because half of the rules (how words are used) are at least recognised consistently, too.

This is also why the more abstract the information is from such basic concepts, the more problems we have - and the concept, (that can be even more specific than its functional concept, too, within the overall hierarchy), that a game belongs to is about as abstract as it gets.

But all of our understanding of the language as a whole is incomplete - and this is because our understanding of language in general is also incomplete and inconsistent - as a symptom of a deeper problem, as I said before.

The fact is, is that we have all the information we need to be able to describe and teach what we need to recognise and understand - though that doesn't mean that there are no circular references at all within the taxonomic hierarchy, only that they must exist when no other option is possible, which isn't currently the case.

Although some of the concepts within the English language are coherent with a single, specific manner of use, and therefore should be easy enough to understand, it's some of these - as the most basic concepts of all - that are currently causing the most problems.

Since such basic concepts are those that are inherent to human perception, (which is why all languages possess and use them), it should give you some idea of how fundamental the problems are that we currently have.

There are four basic concepts that act as the root of all others within the English language, that are currently recognised as and by a manner of use, rather than such a specific concept, as existing in relation to as or by the others, when applicable.

Since all four of these concepts need to act as the foundation for all others, how they are perceived, recognised, understood, taught and described, really matters, and so such problems then have a knock-on effect on our understanding of other concepts that lie elsewhere, and may even be linked with a different manner of use. This is the root of the problems affecting our understanding of what games are in relation to everything else, since it should tell us what it is we need to study in order to figure out what a game actually is, to begin with. (The question I gave before is to help recognise this.)

The four basic concepts that matter most for our fundamental understanding of (at least) the English language, are linked with uses as a noun, verb, adjective and adverb. Unfortunately, only verb is linked with such a single, specific concept, but still acts as a root for other, different (but related) concepts elsewhere, and so must still be described in a manner that allows that to happen - which is currently a problem.

The fact is, is that most of these basic concepts only truly have one consistent manner, using the English language, to describe them - (for what they are in relation to each other, when applicable) - and this isn't currently fully recognised and understood.

The only real exception to this, is the concept we call a thing/s. (Note: a story is a thing, (which isn't recognised), whereas the root definition of a game is not - and neither is a narrative.)

One of the reasons why we struggle to understand what concept a game belongs to, is confusion between the different pieces of information we use game to represent. There is one definition that acts as the root for all the others, but this isn't being consistently recognised. Not only that, but unfortunately some other pieces of information it is used to represent are now based upon an old and obsolete definition of this kind, that isn't being recognised either, and is causing a lot of confusion, (that one particular industry is taking advantage of).

Again, not knowing what it is we need to study in order to understand a game, is causing our perception of it to be pulled in many different (and inconsistent) directions, naturally becoming more subjective.

Which is where the question I asked comes in...

EDIT: I think a little demonstration is probably in order.

A simpler question than the one I asked before, would be:

How are the following related:

(Tangible): object, person, animal, plant, (fungus?), substance, place (city/town/village/country etc.). (Intangible): information, idea, concept, (absolute or abstract?) time and space (day/week/month/year etc., area/field/square/sphere etc.).

The answer, of course, is that they're all - and can even be seen to be basic types of - things.

As I've said, though, it's all about the taxonomic hierarchy. For that reason, other, more specific things, will also exist within the hierarchy aswell:


Can you imagine how hard it would be to understand how to create the best possible chair if you didn't know what furniture was, or the difference between what furniture is used for and the material it is made out of? (I.e. confusing objects with substances?)

Such a hierarchy is exactly what language uses in order to function - to allow people to recognise information based upon its similarity and relationship with all others, as part of the same language, in order to enable the more consistent communication of such information.

So, what is the answer to my previous question?

RJ McManus
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As much as your points regarding how we use language inefficiently may be true, it still appears as an immutable issue in the grand scheme of things. In any event, we're not going to solve these huge problems overnight, and as such we need to make due as best as we can in the meantime. Do you really think that re-evaluating the conceptual basis of language is a realistic solution to the problems surrounding the word "game"? Are there any possible workarounds that are more feasible in the short term?

Other than the ambiguity of "game", what would you cite as evidence that this problem is so fundamental? And more relevantly why, of all the words in our language, should "game" be the word that betrays the existence of such issues? Shouldn't this alleged inability to grasp the fundamentals of language have popped up elsewhere by now?

I think that your case for the problems regarding the usage of nouns and verbs would greatly benefit from more examples, because it's difficult to comprehend your argument in such abstract terms. In particular, I can't seem to make sense of the following parts:

"that are currently recognised as and by a manner of use, rather than such a specific concept, as existing in relation to as or by the others, when applicable."

"only verb is linked with such a single, specific concept, but still acts as a root for other, different (but related) concepts elsewhere, and so must still be described in a manner that allows that to happen - which is currently a problem."

The rest I can follow for the most part, but I think you rely too heavily on an unsubstantiated assumption that language is hierarchical in nature. It definitely possesses some hierarchical qualities, but as far as I know most linguists and cognitive scientists prefer to see language as a network with properties of inheritance rather than a strict hierarchy.

Obviously, we are initially taught to understand it as a purely categorical hierarchy, but that outlook ignores one of the primary sources of nuance in language. Namely, things can be grouped in different combinations; the overlap between different parts of speech is minimal, but it becomes a lot more blurry once you start distinguishing between different types of nouns and different types of verbs.

In regards to your previous question, I tried to answer it in my previous post- if I had to put one word to what all those things have in common, it would be "experience"- but I'm curious as to what you think the answer is. Since I have taken a shot at answering your question, do you have any answer for my questions above?

Darren Tomlyn
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Unfortunately, fixing the basic problems - (of which language itself is merely a symptom) - has to be done first, otherwise we're just papering over the cracks of the problems we truly have.

But given the nature of language, it is inherently part of this problem, itself: how we use language not just to describe itself, but also describe, recognise and understand its own greater context. Yes, this does all circle round upon itself, and without the greater context a lot of what I've written here will not be completely understood, but the foundation upon which it all exists, is that of human perception.

The direct problems we have with game are that it's being perceived purely as a matter of communication, independently of language, which therefore does nothing more than to deny its very existence - Raph's talk demonstrates this.

Everything I'm talking about in relation to English, are purely symptoms of such problems, and have to be dealt with as such.

The size, scope and amount of problems/symptoms we have, are very great, which is why what I've written up so far and given to Neil Mercer is extremely 'dense'. But what we're talking about here - how the English language functions, specifically - is still beyond (and must be based upon) what I've currently written, (On The Functionality And Identity Of Language).

For this reason, I have tended to stay away from dealing with specifics of the problem, especially in relation to a particular language, until I know what's happening with what I've already written.

The most important thing I want people to understand, and why I've replied here (and to Raph before), is that linguistics forms a massive part of the problems we have, and ignoring, denying, or simply being ignorant of this, is why we're making things worse.

If people do not perceive such problems as a matter of language at all - (even if it should be inescapable) - and cannot even recognise how and why that is even possible, then that also tells me a lot about how and why the problems are currently perceived and even exist...

This is the role of the question I gave: As a matter of language, especially its teaching and description, it is an extremely fundamental question, and yet the fact that Raph couldn't (or wouldn't) answer it, and you cannot answer it correctly given what I wrote above, also says a lot about the problems we have.

I'm afraid there are no real workarounds for this problem, but I'm not explaining everything here because of the lack of context I can currently give - hence the question I ask, instead.


Why is this problem so fundamental? Because we're not recognising and understanding the consistency with the basics of human perception to begin with, which is what language ultimately rests upon, regardless of how it is applied.

Why with games? Because of their abstract nature, they then require the rules of language to have almost any consistency at all, and so it shouldn't be too surprising that its information of this particular concept that is causing problems - (though we've been arguing about art for millennia, for similar reasons!)

Why now? Because I understood the nature of the problems I saw, when no-one else has. It's taken me over a decade to fully figure everything out, and the root cause of all these problems took the longest, but as soon as I finally saw what that was, everything just fell together so neatly.

Why no-one else? Because the basic problem we have is probably ancient - which has then informed the basic teaching and information of language for everyone for such a long time - possibly for its entire existence - and it stuck, because it 'feels' right, even though it's not.

Another reason as for why now, is that we actually have labels for everything we need to understand, teach and describe both the problems and the solutions. (How long has semiotics existed for?)


I'm not sure why you have problems, given what I've written so far, but I'll explain:

Language is about enabling more consistent communication by using a specific set of relationships and similarities between such individual pieces of information, to affect the use of their representations in a manner that can be perceived and understood/deciphered.

The rules that govern how the representations are used are therefore linked with what the information is, that causes them be used in such a manner.

Our current understanding of language is purely based upon how such representations are used, rather than what information is being represented, that then causes such a manner of use - upon its effects, rather than its cause.

As I explained before, it is possible for multiple, disparate and unrelated concepts to cause the representations of such information to be used in a similar manner. Trying to describe a manner of use as and by a single concept, that is not the only one related to, as causing, such use, is therefore a problem.


Language is inherently a hierarchy because of the basic relationships between the concepts humans (appear to) naturally perceive, that the functionality (and therefore identity) of language then reflects. The only reason a taxonomic hierarchy is any problem to be understood, currently, is to recognise and understand that there can only be one hierarchy that determines its rules of grammar. (That there can be more than one hierarchy overall, is not an issue - only that the 'functional taxonomic hierarchy' has to be considered and recognised for what it is, that then provides the/additional context for all/any others.)

What I'm talking about here, are the BASIC rules of grammar - the foundations upon which the rest of our understanding of the language is, and must/should be based. (None of the basic rules, for example, deal with tense or plurality.) But everything else still needs to be understood within such a context.

There are some differences that do not affect how the language is used, (merely what is used), and therefore are not part of the rules of grammar themselves, and are merely affected by them.

There are TWO sets of rules for a language:

Rules of CONTENT (including semantics), and rules of GRAMMAR. There is some overlap between the two, but within that, there is far greater scope for differences in content, whereas grammar is far more strict.

One of the basic problems we have, is not recognising the differences and true relationship between the two - (i.e. content (spelling/pronunciation etc.) is not grammar).


Your answer to the question is wrong. (And it should be pretty obvious - the fact that it isn't should tell you something...)

I've been talking about relationships between pieces of information, based upon and around a taxonomic hierarchy of basic concepts. If you can't recognise and understand how and why such information is related to and by (directly and/or indirectly) an EXTREMELY basic concept - (it's fundamental enough for us to use to describe how languages function in relation to each other - (Hint: SVO)) - then how can you truly understand the language such a rule helps to enable?

I thought a further example using only one concept (the most basic of all) would give you a good idea of what you needed to be looking for?

Obviously I was wrong...

So - try again ;)

RJ McManus
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Just out of curiosity, how much background do you have in linguistics? I only took one or two university-level linguistics courses myself- nothing too advanced- but it seems that you're challenging some basic aspects of how language is understood in the academic sphere. If you really want to approach these issues from a credible academic standpoint, I would assume that a background in linguistics is prerequisite.

Anyway, here are my remaining "problems", criticisms, and/or advice, depending on how you want to look at it. Admittedly no. 1 and 2 can only be helped so much (and I'm far from perfect in these regards myself), but I just cite them to explain my difficulties in understanding you.

1. Your writing occasionally lacks clarity. A couple examples:
"that then causes such a manner of use - upon its effects, rather than its cause."
"Trying to describe a manner of use as and by a single concept, that is not the only one related to, as causing, such use, is therefore a problem."
This is something you will need to address if you have any hope that your ideas will reach a larger audience.

2. The structure of your writing could be improved. It's unclear if you are attempting to make a logical succession of points, responding directly to my posts, or simply wandering from topic to topic. Structure is particularly important the more you write, and as of now you seem somewhat prone to repeating yourself. It may be useful to keep in mind whatever you are intending to accomplish with each sentence and paragraph, and to reflect upon whether you are presenting them in the most logical order.

3. Your logic for validating how fundamental these issues are is somewhat circular and self-fulfilling:
"If people do not perceive such problems as a matter of language at all - (even if it should be inescapable) - and cannot even recognise how and why that is even possible, then that also tells me a lot about how and why the problems are currently perceived and even exist..."
"yet the fact that Raph couldn't (or wouldn't) answer it, and you cannot answer it correctly given what I wrote above, also says a lot about the problems we have"
To someone on the outside, the fact that no one "gets it" would say that you might need to reconsider your strategy. The fact that you see these things as further evidence for your arguments suggests a certain lack of self-awareness.

4. You make a lot of unsubstantiated assumptions, and you're reluctant to provide any specific evidence for such claims. This is just not something that you can do in persuasive discourse, regardless of the circumstances. You still haven't made a convincing case for why language is hierarchical, and in general personal revelation isn't a particularly convincing citation.

5. Forcing such a broad shift in how we perceive and use language seems an unrealistic goal. There doesn't seem to be any historical precedent for this occurring successfully, and as such it's a bit difficult to take this huge endeavor seriously.

6. Posing such a vague question to someone and proceeding to borderline-condescend them on the basis of their answer to your question would be considered very poor rhetorical form, particularly when you fail to explain what the "correct" answer is or why their answer is "incorrect". Rhetorical questions are one thing, but quizzing your audience on something that you haven't yet established or substantiated is another.

I happen to know that I'm not the first person to take an issue with your method of posing such questions, so hopefully it will get through to you that this tactic is ineffective in persuading your audience. At any rate, I make the polite request that you either answer this question yourself or find another way to elucidate your argument.

If we must take this "begin with the fundamentals" approach, the obvious answer is that these things are nouns, but that tells us nothing that we don't already know (at least on an intuitive level). However, I suppose my above explanation supports them being understood more as verbs: as things that "happen", not things that just "are".

I hope that at this point you are capable of explaining what category these things should be understood as belonging to, and the implications that this has for their usage.

Darren Tomlyn
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"Just out of curiosity, how much background do you have in linguistics?"

Surprisingly none...? (Beyond being a simple user of language/communication, which is what really matters, of course.) Of course, if I did, then at worst, I might not have the same perspective, and therefore figured everything out as I have, or, at best, I might have figured everything out a lot quicker - (as I said, it's taken me over a decade to piece everything together - both cause+ effect (the underlying problems and their symptoms)).

But for that reason I've been trying to talk to people involved in academia for a while - starting with Dr Anthea Fraser Gupta at Leeds Metropolitan, and ending (so far) with Professor Neil Mercer at Cambridge. (No one here in Leicester ever replied to my emails - oh well, their loss...)


This is about the basic premise, recognition and understanding of semiotics, communication and language, in regards to their cause and effect, as to what they are and how and why they function and exist. If such an understanding is currently problematic, then none of these can ever truly exist. Thankfully the problems are not quite that bad, but they are leaning in that direction - (I'll be more specific later in this post.)

So - here's another question for you (yes, I know *groan* ;) ):

What basic elements do semiotics, communication and language all require in order to exist, and also have in common? And how and why would the labels of cause and effect relate to them? Please try and answer this now - before I get to a description later ;)

Again, this is part of the lack of knowledge and understanding of the 'bigger picture' - the greater context - in which language exists.

2. Chronological order, based on your replies. (As should be obvious here, since I'm starting with 1 etc.?)

3. As should have been obvious for a while - not being able to present the greater context - (which would be/is a blog post all to itself, before we even talk about English) - is a big limitation.

4. The problem is that there's so much that's involved with the entire context of this matter, that, as I said, it would take a single (long) blog post just to describe such context, let alone the actual functionality of the English language in particular - which is what I've written up and sent to Neil Mercer.

One of the reasons why there's so much involved, however, is because of all the conversations I've had with people like this giving me more information about the problems and symptoms we currently have, based on their replies - which I would never get if I explained everything up front!

So until I get a reply from Neil, everything I post here is still part of on ongoing experiment - you may not like or understand that, but it's all been very helpful so far over the years I've been posting here :)


Right then - here's where your lack of understanding of the basic nature of the problems we have really starts to hurt, and obviously you haven't read (or possibly understood) enough of what I've written to recognise and understand this. (I take it you haven't read my current blog, either, even if it isn't completely accurate and consistent?)

Again - it's all about cause and effect, and what it represents in a general relation to this matter:

Our understanding of language is based upon the perception of its use (its effect) rather than the act of using it (its cause).

If our understanding of something is based upon a perception that is not consistent with its cause and resulting functionality, then of course we're going to have problems... Unfortunately, such a perception is natural, but not consistent with how and why it exists.

What we're dealing with here is 'relativity' - the relationship between the user and perceiver of language, (as being about communication). Our understanding, teaching and description is based upon the perception, not use, of language itself.

The question then is why this problem exists - which is where the greater context matters.

So of course it's a big deal, but it's based on a logical extrapolation of the most basic premise of all - of the relationship between that which represents information, and that which perceives such representations - which is required for communication to happen, let alone language.

So within that context, do you understand how and why the purpose of language exists - to enable and allow for more consistent communication?

It's all about a chain of cause and effect:

What we perceive/imagine -> information -> representation (+Language/rules of content and grammar -> manner of use) -> perception of representation -> decipher/recognition/understanding (as applicable) (possession of information).

Which of these are the cause and which are the effect/s?


"However, I suppose my above explanation supports them being understood more as verbs: as things that "happen", not things that just "are"."


See - that wasn't hard was it?

So you understand why the difference and relationship between verb itself, and the concept of "things that happen" needs to be understood? Is everything related to "things that happen" used as a verb? NO.

There are therefore a few things that matter here:

1) Why the description of 'things that happen' for this particular concept is the ONLY way in which it can be consistently described when using, and for, the English language - (which is NOT being recognised and understood!)

2) Why this concept is such a fundamental part of human perception that every language uses it as part of its functionality.

3) Also in relation to 1 - why this concept does not exist in isolation, and therefore cannot be described as such.

4) Why the basic concepts (of which we now have 2 - things and things that happen) that cause the root functionality of language exist in a taxonomic hierarchy based upon their relationships to each other - as things that happen require things in order to exist, and another concept in order to understand such a description in English... (Hint!)

5. Why getting confused between things and things that happen is to break the most basic rules of human perception that the functionality and identity of language is based upon.

So, as I said before, there are 4 basic concepts inherent to human perception, of which we now have 2. So what are the other two - which the English language in particular treats not just as specific concepts, but also uses to cause more specific and different manners of use - (Noun-thing, verb-thing that happens, etc. adjective/adverb-??).

Next question:

What does the understanding and recognition of this particular concept as 'things that happen' tell us about games?

Remember when I said earlier that there are many concepts that exist in relation to others - if not actively derived from them? Because that matters for this question...


Do you now understand and recognise why not being able to answer the question I gave, (as things that happen (or a rough but inconsistent 'equivalent')), is to fail to understand how people perceive the universe around us and represent it in the English language?

Do you see why it's such a fundamental question, that if it cannot be answered, involves denying/ignoring the very existence of language itself?

As I explained before - language is about using the similarities and relationships between pieces of information in order to help people recognise and understand them. How their representations are used is then an effect of such relationships because of what the information is.

RJ McManus
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1. I'll let you answer that question, for the reasons I've described above.

2. Thank you, this is much clearer.

5. The fact that I find your goals largely unrealistic has little to do with whether I understand what they are, or how important I think these issues are.

6. Again, while I am curious about what you have to say, it's not my responsibility to answer questions about your argument. However, I would say that this supports the viewpoint that I described above:

"the ephemeral state of a system that includes a subject (an audience) and some element of the subject's environment (more specifically, an object of media). This is likely an old concept, but if I had to choose some term for this, I might pick "modes of experience".

Taking it further, we can also use things like "game" and "story" as cognitive tools to structure our experience, even when the aspects of what usually indicates a "game" or "story" (i.e. a defined goal) are not all intrinsic to the media object itself. In other words, it seems somewhat dubious to draw a hard distinction between (1) "games" that have a defined goal and (2) "non-games" which, even if they lack such a designated goal, are often designed with players creating their own goals in mind. If goals emerge during play- as is the case with many contemporary "role-playing video games", it makes no difference in my mind."

Darren Tomlyn
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2 steps forward - 1 step back :-/

The two concepts we have recognised so far are:

Things that happen - (no other description for this concept is consistent and accurate).

The distinction between these concepts - that is based upon the consistent manner in which humanity perceives the universe around it - acts as part of the foundation for the basic functionality and identity of language in general.

As I said, the purpose of language is consistency in communication. By not recognising how and why we maintain such consistency, our current perception of language is confused with communication itself - which is where the current perception and understanding of language being subjective comes from, because being subjective has no bearing on communication itself, and therefore it doesn't have to be consistent in order to exist.

This is why confusing communication for language, without recognising what language adds to enable more consistency in communication, therefore involves studying information in isolation, independently of the natural relationships the functionality of language reflects and uses.

This is the mistake Raph is making in the video above - studying information independently of the rules of language that naturally and inherently apply.

Language functions, and therefore exists, by grouping all the pieces of information into specific concepts that then determines how their representations are used, so they can be perceived, deciphered and understood by others.

The rules that govern what the concepts are, and how the representations are used - the basic rules of grammar - are NOT individually subjective, which is why language needs to be taught, and why it can function in the first place.


It's for these reasons why language is split into two parts - content, and grammar:

Content is WHAT the representation and information is, grammar is HOW it is used, with the basic functional taxonomic hierarchy of concepts acting to bind the two together.

Since we only currently base our understanding of language upon how the representations are used, our understanding of the basic concepts that cause such a use, and therefore WHY the language is used in any particular manner, is incomplete, inconsistent and/or inaccurate, currently.


As far as the groups of concepts, and their organisation in a taxonomic hierarchy, are concerned, they are based upon what we naturally perceive in the universe around us, even if applied differently.

Such perception is why they're organised in a taxonomic hierarchy to begin with - since all concepts are related to things, with the basic properties they have then acting as the basic manner in which most others are then related to and by things themselves, which is why using the word happen (in relation to such properties of things) is more consistent to describe the next concept as 'things that happen'. (The basic concept used as verbs can only exist in relation to things, and happen is pretty much the only label we have to be used in combination, to describe such a concept. It is probably possible to describe happen in a roundabout way via property/information etc. so it can be recognised for what it represents in this manner, but it would take a little more effort...

(Property represents a type of thing (as A property), even though it describes a further basic concept used differently within the English language - (note that other languages use such properties as a type of thing (information) in itself, which is why such a relationship with the hierarchy makes sense.))

The 4th basic concept I mentioned should therefore be obvious - basic properties of things that happen...

However, for the English language, the concept of properties for things, that causes a manner of use we call adjective, are not just limited to things themselves, which makes describing this concept very tricky. Since the concept of properties of things that happen IS only limited to that one concept, it is actually easier to describe the concept used as adjectives as being 'properties of every(thing) applicable concept except things that happen'.

So, the 4 basic concepts that act as the basis of the functional taxonomic hierarchy for the English language are:

1 Things (noun)(->intangible things->information->property)->2 Basic properties of everything (except things that happen) (adjective)->3 Things that happen (verb)->4 Basic properties of things that happen (adverb).

Your use of experience means nothing, here - it's irrelevant - experience is an effect (something we gain) of things that happen - not things that happen in themselves, which is what the concept happens to be - (how do you define 'opening' as an experience, if it has no relationship to your own behaviour?)

Although you recognised (at least initially) that 'things that happen' was how such information was related, it's obvious you didn't understand the significance of that...

Since the four basic concepts for the English language are those I mentioned, (with associated manners of use), it should be also obvious that NO piece of information represented by and belonging to the language can EVER be used to represent more than one particular relevant concept... (If something is a thing, it cannot be defined as and by any property or a thing that happens, for example, or vice-versa.) Note that this doesn't mean we can't LABEL some pieces of information as and by their relationship to similar pieces of information belonging to other concepts - (hence sail (thing that happens) being derived from sail (thing)), but the type of concept they belong to is still fixed.

Also note that recognising the nature of such relationships is inherently part of linguistics - recognising which pieces of information are derived from others when they share the same representation, regardless of the concepts they belong to. (So the use of game as a thing that happens (used as a verb), for example, needs to be recognised as a derived definition, rather than a root definition, from and for one of its other uses.)

An easy example of where this is currently a problem? Go have a look at any current definition and description for the word story - and tell me what's wrong with it...

Things, are not things that happen, are not properties of things that happen, are not properties of everything else, are not things etc..

(Note that properties of everything else are problematic - as currently perceived and described as and by their use in relation to nouns, (which is why they're labelled as adjectives, (by how they're perceived to be used, rather than what they are), but this is still inconsistent (incomplete), since there is one other concept such information is used in combination with, that is not used as a noun (and isn't currently recognised to exist) - and instead is used as an adverb - (relative space - (e.g. bright outside/warm upstairs etc..)))

RJ McManus
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For the sake of clarification, by "experience" I meant the process of having things happen to us, not what we take away from that process.

The distinction between content and grammar is a bit unclear for me- mainstream linguists use "grammar" to refer to all of language's rules (including semiotics and pragmatics), so where are you placing the dividing line? Between syntax and semantics, or what (in terms of phonetics, morphology, and so on)?

Don't worry, I now understand your view that there is a finite set of functionally distinct concepts the nature of which should inform our usage, but I'm still struggling to see how this should be applied to "game" in particular.

So what's the difference between "game" and "sail"? Merely the fact that people don't seem to recognize how they are framing the concept of "game", and that they should clarify whether they are talking about "game as thing" or "game as happening"? Moreover, deciding which usage of a word is the "root" case from which all of its other usages are derived seems a bit subjective.

You seem to suggest (but please correct me if I'm wrong) that we should take the earliest usage as the "proper" usage, but that seems somewhat arbitrary. What if the concept we thought we were describing could be better served in an alternative category from the one to which it was initially assigned? Must we create a whole new word to reflect our improved understanding, just because of what our limited historical records suggest about its earliest usage?

Again, this just seems like fighting against the tides of change that is both inevitable and desirable (languages evolve to become more efficient within their context over time). Hopefully I'm just misunderstanding you there; so how do we determine to which category a disputed word properly belongs?

Darren Tomlyn
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The perception of grammar, currently, is a large symptom of not recognising and understanding the 'big picture' - of how (and why) language, communication and semiotics are related (but still distinct) - which is what I've written up so far for Neil Mercer.

But yes, it's essentially the difference between semantics and syntactics (all part of semiotics).

I'm going to leave most of what you've written, since it's all a fundamental part of linguistics itself - either you understand linguistics or you don't - and if you don't, I'd suggest taking some lessons - though keep what you've learned from here, since it will help you a lot!

The four concepts I've given you so far, are merely the most basic concepts of all. Remember that I told you that there are ~20 such concepts within the functional taxonomic hierarchy as a whole? All of the other concepts within the English language are therefore related to, if not derived from, the four basic concepts we now have - and CANNOT be fully recognised without these four concepts being in place, first...

Now, as I said, some of the concepts are linked with a unique manner of use, and as such are currently described as a whole - (the manner of use describing the concept itself, purely in isolation) - even though the concept being represented, cannot and does not exist in isolation at all, (since only things can and do).

Examples of such combinations would be conjunctions and determiners.

Most concepts, however, do not have cause a unique manner of use, and instead share such use with others, as being nouns, adjectives or adverbs.

All of the adjectives, and most of the adverbs are similar, in that they're the same types of properties, (related to the basic properties we've described so far), just applied to either things that happen or everything else:

For example: high, higher and highest, with the extra concept as highly, also used as an adverb, aswell.

However, the concept that matters for understanding what a game is, is, of course, used as a noun.

As I said before, there are 4 concepts used as nouns, of which things are one.

We have three other basic concepts recognised, with three extra concepts also used as nouns.

Does that sound like a coincidence? ;)

So, for example:

Compete (thing that happens/verb)->competition ??? of thing that happens/noun)
High (both for properties of things that happen and everything else)-> height.

Hopefully it's also obvious that properties of things that happen and properties of everything else can occasionally be very similarly described and represented. Having said that, there is also often a mis-match between properties of things that happen and a (even loosely) related noun - and as such it can appear to get a bit confusing - many of the words and information belonging to the concept derived from adverbs, may not, therefore, be directly linked with adverbs themselves.

So, how would you describe such a relationship that is often demonstrated in such representations?

If you need more examples:

1st concept:


2nd concept:


3rd concept:

For properties of things that happen, as I said, this is far trickier - since words such as speed, or distance, in relation to things that happen, are not necessarily directly derived from adverbs themselves - (or are not recognised to be).

As you can hopefully recognise, however, it is the first of these concepts that matters for games - in addition to puzzles, competition/s and art etc..

So how are they related to things that happen?



When there's confusion, more often that not, because the word is used in a manner that's caused by a particular concept, that concept is what usually matters - and our perception of it as being anything else, is what is wrong/inaccurate/inconsistent.

I asked you about the word story, but obviously you either didn't bother, or don't understand:

Story is used as a noun. This means it can belong to one of four concepts.

Since we use the word tell in combination with story, it's not really consistent with representing anything but a thing. More evidence for this can be found with the words narrate - as a thing that happens to a story - and narrative as being further derived from narrate, itself. Defining narrative as the same as the word story should be obviously wrong, because they're not used in exactly the same circumstances, and belong to different concepts.

Using the word tell in combination with the word story, should automatically mean that defining story as and by such a thing that happens, is to confuse one for the other, and break the basic rules of grammar for the English language.

Story is used as a thing (an arrangement of information) that can be told, not is, and defining it in any other way is therefore wrong.

This is a simple matter of linguistics, nothing more. Defining the word story as and by the word tell, is the equivalent of defining a door by the act of opening - just because we only recognise the door when it's being opened, doesn't mean it must be defined as such.

Getting confused between such pieces of information and their application, is a very common problem, and usually happens precisely because people do not understand the basic concepts that such pieces of information must belong to, as part of the language as a whole, and therefore let their subjective opinion of such information affect it's perceived definition. Since our understanding of language is so problematic, currently, some subjective opinions have become part of its teaching, even if they are inconsistent...

RJ McManus
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@ Darren

With all due respect, I'm beginning to think that many of the problems with your ideas arise from your apparent belief that you have the authority to make conclusive decisions regarding things that are matters of contention for other people.

"I'm going to leave most of what you've written, since it's all a fundamental part of linguistics itself - either you understand linguistics or you don't - and if you don't, I'd suggest taking some lessons - though keep what you've learned from here, since it will help you a lot!"

This part, coming from someone who has no background in linguistics, in particular was very rich. I'll give you some credit- you've developed a respectable understanding of certain linguistic concepts, but you simply have not established the credentials as an authority in the field.

Moreover, you seem unwilling to move outside linguistics, which worries me greatly for the progress of this conversation. There are many things worth understanding within the field of linguistics, but there are also some questions that linguistic theory may never answer for us. You have not convinced me that this isn't the case with matters of "policy" and practical application surrounding "game", since you seem inclined to ignore when you make an assumption or subjective judgment and to treat their results as common-sense linguistic fact.

You still don't seem to understand my objection to your rhetorical method of quizzing your audience, so I'll try to make this as clear as possible. While I admire the lengths to which you have gone to improve your own understanding of language, I (and a great many others here on Gamasutra, I would suspect) are only interested in such ideas in so far as they suggest a practical alternative understanding of things like "game" and "story". Our progress toward elucidating that understanding is for me the only conceivable measure of our success in this conversation, and I'm currently skeptical that we'll ever get there despite how many words we have already spilled.

Thus, I challenge you to delineate your viewpoint regarding how we should most efficiently define and use "game" in no more than one or two paragraphs, as I've done much earlier in this thread. Up to this point, most of your paragraphs haven't actually involved the word "game", so you may want to take a different approach. If you aren't willing or able to do this for me without resorting to expanding upon your far-flung linguistic theories, then I will not continue this conversation (as linguistics is not one of those things that I am interested in debating for its own sake). If you can do this for me, I may then ask you to substantiate your assumptions by further expanding upon your linguistic ideas, but I just really need to know that you can articulate a specific point of view regarding "game" before I can continue investing time in this.

Darren Tomlyn
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Okay, it's obvious where you're having problems.

Go back and have a good look at the cause and effect chain I gave you. Do you understand it? Do you recognise any problems with it? If so, then say so.

If not, then that's the foundation upon which everything I have is merely a logical extrapolation of.

The underlying reason we have problems currently, is because such a chain is being perceived in the opposite direction to the one in which it exists - basing our understanding of language and communication on the perception of their use, rather than the act of using them.

Within that chain lies the most basic premise for language:

HOW a language is used, is an effect of WHAT (information) it is used to represent. (If this wasn't true, then language would have no reason or ability to exist.)

Everything I've been talking about in relation to language, specifically, is a logical extrapolation of this. If you don't understand this, then you're going to have far bigger problems than merely not understanding what I have to say, at which point, it's probably not worth me continuing...


The basic problem you have is in not understanding and recognising that all the information represented as part of a language must be recognised and understood, and therefore to exist, in relation to all the others both directly and indirectly when and where applicable. To deny such relationships is to deny the basic perception humanity has of the universe around us, let alone language itself.

The basic functional taxonomic hierarchy of a language provides the most basic relationships, and framework, for and within which all such pieces of information can be recognised and understood in relation to, as and by, so that any and all other relationships, then have a consistent context in which to exist.

In this manner, either a language exists - there are rules governing what types of concepts each piece of information belongs to, that are then represented and used in combination - or it doesn't.

Because our current understanding of language is currently incomplete and/or inconsistent, not all of these concepts and relationships are currently recognised and understood.

Thankfully, because the English language already exists, and is currently being used by a lot of people, there is an awful lot of evidence to provide the answers we need, about the nature of such concepts and relationships.

It's for this reason why the problems we have with language are a simple failure of linguistics itself, because the basic framework of rules within which a language must be recognised and understood, and therefore studied and taught, is not currently fully recognised and understood to begin with. To try and say there is more to this problem than linguistics, is to fail to understand the nature of the problems we have.

E.g. we're trying to study language without understanding what language is...

And I'm still not sure how well you truly understand all this, yourself, because if you don't, then nothing more I have to say will matter at all...


How do we figure out what the rules are and the basic relationships between such pieces of information? By studying and reverse engineering the language, to understand both its use and meaning.

We therefore have 2 stages for such a study:

1) To understand the type of concept being represented, in relation to a manner of use.
2) To understand the individual piece of information being represented.

Without first understanding 1, 2 has no context in which to exist - and for this reason I've have been concentrating on making sure you understand 1, first, before moving onto 2 - (or trying to).

Based on your replies, I'm not sure you do, and just telling you is not the answer - you need to prove to me that you UNDERSTAND this, not just 'know' it.

If you have trouble recognising and understanding relationships between pieces of information - ESPECIALLY when such relationships are reflected in their representations - then you will always struggle to understand language, which is based around the use and recognition of such relationships to help people understand what the individual pieces of information are (of) - for this reason an understanding of any cause and effect, when and wherever relevant, is also important.

So, how are the following pieces of information related, as demonstrated by their representations, that then reflects the basic relationship between the two basic concepts they belong to?:


If you do not understand this, then you CAN'T understand what a game is, in the first place, for it has no consistent context in which to exist...

Raph Koster
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Darren, I am going to offer some very blunt advice:

1. Never use the following phrases again.

"it's obvious where you're having problems."
"you need to prove to me"
"The basic problem you have"
"Do you understand it?"
"Your lack of understanding"
"As should be obvious"

- You need to prove to others. They do not need to prove to you.

- You need to explain and elucidate, because you are the one with the unique understanding. They do not need to solve for your unique understanding.

- If they do not understand, the problem is YOURS. Not theirs.

You are being condescending and rude, and seem completely oblivious to it. You need to stop.

2. Your entire point could have been summed up in much fewer words. This block right here:

"So, how are the following pieces of information related, as demonstrated by their representations, that then reflects the basic relationship between the two basic concepts they belong to?:


If you do not understand this, then you CAN'T understand what a game is, in the first place, for it has no consistent context in which to exist... "

Should have been your FIRST post, and should have read something like:



Doesn't that settle the question?"

and then you should have skipped the other several thousand words. Then a fruitful discussion about GAMES could have happened on a site about GAMES. I still don't even know if that is the magic answer you were looking for. (If it isn't, please don't tell me...)

3. This is not the right venue for a discussion about linguistics. Particularly not one that does not share common referents with anyone else's understandings of linguistics.

I am sorry to be so blunt, but people (myself included) have tried making serious attempts at engaging with what you are saying, and your style of communication is instead making everyone choose to disengage completely. You are failing to advance the discussion. Several folks have now told you so in a circumspect way, and you seem to not notice.

Darren Tomlyn
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Just no.

Context for this matter is EVERYTHING - and that is EXACTLY what language is about and uses.

The reason we have problems, is that not only is the context of the matter(s) we wish to talk about and (hopefully) understand not recognised and understood, the the very presence and role of language in describing and providing such context isn't recognised and understood, either.

This causes IMMENSE problems for the matter at hand, because without such context, it essentially DOES NOT EXIST in a consistent manner AT ALL.

The nature of the problem is essentially one of explaining a matter of mathematics to someone who I'm not sure knows how to count... If you consider your not knowing how to count to be my problem, even though such an understanding is a requirement to take part in such a discussion anyway, then I give up, especially since I've given you all the information you should need to understand why the question I'm giving you is important - (if you read my other replies in this post).

The lack of understanding in your reply, and those of RJ is EXACTLY the reason why I've taken this one step at a time in this thread - in that play has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the definition of the word game, only its (subjective) application, which isn't recognised and understood, as being an additional symptom of the basic problems we have. But in order to understand that, you need to know, recognise and understand the greater context of BOTH.

You can't understand the greater context with knowing and understanding that things that happen is a specific concept used by language itself, (including English, obviously), along with, and distinct from, things, properties of things that happen and properties of everything else.

You can't understand this without knowing how and why such concepts matter for language to begin with.

You want me to hand you everything on a plate, so your understanding doesn't matter, only your knowledge - unfortunately for you, I know for certain that if you don't UNDERSTAND this matter, then there'll be far more issues derived from this that you'll still struggle with, and so I'd rather you (and RJ) be equipped to figure them out by yourself, instead of having to wait for me to finally get around to detailing everything - which will probably take a while - the information I've given you so far is really just a heads up as to how and why we have problems, and what you should be focusing upon in order to help fix them...

What matters for the last question I gave, is the RELATIONSHIP between such concepts as represented by such words. If you can't figure out what that is, then you are not equipped to understand (as distinct from know) the subject at hand...

RJ McManus
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Alright Darren, what if you're right that the rest of us simply aren't equipped to understand these concepts (and other things such as the clarity of your writing have nothing to do with it)? Have you actually found anyone else who sees these issues in the same light as you? If not, how can you expect to be successful in correcting these common misconceptions without re-evaluating your strategy? Either way it seems like you'll have to come up with a more effective (i.e. more direct and concise) means of communicating your ideas.

Darren Tomlyn
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You understand that I'm posting here as an addition to what I'm working on in the background, yes - which does involve discussing such matters with people such as Professor Neil Mercer and Dr Anthea Fraser Gupta?

I don't have to post here, but I thought it might be interesting to see just how hard it truly is for people to recognise the basic rules of language, and the answer, of course, is very (unfortunately) - and try to help people understand the nature of the problems we have, and therefore be in a better place to take advantage of, and use, the consistent foundation and context to understand everything within, in order to design and build better games.

The fact is, is that within the basic rules of language, the application and further derivation of information is very logical, and is often reflected in the representations used, too, especially when very direct, which is why studying and understanding such matters should be very simple:

If we understand how to count from 0 to 9, then recognising that 1+1=2 is a simple, logical extrapolation of such a system, once you know and understand the basic functions (+ -) in relation to numbers, is important. Once you know what addition and subtraction are, being able to recognise division and multiplication should be simple. Once we've defined what numbers and functions are (for mathematics), how they're applied is very logical - and content and grammar for language is similar, but more subjective for each language, (and numbers and mathematics are usually part of such languages too).

Not recognising how competition and compete are related, is the equivalent of not recognising how + and * are related.

This isn't rocket science... (Or science at all, really...)


Hint: the reason why Raph and many other people are having problems, (without recognising and understanding it), is because his entire perception of such matters is based upon the wrong concept - a property, rather than a thing that happens.

I hope you now understand why the two cannot be considered the same thing, and are distinct concepts regardless of any derived relationships within and for (at least) the English language itself, on behalf of any applicable individual pieces of information, and why such relationships, especially when direct, are far more often than not borne in the representations themselves (e.g. compete/competition).

Game represents more abstract information than this, which is precisely WHY it's causing so many problems, and Raph's suggested relationship is simply false, inaccurate and inconsistent, based on the information and concepts being represented, not just in general, but also involving more specific sub-types, too - as part of the basic rules of English grammar.

If the word game was used to represent the information Raph says, it would NOT EXIST - it would simply be play, itself, as A play - which of course it's already used as, separately from game itself, though can be related based on its subjective application, and different meaning - which is also a large part of the problem, confusing one definition for another in regards to the word play.

RJ McManus
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Well, I really think that you could have just said "(1) things that happen, and (2) properties of things are functionally distinct linguistic concepts, even if you can derive a word for the latter from a word for the former" in the first place. However, that doesn't tell us anything about what game means (only tells us what it doesn't mean- story or play- which is pretty intuitive because we wouldn't have a separate word if it meant the same exact thing). Do you have anything to say about the meaning of "game" itself?

Darren Tomlyn
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If you don't realise that I've already explained the content of your first sentence, then you either haven't read any of my posts here, or haven't understood them.

The nature of the problem we have is NOT one of knowledge! It is one of UNDERSTANDING the knowledge we already have!

NOTHING I've written so far should be of any surprise to anyone involved in language - especially English. The initial discussion I had with Dr Gupta basically did little more than merely confirm that she also recognised and understood that such concepts exist, matter, and are distinct - it's just UNDERSTANDING how and why they matter that's the problem.

Since everything I know and understand is nothing more than a logical extrapolation of what she confirmed, it's obvious that this is the nature of the problem - of understanding, rather than knowledge.

The main reason why you and Raph (especially) have any problems at all, is because you WANT this to purely be a matter of knowledge - you merely want me to supply the knowledge I have, and leave it at that.

Based on my own experience of discussing this matter with people on English language sites - THIS WILL NOT WORK - it will merely create far more problems, which is the opposite of what needs to happen.

It is for this reason why I need to take everything one step at a time, and make sure you understand what it is I'm explaining, before moving on.

How is it possible for me to know when and/or whether or not you understand, rather than just *know*?

By giving you questions to answer that require an application of the information I've given you.

(There's a massive hint in that last sentence to answer the last question I gave you! ;) )

(I still can't work out why Raph was complaining so much in his last post - since it was your post I was replying to that started it ;) :p)

Raph Koster
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Darren: I have a graduate degree in English, and have been studying formal properties of games for over a decade. If you cannot work out why I was complaining, I really don't know what else to say beyond "Your teaching style is broken."

Darren Tomlyn
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If you understood that much, then you should already know exactly how and why compete and competition are related - as I said, it's not rocket science.

If you do not recognise the difference between the words play and game, (your previous reply), then how on earth you got a degree I don't know. Play CANNOT be related to game in the same manner as compete/competition, for the simple reason that game is not used in such a manner, let alone the lack of similarity in representation, which usually exists to demonstrate such a relationship.

I'm afraid that what I've read from you betrays such a lack of understanding of English:

Your understanding of games is based on two inconsistent and inaccurate opinions:

1) That play is directly linked to the property of joy (e.g. play=enjoy).
2) That game is directly linked to play as involving the property of joy.

None of the evidence based on how the words play and game are used, in addition to, and within their greater context, suggests these opinions are true.

If you do not understand and recognise that the only way the above opinions CAN be true, is to confuse things that happen with properties of the object (person) the thing that happens is related to, without any described and obvious relationship, then you don't understand how and why the English language functions. I'm not blaming you for not understanding, but it's something you need to recognise.

If you do not understand how and why games can exist and be taken part in regardless of them being enjoyable in any way - then I suggest you go and talk to the military - they'll show you otherwise, since how they use games are as they've probably ALWAYS been used - for training and selection purposes - (since they're also the root of the original Olympic games, too, of course, and are far older than that (ancient/prehistoric)). If you think a game ceases to exist just because I/you/we no longer enjoy it, then your understanding of such matters is totally broken.

Since joy has nothing to do with the definition of the word game, even if it does for play, perceiving them in such a manner is to fail to recognise the full scope of what they can be, because of what they are.

And so even if play was about joy, as you surmise, then that would also no longer be suitable for understanding what games are, either.

But play cannot be truly about joy, only, for if it was, then either there would be no difference between the words play and enjoy at all, and/or play would also have a use as such a property, which it does not.

If game was directly derived from play, then the word play would NEVER be needed to be used in combination, because it would be superfluous - an example of this would be the words tell and narrative. Narrate is a thing that happens in relation to a story (to tell a story), and so a narrative is a story being told in such a manner - we don't tell a narrative, because tell is superfluous. Using play in combination with game, if it was related to play in the same manner, would also be superfluous.

Since we use play in combination with game, it CANNOT represent the word play in such a manner.

So why do we use the word play in combination? Because of a different meaning it happens to have - and if you don't already know and recognise that, then you're the problem, because it's already fairly well understood that the act of playing a game, musical instrument or music etc., is not the same as it being play.

Which is why the BIGGEST mistake you're making in perceiving games being directly related to play, is in not recognising the different ways in which the word play is used, because of the different pieces of information it is used to represent.

We have three independent definitions of play, that all other uses are related to, and derived from, and your problem is with the first. The reason it's a problem, is because of one particular related word that has to understood as part of its greater context:


Toys are things used for play, (as being LITERALLY opposed to tools, which are things used for work).

To try and say that work and play are compatible, is to say that toys and tools are compatible (for the same thing that happens) - which is inconsistent with any of their use, and therefore wrong.

If play was purely about joy, then work would not be allowed to involve joy at all, which is also inconsistent with its use. (I know a few people who enjoy their work - (as musicians.))

The things that happen that play and work represent in this manner are therefore NOT directly related to joy (+/-) in any way. If they were, then it would affect what we consider to be tools and toys etc., aswell as the entire understanding of entertainment as work, itself, (which is often enjoyable).

The current perception of play as purely being about joy in this manner is not just inconsistent, but is also having a MASSIVE effect on our understanding of work, which is helping to cause no end of real, tangible problems with economics and finance, because the basis on which they exist is nothing more than work itself, which is no longer being fully recognised and understood in a complete and consistent manner - and a lack of understanding in relation to play, (as its opposite in a very firm dichotomy), is a big reason for that. (TBH, what work represents acts as the basis for our entire existence and civilization, let alone economics etc. - which is why not understanding it is such a MASSIVE problem.)

Joy is not a thing that happens, it's a property of a type used for everything BUT things that happen. The only thing that happens in relation to such a property that matters is therefore either gaining or losing such a property. This is what the word enjoy is for, as demonstrated in its representation, in addition to related, further derived words, such as enjoyable.

Play has NO reason to exist as being related to joy in such a direct manner, and since play and enjoy are not used in the same manner, within the same context, they cannot represent the same information.

Work is used to represent things that happen (things we do) that produce something - (whether tangible or not). Joy has nothing to do with this.

Play, as the opposite of work, is something we do that is non-productive.

Since such behaviour still needs a reason to exist, we play because its enjoyable. Joy is WHY we play, not WHAT play is - which is why play (in this manner) and enjoy are two different 'words'. Since this definition of play is a ROOT definition, and is not derived from any other, there are a few ways in which this information can also be derived from - such as a property of things that happen (i.e. it is play), or as the same concept as game etc., though that isn't very common. To try and perceive play as being anything else, is to perceive the property (it is play) as being the root definition instead, which would make the use as a thing that happens also superfluous in relation to enjoy.

The reason why such a use isn't common, and so play, for this definition, is really just a thing that happens and the property of such a thing, is because the second basic definition of play is mainly used instead - as the act of using something or taking part in an event etc. (e.g. playing a game). So I can be playing a game, and consider what I just did to be 'A good play', but that has nothing to do with its previous definition at all. Again, if the previous definition was applicable to games, these uses of play would be pretty much non-existent, and inconsistent in relation to games.

(The third basic definition of play, is of course of things we write to be performed by acting them out.)

So, we use the second definition of play directly in relation to games, because the first one isn't applicable at all for its definition, only its application, which is subjective, often obvious and therefore left unsaid.

That games can be played (taken part in) for both work and play (productive or non-productive reasons), aswell as being created as such, means that none of this has anything to do with what a game actually is, merely how and why they exist/are applied.

To perceive otherwise, is to confuse a definition with its (subjective) application, which is an extremely common problem in relation to information such as this (including puzzle/compete and competition/art etc.). If you truly understood language (and therefore earned a degree in it), you should instinctively recognise and understand the difference between the two - given the fact that your understanding of games is not based upon such a distinction, however, I'm not sure how valuable your degree truly was.

As I said, though, this problem is not yours alone, which is unsurprising given our current lack of understanding of language in general.

So, how are compete and competition related? :p

Andrzej Marczewski
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I do love @Darren. Reading his arguments is like listening to a child trying to explain why they drew on the wall with their own poo. It makes perfect sense to them, but no other rational being would consider doing it.

Darren. You obviously are on to something, but you lack the ability to convey it to others in a meaningful way. You are rude and arrogant, as I have said before. You seem to have no ability to communicate with other people who you consider to be your intellectual inferiors - which seems to be everyone.

Stop asking people questions you seem unwilling to answer. Just tell people straight what your ideas are and let them make their own conclusions about your ideas. That is how this works, you have to prove yourself to the world, not the other way around.

Darren Tomlyn
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If there was no difference between knowledge/information and understanding, the problems we have would probably NEVER exist...

The whole reason we have such problems, is because people fail to recognise the difference - they feel that merely knowing what everything is, is enough to understand how everything fits together - which is wrong. Raph may have a degree in English, but if he doesn't understand enough about the language to answer the basic question I gave him, then he's not ready to understand any/everything that relies on it.

Knowledge/information, in itself, is relatively simple to deal with - understanding is not.

How do we test for understanding? - By giving questions/examinations - especially if they're simple, logical questions that have a fairly simple and logical answer that everyone should either already know, or be easily able to figure out.

If someone with a degree in mathematics cannot demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between addition and multiplication/subtraction and division, then talking about a problem relating to even simple algebra is pointless, since it has no context in which to exist...
Saying that 5+3=15 and then 15*15=30 - (game is directly derived from play, which is directly derived from joy) - is obviously confusing addition for multiplication - but if people do not understand the difference, even though the entire discussion often involves such matters, then...

If you honestly feel that I should be giving a FULL GCSE-level English course in replies to posts like this, to people that say they have a degree in the subject, then...

I've been working on this problem for SUCH a long time, now, (about a decade-and-a-half), that I not also just know and understand the actual problem with our understanding, teaching and description of language, but also how and why the problems even exist in the first place. There does happen to be one very basic, simple and fundamental problem at the root of such matters, but it's causing SO MANY symptoms, that have also, for the most part, become 'institutionalised' within the academic understanding, description and teaching of language, that solving/fixing such matters will be quite hard, and probably take a long time.

The ONLY way to speed things up, is if people in a position of influence also have a full UNDERSTANDING of the problems and solutions - more than just knowledge of them.

Yes, I'm limiting the overall context and nature of the problems here, because of the video/talk Raph gave, (that this is a reply to, and follows on from an earlier discussion I had with him over the content of the slides he used), for a good reason - though if Neil Mercer doesn't reply to my email at some point soon, then I may have to start looking for an alternative outcome.

Note - although I've written the basic problems (even more basic that what I've written in my replies here) up as a blog post, given a lot of the replies I've already had on this particular site, I still think it might be a bit too much (heavy going) for some - (the downside of having the problems we do, is that there's so much to cover, and if any little ingredient isn't understood, then the whole house of cards falls over - which is why I'm taking everything one step at a time, here, albeit limited in scope and application). (Half of my post is about recognising and understanding the nature of the problem/s we have, before I even talk about the specifics.)

You need to understand that without taking things one step at a time, we'll merely end up going round in circles, because we'll reach a point where someone simply denies the very existence of language itself, without understanding that that's what they're doing - either denying the very rules that define it, or denying the very use such rules enable - because it's consistent with how language is currently taught and described. (So the fact Raph has a degree might not help him as much as he hopes, and doesn't mean anything for me, except the content of the replies he makes/gives.)

Unfortunately, the nature of the problems we have lend themselves to such an outcome, because our understanding is currently caught in a negative feedback-loop:

Inconsistent study->inconsistent teaching/description->inconsistent/problematic use(->inconsistent study etc.)

We can only break this loop by understanding the true nature of language and its functionality - for what it is, and how it functions, exists for the very reason and purpose of countering such inconsistency in the first place!

If we were starting from scratch, with NO real prior knowledge and understanding of language, then this problem would be FAR easier to deal with, but that is not the case, which is why we're having to counter possibly MILLENNIA upon MILLENNIA of inconsistent perceptions, teaching and understanding of language, in order to help people use it and understand it as well as they can and should. All my replies here have been basic and simple, logical extrapolations of what I've already figured out, based on the language we have and use today.

What everyone needs to recognise and understand, is that any full understanding of not just what we know, but what we currently DON'T know, is very important. For this reason, the fact that Raph has never been able to consistently answer any of the questions I've given him, (though RJ did manage to answer the first one, in his place), should tell both him, and everyone else, a great deal about the problems we have - and if they don't, then they're part of the very problem itself - which also needs to be recognised and understood.

I hope no-one's going to deny that compete and competition are even related to begin with, now, are they?

Raph's video/presentation is all about relationships with the word game, yes?

Well, whether anyone realises it or not, the relationship as demonstrated by words such as compete/competition, move/movement, fly/flight etc., is THE most important one of all for our understanding of what a game is.

If Raph cannot figure the answer out, then maybe he shouldn't be making such presentations in the first place, and allowing people to reply to them? :p

Andrzej Marczewski
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Preach vs Teach

Andrzej Marczewski
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Let me try it this way. You need to write a paper on this. It needs to be logically laid out. State the problem you are trying to prove and solve. Then write your solution. Don't ask questions of the reader, especially ones that assume the reader has read all of your other work - just state your case, back it up and write your conclusions.

Write it as though a 10 year old is going to be reading it. Try not to be condescending, but make it simple and understandable.

Then people may start to take what you have to say seriously. The way you preach to them, dance around the concepts, lurch from idea to idea and never back it up with more than "You all should know this, it's so simple" or "Only I know this" this is never going to happen.

You sound like a crazy person yelling at passers by in the street about the messages that only you can hear from God.

Darren Tomlyn
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EDIT: It's probably best if I try and explain the nature of the problems we have and why I'm posting replies (to Raph in particular) without a full explanation and description of the basic problems we have...

The following however, is still true:

Whether you realise it or not - there HAS to be a level at which a line is drawn as far as descriptions and expected understanding goes. I HAVE to assume people know how to read, for example, and therefore already know enough of the language to understand what I'm writing. If I can't assume that - then why bother writing anything in the first place?

Unfortunately, there's an awful lot that's implicit in such an understanding, that is already part of the problems we have, since we're talking about language in the first place... Knowing where and how to draw ANY line in this matter is SO subjective, therefore, that there's probably no way of pleasing everyone...


"Let me try it this way. You need to write a paper on this."


But I have no academic background, and that's the nature of the problem - with the academic study, description and teaching of language - which is why I need help, (and have asked Neil Mercer for).

And one paper is not enough. I'm not even sure if the contents of the blog post I've already written is suitable for only one paper - let alone everything based upon what I've written here - the mere fact that it's a blog post and not such a paper is the reason I can try and squeeze so much into it, (that I feel is necessary).

Unfortunately, the scope of what needs to be done doesn't help matters, because of this: the limited individual papers academia is currently based upon, although they add up to a lot collectively, still exist as individual fragments of the bigger picture, and are part of the reason why the bigger picture isn't being fully recognised and understood in the first place - (even if it should be really obvious and simple to see, especially with the language as we use it today).

Also unfortunately, is that I don't know how much of that will truly affect Raph's subjective opinion of matters related to the word game, beyond answering the last question I gave - which is a simple logical extrapolation of everything else I've already described here, anyway, and since his opinion isn't truly consistent with that, I'm really not sure what will happen...


I've been trying to think of a (even rough) analogy for the problems we have, and it's been really hard, but the closest I can come to is climate change:

I know what the problems are, and how to solve them, (and have many suggestions about doing so), but this is NOT ENOUGH.

We know what climate change is, and scientists have a good idea of how and why it exists, and many ideas over how and why it can be treated - (I don't think 'solved' is really the right word.) - and as such action needs to be taken (at some point).

Unfortunately, there is a lot of inherent problems for people in fully understanding the nature and identity of the issues, for both natural and artificial reasons. As such, knowing HOW to describe and teach the entire matter of climate change - both the problems and the solutions, and the basic science and information it's all based upon, (such as the difference and relationship between climate and weather) - forms a large part of dealing with the issue itself.

Yes, like such science, I need to publish my findings/realisations properly, so I can get the support and help of those involved in such matters, but I still need to understand how (and why) to describe the problems (and solutions) in a manner that makes the most sense in relation to the overall context and understanding people currently have - so that when I finally (hopefully) get some help, I can hit the ground running, because I understand the specifics of HOW to describe the nature of the problems we have, as much as the actual problems (and potential solutions) themselves.

How we use language to describe itself is SUCH a massive part of the problems we have, that not doing any research to figure such current understanding and perceptions would only help make things worse in the long run.

This is why I've been asking questions of Raph - because he has a very particular perception of games, that I need to understand properly, in order to help him recognise why it's problematic.



Imagine a chair (game)-maker making a presentation on the recognition of chairs based on the relationships between them that people perceive - such as their size, shape, materials they're made out of, how comfortable they are, and even if they're merely decorative etc. - without mentioning or relating such perceptions with, to, as and by, the information represented by words such as thing, object and furniture.

Since I've been studying what chairs (games) are, based upon and around the function they are designed/created/intended (or otherwise) to fulfil, I'm interested in finding out if Raph even understands and recognises what objects and even (tangible) things (things that happen) are, to begin with, and so how everything involved in what he's talking about, (and as part of the bigger picture for furniture making in general), can, should, and must be recognised and understood in relation to such a concept/information.

For that reason I end up giving him a question for which things (things that happen) is the only applicable and available answer in describing how all these elements are related.

(Things that happen are the only way in which all the pieces of information represented by the 'words' game, art, puzzle, competition, work and play are directly and/or indirectly related to each other in a single manner.)

Since Raph wasn't able to answer the question - (he originally even thought it had more than one possible answer) - and it was answered by someone else instead, (eventually), I could no longer assume that Raph even understood and recognised what objects (things that happen) truly are...

When you then bear in mind that Raph says he has a degree in the English language, I hope you can understand just how big of a problem he truly appeared to have.

How then do I help someone understand what a chair is, and how they must be described, when I'm not sure they recognise and understand what objects are, or even worse - what things are in general - and still maintains that chairs are directly derived from the word comfortable, itself?

The first thing, is to start with the basic concepts themselves, which I did. If you feel that telling someone that they cannot understand anything more, (and should therefore focus on the immediate issue), without knowing and understanding what these concepts are, first, is anything but a clear statement of fact, then I do not know what to say.

So, once that is done, we can next look at the relationship between thing and object itself - and I've asked him what type of thing all these different objects are - which he cannot answer. (How compete/competition, fly/flight etc. are related).

This gives me more information about the nature of his understanding and perception of the matter, itself. To then have him re-iterate his belief that chair is still derived from comfortable, even though we've already run through the differences in such basic concepts they both belong to, (joy in relation to game), is, of course, disappointing, but just gives me further evidence as to the nature of his problems.

Unfortunately, here is where we really start to run into problems with language itself. If someone really doesn't recognise that describing a thing as and by a separate, optional, and subjective property it has, is confusing what a chair is, with how a chair is applied, then their entire understanding of the basic functionality and identity, and simple recognition of, language itself, becomes suspect, let alone their entire understanding of what a chair is, in the first place.

However, such problems do still tie in with some of the other symptoms I've seen displayed by other people, in regards to their current recognition of language, too - and fits within the greater context of the problems we have, just making it even more specific - which is useful.

The fact is, is at this point, if Raph has no knowledge and understanding of chairs that are uncomfortable, (games not being enjoyable or taken part in for enjoyment), then that is the next important thing that needs to be understood and recognised. Unfortunately, the main reason for this is because, again, its context of being a type of thing, (thing that happens), is being ignored or unrecognised.

How do you tell someone what an object is, as a type of thing, by only using language itself? By using examples of such objects to help them understand the relationship between the two, especially if they display such a relationship in their representation/label - (compete/competition, fly/flight etc.). If they're not capable of recognising and understanding such a relationship, then we have even bigger problems, that also need to be recognised and understood.

How we then use language, itself, to SOLVE such problems, is a far bigger question, however.