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What makes  Gone Home  a game?
What makes Gone Home a game?
March 20, 2014 | By Brandon Sheffield

March 20, 2014 | By Brandon Sheffield
Comments
    39 comments
More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, GDC



There has been a lot of (very silly) debate about whether Gone Home is a "real" game. While the "yes, it definitely is," camp has almost certainly won that particular argument, at a GDC session, The Fullbright Company's Steve Gaynor expanded upon this a bit.

In Skyrim, for example, you can do all sorts of crazy things, but you can also put cheese wheels in your pocket. Quite a lot of them. He then showed a screenshot of a house in Skyrim, filled entirely with cheese wheels. "The game doesn't tell you to do that, that something you can do with cheese wheels is you could fill a house with them," he says. "But the rules allow you to do that."

In Gone Home, there's no reason you need to pick up Kleenex boxes, or papers. "Nothing about the physics objects says 'what you really should do is find every one that you can and fill the front hall with it,'" Gaynor jokes. "The game is not asking you to do this, it's not a challenge. But the players, as they play, internalize the ruleset and say 'I see the opportunity to play and I'm going to take it.'"

Gaynor thinks it's very important to give players those low level verbs. "They can connect the high level structure -- in the case of Gone Home, the story -- with these low level verbs that allow them to express the empathy they've built for the characters they find in the end," he says, showing a series of objects lined up in tribute to a certain character in the game. "You'll recognize these are objects that only through having engaged with the story, do you know these objects all have a relationship to the characters."

"I think it's important for games to have two players," says Gaynor. And the second player can be the system. "It can be the expression of rules created by a designer," he adds. "We wanted to have that presence -- the feeling of something else that's acknowledging you, which knows you're there. So we did that by thinking about what players might do, and makes them feel acknowledged, like they're not completely alone."

An example is turning lights on and off. It's useful simply to see, but players can also use it to mark their progress, to know they've been in a room. "You start in a dark house, you turn on every light, now you know you've been there. It has a practical space organizational purpose," he says. "In a game that has a fiction of being in a family's house, what was happening was one of the teenage daughters was going around the house leaving every damn light on, so we had this idea, half hour into the game, putting this note that says 'Sam, stop leaving every damn light in the house on!'"

They knew 98 percent of players were going to leave the lights on, so this would resonate with them. "This was a way of saying 'we know what you're doing. We're playing back with you, not by AI dodging when you shoot a bullet, but by winking and nodding at you,'" says Gaynor. "We want you to feel like you're in a space, but also that you're playing a game, and the game is playing back with you."


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Comments


Zack Hiwiller
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Poisoning the well a bit in the first paragraph, no?

Matt Boudreaux
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It's so obviously a game it needs yet another article about how much of a game it is.

Paul Wrider
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Right - it's very silly debate, because not everyone agreed with you saying it's a game. Caveat: Haven't played it. But I did "play" The Stanley Parable. And while I consider it a fantastic interactive experience, I don't think I'd call it a game.

James Gibbs
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I would argue it's not a silly debate because someone disagrees. It's silly because at the end of the day you're arguing over semantics. Does it really matter? Whether it's a different genre or "not a game" doesn't change anything.

Keith Burgun
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Why do people argue about whether something is a INSERT_WORD_HERE but avoid providing a definition for that word? I see a lot of debates like this... and it's like, OBVIOUSLY the answer is contingent on how you are defining the word "game". The whole reason there's disagreement is because people are defining the word differently.

So how about this: let's propose nice clear definitions for the words we use, eh? Crazy talk, I know.

Scott Lavigne
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I usually do see the term qualified whenever this debate comes up, though. In the context of the Gone Home debate, the most immediate things people point out are lack of loss conditions or choices from what I've seen.

Steve Peters
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The word "game" has become too ingrained in our culture to say that certain computer generated interactive experiences aren't games. And while that would be an accurate name for something like gone home, it's not happening. I'd suggest Videogame sub categories. Once you define the number of human players, their relationship, and how progress is defined in the setting (whether it's by a score card, a life meter, or the number of lights turned on), players know what they're getting into.

The main thing that most, if not all, single player games have in common, is that the player's perspecitive of the world is altered based on the fact that they are the primary agent of change.

Amir Barak
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"There has been a lot of (very silly) debate about whether Gone Home is a "real" game"
Really, that's what you're going with as your starting sentence in a site dedicated to the GAMES industry?

Sam Stephens
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"There has been a lot of (very silly) debate about whether Gone Home is a 'real' game."

Well I certainly don't think it's a silly debate and I doubt Steve Gaynor thinks so either.

"While the 'yes, it definitely is,' camp has almost certainly won that particular argument, at a GDC session, The Fullbright Company's Steve Gaynor expanded upon this a bit."

Here, in the Year of our Lord: 2014, Brandon Sheffield declares that his "camp" has "won." What they have won and how they have won it is completely beyond the reach of the rational mind. There are still plenty of people (myself included) who have intelligent and unbiased reasons as to why Gone Home is not a game, but it's better to just dismiss them, right? Why must we characterize this debate as a battle that must be won or lost? Isn't everyone just trying to have a conversation?

As for Mr. Gaynor himself, I felt that his session was a missed opportunity to address the grounds on which others claim Gone Home is not a game. He did not really provide his own definition to what a game is or at least explain how Gone Home fits someone else's. What the talk did accomplish was to explain how the interactive elements in Gone Home support the overall experience, but I don't see what this has to do with whether or not Gone Home is a game.

Rob Wright
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@Sam

Per our previous discussion on Gone Home, I think Gaynor does make some very good points here (I'm not at the show, sadly, so I missed the presentation) about obstacles and assigned values, just using different words. He says the game allows players to "interanlize the ruleset" which is what I referenced before about Gone Home allowing players to assign their own values to tasks instead having explicitly stated values or metrics.

As for Brandon's statement about this "game vs. not a game" discussion, I agree there's been a lot of silly debates. Still, I find most discussions pretty fascinating at times, especially when the conversation focuses on player agency vs. design agency. There are certain folks who view and play games differently than others, and while I may vehemently disagree with Sam's take, I do find his perspective interesting.

Sam Stephens
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Maybe I am misunderstanding both you and Gaynor, but "internalizing the ruleset" seems no different then the players making up their own values within what is given to them ("I see the opportunity to play and I'm going to take it"). Are they playing a game at that point? Perhaps, but it is a game of their own conception. That is, this "ruleset" is not upheld by anything or anyone but a single player and therefore can be easily bended or broken. The game only exists within the mind of the player.

Rob Wright
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Bingo! At least, that's kind of what I was saying -- I don't want to speak for Gaynor.

I would disagree with you slightly, however, on your statement that the game only exists in the mind of the player. As I've written before, Gone Home doesn't need an explicit ruleset to be considered a game. However, I do think the experience is enhanced or detracted depending on what the player brings to the table. If they're interested in the story and uncovering every detail about the family, I think they'll get more out of it. But if they're only interested in reaching the endpoint, then yeah, I can kinda see how the experience would be anti-climactic. This is not to say I blame players for having a "bad" experience with Gone Home, because every player is different, just that the game appeals to a certain type of player more than another.

Sam Stephens
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"Bingo! At least, that's kind of what I was saying."

Alright, good to know.

"I would disagree with you slightly, however, on your statement that the game only exists in the mind of the player."

This topic can be tricky because it's a bit more abstract. Games require that an informal contract be between two or more consenting individuals, so my "within the mind" comment might not even be correct. In a single player game like Solitaire or Tetris, this "contract" exists between the player and the person(s) who created the rules. In this sense, all games feature at least a one-sided human competition (I say human because as far as we know only humans can create and play games). Gaynor sort of understands this when he says "I think it's important for games to have two players. It can be the expression of rules created by a designer."

When the "ruleset is internalized," the players only enter into an agreement with themselves, so it's impossible for the game to exist between the player and the design. This is what separates Gone Home from Solitaire. One does not have to interact with or even be conscious of Solitaire for it to be a game because the nature of the "contract" has already been established.

"If they're interested in the story and uncovering every detail about the family, I think they'll get more out of it. But if they're only interested in reaching the endpoint, then yeah, I can kinda see how the experience would be anti-climactic."

Though searching the house and learning about the events that transpired there is certainly more fulfilling than just rushing to the end, when analyzing Gone Home as a game, getting to the endpoint is all that matters. All other elements that don't support this objective are irrelevant. When analyzing the mandatory/supportive content between the beginning and the endpoint, very little, if any of this content could be described as challenging in the gameplay sense of the word. Not even exploring the house presents this kind of challenge.

Luis Guimaraes
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Whatever.

But who cares about clear communication, a thing we'd be still living in the caves without?

At least write "video-game", the full word. Gone Home is a "-game", yeah sure. It's a "-game" because "-game" is short for "video-game" (entertainment software), but it's not a "game" (a system meant to be gamed), it's a puzzle, which you "solve" (a system meant to be solved), not game, solve.

Game Design 101.

We'll never be able to reach anything ambitious in our life time if we can't even understand the very basics.

Also, this discussion is silly because it's not about logics, it's about emotions. Not even is the term used wrong ("videogame"/"-game" vs "game"), it's apparent "need" to fit a definition it doesn't is about some subjective notion of value, it's clear by the presence of "real game" in the first paragraph. As if being a "game" (clearly Gone Home is a "video-game" everyone knows that) is some badge of worth/approval that somehow invalidates video-games that aren't games, and to "prove" it's value the fans of the title have to force upon others that thus trophy word is given to their pet video-game.

It's about emotions not logics, that's why it's a silly discussion. Funny thing is, it's people that most like these non-games video-games that think being a game makes something better, and then try to force others to accept them as games because they're the ones who believe not being a game means being inferior. Logic paradox there.

Alex Van de Weyer
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Very difficult to agree on the language if there is disagreement on the fundamentals anyway.

>>> it's not a "game" (a system meant to be gamed)

I think it is. That's exactly what it is. A system to be gamed.

>>> it's a puzzle, which you "solve"

It has puzzles in it, as a great many games do. But no, it's a game.

Luis Guimaraes
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Well what I mean is, there's only one solution to Gone Home, and all detective video-games, your goal is to find out what happened.

It's a loose puzzle in the sense that you can make a not-perfect run, not find out everything, not uncover the exact story of what happened, yet you don't necessarily fail at it, because solving the puzzle perfectly doesn't matter (as in any mystery story, there's negative space and not everything is perfectly explained).

Not that it has multiple solutions, but that finding the one solution doesn't really matter much, just getting close enough to come out of the video-game having had your time's worth.

Once you find out about everything that happen with the family, you solved the mystery, which's to say you solved the puzzle. But there's no outcome to be influenced by the player, that's why I said it's a puzzle but not a game.

To game a system is to manipulate the system toward desired outcomes. In Gone Home everything already happened. You can only solve the mystery, find the puzzle pieces and fit them together to find the solution.

To think of it as a game, the designer already made all his movements and his turn before the player starts playing, and then when the player gets to turn the -game on it'll be her turn forever. For those who consider gaming needing to be interactive, this disqualifies Gone Home as a game too. Sure the scenery is Reactive, but the -game is not interactive, because the game and designer never happen to play again.

Technically, neither does the player Act in a gamey sense, but only React to the first move made by the designer, because his Actions won't cause any reaction from the system. The system won't have another turn, so there's no outcome to be influenced.

From a Physics point of view, the system is frozon in time, because time is a measure of change, but nothing changes in the system. Sure stuff changes in the player's mind, but she can't input it back into the system to create an interactive loop. The player's turn last forever and the system never acts again.

We might be able to say Gone Home is a game played by the designer where the player's mind is the system, but so are all stories told, all speeches given, all comments made on this page... Conversations though, are interactive.

Alex Van de Weyer
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>>> To game a system is to manipulate the system toward desired outcomes. In Gone Home everything already happened. You can only solve the mystery, find the puzzle pieces and fit them together to find the solution.

In actual terms, you're right. But it's structured in a very similar way the plot in Uncharted or Tomb Raider or Grand Theft Auto never really changes. You either move forward in the plot or you don't. The only difference is that the action in those shooty games is much more of an adrenalin rush in the meantime.

I think if you map out many videogames in their entirety like a patient on a surgeon's table, we may ponder whether or not they fit notional values that have been ascribed to 'games'. The argument becomes whether or not we feel enough like they are a game when we play them, whether or not they turn out to be structured enough like a game in the final analysis. But as one isn't aware of whether Gone Home will fit your own description of what a game is when you load it up for the first time, I would argue the actual difference for the player is absolutely unknowable.

We approach Gone Home like a game, we game what systems do exist within it, and these trigger outcomes which seem like the success states that exist within all games. If what it is doing is only loosely giving the illusion of being a game, then that is only what a great number of videogames do. I would argue if you play like a game, seem like a game, and give rewards like a game, you probably ARE a game.

I think the definition of game (the noun, not the verb) is loose enough, vague enough in its usage over the years, to cover Gone Home very easily. I have yet to understand what the benefit is of deciding that Gone Home, a thing made by game designers out of a tradition of videogame development, falls outside the boundaries of the medium.

Sam Stephens
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@ Alex Van de Weyer

"In actual terms, you're right. But it's structured in a very similar way the plot in Uncharted or Tomb Raider or Grand Theft Auto never really changes. You either move forward in the plot or you don't. The only difference is that the action in those shooty games is much more of an adrenalin rush in the meantime."

Part of the problem here is that you are focusing too much on how the story progresses in these examples. It's the "action in those shooty games" that makes up the entirety of the gameplay. The story beats either provide context for the action, or serve to make the experience more cinematic (which has nothing to do with game design). The difference between Gone Home and Uncharted is that the interaction in Gone Home facilitates the player's enlightenment of the narrative, while the gameplay in Uncharted is a test of dexterity, hand-eye coordination, problem solving and tactical thinking.

"I would argue the actual difference for the player is absolutely unknowable."

Though players might not be aware of it, how they interact and think when playing a game is very different between the thought processes behind Gone Home. By analyzing thought process and creating cognitive models, it is very easy to see that these activities are on fundamentally different levels. This is because games stress problem solving, forward thinking, dexterity, hand-eye coordination, parallel processing, educated guesses based on what is known about the system (and therefore complete knowledge about the system), spatial awareness, and timing all through challenges of skill. Though some of these things may be present in Gone Home to a slight degree, the same thing can be said about a lot of activities that are not games. Games force the player to engage with these things concepts on a deeper level.

"I have yet to understand what the benefit is of deciding that Gone Home...falls outside the boundaries of the medium."

This is a very important concern, so I am glad you brought it up. As stated above, the ways in which "traditional" games and "non-games" are engaged with are fundamentally different. By separating these two activities, we can better understand how they work, how they are perceived, the nature of the interactivity, what roles they play in human society, how to make them better, and so on. To turn the question around, what would be gained by calling Gone Home a game?

Alex Van de Weyer
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>>> It's the "action in those shooty games" that makes up the entirety of the gameplay.

In Uncharted there is gunplay but also puzzle solving and a sense of exploration that is quite similar to the way Gone Home operates at times. Within a much more linear structure, for the record.

What makes up gameplay and what makes a game are not necessarily the same thing. And gameplay does not have to be limited to what actions your avatar does, as many games are decisions without avatars, and are not tests of dexterity but of thought and perception and understanding.

If gameplay involves moving around a front hall opening drawers, who is to decide whether that is 'lesser' gameplay than moving around cover shooting at enemies? As that decision would be both arbitrary and completely subjective, it's pointless to discuss further.

>>> games stress problem solving, forward thinking, dexterity, hand-eye coordination, parallel processing, educated guesses based on what is known about the system

What elements of dexterity and hand-eye co-ordination does chess possess? Other than the act of moving your piece on the board and not knocking it over in the process. This is the thing - you can produce a checklist of things that games can stress, but not a checklist of which ones they need to qualify as a game.

>>> Though some of these things may be present in Gone Home to a slight degree, the same thing can be said about a lot of activities that are not games.

But that is not in any way an argument that Gone Home is not a game. Avatar does some things that books or videogames do, but that doesn't make it not a film.

>>> Games force the player to engage with these things concepts on a deeper level.

Without a qualifier this statement is meaningless. And as there is no agreed qualifier for how 'deep' engagement needs to be, it's a dead end for discussion really. How do you measure the depth of engagement in Gone Home compared to any other game? Sorry to semantically pick holes in statements, but I feel that's the only way to react.

>>> the ways in which "traditional" games and "non-games" are engaged with are fundamentally different.

But as the original article implies, the efforts to prove this have largely proven unacceptable. Self-evidently, I would suggest. I think the consensus would be that actually the way so-called 'non-games' and games are engaged with are fundamentally the same. Gone Home is accepted not only as a game, but has won awards for being among the best games of last year. I leave you to wonder why that might be, unless one were to construct some conspiracy theory about why the world is wrong-headed about it.

Sam Stephens
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"What makes up gameplay and what makes a game are not necessarily the same thing."

Gameplay is the core of what a game is. Sure, some games also have other elements, but without the gameplay, they would not be games.

"And gameplay does not have to be limited to what actions your avatar does, as many games are decisions without avatars, and are not tests of dexterity but of thought and perception and understanding."

Gameplay revolves entirely around the player(s). If players cannot manipulate (game) the system through their own effort, then they are not playing a game. Anything that is not relevant to the players' actions or can not be manipulated by them in anyway(interplay) towards an objectively set desirable outcome or vice versa is not a part of the gameplay.

"If gameplay involves moving around a front hall opening drawers, who is to decide whether that is 'lesser' gameplay than moving around cover shooting at enemies?"

Both opening drawers and shooting enemies alone do not constitute as gameplay. You have confused gameplay with interactivity. In DayZ you can shoot enemies, but I would not count this as gameplay because there is no desirable outcome to work towards that is not subjectively set by the player. On the other hand, opening drawers in Zelda is often a part of the gameplay, because there are useful tools and items in them that the players can use to work towards the objectives.

"What elements of dexterity and hand-eye co-ordination does chess possess? Other than the act of moving your piece on the board and not knocking it over in the process."

I never said every game has all of the elements that I have mentioned, but Chess still tests cognitive skills far beyond anything that can be found in Gone Home. There is conflict between the two players and they must outwit each other using their knowledge of the system. It takes forethought, mathematical skills, and situational reading to play Chess. Nothing like this can be found in Gone Home in any way.

"But that is not in any way an argument that Gone Home is not a game. Avatar does some things that books or videogames do, but that doesn't make it not a film."

I'm really not sure what you mean here. Games have tests of skill(s) and Gone Home does not. It's as simple as that.

"Without a qualifier this statement is meaningless. And as there is no agreed qualifier for how 'deep' engagement needs to be, it's a dead end for discussion really. How do you measure the depth of engagement in Gone Home compared to any other game? Sorry to semantically pick holes in statements, but I feel that's the only way to react."

Again, games are tests of skills. Gone Home has no tests of skills. You are really overcomplicating my points. When I said "deeper level," I meant that players actively think about these things. For example, players consider spatial awareness when they play Resident Evil 4 because they game requires it of them.

"But as the original article implies, the efforts to prove this have largely proven unacceptable."

Unacceptable? By whom? Bernard Suits, Avedon & Sutton Smith, Chris Crawford, David Kelly, Jesper Juul, Katie Salen, Espen Aarseth, Frank Lantz, Tadhg Kelly, Eric Zimmerman, Craig Lindley, and pretty much every other ludologist outside of video games accept this. This conversation is only happening with video games because people easily confuse them with other kinds entertainment software.

"Gone Home is accepted not only as a game, but has won awards for being among the best games of last year."

Gone Home has only won game awards a) because, like what Rune Andreas and Luis Guimaraes said, what we have called "videogames" encompasses a wide variety of media that are not games and b) because there are yet no awards for what Gone Home is.

Let me ask you, what exactly is your definition of a game? Where do you draw the line?

Alex Van de Weyer
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>>> Both opening drawers and shooting enemies alone do not constitute as gameplay. You have confused gameplay with interactivity. In DayZ you can shoot enemies, but I would not count this as gameplay because there is no desirable outcome to work towards that is not subjectively set by the player.

Can you back these views up with anything? Other than it being your opinion of what gameplay is? Where and how is the ultimate definition of what gameplay consists of determined? Or what the word represents or doesn't represent in terms of the experience of playing a game?

>>> Games have tests of skill(s) and Gone Home does not. It's as simple as that.

Yes it does. Cognition, pathfinding, puzzle-solving etc. To me it's an absurd suggestion that it has no tests of skill. You may not like them, or rate them particularly challenging or edifying or best in class examples, but they are there.

Do games have to be a test of skill? Not in my opinion. Many are not. So it's irrelevant imo. But we're going around in circles.

>>> Unacceptable? By whom? Bernard Suits, Avedon & Sutton Smith, Chris Crawford, David Kelly, Jesper Juul, Katie Salen, Espen Aarseth, Frank Lantz, Tadhg Kelly, Eric Zimmerman, Craig Lindley, and pretty much every other ludologist outside of video games accept this.

A quick search on google. I found an article by Katie Salan praising Gone Home explicitly as a game. Bernard Suits died long before Gone Home was released, so to claim that he has anything specific to say about that game is at best disingenuous. Please be careful trying to claim what people might say about a particular work - better to rely on what they actually do say.

Sam Stephens
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"Can you back these views up with anything?"

Game: a form of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck (Oxford Dictionary)

Games have been around since the dawn of human civilization. Many have attempted to define and categorize all of the different components of games. Not everyones' definition is the same, but they are all "touching the elephant" so to speak. What I define as gameplay is what others have used to describe the same particular phenomena. Regardless of what it is called, Gone Home does not contain this experience.

"Cognition, pathfinding, puzzle-solving etc. To me it's an absurd suggestion that it has no tests of skill."

I just don't know what to say to you about this. Gone Home may have these elements to an extremely minute degree, but so does real life. We are talking about cognition and problem solving that is obviously of a more extreme degree. I know of no one who would think of anything within Gone Home as a test of skill. Compare Gone Home's "puzzles" to any one-sequiter in Professor Layton and the difference is as clear as night and day.

"Do games have to be a test of skill?"

Yes

"Bernard Suits died long before Gone Home was released, so to claim that he has anything specific to say about that game is at best disingenuous."

Who cares if he is dead. Gone Home does not fit his definition of a game, which is consistent with definitions by ludologists that are very much alive. As for Katie Salen, I can't find the article you were referencing. Could you possibly post a link?

And you still have not provided me your definition of a game.

Luis Guimaraes
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>"Gone Home is accepted not only as a game, but has won awards for being among the best games of last year."

It won videogame awards. It's a videogame.

Actual "best game" awards go to the "best strategy game" category, which's just that, one category of the bigger "video game awards" events.

There are more to videogames than games, and that's fine.

>"If gameplay involves moving around a front hall opening drawers, who is to decide whether that is 'lesser' gameplay than moving around cover shooting at enemies?"

That idea that being and not being a game makes something better or "lesser" is the root of the whole problem. Gone Home won't be better if it's called a game, and it won't be "lesser" if it's not called a game.

Just call things what they are. Don't define words based on emotions.

There are more to videogames than games, and that's fine.

Alex Van de Weyer
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@ Sam Stephens

You have cited one definition of a game, but that does not actually back up the point I asked you to back up. Which was your own narrow definition of what aspects of playing a game constitute gameplay.

And I note that definition says 'especially' not 'exclusively'. The only definitive bit of the definition is 'a form of play or sport'.

>>> Gone Home may have these elements to an extremely minute degree, but so does real life.

Again, that's not a good argument against Gone Home being a game. Because being like real life does not disqualify or lessen any claim. You claim these elements are minute, but they are explicitly 'what you do' in the game. They're not minute, they are for the most part the entirety of playing the game.

[Do games have to be a test of skill?]

>>> Yes

Even your own cited definition does not agree. It says 'skill strength or luck', and that games do not by definition have to have any.

>>> Who cares if he is dead. Gone Home does not fit his definition of a game, which is consistent with definitions by ludologists that are very much alive. As for Katie Salen, I can't find the article you were referencing. Could you possibly post a link?

I care if he's dead, if you're claiming that he thinks Gone Home is not a game. In reality, he created a definition of games which you are interpreting subjectively as not supporting the idea that Gone Home is a game. BTW there's no way that Frank Lantz doesn't think Gone Home is a game. He thinks The Graveyard is a game :).

>>> And you still have not provided me your definition of a game.

I agree with the one you cited. "A form of play or sport". I don't see any way of really narrowing down the rules for inclusion closer than that, because it then becomes an arbitrary game in itself of trying to decide what fits and what doesn't.

Sam Stephens
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"You have cited one definition of a game, but that does not actually back up the point I asked you to back up."

https://www.jesperjuul.net/text/gameplayerworld/

http://critical-gaming.squarespace.com/blog/2012/4/4/a-defense-of
-gameplay-pt1.html

http://www.amazon.com/Playing-Win-Becoming-David-Sirlin/dp/141166
6798

http://www.sirlin.net/blog/2014/1/18/the-psychology-of-learning.h
tml

http://vimeo.com/15732568

(these examples are not definitive, coherent, or claim that Gone Home is not a game, but they do give a good understanding of what gameplay is and how it should be analyzed)

"They're not minute, they are for the most part the entirety of playing the game."

Gone Home is not a test of skill, period. Ask anyone and they would agree, meaning, it's common sense. The alternative would be to say that Gone Home is a worthless game because it does not effectively do any of this, which I doubt is what anyone wants. The point is, let's try to judge Gone Home and learn from it by what it does well, which is just not gameplay.

http://danielprimed.com/2013/05/on-games-and-non-games-i-made-a-g
ame-too-playtesters-needed/

"Even your own cited definition does not agree. It says 'skill strength or luck', and that games do not by definition have to have any."

Strength can be seen as an extension of or a specific type of skill. Luck is a factor that determines/influences the outcomes of many games to some degree. It allows for some surprise and variation so that everything is not set in stone and the player can adapt. Some games, like snakes and ladders, are all luck. These things are either not games, because the player cannot influence any outcome, or they are terrible ones, but it's definitely a hazy line. Still, nothing in Gone Home is determined by strength, skill, or luck, so this point hardly seems relevant.

"I care if he's dead, if you're claiming that he thinks Gone Home is not a game. In reality, he created a definition of games which you are interpreting subjectively as not supporting the idea that Gone Home is a game. BTW there's no way that Frank Lantz doesn't think Gone Home is a game. He thinks The Graveyard is a game :)."

I think you are missing the point here. It's not that the people I have listed have ever explicitly touched on Gone Home. I am not claiming that Suits would think Gone Home is not a game, but that his views have been particularly important in describing what games and gameplay are and those views are not very supportive of your case. I am sure that several people that I mentioned would say that Gone Home is a game. Take Frank Lantz for example. I was well aware of his position when I listed his name. He likely thinks Gone Home is a game. He also does not have much affinity for or interest in "art games" because they often don't focus on gameplay.

"A form of play or sport"

The problem with this definition is that the rest of the definition, a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck, defines the nature of the form. Play comes in many different forms. Most of these are unstructured. In fact, some would even argue that "play" is not an appropriate word for games (though I disagree). Many animals engage in play, but none of them game.

@Rune Andreas

I very much agree with you. The sooner we can accept this, the sooner we can build upon and understand all of the elements within. It will also be very relieving for "art games" that lack gameplay.

Rune Andreas
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Sam and Alex: Your disagreement is a really good illustration of my point further down. You're arguing at cross purposes because you use different and contradictory definitions of game. Sam defines game as a test of skill, Alex defines game as the computer medium, and compares it to books and films.

I think we will all be stuck in this semantic confusion until we agree that games are not the medium we work in. The medium is computer simulations or virtual worlds.

A computer simulation can be used to make a game: Space Invaders, Tetris, Mario, Monkey Island, Doom, Half-Life, TLOU. Such titles might be best described as game simulations.

It can also be used to make a non-gamified, non-artistic replication of some situation, or what is known as a "simulation" in common parlance: flight simulators, truck simulators, farming simulators.

Finally it can also be used to tell a story or convey some specific feeling, without gameplay. Something we could call a narrative simulation or story simulation: Dear Esther, Heavy Rain, Proteus, Gone Home.

This way of looking at it lets us make room for these new titles without arguing that they don't belong in the medium because they lack gameplay. The medium is not games, games are just one small thing you can make with the medium.

I don't see any other way out of the confusion.

Alex Van de Weyer
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@ Rune Andreas

Personally I don't see any confusion. I do think, for the most part, the debate itself causes confusion where the vast majority see none. I see no confusion because I can see the game in Gone Home, and see how it broadly connects to other games, ie how it fits snugly within the medium.

I can see a benefit in what you're broadly saying. In looking at how digital games might be different from non-digital games. But personally, as I see few fundamental differences myself outside of the practical ones, it's not an area for me.

Alex Van de Weyer
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>>> Gone Home is not a test of skill, period. Ask anyone and they would agree, meaning, it's common sense. The alternative would be to say that Gone Home is a worthless game because it does not effectively do any of this, which I doubt is what anyone wants. The point is, let's try to judge Gone Home and learn from it by what it does well, which is just not gameplay.

I can just about live with this approach. I think there's a benefit to looking at what Gone Home does, rather than focusing on what people might think it doesn't (even if I disagree with them). I see little benefit in doing this outside of game studies, but there may be an alternative line of study that might be of some use.

I think if you look at Gone Home as something outside of games, I think you're going to largely miss a huge amount of what it is, what sort of culture and history it comes out of, and in many ways what aspects of traditional game design it is trying to confound or push in a certain direction.

But, as I just wrote to Rune, if there is some undiscovered ground to be explored by whisking cultural items of this certain type off into a new category, then you're very welcome to try. I just don't see the point myself, though perhaps I could be persuaded otherwise over time. Good luck with it.

Sam Stephens
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"I can just about live with this approach. I think there's a benefit to looking at what Gone Home does, rather than focusing on what people might think it doesn't (even if I disagree with them)."

I'm glad we can at least agree on something. I think that, in the end, we all want a community that accepts Gone Home (and other titles like it) regardless if it features challenges of skill or not. This allows us to appreciate the value of the experience while simultaneously respecting that gameplay is equally valuable in its own way.

"I think if you look at Gone Home as something outside of games, I think you're going to largely miss a huge amount of what it is, what sort of culture and history it comes out of, and in many ways what aspects of traditional game design it is trying to confound or push in a certain direction."

I would actually argue that the views and opinions within the video game culture have been isolated from the larger perspective of games, which is perhaps the source of the confusion. Frank Lantz actually touches upon this issue.

http://gamedesignadvance.com/?p=1567

"But, as I just wrote to Rune, if there is some undiscovered ground to be explored by whisking cultural items of this certain type off into a new category, then you're very welcome to try."

What Rune, Luis, and I are proposing is not a new category, but a broader and more detailed categorization of digital software for the purpose of art and entertainment. If you think of games as transmedia that can be executed through different mediums, this perspective makes sense. Software is one such medium, but the potential of the medium should not be limited to one concept (video games) that can be found within.

Alex Van de Weyer
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>>> Frank Lantz actually touches upon this issue.

I agree with most of Lantz's insightful views on games and gaming. But I interpret his approach as very inclusive, not only of all these weird artefacts we call games, but of the vastly different ways that we choose to interact with them.

>>> Software is one such medium, but the potential of the medium should not be limited to one concept (video games) that can be found within.

Gone Home, I think, is a pretty good example of the lack of limitation of the videogame.

In the real world, I don't see any practical way that your wishes can be granted. I think the likes of Gone Home have to mix with Tetris and Angry Birds for the good of all our sanity. Not only in understanding what Gone Home is, but what the potential of other games is to achieve similar results without seeming quite so much like films and books. In that way I think calling Gone Home 'not a game' cheapens the world of games, and makes it less exciting.

What would fill me with dread would be for some new categorisation to come into play and throw the whole 'medium' into a state of self-reflective flux. Imagine if one of the greatest games in history, Colossal Cave Adventure, would become 'not a game' overnight. Chaotic, pointless, and incredibly divisive to do that imo.

I just don't think it's possible either - once these things have been considered games, and accepted as such, I doubt it's even possible to re-write history to remedy that. A small army of ludologists could campaign their lives to change it, but I doubt that Gone Home will ever be considered anything else but a game.

Sam Stephens
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"Gone Home, I think, is a pretty good example of the lack of limitation of the videogame."

That's only if you accept that Gone Home is a game, which some of us here have made clear that we do not.

"In that way I think calling Gone Home 'not a game' cheapens the world of games, and makes it less exciting."

It's statement like these that I am trying to avoid. What we have come to understand as games is incredibly rich, deep, variable, and historic. It's already amazingly exciting. By embracing it all, I have come to understand that we don't need to adopt a whole medium for it to be special, though it seems many people don't share this sentiment.

"What would fill me with dread would be for some new categorisation to come into play and throw the whole 'medium' into a state of self-reflective flux."

It can be scary, but we can all deal with a little fear if it means better understanding and communication, and looking inwards is the best way
to achieve this. There will always be debates and incompatibility. The issue will never completely disappear. There will always be a grey area; games that are on the "fringe."

"I just don't think it's possible either - once these things have been considered games, and accepted as such, I doubt it's even possible to re-write history to remedy that."

Again, I think this shows a limited perspective of the issue. This conversation is only happening within the video game culture, which shows that other game studies that revolve around board games, card games, and abstract games have come to accept this more "limiting" perspective of games. That is, the "what is a game" issue is much less applicable outside of video games where everyone has pretty much moved past this. So I don't think it would be such a leap to believe that video games will get there too. How this will play out in terms of language will be difficult to predict, but I feel that it is only natural for these distinctions to be understood in some way as that is how humans think and develop methods of communicating. I could care less how the layman describes it all. The only change that needs to happen is within the community.

Alex Van de Weyer
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>>> This conversation is only happening within the video game culture, which shows that other game studies that revolve around board games, card games, and abstract games have come to accept this more "limiting" perspective of games.

I think the discussion has been played out in videogames too over the years. Around a great many titles from Little Computer People to Sim-City, The Sims, Minecraft etc. In that regard Gone Home gets a little too much credit for upsetting the apple-cart. Last year's critical darling Journey even raised many of the same questions. I must admit I'm a little surprised the discussion still gets so much traction, but maybe it's healthy that it comes up from time to time.

Luis Guimaraes
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@Alex Van de Weyer

"and see how it broadly connects to other games, ie how it fits snugly within the medium."

The medium is videogames. Games are products you can deliver with that medium. Not all videogames are games.

"In that way I think calling Gone Home 'not a game' cheapens the world of games, and makes it less exciting."

I fail to see how that's even possible. Unless by "games" you mean videogames and, more specifically, "videogames so far", with a purposeful blind eye to all potential of what's yet to come.

"Gone Home, I think, is a pretty good example of the lack of limitation of the videogame."

I think that's backwards. Videogames haven't developed to 1/3 of their potential yet, what Gone Home does it within everything other videogames have done so far, except cutting other things that commonly go with it. It's more limited (yet very polished within it's limitatins) than a lot of what's out there, which in turn are extremely limited in comparison to what is possible to achieve in the medium.

Videogames are not games boosted by other stuff, it's other stuff boosted by games (aka systems). Art imitates Life. Except all art, apart from videogames, only imitate Life in Form (Fiction). Videogames can imitate Life in Form (Fiction) too, and they can also imitate Life in Function (Simulation).

Understanding what games (and the entire field of Complex Systems) are about is key to unleash the true power of the medium of videogames.

@Sam

"I could care less how the layman describes it all. The only change that needs to happen is within the community."

Exactly.

Michiel Hendriks
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What is game!

Kris Graft
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You're all being so silly.

Rune Andreas
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A seemingly never ending debate and still probably the most important one for the medium's future. Here's my 2 cents.

Gone Home is not so much a 'game' in the sense of an activity that challenges the player to reach the winstate and avoid the failstate.

But it is a 'game' in in the sense that 'game' is a commonly accepted shorthand for 'videogame' - the medium.

The thing is, those two common definitions of 'game' refer to almost completely unrelated phenomena.

Videogames, the medium, doesn't have much to do with games, the challenge-based activity. One is an artistic medium that appeared with computers, the other is an activity with doubtful artistic credentials going back to prehistory. You can use videogames to replicate games, but that's only a tiny subset of what you can do with videogames.

In fact it's better to look at videogames, the medium, as computer simulations rather than games. The medium is not games but simulations.

So Gone Home is not a game, it's a simulation. Bioshock is also a simulation, but it's also a game. It and Gone Home have in common the fact that they are simulations.

You could describe Gone Home as a degamified Bioshock, much like Proteus is a degamified Elder Scrolls, Dear Esther is a degamified Half-Life, Journey is a degamified Zelda and The Walking Dead is a degamified Monkey Island.

I think this is the future. I think that to make videogames a real mass medium we need to embrace their nature as simulations. We need to stop thinking in terms of gameplay and start thinking in terms of interactions. Not trying to win the game, just doing stuff in the world.

Because if you insist on gamification you are both limiting the audience to people that want to play games and limiting the narrative to what can be expressed through gamified interaction.

I blogged about this here if anyone's interested: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RuneAndreas/20140222/211408/DEGAMI
FICATION_Is_removing_the_gameplay_the_future_of_narrative_videoga
mes.php

Alex Van de Weyer
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>>> Gone Home is not so much a 'game' in the sense of an activity that challenges the player to reach the winstate and avoid the failstate.

What's the difference between that, and a game?

>>> Videogames, the medium, doesn't have much to do with games, the challenge-based activity.

I think they do.

>>> One is an artistic medium that appeared with computers, the other is an activity with doubtful artistic credentials going back to prehistory.

I think they're essentially the same. There's a huge amount of crossover. The artistic credentials of both have been held in doubt. Both share rules, restrictions, the notion of being played, and a simulation of some sort of virtual reality, whether a complicated computer one, a board or 2D plane, or indeed the imagination.

What makes Carcassonne the board game a thing of doubtful artistic credentials going back to prehistory, and Carassonne the video game part of an artistic medium? If as I suspect that can't be answered, then there is no difference at all.

Etc. Etc. :)

Rune Andreas
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>>> What's the difference between that, and a game?

Sorry if I misunderstood you here - my point was that that's exactly what a game is under the common definition.

>>> What makes Carcassonne the board game a thing of doubtful artistic credentials going back to prehistory, and Carassonne the video game part of an artistic medium? If as I suspect that can't be answered, then there is no difference at all.

Thanks for pointing this out, that was a bit inaccurately phrased. There's no reason gameplay rules can't be used for artistic expression, and indeed they have been as you can see from several board games and computer games.

My point is that gameplay in the former sense is not essential to videogames as a medium, as I would argue it is to traditional games and sports.

What's essential and unique to videogames the medium, AKA computer simulations, is presence, the sense that you are literally in another world or in another person's shoes. Which is created by simulation - graphics, physics, art design, systems, AI, character design, sound, writing, VA, narrative design, and so on, everything that goes into a virtual world - and by interaction with that simulation in all kinds of ways, not just gameplay.

>>> I think they're essentially the same. There's a huge amount of crossover. The artistic credentials of both have been held in doubt. Both share rules, restrictions, the notion of being played, and a simulation of some sort of virtual reality, whether a complicated computer one, a board or 2D plane, or indeed the imagination.

What they don't share is that the interaction is gamified, based on winning and losing. Indeed the most engaging and memorable narrative moments in videogames have been based on degamified interaction.

For just one example, consider the following interactions in Telltale's The Walking Dead:

-Deciding who to feed
-Deciding whether to cut off the guy's leg
-Deciding what to tell the St. John brothers about your group
-Deciding whether to kill the St. John brothers
-Deciding whether to kill Duck
-Cutting Clementine's hair
-Burying the kid from the attic

None of those interactions are gameplay in the first sense. They're not something you can win or lose. They're just something you do in the virtual world. And they are not just the most engaging narrative moments in that series but the most videogame-unique narrative moments, that couldn't really be done in any other medium. You could easily argue that the main immersion-breaking flaws in the Walking Dead are the residual gameplay elements - the puzzles and especially, the QTEs.

You could make a case for 'games' and 'the videogame medium' being in the same category if you extend the first definition of 'game' beyond challenge-based activities into pure roleplaying ('pretending to be a tiger' etc), but that's not the definition I was using. And it's not the definition people seem to be using when they insist (correctly) that certain gameplay-less videogames are not games and (wrongly) that they are not videogames.

In any case, thanks for your measured reply. ;)

Alex Van de Weyer
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>>> My point is that gameplay in the former sense is not essential to videogames as a medium, as I would argue it is to traditional games and sports.

What about E-sports? I don't think there's a catch-all definition that can apply to videogames' gameplay as a whole. Because there's such variety to it.

>>> What's essential and unique to videogames the medium, AKA computer simulations, is presence, the sense that you are literally in another world or in another person's shoes.

I think that applies to many media. I also think it can apply to board games. Some D&D board games seem very strong on the player inhabiting a role and having a presence. As do many improvisational games from the theatre to the school playground.

>>> None of those interactions are gameplay in the first sense. They're not something you can win or lose.

I don't know The Walking Dead that well, but if I understand correctly you're saying that ultimately the win and lose state is something of an illusion. This is true in a great many games. But you could also interpret it as having an implied lose state - ie that either through inaction by not acting as instructed, or by stopping playing the game, one would not be able to 'win'.

Either way, I don't really accept that a clear win or lose state is necessary to qualify a thing as a game.


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