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Video: Why is Gone Home a game?
May 26, 2014 | By Staff

May 26, 2014 | By Staff
Comments
    41 comments
More: Console/PC, Design, Video, Vault



"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.'"
- Steve Gaynor explains how Gone Home's narrative plays games with players by anticipating and responding to their actions -- like, say, leaving every damn light in the house on.

During GDC 2014 The Fullbright Company's Steve Gaynor gave a great talk addressing questions -- raised in part by the success of Gone Home -- of what makes a game, how interactivity and player agency provide meaning, and what design philosophy and specific techniques the Fullbright Company used to create an interactive experience that resonated deeply with players and critics alike.

Gaynor also spoke to how classical definitions of games and play inform modern video game design, how the design philosophy of immersive simulations can be broadly applied across genres to foster player engagement, and how a focus on accessibility can bring their games to new and vital audiences.

It's good stuff, so we've taken the liberty of embedding the free video of "Why Is Gone Home A Game?" above, but you can also watch it here on the GDC Vault.

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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Comments


Fabian Fischer
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Why should it be important, that Gone Home is a "game"? It's totally fine for it to be something different. Like an "virtual art installation" or something. It's also fine for Portal to be a puzzle and not a game. People seem to associate the word "game" with something positive, even though it's just a matter of definition. An interactive artwork is not worse, because it's not a game.

Sure, if we just define a "game" as "something interactive" or "a pastime", then Gone Home is a game.

But by any definition with actual content, that's also consistent with how games have been defined long before there even were computers (which at least involves competition, i.e. winning and losing and a clearly defined goal), it definitely isn't. Most people have a implicit understanding of this. When Steam introduced the tag feature, this is what happened: http://i.imgur.com/tI3xKF4.jpg

Chris OKeefe
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I would argue that it absolutely is a game. I think that there are two fundamental parts of any game. One is that it is that it is interactive, and the other is that the player ultimately progresses in some fashion. Progress can come in many forms. It may just be the accumulation of a score, or it may be traversing a linear set of levels.

In Gone Home, your progress literally is your understanding of the story, and your understanding of the story is contingent on your active interaction with the environment and its contents.

Steve says that there is no 'fail state' to Gone Home, but I think that's a matter of definition. There are many story threads that run through Gone Home and if you reach its conclusion without reaching the climax of any of those threads, that is a kind of fail-state. Not the kind where you have to reload your game, but another kind we are familiar with, where the end-state of the game is affected.

It's simply that the game relies on us to both pursue those threads by actively interacting with the environment, and it relies on us to keep track of our own progress through our understanding of those story threads. Like many games we play in childhood or indeed throughout history, much of the score-keeping is done in the head. The fact that the game does not guide us through the plot points, or scold us for not progressing through the story, does not make it less of a game.

There is, after all, a purpose to Gone Home - to learn the stories behind your family's troubles - and your degree of success in reaching that goal can easily be measured. Gone Home, however, simply does not thrust that upon you. It wants you to have an experience that is unique, however much or little you learned about the characters.

We are so used to games about determinism, obstacles, and feedback, that we seem to have lost sight of the fact that a game can also be about curiosity, empathy, and introspection.

Gone Home is definitely a game.

Fabian Fischer
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That's exactly what I meant. You give a whole new definition of "game" and then argue that Gone Home is one of those. Why would you do that? Why does it need to be a "game" so badly? It's like defining a fruit as "anything yellow and bigger than 2 square centimeters" and then arguing that a soccer referee runs around with fruit in his pocket during a match.

Your definition of "game" includes jigsaw puzzles. They're usually not considered games by anyone. They're even placed on another shelf in the store. Also, your definition includes math exercises and crossword puzzles, which, are both also puzzles. (While we do not have such a sophisticated understanding of "game" in the digital realm, I think it's absolutely reasonable to argue for one.)
Your definition of "game" also includes a ball. You can easily argue that you're making progressing in being able to better predict the physics, how the toy(!) behaves etc. So a ball is a "game".
Your definition of "game" also includes Microsoft Word. You're interacting with it and making progress in writing an article or whatever.
It might also include any (e-)book there is. In general, novels (stories) aren't considered to be games and non-fiction books aren't either.

All in all, I'd say your definition is far to broad to be of any practical use.

Then you go on to redefine "losing" basically. If you experience a story without a climax, then that's not you "losing the game", then that's you losing valuable time, because you've been just told a bad story.
By the way, the option of "reloading your game" naturally gets rid of any meaningful failure state. You can't lose if you're wielding the greatest weapon there ever was in digital interactive entertainment: Quicksave.

I understand that Gone Home is unique and you can learn stuff about the setting in it. I'm not arguing with that. I also understand that it's about exploration and curiosity. All of these things, though, have nothing to do with a reasonable (i.e. exclusive enough for it to mean something and consistent with what games have always been in the history of mankind) definition of the word "game".

Gone Home is conceptually pretty much exactly like a more complex walk-through "tunnel of horror" in a theme park. Would you call that a "game"? Then you'd not only be quite alone with that notion, but you'd also make the word lose any usefulness whatsoever.

nicolas mercier
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jigsaw puzzles are placed on a different shelf of a game store, still. And I don't see much difference between your way of bending the definition of game to exclude Gone Home, and Chris' way of bending it to include Gone Home.

And, I mean, seriously, you start by saying "why does it matter?" then spend 50 lines demonstrating it's not a game, just... let it go. Some people think it's a game and liked it, others think it's not, people like pears, others like apple, no need to convince the world one is the only way to go.

Amir Barak
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Yes, but if I then tell you that eating a pear is obviously a better game than playing basketball you'll be left scratching your head.

But wait, aren't they both a game in the end?

After all they are both interactive.
They both have a clear goal.
They both have fail states.
They are both enjoyable.
We indulge both during our leisure time.
They both introduce some procedural content.

What's the difference?

Chris OKeefe
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@Fabian How is 'fundamentally interactive' and 'provides meaningful progress to the player' a 'whole new definition of game? I agree that it does not fully define a 'game' and did not pretend that they did. I said they were two fundamental precepts of games. And I stand by that.

It's interesting that you go on to describe things which I have considered games since I was a kid - jigsaw puzzles, math puzzles such as soduku, crosswords, and yes, even just a ball as long as you craft a set of rules which can result in a fail-state. Bouncing a ball off a wall and catching it is a simplistic game, but a game nonetheless. You interact with the ball and the environment, and each time you catch it as opposed to missing it, you are making progress.

You then go on to talk about Microsoft Word, which is exactly the kind of argument I expected. No, obviously MS-Word isn't a game. It is either work or a craft. The thing about work and craft and games is that they all come from the same place, they typically share many features with each other, and I don't think that's an accident. But there is a difference. There are more qualities which help to define what a game is.

I was adding to the common dictionary definition of a game, which is much more simplistic. Most dictionaries are content to describe a game as being simply an activity one pursues as a diversion or entertainment. I'm not satisfied with that, and I doubt you are either. But it isn't wrong, either. Writing in Word is generally either Work or Craft. Although it is interactive and progress can be measured, the intent is to produce something of some manner of value (monetary or otherwise), not to divert oneself. That isn't to say one could not use MS Word to create a game.

Some definitions go so far as to say that a game must be competitive, at which point I must ask, what about solitaire? What about Minesweeper? Can a game be competitive against the self, or against an environment? Absolutely. Video games didn't need to come along to tell us that it is possible to play a game alone. We've been doing that for longer than humans have been writing about it.

Somehow you then talk about e-books, which are not interactive, so I'm not sure how to respond to that, other than to say that you seem to have gotten off track.

As for your story argument, you seem to have missed my point. It is up to the player to build the story out of the pieces in the world. In Gone Home no story is told to you, not explicitly. The story is built into the environment. It is very possible to get through this game without experiencing a massive chunk of the story. I consider that a fail-state. You suggest I am redefining 'fail states' but I don't think that I am.

Would you not consider the 'bad ending' to a game a kind of fail-state? In my view, the advent of 'bad endings' in games stemmed from the reality that fail-states lost their meaning in a game where you could simply reload. They are still fail-states, as much as you would apparently like to sweep them under the rug - fail-states being essentially a point from which progress can no longer be made along the path of choices that you have made.

The 'bad-ending' usually results from making poor choices, or not performing well enough, or not clearing enough content. This is absolutely an analogue to what is happening in Gone Home. The primary difference is the lack of feedback. If Gone Home had the exact same gameplay but tracked what objects you had seen and thus tracked what you 'knew' about the characters and story, and gave you a variety of good and bad endings according to that, would it make it more of a fail-state? Why? The game is only responding to what you the player already knew.

I grew up in a time where digital games were very much in their infancy, and maybe that has impacted my view of what games are. There was a time when games were a broader subject. You can make a game out of anything. My brothers and I used to make games out of yard work, by applying a little imagination and basic rules. The yardwork was dull but the entertainment we got out of the competition was real.

The difference between you and I, Fabian, is that you accuse me of redefining 'games' to include something which you do not believe is a game. I would accuse you of redefining games to exclude something you do not believe is a game.

I played Gone Home, I interacted with it, I made progress on understanding its story and characters, and ultimately, I failed to learn everything. I know that I did, because someone else told me something they learned that I had missed. It is a game I am happy to replay. Imagine that, a 'not-a-game' that has replay value. Hmm.

Fabian Fischer
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"How is 'fundamentally interactive' and 'provides meaningful progress to the player' a 'whole new definition of game?"

How do you define "meaningful progress" anyways?

"It's interesting that you go on to describe things which I have considered games since I was a kid"

I think you'll have a hard time finding too many people who consider the things I mentioned "games". It's neither consistent with history, nor with the colloquial usage of the term. So it's really just your own little pet definition. Which is fine, if you explicitly define it prior to anytime you talk to someone. But then I don't see why you'd even argue for anything.

"Most dictionaries are content to describe a game as being simply an activity one pursues as a diversion or entertainment."

Which is objectively not enough, because it could be literally anything. Eating a burger isn't a game (unless you do it in an eating contest, right?). By the way, I've seen many dictionaries provide that definition and a longer one, which 99 % of the time includes competition.

"Some definitions go so far as to say that a game must be competitive, at which point I must ask, what about solitaire?"

Obviously solitaire is competitive. You can win or lose a game of solitaire (or Minesweeper).

"Somehow you then talk about e-books, which are not interactive"

I could definitely imagine a reasonable argument as to why they are. But that's really besides the point.

"It is very possible to get through this game without experiencing a massive chunk of the story. I consider that a fail-state."

How can it be a fail-state, if you don't even know that you have reached one? How do you know, that you have NOT seen something that's there? It's almost a paradox. If you can't know that you've failed, then the situation is equivalent to one, where you haven't failed at all.

"I would accuse you of redefining games to exclude something you do not believe is a game."

I'm not redefining anything. I'm just using it in a way that's consistent with what games have always been. There have always been distinctions between toys, puzzles and games. Just because we lost track of that in the digital realm, doesn't mean we shouldn't rediscover it.

"Imagine that, a 'not-a-game' that has replay value. Hmm."

Not surprising at all. Many toys also have a lot of replay value, depending on how deep a possibility space they let you explore. Again, "not being a game" has NOTHING to do with the amount of value you get out of something.

Jennis Kartens
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I thought we were past the "is it a game?" debate with the conclusion of "it's up to your definition"

Some even say life itself is just a game...

Amir Barak
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Well, some might say that life itself is a warm bath on a Sunday morning in the Canadian Alps with Bigfoot gently massaging our feet while the soft buzzing of aerial bombardment plays slowly across the Gibraltar straits. But then again...

Can we now move on to why a game that is so sorely lacking in meaningful gameplay systems is hailed as the best game ever?

****
Actually, you know what, I doubt this discussion is actually worth having again. I listened to most of Steve Gaynor's talk and if he couldn't deliver a single convincing argument as to why Gone Home is better than, say, Transistor, then I doubt my opinion on the matter will change.

Dane MacMahon
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I'm not sure why people take "not a game" as an insult. I would say Gone Home was not a game because it had no puzzles, challenge or anything of the sort, but I still LOVED it. It was an amazingly good interactive experience. Yet not a game.

Fabian Fischer
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Yeah, I couldn't agree more. The amount of emotional baggage connected to the word "game" is kind of ridiculous. The thing is, especially in the digital realm, absolutely every form of interactive entertainment is just called a "game", to the point where the word actually has lost all of its meaning.
And people really like some of those "games" and thus attach themselves to the products and the term. So, when someone then says that some other thing that they also happen to really like was "not a game", they fallaciously tend to interpet that as an attack. It's rather damaging behavior.

Why is this behavior fallacious? Well, imagine you're a big fan of the show Breaking Bad. Now I come along and say: "Breaking Bad is not a game!" Would anyone even remotely consider that an attack? I don't think so. The same should be true for Gone Home and the likes. Well, it would be, if we actually had a reasonably consistent definition of the word "game" (in the digital space).

Jennis Kartens
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"I'm not sure why people take "not a game" as an insult"

Me neither really. If anything, why not be even happy that there is something in-between?

Dane MacMahon
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Yeah, like... lead the charge of interactive storytelling without the game part. Make that your big selling point. I bet that would have worked out better in the long run PR wise than "no really we're a game we super swear."

Sam Stephens
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Here we go again. I agree with the others on this blog that it really does not matter if Gone Home is not game. It does not really change the value of the experience. What bothers me is that Mr. Gaynor says if Gone Home is not a game, than it is "nothing," as if being a game is the only thing that matters.

I think Gaynor really gets to something though when he calls BioShock a "gamey game" and "Game capital G". Even he seems to kind of acknowledge that, regardless of whether Gone Home is called a game or not, there is just something fundamentally different between products like Gone Home and "traditional games." I think that if everyone acknowledged this outside of just words and tried to get right down to what we are trying to communicate, this debate would be less of an issue.

Chris OKeefe
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It does matter, if you are someone who develops games, working in the game industry, being reviewed by game critics and being talked about by gamers on game websites.

How could it possibly not matter? The entire industry and the culture revolves around how we define the word 'game.' I mean, there are many people out there who bought this game because they saw the Game Reviews were very good, and ended up disappointed because this is a kind of game they had never played before. They had a preconceived notion of what a 'game' is, a notion created almost entirely by the games industry, as this argument has, as far as I am aware, never come up before video games.

I think what Steve is trying to do is explain why Gone Home does fit into our understanding of what games are, and he explains why it does. What it does do, is refrain from feedback and instead puts the responsibility of tracking progress on the player.

This is a puzzle game, just not of the 'puzzle to proceed' variety amongst the likes of Myst. All the pieces are not locked away but obscured in the environment, and the puzzle is large and complex, easily misunderstood. The puzzle pieces are not manipulated in the game but in your head. The game is a medium for obscuring the pieces, not manipulating them.

It might not be important that it is a game or isn't a game. I think it is a game, and I think it's important for the reasons I listed at the top of the post - Gone Home doesn't exist in a vaccuum. But either way, I think that any game which spurs debate and conversation about the fundamentals of the medium and the industry is doing something pretty damn special.

Fabian Fischer
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So, you're arguing for a more exact definition of "game" but then call things "puzzle games"? Seems odd to me. Are they puzzles or are they games? There's a difference there. From a game designer's point of view we want to be as specific as possible.

Chris OKeefe
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How is 'more inclusive' 'more exact?'

You seem to be confusing your own argument for mine.

If you are trying to say that Myst is not a 'game' because it is a 'puzzle game' then you are going to have to rewrite history.

Puzzles are a subset of game. I suggest you look up the definition yourself, but here's one that google spits out:
1. a game, toy, or problem designed to test ingenuity or knowledge.

You keep tossing out accusations that people who disagree with your preconceptions are 'redefining' things. That seems to be the crux of every argument. You even toss in arguments from popularity; 'pretty much everyone agrees with my definition.'

I'm not buying it. You are redefining an industry standard to better suit your preconceptions. Frankly I don't care who is defining or redefining anything, but workable, standard definitions which actually serve to include the very people and work that take place in this industry, seems like a far more useful definition.

Sam Stephens
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There is a lot to unpack here so bear with me.

"It does matter, if you are someone who develops games, working in the game industry, being reviewed by game critics and being talked about by gamers on game websites."

It would be better if we accepted Gone Home for what it is instead of trying to twist it into what it is not. This is why there is a problem to begin with. We can still praise, support, and spread the word about Gone Home without calling it a game. We can still be inclusive. We have to be, because objectively speaking, Gone Home is not a game no matter how hard we argue otherwise.

"I mean, there are many people out there who bought this game because they saw the Game Reviews were very good, and ended up disappointed because this is a kind of game they had never played before."

The industry does not have control over what a game is. Video games are much smaller than games as a whole (card games, ancient board games, etc.) The common definition of a game, a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck (Oxford), has existed long before there ever was a video game industry. Remember, we have to keep in mind that video games are only one type of game. We have to think outside of the video game culture in conversations like these.

"I think what Steve is trying to do is explain why Gone Home does fit into our understanding of what games are"

Perhaps that is what he tried to do, but what he really did was address common user complaints about his product (not enough interactivity, too short, etc). What he was challenging was common features of mainstream games that players expect to get with their money. As I stated above, the world of games is much bigger than AAA video game staples.

"This is a puzzle game, just not of the 'puzzle to proceed' variety amongst the likes of Myst. All the pieces are not locked away but obscured in the environment, and the puzzle is large and complex, easily misunderstood."

It's difficult to make sense of this confusing and abstract statement. If their are no mandatory challenges (i.e puzzles or combat), then there is no game. It's obvious that Gone Home does not have any of these, and that is perfectly okay. It should not need them to be a valuable experience.

I would highly recommend reading these as they will probably better address your concerns in more detail:

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

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

http://critical-gaming.com/blog/2013/3/3/trigon-times-a-prodigiou
s-weight-pt1.html

Fabian Fischer
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@Chris OKeefe:

I'm talking about more EX-clusive, if anything.

That definition of puzzle is just another really broad and useless definition.

I'll stop arguing about definitions now, because it's a) not useful to begin with (what we should do, is discuss the merits of an interactive system based on specific criteria or the merits of these criteria, but not what we want to call the set of criteria) and you're b) providing no definition that would be of any use for specialists anyways.

Sam Stephens put it really well above. I do believe that you, Chris, have the problem of observing the gaming scene exclusively from a digital point of view here. And that view is (in general, not in you specifically) sadly completely underdeveloped.

Amir Barak
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I dunno man, "Big Rigs - Over the Road Racing" is also a game :D

Ed Long
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@Sam Stephens

"It's difficult to make sense of this confusing and abstract statement. If their are no mandatory challenges (i.e puzzles or combat), then there is no game. It's obvious that Gone Home does not have any of these, and that is perfectly okay. It should not need them to be a valuable experience."

I think it quite likely that there is no real distinction between a game and any other experience in life except those we choose to make. You say that a game requires a mandatory challenge, yet what challenge in a game is truly mandatory? At any point when playing we are making a decision to continue to do so - no one is holding a gun to your head and saying that you can't simply walk away (except perhaps Russian roulette :).

Conversely, it is also worth considering that any experience in life where there is an element of choice could be considered a game. Watching the video above, I was struck by the section of photos from the steam forums where people had chosen to play games in ways totally unintended and unanticipated by their creators. Viewed from this perspective, a game is simply a space - physical, virtual, conceptual - in which we are encouraged to explore the possibilities created by the imposition of limits. Rather broad, yes, but I suspect that to be any more narrow is miss the fact that playing games is a fundamental component of the human condition.

Sam Stephens
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"You say that a game requires a mandatory challenge, yet what challenge in a game is truly mandatory?"

I mean mandatory in the sense that participating (which indeed, is not mandatory) requires overcoming challenges. This is within the reality of the game-space. Basically, it's just another way of saying games have goals (set before the game is played) and challenges. Contrast this with a simulation like DayZ. Fighting the zombies that populate the world does not present a mandatory challenge because it does not accomplish any established goal. There is no goal in DayZ, or at least one that is not made up by the participants.

"Conversely, it is also worth considering that any experience in life where there is an element of choice could be considered a game."

If this was the case, the word game would have no meaning and therefore be a completely pointless part of our language. We might as well stop calling anything a game and just call them "things." I know this is not necessarily what you mean, but the point of language is to be descriptive and communicate meaning. Your idea of what a game is may be valuable to you, but it is rather useless to everyone else because other definitions are capable of communicating a particular thing to someone else.

Philip Minchin
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Damn straight. Let's go back to where games really began: kids playing "make-believe", "dress-ups" and "house".

But wait! There's no win condition! There's no challenge! There's not even any competition (except maybe about who gets the awesome wig someone's Mum wore to a party once)! It's all totally arbitrary! OMG!

Centuries of common usage (millennia if you count the ancestors of our current language) are obviously WRONG. ;P

Sorry to be cheeky - hopefully I at least gave you a laugh. But the fact is that games include way more things than you're acknowledging, and always have done.

In fact, "games" are such an insanely hard-to-pin-down concept that one of the all-time philosophical greats, Ludwig Wittgenstein, even used them as an example of how language in general does not always have a one-to-one atomistic relationship to the things it refers to - i.e. you can have a bunch of things called games, each of which has things in common with some others in the set, but where you can take two different elements and find almost nothing in common between them. (He also uses the concept of games in exploring how language actually functions, if you're interested. C.f. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_resemblance and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language-game_%28philosophy%29 for more.)

Basically, all you can say is that a game is something you play that isn't a musical instrument, a recording, a role or something else that you play in a different sense of the word "play". And I can't think of a better word for what I did with/to Gone Home than to say I played it.

If it helps, in their "Characteristics of Games", Skaff Elias, Richard Garfield and their co-authors acknowledge this issue and coin a term that refers specifically to the kinds of "games" that those disagreeing with Gaynor are talking about: "orthogames". But the fact that such eminent games experts had to come up with a new designation for a particular subset of games suggests that "games" is much more inclusive than some commenters here seem to realise.

(I'm also not entirely convinced that "orthogames" is the best term since it implies orthodoxy and therefore centrality, when in fact free imaginative and co-operative play is at the root of games, and rigid rules and competition are things that evolve from that root; I'd go more for "agonological games". But this is a side etymological discussion.)

The fact that videogames have largely been built around one set of competitive/obstacle-based assumptions - heavily shaped by both the innate proclivities and the early-years capacities of electronics - does not mean that's all that games (or videogames) can be, or should be. (Not that I don't love agonological games, mind you!)

On the contrary, some might say that limits that derive from arbitrary constraints that no longer apply SHOULD be challenged and expanded.

Some might even go so far as to say that exploring, testing and challenging limits and assumptions is actually kind of a gamer-y thing to do...

Sam Stephens
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Wittgenstein never said games were undefinable. He used the word game as an example about how language works amongst laypeople. Most of the people debating about this issue are not laypeople, but people who are heavily involved with games and want to create a way in which we can better communicate and express ourselves about them. In fact, Wittgenstein tried to do just the same with philosophy. Regardless of what words we use, what we mean with those words is what's important here. Gone Home is qualitatively different than Go, Super Mario Bros., and basketball. That is the meaning that is being conveyed whenever someone says it is not a game.

"The fact that videogames have largely been built around one set of competitive/obstacle-based assumptions - heavily shaped by both the innate proclivities and the early-years capacities of electronics - does not mean that's all that games (or videogames) can be, or should be. "

As I mentioned before, this "assumption" is how all game have been understood for a long time, not just video games. Video games have not and currently do not define what a game is.

Philip Minchin
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Um, no. Wittgenstein definitely DID say games were undefinable, in the "X=Y, therefore !Y cannot be X" sense of definition you're relying on. The whole point of that tract was to say that a single word can consistently and coherently refer to things with wildly divergent, and even apparently opposing, traits.

And you're right, Wittgenstein did try to clarify the way language works; but he ultimately came to the conclusion that attempts to enforce rigid definitions like the X=Y-and-only-Y one above were wrongheaded, except when they were actually useful.

I don't see what's useful about excluding Gone Home from consideration as a game; since it clearly drew lessons (particularly about environmental storytelling) from games you would acknowledge as such, it may well have lessons to teach such games. Its existence also makes games a much more interesting field to a wider audience, who may well explore from there into the kinds of games you happen to endorse.

Yes, Gone Home is qualitatively different from Go, basketball and Super Mario. So? Go is qualitatively different from basketball is qualitatively different from Mario (is qualitatively different from Hanabi, is qualitatively different from "house"). Doesn't matter; they're all games. So is Gone Home.

Unless you're seriously arguing that Super Mario has more in common with Go than with Gone Home? Super Mario is an electronic experience with quasi-representational moving visuals and sound wherein predefined stories unfold as you virtually move around the virtual space by engaging with a machine which handles the rules, and victory is attained against the game through reflexes and dexterity. Go is a non-electronic abstract arrangement of pieces on a fixed grid with no predefined visuals or audio where you and another person collectively manage the rules, and victory is attained against an opponent through theory of mind and strategy. Go and Mario having victory in common doesn't change the fact that Super Mario and Gone Home share an electronic nature, visuals and audio, navigation of a virtual space, and a story. The family resemblance is there in both cases but I'd have to say it's stronger between the two videogames...

As I demonstrated right at the start of my post, "all games" has always, throughout history, included activities that have no elements of competition, challenge or obstacle - let alone those shaped by the characteristics of electronics. There are heaps of games you don't "win". (Tabletop RPGs, story games, kids' games, etc etc.) And there are heaps of games that have no element of skill (Snakes/Chutes & Ladders).

Just because you don't like them (and in the latter case I don't blame you, though I also don't begrudge people who do) doesn't mean you get to pretend they haven't always been games.

(Also, note that the Oxford definition you cited earlier says "ESPECIALLY" - not "EXCLUSIVELY". ;) )

Sam Stephens
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@Philip Minchin

"I don't see what's useful about excluding Gone Home from consideration as a game; since it clearly drew lessons (particularly about environmental storytelling) from games you would acknowledge as such."

Yes, Gone Home has taken some inspiration from games that have environmental storytelling, but the elements it took from them were irrelevant to what made them games in the first place. Half-Life 2 is definitely a game. However, you could completely change all of the environmental and storytelling elements in it and still have the same gameplay. This shows that these elements are only supportive and contextual, not essential.

"Go is qualitatively different from basketball is qualitatively different from Mario (is qualitatively different from Hanabi, is qualitatively different from "house"). Doesn't matter; they're all games. So is Gone Home."

Go, basketball, and Super Mario Bros. have more elements in common with each other than they do with Gone Home. According to Jesper Juul, they have rules, variable and quantifiable outcomes, valorization of the outcomes, require player effort, player attachment, and negotiable consequences. Gone Home lacks quantifiable outcomes, valorization of the outcomes and arguably player effort.

see this for more detail: http://www.jesperjuul.net/text/gameplayerworld/

"Super Mario is an electronic experience with quasi-representational moving visuals and sound wherein predefined stories unfold as you virtually move around the virtual space by engaging with a machine which handles the rules, and victory is attained against the game through reflexes and dexterity. Go is a non-electronic abstract arrangement of pieces on a fixed grid with no predefined visuals or audio where you and another person collectively manage the rules, and victory is attained against an opponent through theory of mind and strategy."

You are focusing on the medium each game exists in (digital vs board) and the specific type of games they are (action/platformer vs strategy). Though these differences are important, they don't change the fundamental elements that both share as mentioned above. The only things that Super Mario Bros. and Gone Home share are interactivity and a common digital medium. (obviously there are a few more trivial similarities between all of these products, but let's focus on the basic stuff)

"There are heaps of games you don't "win". (Tabletop RPGs, story games, kids' games, etc etc.)"

There are very few examples of these, and most of them are generally not considered to be games by ludologists. We should not confuse more abstract and unstructured forms of play (such as "kids' games") with the formal definition we are discussing.

It would also be very helpful if you provided your definition of what a game is so we can better understand each other (the Oxford definition can satisfy my definition here, even though it's not the one I usually use)

Philip Minchin
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I have answered all your points already:

My definition of a game is any distinct thing (discrete - though not necessarily coherent or consistent - set of rules and possibly objects) that you play, except in other specific senses of the word "play", so excluding musical compositions and instruments, AV recordings, characters and parts in plays, and so on. As mentioned above. (A toy, as opposed to a game, is something you play WITH. You can play a game with a toy.)

(This agrees with the Oxford definition: "a form of play". Again, the next clause starts with "especially", not "exclusively"; and unsurprisingly, Oxford is behind the times in its knowledge of co-operative games and the various bases for competition/performance.)

The reason this is vague is because play by its nature tinkers with rules and stretches/blurs boundaries. Playful people (game designers) will always explore the edges. Thus, any set of rules for adjudicating where something is a game will themselves be played with - as Gone Home does.


Go as a game is incredibly different to Super Mario, and if you read what I wrote, you'll see the medium is only one of the ways I mentioned among many. (Though medium is an inherent part of any work, unless you consider the movie of a book - a faithful adaptation - indistinguishable from the book.)

The fact that both Go and SMB feature "challenge" is near-meaningless when the nature of the challenge is so different: an abstract strategic contest against another human in a gamespace whose parts are equally accessible at all times, vs dexterity-controlled navigation through a space which is only gradually available (and never simultaneously), against a designed-to-be-predictable system encrusted with an external narrative. (All of which I mentioned earlier.) These are substantial differences; the fact that there are other points of commonality doesn't annul them.


There are very many examples of games you don't win, including some where the point is precisely that you can't. I listed some earlier and it's not hard to extrapolate further. The bazillion species of make-believe; spontaneous word games; foldover stories; the explosion of RPGs, story games, LARPs, many ARGs and other narrative-based games; some written works; The Game (the one where you lose if you ever think of it - sorry folks!); the "Why?" game; Gossip/Broken Telephone; etc etc.

And again, many of these examples are from right at the root of games and play; the unstructured imaginative games of childhood PRECEDE the more structured, agreed-upon-ruleset, clearly-defined-victory-condition types of games you are seeking to enshrine as the Only True Games. The word "game" has applied to them for hundreds (and in other languages thousands) of years; the fact that they are inconvenient to your argument or of no interest to you personally doesn't entitle you to just arbitrarily decide that "kids' games" are somehow not "games" despite centuries of evidence to the contrary - and a logical contradiction right there in the sentence. (Especially if your purpose in so doing is to claim some kind of right to decide that a game which WAS made by adults also is somehow not a game.)

If your argument is that such games are not "designed", um, yes they are - just not especially systematically or professionally. You might like to claim that that non-professionalism means they shouldn't be discussed on a site for professional game designers, but that assumes that there's nothing to be learned from rawer forms of play, which I'd dispute. And in any case, that argument doesn't apply to Gone Home, which is clearly a very consciously crafted and polished piece of work!


Are Skaff Elias and Richard Garfield ludologists in your mind, or just people who study, teach about, and are incredibly knowledgeable about games? Because as I said earlier, in The Characteristics of Games, they explicitly acknowledge the full range of games as such. Again, they don't want to look at all such games in detail, but rather than declaring games that don't interest them "not games at all", instead recognise the need to coin a narrower term that limits itself only to games of the type they want to explore, rather than ignore the historical facts of their own chosen field. In Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga (surely one of the great ludologists of the 20th Century) also acknowledges games outside the definition you are asserting.

If you do not consider Huizinga, Elias or Garfield "proper ludologists" then you may mean not "people who study games" but "people who subscribe to a particular theoretical construct about games" - in which case your appeal to their authority is circular and as a result not really relevant to this conversation.


None of this would matter except that based on your fallacious arguments, you are attempting to assert that a very good game isn't a game at all; and aside from being untrue and getting in the way of people potentially enjoying and/or learning from a novel work, that has implications for publication, funding, cultural standing/legitimacy and so on.

Sam Stephens
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"My definition of a game is any distinct thing (discrete - though not necessarily coherent or consistent - set of rules and possibly objects) that you play"

The problem with this definition is that it implies animals can play games too (a monkey playing with a stick), which is not true. Humans are the only known species that are capable of playing games. Just because you can make a game out of an object does not make that object a game, for that would make everything a game.

"Go as a game is incredibly different to Super Mario, and if you read what I wrote, you'll see the medium is only one of the ways I mentioned among many."

You are getting too caught up in comparing Super Mario Bros. and Go and not spending enough time comparing Gone Home to what Super Mario Bros. and Go have in common (which is more than just challenge). I will put this in a different perspective. Baseball, Mancala, and Pandemic are three very different games. I would ask you to tell me what these games have in common, and then compare that to Gone Home.

"There are very many examples of games you don't win, including some where the point is precisely that you can't."

Again, you are focusing on what these products are called and not on the exact nature of the experience. A game you supposedly can't win is extraordinarily different than a game you can win. That's really what I am trying to get at. Whether you call Gone Home a game or not, the motivations, thought processes, and expectations of the participants are naturally not going to be the same as in Go, basketball, or backgammon.

"the unstructured imaginative games of childhood PRECEDE the more structured, agreed-upon-ruleset, clearly-defined-victory-condition types of games you are seeking to enshrine as the Only True Games."

Yes, but I am not sure how this supports your argument. The latter is what is necessary for a game, and the former is only necessary for unstructured play. Children who are too young and don't have the social abilities to agree upon a ruleset can't play a game.

"If your argument is that such games are not "designed", um, yes they are - just not especially systematically or professionally."

I never implied that Gone Home was not designed, I implied there is no gameplay design.

"Are Skaff Elias and Richard Garfield ludologists in your mind, or just people who study, teach about, and are incredibly knowledgeable about games?"

I have read Characteristics of a Game and it seems that, for the most part, they agree with me and share my view. The book does talk about more unique or borderline cases (such as Gone Home), but, if I remember correctly, it seems to acknowledge that these "games" have fundamentally different properties. The fact that the authors expressed this in language (orthogames) is important.

Did you not read the link I provided? If you can't tell me how Jesper Juul and the people he cites are wrong, than there is no more argument here.

"None of this would matter except that based on your fallacious arguments, you are attempting to assert that a very good game isn't a game at all; and aside from being untrue and getting in the way of people potentially enjoying and/or learning from a novel work, that has implications for publication, funding, cultural standing/legitimacy and so on."

I have no agenda other than to promote a clear, descriptive language that can better our understanding and conversations about games. Did I ever say Gone Home was bad or should not exist? Absolutely not! Gone Home is certainly legitimate, it's just not a game.

I posted these links in a previous comment, but i will do so again:

http://critical-gaming.com/blog/2012/12/18/the-verdict-on-video-g
ames-pt1.html

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

http://keithburgun.net/toys-and-the-adult-mind/

http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/WhatIsaGame.shtml

http://gamedesignconcepts.wordpress.com/2009/06/29/level-1-overvi
ew-what-is-a-game/

Philip Minchin
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I'm sorry, but no. You (and Juul, though I believe he has revised his views slightly since 2003) are the ones trying to redefine the word "game" to exclude things that the word has meant for hundreds of years. Therefore the onus is on you to show that they are NOT games, not on me to show that they are. Citing any number of people who also want to arbitrarily narrow down the definition doesn't change the facts of history.

Again, the fact that Garfield and Elias needed to coin a new word that meant ONLY games of that type proves categorically that the old word, "games", DOES include games of other types. In fact, they explicitly acknowledge that non-orthogame games ARE games - they just say that they don't want to study them, except as they inform the kinds of games on which they DO want to focus. And that's fine, because they're not attempting to hijack the language in ways that exclude a whole bunch of great experiences, simply to express a personal preference.

An animal playing WITH a stick is making it a toy, not a game. It's arguable that animals never play games - I'd suggest that Fetch can certainly qualify, especially with dogs who get playful and start pretending they don't want you to have the ball, turning it into a kind of "Keepings-Off" - but that's a side note. I did explicitly call out the difference between playing a game and playing WITH a toy earlier.

Pandemic, Mancala and Baseball do have some things in common with each other that they don't have in common with Gone Home. They also have points where they differ radically from each other. I get that, just as I explicitly got that SMB and Go did have some things in common. My point is (a) that the thing those games have in common is not the Sole Defining Trait of "games", because there are many, many existing games (many of the most timeless, in fact) which do not have that quality; (b) there is no such thing as a Sole Defining Trait of games, because (as Wittgenstein showed) the way the word works is to refer to a group of entities that have a number of common traits but where no single trait is common to all members of the set.

Language doesn't work hierarchically, with sets and subsets and all nested neatly inside each other, and you can assume that one set of characteristics applies to all elements below it. Language works more like a bunch of tags, and as long as enough tags are applicable to an activity or creative work (in particular the verb that expresses how you engage with it), it's a game - even if it has nothing else in common with other things also called "games". In the same way that my sister's husband's adopted siblings are still "family" even though we have no direct blood or marital ties, "games" can include works that have nothing in common with each other, except how they are engaged ("played" - again, not played WITH).

Again, I don't begrudge you wanting to focus only on games that are designed, have clear, immutable rulesets and victory conditions (or at least iron frameworks for changing these), are officially published in some way, whatever. "Orthogames" are great! By all means love them, focus on them, make more :)

But as someone who is working incredibly hard to get games and play the cultural respect and support they deserve, I am not willing to concede that the many games that fall outside that rubric are in some way unworthy of the name. Not only is it willful ignorance of the history of the form, but games lose too much if we define them so narrowly. Childhood games are incredibly important and illuminating, both to human development and to designers of more structured, authored games.

So by all means take up the term "orthogames" or "agonological games" or whatever suits you. Just don't try and excise the games that don't interest you from the definition of the word. You don't make the meaning of a word clearer by saying "OK, from now on, this word no longer means what it always used to".

As for Gone Home not being an agonological game - I would argue, with Gaynor, that a game of expectation and curiosity is being played with the player through the medium of the software. In the same way that something like Finnegans Wake is a game as well as a book, where Joyce is playing with the reader through the act of reading (and re-reading; the "replayability" of Joyce is very high), the Fullbright folks are playing with us as we explore, and also playing with game conventions and assumptions of what "playing a game" means. They signal very clearly that they're attempting to anticipate our actions and reactions, and that invites us to do likewise. That they don't use opponent AI to do that doesn't mean it isn't happening.

It may not be a game on the level you're used to, but I would argue that this is one of the costs of holding too narrow a focus on one particular characteristic. Good designers are always looking simultaneously at the details of their work and at the biggest possible scope of how it interacts with the user and the world around it, and the Fullbright folks did that, shifting the locus of play partly out of the obvious representational in-game world and into the interaction of their work with the player and with the wider world. Again, that Gone Home fools around on the edges of the existing field of "games" is not them straying off the territory: it's them expanding it, playfully.

Sam Stephens
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"I'm sorry, but no. You (and Juul, though I believe he has revised his views slightly since 2003) are the ones trying to redefine the word "game" to exclude things that the word has meant for hundreds of years."

No, we are trying to describe something through logic, observation, and an adherence to previous engagement on the subject. No one just made up these definitions and elements in a vacuum and ignored others. Juul created a definition based on both his own work and on the work most the knowledgeable people about games (some of them you have referenced).

"Therefore the onus is on you to show that they are NOT games"

I believe I have done just that in my previous responses by defining what elements I think are necessary for a game (and citing intelligent sources for support) and describing what Gone Home lacks to make it not so (lack of "quantifiable outcomes, valorization of the outcomes and arguably player effort"). You may not agree, but you can't deny that these definitions are descriptive, unambiguous, coherent, and fairly easy to understand.

"In fact, they explicitly acknowledge that non-orthogame games ARE games - they just say that they don't want to study them, except as they inform the kinds of games on which they DO want to focus."

Yes, that is what I want to see; distinction through language. Whether they say Gone Home is a "non-orthogames" or just "not a game" does not matter. Clearly there are substantial differences; enough to exclude them from the book.

On animals and games: This can be a difficult topic because there has not been much scientific research on even the broader subject of animals and play. However, it's likely that animals don't have the social intelligence or communicative abilities to agree upon a set of rules that maintains the game-state. Bernard Suits phrases this as adopting a "lusory attitude." When a dog is playing catch with a ball, it never adheres to any arbitrary rules that would make such a task less efficient or more challenging, such as requiring the ball to bounce three time before catching it. The dog could only ever be taught to perform that through some form of behavioral conditioning.

"My point is (a) that the thing those games have in common is not the Sole Defining Trait of 'games'"

Well then, what exactly are the defining traits of a game (which do exist, because if they did not, the entire concept of "game" would be completely meaningless)? When comparing the most historic and well known games in existence (Chess, Go, Soccer, Solitaire, Pac-Man, Scrabble, Monopoly, Checkers, Golf, Super Mario Bros., Mancala, Othello, XiangQi, Tetris, Magic: The Gathering, Backgammon and even "games of luck" such as Snakes and Ladders, War, Candy Land, and Hazard), it becomes impossible to deny certain universal qualities that every one of them shares despite the vast differences between them.

These qualities include: rules, challenge or conflict, quantifiable, variable, and valorized outcomes, goals, and fail states or setbacks.

I am not saying that every definition for the word game must require a mention of all these qualities in some super formal or authoritative way, but it would be irrational to ignore that they are the general ingredients that make up the soup of games, and Gone Home is just not swimming in that soup.

"I am not willing to concede that the many games that fall outside that rubric are in some way unworthy of the name."

This right here, tells me a lot about where you are coming from. You feel that games have some kind of worth, and that saying Gone Home is not a game deprives it of worth or its due. As several of the links I have provided earlier said eloquently, this debate has nothing to do with value or worthiness (at least for us). Gone Home is worth so much for just being created. It does not have to be a game for it to be a worthy part in our lives.

Philip Minchin
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I understand that you're not equating "gameness" with "interestingness" or "worth". (Obviously, since games can be bad!) But I'm using the idea of something "deserving" a name in a similarly non-value-judgmental way. So you are misreading my concerns, sorry :)

You are attempting to assert that, despite centuries of precedent, things that have been called games are not games - you don't say what they ARE called, and you don't say WHY they aren't games if we've been using the word to describe them for this long. Can you answer those two questions?

You must realise that Juul and others like him have intentionally limited the field of their study to particular kinds of games that have particular characteristics. That's fine, but it doesn't mean that other things aren't also games (which, again, is why Elias and Garfield explicitly acknowledged that what they were choosing to discuss was not ALL games but only SOME games), and it DOES mean that the generalisations they make about the things they chose to study, i.e. a subset of games, cannot be taken as a solid basis for deciding whether or not something is a "game" at all.

In other words, if a biologist specializes in mammals, and makes some excellent observations that really help us understand how mammals work, they still have to recognise that however accurate their observations, something can fail to conform to them and still be an animal.

As for your list of well-known games: you keep ignoring "house", a game that as far as I know is universal across all cultures and almost everyone has not only heard of but actually played; Gossip, likewise known across most known cultures; and others I've listed previously. The fact that these are folk games and even naturally emergent games may be part of your problem; they are transmitted orally rather than being "published" in any traditional sense. Nonetheless they ARE games, and have been called such longer than most of the games on your list have existed.

Here are some of the qualities that I would say make Gone Home a game:

1. It is made of code (rules) which specify how the game will respond to which inputs.

2. It is designed to be played - the audience are required to actively control it, but are unconstrained in how they do so, within the rules of course. (Again, what other verb would you use for Gone Home?)

2a. It invites play - a subset of the above, this is about how when playing it you are encouraged to experiment and try things out.

3. It is a contained, structured, finite experience with a clearly defined endstate, rather than being an open-ended, toy-like experience.

4. Achieving that endstate is highly valorized by the emotions (feedback) that the game has instilled along the way, which by the way include frustration (at locked doors and unsated curiosity), and by the emotional response when you learn how the game ends.

5. It employs the techniques and technology of videogames.

6. Its creators are clearly engaging with its audience, its technical elements, and its cultural context in a spirit of play that invites reciprocal play both in-game and at the conceptual/analytic level from the audience.

7. It has successfully evoked such play from a large number of people, and that play exists in the usual wide spectrum of responses from gamers, from playing through in a dedicated chase for the story to mucking around with the systems by picking up all the items in the game and putting them on the hallway floor.

8. Its creators call it a game, most people agree, arguments against it being a game depend on the circular logic of deriving a definition of "game" from a handpicked subset of all games that supports the desired definition, there really isn't an adequate alternative word to use instead, and even if there were a good word for such works, that wouldn't preclude it also being a game.

My definition of game would be a Wittgensteinian family-resemblance definition that includes the qualities you list but also others, such as:

using the conventions and languages of existing games,
being created and/or run with previously established gaming techniques and technologies,
being fun (including at higher levels of analysis than moment-to-moment gameplay loops),
being designed to be played (as distinct from played WITH),
inviting and rewarding playful engagement, and
showing clear signs of the creator anticipating and playing with audience expectations/assumptions/responses/actions,

among others.

Crucially, no single trait among these or yours must be present. Rather the more of them are present, the more a work qualifies as a game. Again, this is at the crux of Wittgenstein's "family resemblance" point.

And Gone Home has more than enough of these gamelike qualities, in both presentation/medium and inherent qualities of the work. :)

Sam Stephens
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"you don't say what they ARE called"

They are a wide variety of things. Simulators (or "sandboxes"), toys, interactive fiction, hypertext, and visual novels are just a few of the concepts that have been occasionally generically labeled as games within a digital medium. Gone Home can easily and accurately described as interactive fiction.

"you don't say WHY they aren't games if we've been using the word to describe them for this long."

People use the word game as a shorthand for many basic forms of play, leisurely activities, or even for something that is trivial or not serious. It's being used generically. When getting right down to asking the question of "what is a game?" however, the inclusion of things you think are games is generally not the norm within game studies.

For example, Elliot Avedon and Brian Sutton-Smith define a game as "an exercise of voluntary control systems in which there is an opposition between forces, confined by a procedure and rules in order to produce a disequilibrial outcome." Their book, The Study of Games (1971) is a summary or compression of nearly a century of game studies. Never do they really mention the things you are talking about, except in passing where they mention that it can be difficult to glean what a game is from general conversation. One of Avedon's article in the book, The Structural Elements of Games, describes elements that are very similar to the ones I pulled from the list of games in my previous response. I am not claiming that this book is the definitive authority on what a game is (especially considering it was written before video games were a big thing), but it does show that before the time of video games, what you believe to be games were usually not considered to be such. Markku Eskelinen and Espen Aarseth also state that the more liberal ideas (particularly those involving narrative and theme) of games did not really occur until the the onset of digital games.

Another example can be found within the English usage of game as a verb, which means to manipulate something towards a desirable outcome ("gaming the system"). This is obviously closer to my understanding of what a game is than yours.

"You must realise that Juul and others like him have intentionally limited the field of their study to particular kinds of games that have particular characteristics."

That is not what Juul and others have tried to do or believe to have done.

From the conclusion of The Game, the Player, the World: "While some writers have claimed that games are forever indefinable or ungraspable, I hope to have indicated that games do have something in common, that we can talk about the borders between games and what is not games, and that it makes sense to look at computer games as being the latest development in a history of games that spans millennia."

"As for your list of well-known games: you keep ignoring "house", a game that as far as I know is universal across all cultures and almost everyone has not only heard of but actually played; Gossip, likewise known across most known cultures; and others I've listed previously."

Chinese Whispers contains most of the elements I mentioned previously (conflict, variable outcomes, goals, and rules) so I don't really see how that disagrees with my original point. "House" perfectly fits the definition of simulation as that is what exactly children who play it are doing; they are simulating and practicing perceived social roles and daily activities. They are not gaming or manipulating a system towards a desirable outcome.

"The fact that these are folk games and even naturally emergent games may be part of your problem; they are transmitted orally rather than being 'published' in any traditional sense."

First, it's hard to say that Tic-tac-toe, Hangman, or Hopscotch (which are examples I could have listed) are "published" games. You can purchase materials that facilitate playing the game, but generally they are pretty ingrained in certain cultural knowledge. Even saying that any game is completely "publishable" is not entirely accurate. Games exist in our minds and can only be played when we agree to rules created by someone. It's a bit different for video games because the computer upholds the rules, but those rules and that computer were still created by other people. Chinese Whispers works this ways because everyone can universally understand how the game plays. "House," on the other hand, does not have any consistent ways it can be played not only because a child's social schemas are constantly changing, but because that child's understanding of how things should be simulated will not be the same as another child's. Therefore, it is probably more accurate to describe "house" as a particular activity than a single solitary form.

"Achieving that endstate is highly valorized by the emotions (feedback) that the game has instilled along the way, which by the way include frustration (at locked doors and unsated curiosity), and by the emotional response when you learn how the game ends. "

False. Emotional states are related to the cognition of the player and not to any observable and formal structure of the game itself. There is no way to objectively measure your performance via a score or a win-state/fail-state dynamic. No one can play Gone Home "well" unless they make up their own standards for success that exist outside of the software (such as speedrunning). The "end-state" of Gone with the Wind could be said to be valorized by your standards, and we know that it is not a game.

Jesper Juul on valorization: "This simply means that some of the possible outcomes of the game are better than others. In a multiplayer game, the individual players are usually assigned conflicting positive outcomes (this is what creates the conflict in a game)."

"It employs the techniques and technology of videogames."

Again, if we are going to ask the question "what is a game?" we have to take the entire scope of games into account, which transcends mediums like digital software. A magic trick with a deck of playing cards is not a game even though you are using the same medium that is employed by many games.

"Its creators are clearly engaging with its audience"

Is this very clear and unambiguous though? Can we say this without observable doubt that the creators are involved with some kind of dialog with the audience (not saying this isn't the case)? What separates this from any creative or artistic endeavor where the creator considers the thoughts and expectations of the audience when creating their work (which is probably the intent of most artists)? I mean, this could be used to describe all postmodern art.

"Its creators call it a game, most people agree"

I don't care if they want to call it a banana. This has no influence on what something is. Most people don't agree, for if they did, Mr. Gaynor would have had no need for his presentation. Clearly a lot of people don't think it's a game (or just straight up don't care what it is). This is also not really a "quality" or element as it pertains to the structure of the product.

So when considering your points, I would say there are only three relevant descriptive qualities about the work itself excluding authorial intent and the particular medium it exists in: 1, 2, 3 (point 7 is redundant of point 2). Point 2: Gone Home is interactive, allowing for different engagements (one of them being play). Point 1: There are limitations that define the scope of the interaction. Point 3: There is a finite amount of content that proceeds in the fashion of a narrative with a single definite ending (complete with a dramatic resolution typical of conventional drama). Taking this into account, I find that there is no better word to describe Gone Home than interactive fiction.

Philip Minchin
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A side note before I begin: I'd like to question the idea that there is conflict in Gossip/Chinese Whispers, or even that there are goals - other than to see what happens, that is. (Unless I've been playing it wrong!) I'd describe it as an entertaining procedure rather than an orthogame - but still a game nonetheless. I'd also lump The Game of Life into this category, and yes, I would call something that purely algorithmic a game, as did its author.

To the meat.

I think this is our bone of contention: You say "shorthand", and I say "overarching inclusive category".

Simulations, interactive fiction, entertaining procedures, etc - these are all subtypes of games. (As further proof, and a counterpoint to your remark about "gaming" systems, simulating the outcomes of a scenario is also called "gaming" it, or sometimes "gaming it out", regardless of whether or not there are sides or you're seeking a particular outcome.)

Again, I say these things are games because they have always been called games. Popular understanding knows that the low-stakes, high-engagement imaginative play of "chess" has something in common with the low-stakes, high-engagement imaginative play of "house". The fact that they interest different types of people (or the same people at different times of their lives) is relevant only to those people; from the outside, there is an important commonality.

While I respect that there is a long tradition of people attempting to articulate formal definitions for games, the problem is that by the nature of formal definitions, this tends to apply better to more precisely structured and delimited - i.e. more formal - works than to more informal ones, and to err on the side of reductionism. The most practical solution for people who wish to study and advance the creation of formal works is simply to ignore that which falls outside those formal definitions. Again, I have no problem whatsoever with this, provided that those formal definitions are understood not as defining reality but rather as defining the scope of the author's study, which again is one of many reasons why I so respect Characteristics of Games.

In other words, it's perfectly reasonable to say "I don't want to talk about those sorts of games in this inquiry", and arguably to say "those aren't games for the purposes of the discussion I want to have right now". It's not so reasonable to say "those aren't games at all".

This is particularly true of an artform like games which, by the nature of play, is driven by exploration and experimentation. The question of the work itself as a game aside, something like Gone Home has clearly started from an existing game form - you would agree with this much I hope, given the pedigree of the Fullbright folks - and iterated from there. In other words, they've taken the idea of "a game" and played with it. (While I'm not advancing this as a conclusive argument, the idea that "game + play = !game" is a somewhat contradictory - and amusing - one.)

While I have a great deal of respect for the work done by games studies folks, other formal definitions of game can be proposed which include some of the things they have traditionally excluded, based on things like precedent, user experience and so on. Further, there is real benefit to games studies in doing so, since capturing the spirit of play is essential to a successful game, whether orthogame or other, and therefore subjectivity matters even more for games than other artforms (since any activity can potentially become a game if conducted in a spirit of playfulness, whether playful competition or playful co-operation).

For instance, a game like Magic: the Gathering is so tremendously enjoyable to so many people not only because of its orthogame structures (which are certainly excellent) but because - on several different levels - it invites the same kind of unstructured playful investment that drives "cops and robbers". M:tG without the metagame is simply not even close to being the same game; but the metagame, while inarguably being a game, is not an orthogame, and therefore (you could argue) neither is M:tG taken as a whole. Which is not to say M:tG doesn't include tremendous amounts of orthogame, nor that it can't be studied in those terms: it can and should. But if you want to understand M:tG's success, whether as a commercial product or as a creative work, you need to look more broadly than the characteristics you are using to define eligibility for games studies - though you also definitely can't exclude them.

Does this help clarify why I am so resistant to limiting "games" only to those objects of interest to "games studies"? Both etymologically and practically it seems to me to limit the scope far too much. Which of course is the point of the definition :) but there are other things to consider when you look up from that particular close study. (Again, that question of user experience/subjectivity seems of particular interest to me.)

Sam Stephens
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"I'd like to question the idea that there is conflict in Gossip/Chinese Whispers, or even that there are goals - other than to see what happens, that is."

The goal is to replicate the phrase being passed around as best as possible. The conflict is created from the arbitrary rule that the phrase can only be whispered, which works against this goal. I still wouldn't say Chinese Whispers is a game as there is no standard of success or failure, but it's much closer to this understanding of games than Gone Home is.

"Simulations, interactive fiction, entertaining procedures, etc - these are all subtypes of games."

As far as I know, no definition states that these things are a subset of games. A simulation is an imitation of a system in the world. It's broader than the term game, not less so. Games are a type of simulation. The only reason we distinguish between the two is because simulations (like The Sims) lack the parameters that make something a game. Simulations don't even have to be interactive (such as your example of Conway's Game of Life).

Interactive fiction is just that, fiction that is interacted with. It's a separate thing from a game as fiction is not necessary for a game (but it is often contextually supportive, especially in video games). They often overlap (Mass Effect, 999), but when broken down to their basic elements, they are entirely different. This is why definitions of games that include these things basically amount to "interactive entertainment," because that is all they really have in common. I'm not even sure "entertainment procedure" is a "thing", but it sounds like the way in which participants engage with any particular form of entertainment (watching a movie, reading a book, playing a game, etc.).

"Popular understanding knows that the low-stakes, high-engagement imaginative play of "chess" has something in common with the low-stakes, high-engagement imaginative play of 'house'"

I am not really sure what you mean by "low-stakes." As far as I know, chess does not have any "high-stakes" except when extrinsic motivations are involved. It's not gambling. The only stakes are wining and losing, which is the same at all levels. Perhaps you mean highly competitive chess? Doesn't chess's potential for highly competitive play underline a major difference between it and "house?" Furthermore, "house" does not really have any stakes. You certainly can't win or lose it. Who has even compared chess and "house" anyways? What is this "popular understanding?"

"In other words, it's perfectly reasonable to say 'I don't want to talk about those sorts of games in this inquiry', and arguably to say 'those aren't games for the purposes of the discussion I want to have right now'. It's not so reasonable to say 'those aren't games at all.'"

Again, this only works if you accept the premise that these other products were generally considered to be games in the first place, which as I stated before, is not really the case. Furthermore, it seems you think we are doing this out of dismissiveness. By saying something is not a game, what were really trying to do is establish what a game is, not to say something particular about the product in question. It's not a matter of what we find "interesting," but simply of utility.

"The question of the work itself as a game aside, something like Gone Home has clearly started from an existing game form"

It seems that Fulbright had a pretty strong idea of what Gone Home was going to be from the start and that idea was not a game. The narrative of Gone Home was always the focus from the very beginning.

"In other words, they've taken the idea of "a game" and played with it."

The only way that I see them playing with the concept of a game is by calling their product a game in the first place and then saying that's what they are doing. The proof is in the pudding, and nothing inside the actual product suggests even a resemblance to games. The producers of Sleep No More don't claim their work plays with the concept of game even though Gone Home is almost the same thing except in digital form. Sleep No More is about exploring the form of drama in the same way Gone Home is about exploring narrative.

"While I have a great deal of respect for the work done by games studies folks, other formal definitions of game can be proposed which include some of the things they have traditionally excluded, based on things like precedent, user experience and so on."

Sure, we could do this, but why would we considering we have plenty of good terminology to work with right now? It's impractical. The only purpose of this is to satisfy those who feel their product is culturally entitled to be called a game. The language we have now works fine. Gone Home is perfectly described as interactive fiction, so there is no good reason for anyone to call it a game.

"For instance, a game like Magic: the Gathering is so tremendously enjoyable to so many people not only because of its orthogame structures (which are certainly excellent) but because - on several different levels - it invites the same kind of unstructured playful investment that drives 'cops and robbers'.

I don't see how Magic the Gathering invites unstructured play (there is a big difference between Magic: the game and Magic: the deck of cards used to play the game). I'm assuming the metagame you are referring to is the way players build decks. That's still a part of the game and in no possible way could evolve without a structured ruleset even if it kind of exists outside of the explicit rules. You can't have a metagame without rules because that is what a metagame is, a concept that is not apart of the rules but not against them either. There is not a single game in existence that does not have a way to metagame it. I really don't see how Magic, along with the metagame, has anything to do with "cops and robbers," which, like "house" has no rules, goals, specific outcomes of any kind, challenges, game-states, feedback, metagames, or anything else associated with games.

Philip Minchin
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Nobody plays Gossip to actually achieve that, though. That may be the goal of the individual loop but it's not the goal of the game, nor of the players.

I don't think I ever argued that chess was or could be intrinsically high-stakes; my point is that the experience and act of playing in both chess and house has something in common: invest and engage in an imaginary exercise which has no or low stakes in the real world. I.e. the point WAS that chess is low-stakes and high-engagement, like "house".

The definition of game I am espousing is, again, the Oxford one, which is the commonly understood one. You don't seem to have picked up on the difference between "especially" and "exclusively" I pointed out a while ago. Oxford is perfectly comfortable with "house", Gossip, and all these other things as games.

Again, I accept that you are motivated by taxonomy, not by contempt for non-orthogames. (Though I think the same is not true for everyone asserting Gone Home's non-gameness.) I just don't accept that taxonomy. I agree that orthogames have the things in common that you want to ascribe to all games, I'm just not willing to agree that a definition which was developed for the purposes of formal study of a particular set of formal works (since games studies is largely the province of people who want to make or at least critique new works of a particular kind) is a valid basis to retroactively declare that something which has been called a "game" quite unproblematically for centuries suddenly isn't.

To begin with, as I've said, that relies purely on the characteristics of the work alone, whereas a "game" is at least as much about how the people playing it are invested in it. Almost anything can become a game if people enter into it playfully. Isn't it at least as interesting to ask what it is about those people's engagement that transforms something into a game as it is to ask what it is about a work that makes it gamelike?

(Let me stress, in a similar vein to your point about not being motivated by contempt, that I'm not trying to argue that the definition you propose is useless nor that the things you're holding as games aren't games. I'm simply saying your definition isn't the only applicable one, nor the only useful or interesting one.)

And before you reply, you can make a game of a co-operative activity and/or one with no particular end in sight or way of keeping score. Making a game of something doesn't require making an orthogame of it.

The M:tG metagame is a good example. Yes, as I acknowledged, it wouldn't be possible without the orthogame (you have to stop asserting points I've already made in my exploration as things that debunk it... unless I've misunderstood them of course). But as I also asserted, the orthogame is not the same without the metagame, which includes the planning of decklists and selection of same for tournaments, which is orthogamelike but somewhat less clearly defined and bounded - since the intention is that it is constantly renewed with new cards, sets and environments. Moreover, it also includes all the other things that go into the enjoyment of the game, the self-expression through construction and play of Johnny, Vorthosian investment in story and flavour, even the Melvinian love of well-crafted rules interactions, and so on. All those things form part of the play of the orthogame and are essential parts of its success, and none are inherently gamelike according to your definition. So my contention is that while there is absolutely a ton of orthogame in M:tG, that orthogame is so infused with other non-orthogame elements of play that in most actual play experiences they are inseparable, making the essence of the game (which is about as crunchy an orthogame as you can get) not so clearly and exclusively an orthogame.

And conversely, it's possible to engage with the artifacts of M:tG (and even the ruleset itself) in a non-gamelike way: analysis, critique of the rules, sorting and selecting cards, blah blah. This is an obvious point that I'm only making to point out that drafting is a super-interesting example of a non-game satellite activity (analysing and selecting from a card pool) turned BACK into a subgame of its own.

(Yes, in this case this is achieved through the addition of rules and interaction with other players. It's a sub-orthogame. My point is that this wasn't part of the original design, and arose from players of the core game investing in a satellite activity in a playful way. Of course, being orthogamers, they made an orthogame of it.)

In other words, metagames around orthogames absolutely depend on the orthogame - that's true and something I acknowledged myself earlier. But the metagames themselves often lack orthogame characteristics. Given that for some the metagame is the primary reason to engage with the orthogame, I don't think it's wise to ignore it if you're interested in understanding how a design works on its audience.

Moreover metagame elements are not part of the game per se (since the material elements of the metagame, deck selection or whatever, are fixed once a game begins), though they do inform it and infuse it, layering the non-orthogame dimensions of (for instance) "play with a deck themed around The Wizard of Oz" into the orthogame.

As for "cops and robbers" not having anything associated with games: it has people playing it. That's the sine qua non for me. Not playing WITH it (toy), playing IT. (Where "it" is not a recording, a musical instrument, etc. as previously discussed.) Those kids aren't "simulating" cops and robbers - or at least that's not their primary goal nor a serious concern in playing. They're taking their understanding of that idea/conflict and making a game of it.

Before you take issue with this, keep in mind that I fully understand that according to the definitions of game studies it isn't a game. I have all along. My contention has been that the common-language definition of game has merits, consistency and meaning of its own, and that to focus exclusively on the work and not on its audience is to ignore probably the most important half of the equation.

Not that it isn't valuable to do that as PART of the investigation; understanding the work in its own terms is vital. But to hold that all you need to know about games can be understood by studying the games and not the players is to miss half the point; and whether or not you fall for that trap, to consider games using ONLY a definition of "game" that similarly excludes consideration of the role of the player in making something a game or not is to miss half the remaining point. Which is why I am resisting so much :)

Sam Stephens
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"Nobody plays Gossip to actually achieve that, though. That may be the goal of the individual loop but it's not the goal of the game, nor of the players."

That just depends on who you play with, but generally players try to repeat the phrase as best as possible, if only to get a silly perversion of the original phrase instead of something entirely different.

"I don't think I ever argued that chess was or could be intrinsically high-stakes"

Right, but you said "low-stakes" without clarifying what you meant by that, so I was a little confused.

"I.e. the point WAS that chess is low-stakes and high-engagement, like 'house'.

Ok, but again, how does this help us to differentiate between any kind of entertaining activity? Going to the movies or reading a book are "low-stake" activities in this sense. That is the whole point of most art/entertainment in general; it's engaging without any risks.

"The definition of game I am espousing is, again, the Oxford one, which is the commonly understood one. You don't seem to have picked up on the difference between "especially" and "exclusively" I pointed out a while ago. Oxford is perfectly comfortable with "house", Gossip, and all these other things as games."

Yes, but the definition says a FORM of play (not play itself). The most important (though certainly not the only) problem with trying to define these "non-games" as games is not that it doesn't align with my idea of what a game is so much as it does not align with any idea of what a game is. It's impossible to describe any kind of form while trying to satisfy all these products. People (like yourself) try to reconcile this by saying that the medium (software) represents part of the form, but as we know, games transcend mediums, so there has to be something else besides just interactive software or play.

"I'm just not willing to agree that a definition which was developed for the purposes of formal study of a particular set of formal works (since games studies is largely the province of people who want to make or at least critique new works of a particular kind) is a valid basis to retroactively declare that something which has been called a "game" quite unproblematically for centuries suddenly isn't."

But these things generally have NOT been called games for all this time. They have been described as other things (toys, fiction, role-playing, etc.). It's only until the advent of video games that a shift that these new concept of games have emerged. Board games, card games, and abstract/strategy games do not suffer from this same identity crisis.

"Almost anything can become a game if people enter into it playfully."

What's the point of calling anything a game then? Why distinguish between play and gameplay?

"Isn't it at least as interesting to ask what it is about those people's engagement that transforms something into a game as it is to ask what it is about a work that makes it gamelike?"

Yes, that's very interesting, but it continues to highlight just how different the products we are discussing are. Thought processes and cognition in 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, timing, adaptation, tactical thinking, strategic thinking, math skills, memorization, and teamwork. Does engaging with Gone Home require any of these things? Maybe one or two...barley. The only thing you seem to come up with is "a playful mindset" which is not descriptive, useful, or accurate.

Likewise, we should examine this from the designers' perspectives and how they go about making these things. If I was to make a first-person shooter, I would not need to look exclusively at other FPS's for guidance and inspiration. The design philosophies behind basketball, Ticket to Ride, and Portal can teach me much about how to create interplay, balance, and understand the players' capacities to learn. Just like how games have certain universal qualities, there are things designers and game students can learn from all games both good and bad. Could Gone Home teach me anything about designing an FPS? It could, but only if and when I was focusing on narrative design and not gameplay.

"But as I also asserted, the orthogame is not the same without the metagame, which includes the planning of decklists and selection of same for tournaments, which is orthogamelike but somewhat less clearly defined and bounded"

It is the same as "orthogaming." You can't just build decks anyway you want. There are still rules applied here. The metagame is also not building the decks, but understanding how others will build their decks and trying to compensate. This is impossible without a common ground that every player understands. Metagames completely fit my understanding of game and still does not change the fact that the products you are calling games can't have them.

"And conversely, it's possible to engage with the artifacts of M:tG (and even the ruleset itself) in a non-gamelike way: analysis, critique of the rules, sorting and selecting cards, blah blah.'

Yes, but it is all tied to the gameplay. Even then, it still doesn't change that actually playing the game is completely different than engaging with Gone Home.

"Moreover metagame elements are not part of the game per se (since the material elements of the metagame, deck selection or whatever, are fixed once a game begins)"

They are definitely a part of the game. Picking a Street Fighter character before the match starts is still a gameplay decision that requires knowledge of the game, the character's performance, the opponent's character, and all sorts of gameplay related information. Making a poor choice here affects the outcome of the game, so I don't really know how such a decision could possibly exist outside of the game. Metagaming is still gameplay, it's just not required to play the game.

listen at about: 42/48 http://keithburgun.net/talk-with-richard-terrell-turned-into-inte
ractive-presentation/

"As for 'cops and robbers' not having anything associated with games: it has people playing it."

Remember, there is a difference between play and gameplay. You can play "cops and robbers," but you can't game it. This is clearly what separates "cops and robbers" from Cops 'n' Robbers, the 1985 Commodore game. It's everything that the child's play is (a simulation of the dynamics between law enforcement an criminals) and more (rules, goals, puzzles etc.). That's why we really can't say Gone Home and products like it are a type of game. "Type of game" implies categorizations on the same level, but these products are broader than games. Half-Life 2 is everything Gone Home is and more. Pong is everything The Marriage is and more. WarioWare is everything Dys4ia is and more. Please, don't mistake "more" for "better."

And that's just it. It's not only that Gone Home is lacking structural elements of a game, it cannot even be interacted with in the same way as Chess, Go, Soccer, Solitaire, Pac-Man, Scrabble, Monopoly and so on. Furthermore, you seem to think that the elements I have laid out are somewhat trivial, but they are huge. Adding or subtracting just one of them completely changes the motivations of the players and the way in which it is interacted with. Gone Home lacks quite a few of them, to the point where it is impossible to apply much knowledge of game design to it. Just ask David Sirlin or Nick Bentley.

Philip Minchin
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To say that "cops and robbers", "house", "Gossip" and so on have not been called games for all this time is flat out incorrect. You even acknowledged earlier that they have been!

That they have not been called such by games studies specialists is a tautological definition: games studies doesn't call them games, therefore they are not fit subjects for games studies, therefore their characteristics are not those of games, therefore we define games as excluding them.

But by this logic, as I am a student of games and am calling them games, they are games as well, or perhaps quantum-indeterminate games? Unless my thinking is somehow not "game studies" unless it subscribes to predefined tenets, in which case game studies sounds less like a field of inquiry and more like a dogma. I recognise the role of definitions in setting out the limits of inquiry, but to insist that those limits and definitions can't be challenged in the face of other evidence is a different matter.

You seem to feel that I am asserting my own arbitrary definition that ignores decades of precedent in the field of game studies. That's a reasonable thing to question; and that's what I'm questioning myself. My point is that the kinds of definitions commonly used in game studies also assert an ultimately arbitrary definition that ignores precedent - in this case, CENTURIES of precedent - as to what counts as a game.

You might respond that the definition of game studies is not arbitrary but is rather based in an attempt to derive a single unifying set of characteristics that qualify a work as a game from a broad study of a wide range of works.

I would respond to that with two points: first, the decision to seek such a unified definition is itself an arbitrary goal when Wittgensteinian family-resemblance definitions are perfectly useful - and preclude NONE of the lessons to be derived about orthogames. By contrast, limiting the field of inquiry to only orthogames does make it harder to draw lessons from other types of what-I-would-call-games.

Second, the decision to seek the definition solely in the characteristics of a fixed work (rather than, for instance, in the mode of the audience's engagement) is an arbitrary one that - even before you begin studying - excludes huge swathes of experiences that have been called "games" by millions of people for hundreds of years.

Again, if you specify that you are only interested in and/or referring to certain subsets of game, that's fine. But to assert that all those people down through the ages simply didn't know what they were talking about and that it is incorrect to use the word the way it has always been used... well, isn't that what you feel like you're trying to argue against ME doing?

On more specific points: it's true that reading a book or watching a film is also low-stakes and high-engagement. But it's not (typically) play. My point was that the quantitative elements were comparable, but so are the qualitative. Which is why common parlance distinguishes at the level of the basic verb between what someone is doing when they read a book and when they play a game of chess or a game of "house"... but not between the latter.

The ability to game something does not make it a game. You can game pretty much any situation or system, and can do so without the slightest trace of playfulness. Note also that that is "game" as a verb, not a noun - the difference is vital; we are disagreeing on the definition of the noun here.

(Unless you're offering a counter-proposal to my part-definition "a game is something that is played" with "a game is something that is gamed"? But again, people frequently game things that are not games by your definition - or mine.

Or perhaps you mean that "a game is something that is MADE with the intention that it be gamed". I can see that a little more - especially if we're only talking orthogames - but you resist authorial intention as a factor, and in any case I would have to challenge it: if we allow that, why do we not allow "a game is something that is made with the intention that it be played"? - again, in that particular sense of "play".)

In fact it's arguable that someone who games a game can actually diminish its gameness; rules lawyers in multiplayer games are classic examples. By their excessive focus on the precise aspects of the game which you feel are the only things that give it its "gameness", they (at times) devalue the experience of the game (as a game) for everyone else.

Sam Stephens
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"To say that "cops and robbers", "house", "Gossip" and so on have not been called games for all this time is flat out incorrect. You even acknowledged earlier that they have been!"

They have only been generically called that though. When psychologists and sociologists actually try to describe what "cops and robbers" and "house" are, they usually refer to them as activities of role-playing. This has been the case since the early days of psychoanalysis. Role-playing has an important function in the development of children, but when trying to study the purpose of games, the theories are different.

"I recognise the role of definitions in setting out the limits of inquiry, but to insist that those limits and definitions can't be challenged in the face of other evidence is a different matter."

But what "evidence" is there? It's not like we are marine biologists discovering some kind of new species. The things that you call games not only lack generally recognized features of games, but are better described as something else and have been universally called so outside of this digital medium. It's not some kind of dogma, it's the recognition that the products a few people claim to be games are so different from games that there is no logical, practical, or educational purpose of calling them games. As I said before, changing the meaning of the word game only serves some kind of misguided cultural agenda of a few digital artists and toymakers.

"My point is that the kinds of definitions commonly used in game studies also assert an ultimately arbitrary definition that ignores precedent - in this case, CENTURIES of precedent - as to what counts as a game."

If this is "arbitrary," than the entirety of human language is arbitrary. That's just how it works. Furthermore, "precedent" of what? Do I really need to repost the list of historic games again?

"I would respond to that with two points: first, the decision to seek such a unified definition is itself an arbitrary goal when Wittgensteinian family-resemblance definitions are perfectly useful"

I never said everyone has to be universally using the exact same definition. If you listen to the full podcast/Prezi presentation I linked to in the previous comment, you will clearly notice that the two individuals have very different ideas of what a game exactly is, let alone what constitutes a well designed one. No one is going to agree exactly as to what constitutes a game and what does not, but there absolutely has to be some common ground for understanding and communication. Trying to create this common ground while also trying to include things like "house," Gone Home, and Howling Dogs requires one to say "almost anything can become a game if people enter into it playfully," or something synonymous to that. Whether you acknowledge this or not, it's basically tantamount to claiming that games hardly exist, which is nonsense considering all of the individuals that have independently attempted to put their finger on what a game is and consistently came away with similar descriptions. They were "touching the elephant." I think that rules, goals, challenges and conflicts is a great common ground for the discussion and study of games The alternative is really no alternative at all because there is nothing that can be agreed upon.

"Second, the decision to seek the definition solely in the characteristics of a fixed work (rather than, for instance, in the mode of the audience's engagement) is an arbitrary one that"

Did you not read my previous response to this?: "Yes, that's very interesting, but it continues to highlight just how different the products we are discussing are. Thought processes and cognition in 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, timing, adaptation, tactical thinking, strategic thinking, math skills, memorization, and teamwork. Does engaging with Gone Home require any of these things? Maybe one or two...barley. The only thing you seem to come up with is "a playful mindset" which is not descriptive, useful, or accurate." Studying the engagement of games has actually helped ludologists, psychologists, sociologists, and myself to make the distinguishing qualities that we have.

"Again, if you specify that you are only interested in and/or referring to certain subsets of game, that's fine."

Again, did you not thoroughly read my previous comment? It's impossible for "traditional" games and "not-games" to actually be two different subset of the same thing because the latter is much broader than the former.

"On more specific points: it's true that reading a book or watching a film is also low-stakes and high-engagement. But it's not (typically) play."

Okay, but what constitutes as play then? Does it require activity? Is a DVD menu a game? Is it only a game when interacted with playfully and not a game at other times? What's the relationship between play, role-play, and gameplay? Is there any time you can mentally play with a movie or a book? When and how? Are they games at that point? Is the game really just a imaginary product of the human mind and has nothing to do with the contents of the book or film? I'm not saying you don't have answers to these questions nor do I want you to answer them. The point is, when you start using vague and broad terms like "low-stakes," "high-engagement" and "play" without any clarification, you bring up a bunch of questions that make the process of trying to figure out what a game is harder than it needs to be.

"The ability to game something does not make it a game. You can game pretty much any situation or system, and can do so without the slightest trace of playfulness."

Your right, it doesn't. Still, that doesn't change that all games are gamed, that you can't game Gone Home, or that this particular verb originated from a common concept of what it means to play a game, which involves manipulating a system towards a valorized outcome. All of this really is not that important though, so I don't think it needs to be dwelt upon.

"In fact it's arguable that someone who games a game can actually diminish its gameness; rules lawyers in multiplayer games are classic examples. By their excessive focus on the precise aspects of the game which you feel are the only things that give it its "gameness", they (at times) devalue the experience of the game (as a game) for everyone else."

Could you please clarify? I am completely at a loss to what you mean here. Are you referring to a "playing to win" mentality, or not being able to agree upon an exact set of rules? This "devaluing of the experience" seems pretty subjective and based on certain attitudes. Still, I don't really see whether a game experience is pleasurable or not has to do with whether that experience is a game in the first place.

Philip Minchin
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Yes, words other than "game" have been used describe "cops and robbers" etc. They have also been used to describe chess etc - for instance, "orthogame". Neither makes either set of artifacts less a game. Unless that's why you resist a specific name for games of the type you're considering? In which case it's my turn to reassure you that taxonomy is not the enemy.

The evidence, as I keep insisting, is centuries of actual usage by people in the real world. That isn't going away. You can dismiss it as "generic" and say that any time someone looks at formal characteristics they discover that some subsets of "game" can be given more specific names, whether "simulation", "roleplay", or "orthogame". Well, the word "generic" means "of a kind": people are using the word generically because there is something in common between orthogames and "house".

Which is precisely my point: games ARE an overarching category broader than just the kinds of rulesets you want to claim. There's no basis for saying that all those people are wrong when there are identifiable differences between people engaging with a game - whether chess or "house" - and other cultural works; and identifiable commonalities between the way that you engage with chess and "house", even as there are so many differences. In "house" you may not be seeking to win, but the experience is driven by your investment and active/interactive attention in a way that more fixed, passive works are not, and orthogames are. You play chess and "house" but read/watch/listen to other things.

That's not to say that there isn't a cluster of identifiable commonalities within that larger set that makes "orthogames" a meaningful and useful category that rewards study all by itself. I am with you 100% on that, as I've said repeatedly.

But. All the learnings that come from studying exclusively orthogames can be derived whatever you call them; because it's the common characteristics of the works that define them, it's the set that matters, not the label. By calling something not a game, however, you are excluding it from consideration or study as a game at all. If what we want to study is games as they are played in the real world, that's a big - and in my mind, unjustified - call.

And here's one example why. A rules lawyer who focuses entirely on a game as a set of explicit rules to be manipulated, to the detriment of the social and imaginative contract among the players - i.e. the actual magic circle, of which the ruleset is only one part - can destroy others' enjoyment so much that continuing to play is no longer play but the fulfilment of an obligation, and the game is not a game but a chore. (Yes, that's subjective. That's a key part of my point. A ruleset with valorized outcomes can be ludic or instructional: what transforms one into the other?) Among "hardcore gamers", this obligation is considered binding and walking away - even with a formal concession - is considered rude. For large numbers of people, though, the point of a game - even a highly agonological game - is not the rigorous and inarguable determination of a winner but one of a range of other purposes: fun, interaction, whatever. Determining a winner is subordinate to those other purposes. "Hardcore gamers" are not automatically or exclusively right, while we should absolutely seek to understand their motivations that doesn't mean that only they count. In fact, we stand to learn a lot about what invites people to play - and thereby improve our games - by looking at those who aren't so quick to engage on those terms.

As to whether a game is pleasurable or not: pleasure can exist on a superficial "laughing in the moment" level or much more profound ones, but I'm not even talking about pleasure ultimately. Again, I'm talking about motivation. If I'm engaged in a chess match purely out of external obligation I don't think that's a game. For an extreme example, a slave who is not permitted to win on pain of death, and at times is actually told how to move by their master: is that a game? I'd call that more of a performance by both master and slave. They are playing parts, and the master is playing with the slave as with a toy, and there may even be a game that is being played at that level; but on the chessboard there is no game. Chess is designed to evoke play, but without free investment there is no play, and without play there is no game, just a ruleset, a checkered square, and some little sculptures.

Yes, this does mean that I'm saying that what makes a game is a question of more than just the work itself. Yes, I am saying that many things can become games that weren't designed that way. Yes, this does inject subjectivity: not into the definition, but into the object of study; the question of how that subjectivity works is key. This doesn't mean "games" don't exist, it just means that a definition that focuses solely on the work itself and seeks to exclude everything it possibly can doesn't capture everything that's important about a game. (It also makes it difficult to define "games" as a discrete category that things are in to the exclusion of all other forms, but I'm fine with that. Something can be a game and a book, or a game and a story, or a game and a song, or a game and a simulation, or a game and a conversation, or a game and a building.)

The fact that numerous people have "touched the elephant" and come to similar conclusions doesn't mean that's all that's relevant if they all went into it with the same narrow framework. Consensus on the starting point of the inquiry will tend to produce pretty similar results. To continue the metaphor, the elephant may be incredibly well described in terms of texture and shape, but not one of those descriptions will tell you it's grey - or even know that there's a glint in its eye to miss. If the terms of study mean you are missing crucial information, maybe it's worth expanding them?

(And to continue the metaphor further: it's possible that the "elephant-is-grey" perspective I'm advocating is deaf and can't describe how the elephant sounds. I don't see it, since it's not excluding any of the dimensions of inquiry you're allowing, but I'll concede it as a possibility. To rule out the input of an additional dimension of inquiry is still folly.)

So by all means continue to concentrate on conflict and internally valorized outcomes. Those are super important to a huge number of terrific games and are a tremendously fruitful vein to explore.

But when you start asserting that Gone Home isn't a game, when it was made as one by people who have a proven history of knowing what they're doing in making games, and understood as one by large numbers of other people, you have to prove your case.

Doing so by dint of a narrow, technical definition which (while useful to define the boundaries of a space of inquiry) ignores key elements of what makes something a game; and whose pedigree, while long, doesn't match centuries of realworld usage; and which is the product of fundamentally arbitrary decisions about how to manage the definition (unitary rather than Wittgensteinian, focusing only on the work - changing just one of those would allow consideration of the wider field that common usage recognises) is not sufficient to prove your case.

And since calling Gone Home "not a game" does, despite your assertions that it's not meant that way, (a) imply that its creators don't know what they're talking about, (b) lend strength to some of their more mean-spirited detractors, (c) have implications for its eligibility (and the eligibility of future works like it) for certain kinds of funding, market access, and other kinds of support, it's worth arguing against.

That said, I DO accept your sincerity and respect your motives (and thank you for remaining courteous throughout!). I don't feel that you're setting out to do any of the bad stuff above... but intentions and outcomes are two different things. Still, if I am (with Fullbright) genuinely wrong about the definition of "game", well, that's an important topic - especially here! - and it's worth trying to set the record straight.

You haven't convinced me I am though :)

Sam Stephens
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"Which is precisely my point: games ARE an overarching category broader than just the kinds of rulesets you want to claim."

Except...they're not. I have already provided a broad framework for studying games (arbitrary rules, goal, and conflict). Most formal definitions are far more specific. You can't get much broader than that without sacrificing meaning. We can't base our definitions on the ignorance of laypeople because as Wittgenstein understood, they don't have one or even care. Games criticism and studies learn, teach, make, and talk about games. Therefore, there is a necessity for a definition as well as commonly understood terms (a lexicon). All fields of speciality have a lexicon and they aren't influenced by the language of laypeople.

It seems
We are both kind of done with this conversation, so let's just agree to disagree. We really aren't on the same page at all (which is the whole problem with the vague definitions in the first place). I leave you with this, as you still seem to confuse game and play.

http://www.gamestudies.org/0301/walther/

This piece covers all of the angles (formal, structural, psychological) on the subject. It also proposes an excellent antithesis of your definition of a game, "a discrete thing that you play."

Thanks for the interesting conversation.

Philip Minchin
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Likewise, thank you :) For the record I'm not confusing a verb and a noun, just recognising that they are inextricable from each other (as with "read" and "text"); and my sense of the importance of the definition is precisely the basis for this conversation... but I agree we seem to be talking past each other as often as not.

Nonetheless, I've appreciated it. So thank you again and all the best for whatever you're making :)


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