What is a game?
Published a year ago
An adventurers perspective of the beasts she loves
For a game dev adventurer, this should be the most important question to answer. But in our haste to find games in there natural habitat we forget or even neglect to do so.
We should be careful with that, more so at the beginning of our adventure. Every little detail will help us.
Knowing how games look, feel and what they usually enjoy doing during the day … or why not, during the night, are all clues that will guide us through the dungeons and forests were they roam freely. But if we don’t know anything about what makes them the way they are we will be lost in the night with no flashlight to show us where to go.
What is a game?
We will begin by looking at some famous adventurers that had come up with their own definitions.
The first comes from a book called “The Grasshopper”, written by the adventurer Bernard Suits. He writes that “a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”
Game Designer Sid Meier says that “a game is a series of interesting decisions.”
In “Game Design Workshop” Tracy Fullerton defines a game as “a closed, formal system that engages players in a structured conflict and resolves its uncertainty in an unequal outcome.“
Jesse Schell explores various definitions in his book, “The Art of Game Design”, eventually deciding on "a game is a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude.”
What is a game?
The question had been tried to be answered before, many times, by different people with different backgrounds. I chose these definitions because I feel each has at least one element we associate with games. But, if you noticed, we are still missing one important element that none of the adventurers up there mentioned.
Don’t we play games to have fun? Even those that don’t feel compelled to listen to the call to adventure can tell you as much. A game is something you play to have fun, to enjoy. This is what most people will tell you if you ask them why they play games. So how come none of this definitions even reference it? It was at this conundrum that my search took me even deeper, searching for someone whose approach to this question tackled the fun element.
Enter Chris Crawford, he makes a ramification of “playthings” adding a different element to each branch in order to differentiate them from one another until we reach a plaything that has all the elements we find in games. According to this classification, we can say that in order to be considered a game this “plaything” should be: “Fun, interactive, goal oriented and involve other agents that can interfere with and influence each other.”
Now the element of fun is finally included on a definition, even if it’s more a list of characteristics, but despite Chris Crawford’s excellent conclusion it still shouldn’t satisfy our adventurer’s inquisitive minds, all those characteristics, and definitions are what games look like to the eyes of all those magnificent adventurers.
What does a game look like to us? What does it look like to me?
What is a game to the Game developer Adventurer?
“A game is a system in which the players voluntary overcome imaginary conflicts, defined by rules, that resolve into a measurable outcome.”
Indeed, this one seems like a mash-up… and it is, I took the elements on each definition that made the most sense to me. Being a storyteller at heart with good experience on gameplay programming this is what a game looks like to me. A system, because it is what makes it interactive, agency that gives the player the freedom to participate or not, a conflict which is the core of any good story, rules that make the resolution of this conflict challenging and a measurable outcome that will help us discern if we won or lose the game.
And now you surely most thing what was the use of all this journey?
Had you come all the way through a dense forest only to find the treasure already taken?
This isn’t the case, the treasure is here, rather in a more metaphorical form than what you thought it would be. I wanted you, my fellow adventurers, to start the process for your own definition. By showing you what others had worked with and expanded upon I hope to give you the jump start that will ignite your own search for this answer.
Be patient and flexible, keep in mind that there is not a true answer, we all experience games in our own particular way. We all have our own expectations of what a game should feel like. The answer will help you identify better ways to go on in your adventure of game development. By knowing exactly what you are searching for its easier to pinpoint what elements to focus on. And why not? Maybe even ignore later on.
Remember, in all things creative, rules are there for both to be followed and broken. Use your answers to understand what type of games you want to create and expand on that definition by defying and breaking what you previously believed in.
María del Mar Moreno Celis
Game Developer - Programmer