1. After reading Salen & Zimmerman’s taxonomy of game definitions, explain which definition(s) for game appeals to you most?
Firstly, I prefer the subset definition of “Games are a subset of play” more than “play is a subset of games.” ‘Games’ implies a clear ruleset and goal, whereas anyone who’s seen a child playing with action figures can observe that the child is less interested in creating cohesive rules and goals than he/she is in telling a simple imagined narrative. That said, I don’t believe that games are PURELY play; I’d appreciate more of a “venn diagram” approach.
Parlett’s definition bothers me, because it necessitates two opposing teams that follow the same ruleset. By his definition, poker would be a game, but solitaire would not.
Abt makes the same pitfall, but his idea of a gamer as “decision-maker” can much more quickly be applied to individual or single-player games.
I very much like Huizinga’s, as it does NOT require two or more players, and it also mentions the construction of the “game world” outside time and space, with rules agreed upon in our space. Even the more controversial observation, the construction of “social groups,” is something that I have seen firsthand in games—how else to explain ‘console wars?’
Caillois expands on Huizinga, and although Salen and Zimmerman question his description of “make believe” and “uncertainty” by questioning whether tic-tac-toe has an imaginative aspect, or chess between a master and beginner has an uncertain aspect. Both do, but they are considerably small. However, we should not confuse that with an aspect that is nonexistent.
Suit’s definition effectively restates the previous definitions, but in a considerably more arcane and roundabout fashion. I hold no strong opinion on it.
Crawford’s definition of games intrigues me. I like the idea of ‘simulated, interactive conflict.’ Although it’s a bit limited in scope, and doesn’t cover ‘sandboxes,’ it sums up the classic game in a very concise and clear fashion, within one “system.”
Costikyan assumes immediately that games are art. Although I am also of this belief, I don’t think it’s the appropriate place to begin in a summary of games; though games may be art, they are not art first and foremost.
Avedon and Sutton-Smith’s definition, like Suit’s, uses a lot of elements of the previous definitions. However, what it does do is narrow down the previous definitions, creating a concise and not inaccurate summary.
Finally, Salen and Zimmerman’s definition is so vague and all-encompassing that I cannot find an issue with it, but I am also not interested by it. It is a clinical description with an almost infinite scope—it feels like a cop-out. “Game design is the process by which a game designer creates a game to be encountered by a player?” Really?
2. How would you define a game in your own words?
I would define a game as an imaginary system with its own set of rules, more limiting than those of real life, that presents a player with a clear toolset and the means by which to affect that system. Although goals are not necessary, there is at least a means or loop by which to “get better” at using the aforementioned toolset.
3. What is your opinion of Costikyan’s definition of games, is it too broad, too narrow, which aspects of his definition do you agree and disagree with? Are puzzles games? Is Second Life a game? What do you make of his ideas about narrative in games? And his notions of color and competition? What about his idea that games should be considered “art?”
I agree and disagree with some parts of his definition. His assumption that games are not puzzles, toys, or stories ignores a lot of the overlap between those fields. He at least admits that games have elements of puzzle-solving, but I disagree entirely with his assumption that a game cannot be a toy because a game has “goals.” Minecraft, I would define as a game, even though it merely offers a sandbox with no discernable goal, because there is an element of prestige to using that toolbox and getting better, and there is clearly risk and challenge. The same goes for Second Life. Although it is a simple toolbox, is there not an element of prestige and “winning” to simply becoming good at using that toolbox? Meanwhile, his assumption that games are more interactive than stories is short-sighted. A pre-programmed game is only multi-linear, offering variables to change a foregone conclusion. Even a game with a “game master” requires the GM to provide a story—and, though his story may change due to the actions of the player, it still moves forward in a linear fashion, no different from an author suddenly deciding that a certain character deserves more “screen time,” or that another must be killed off. Meanwhile, his concepts of color and simulation and his assumption that games are art, I consider to be purely aesthetic choices. In the fashion of the critique of Caillois’ definition of games, is tic-tac-toe a game because of its vivid representative color set, its simulation of real x-and-o-based warfare, and its deep artistic value? No. Tic-tac-toe is a game because it has rules, it provides the player with the means to work within those rules, and it offers a goal or at least a means to create one.
Professor: Eddo Stern, email@example.com
TA: Mark Essen, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Office Hours: Game Lab, Tuesdays 12-2)