Reading Notes #1

1. The definition that I felt the most drawn to in this chapter was the one posed by Chris Crawford. His summary of a game had four components: Representation, Interaction, Conflict and Safety. He really managed to paint a clear picture of the world that a game can become that I identified with. I especially liked his way of explaining safety in a game. Harm, which is implied by the previous summary of the conflict in games, is not a physical reality in a game though the physiological aspect of the thrill of the danger can be mimicked in a game. This is a more involved way to experience something than watching a movie or reading a book because the player gets to participate in the model of the situation without the undesirable harm or consequences that would happen if the game was actually reality.

2. (Before the readings this week) I would personally define a game as being either a fun or rewarding problem solving or goal-reaching experience, the interplay of which involves decision-making (either made by the player or by a random factor such as dice or a dial) in order to defeat opponents or reach a goal of some sort. To be classified as a game, an entire alternate reality is not necessarily called for; instead interaction is key and is what separates a game from a book, a movie or a painting/other artwork.

3. I feel that Costikyan has a very specific definition of games that he applies too literally to all the examples he referenced in his article. It seems that games are more abstract than other pieces of artwork, and thus cannot be pinned down and labeled so specifically as Costikyan has done. An example of this would be his claim that puzzles are not games, yet games can involve puzzles. I would argue that puzzles actually are a sort of game, because they provide a player a medium to interact with and decide how to reach a goal, though a puzzle may be significantly less complex and of shorter length than Magic: The Gathering or Monopoly. You could even say that by his standard of games, chess or checkers could be said to be a puzzle and not a “real game” because it is so similar in nature to a puzzle – simple rules, design, and objectives, but Costikyan does not dismiss these classics as puzzles as he would a crossword or perhaps Sudoku.
Costikyan states, “Stories are linear. Games are not” (page 3). While I do agree with this statement, an interactive narrative could, by this definition, be classified as a game. If decision-making is involved, the linear nature of the story is lost, and it should become a “game”.

To some extent, I agree with Costikyan’s viewpoint on the role of color in games. A game that is brilliantly colorful and detailed can provoke emotion in a player that a dull-toned game might have a hard time competing with, however brilliant the actual game may be. But that being said, I think a game cannot be successful single-handedly due to it’s color, as Costikyan seems to hint at when he states, referring to a game called Axis & Allies, “The game works almost solely because of its color” (page 8). Thinking back to games from my childhood, the color and artistic detail of any game is what pushes forward in my memories… the way the game pieces looked and felt, or the combination of color the game used that made it feel exciting and special. No doubt, without those entities the ethos of a game would be stripped down to the raw purpose and structure of the game (chess or checkers again comes to mind). But a poorly designed game cannot use graphics and color as a crutch – perhaps it may entertain a toddler – but as a game it would still be a failure.

A point of Costikyan’s that I fully agree upon is the belief that games are “art,” but less so that only some games could be worthy of this honor. There are less than successful paintings, designs, films, etc. but this doesn’t exclude them from being art. Games require designers, both mentally and visually, and thus I believe that the finished experience is most definitely a piece of art.