Jonathan Ruchlis

1. My favorite definition from the taxonomy was the one provided by Greg Costikyan. I found his entire article to be very insightful and articulate and the definition was no exception. In his definition he managed to be both specific and general, which allowed the comparison of such unlike objects as the human body and chess piece, noting that both are the elements of their respective games which the player is able to manipulate, or the game tokens. Similar comparisons can be made using the definition of resources, and even goals or players although the latter two were fairly common in the different definitions.

The one thing I might have left out of the definition would be the connection to art. This isn’t to say that I don’t consider games art but simply that art is in itself such a complicated thing to define that such an addition makes this otherwise simple and fairly foolproof definition a bit more complex and debatable. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all, defining complicated terms is very much opinion based and if it is Costikyan’s opinion that all games are artworks, then he has the right to argue that point and has done so fairly successfully.

The other definition that I appreciate for an entirely different reason is that of David Parlett. This one’s strength is in its simplicity. Although it does not encompass all which I would consider a game, namely games with no winner, more than one winner or a series of winners. Also by failing to mention decision making, it also includes some forms of competition that I wouldn’t classify as games, such as running or weightlifting. Nonetheless, it’s succeeds at defining what it set out to define, both specifically and elegantly, and for that is warrants some credit.


2. A game is a competition with a defined set of rules where both the course of the game and the outcome is affected in some part by decisions made by the player(s). The competition can be either player(s) vs. player(s), player(s) vs. game, or player(s) vs. self. Most games that we play including most board games, sports tend to fall into the player(s) vs. player(s) category. Examples of player(s) vs. game include solitaire, pandemic, or other games where players try to overcome the challenge set up by the game, resulting in either success or failure. The difference between player(s) vs. game and player(s) vs. self is that in player(s) vs. self, the outcome is a spectrum rather than a dichotomy and players are either continuously advancing or can play multiple times and try to outdo themselves. There can be some overlap between the two, often in video games like sonic the hedgehog which can be beaten but also have scores and levels, or even in games like solitaire or pandemic if the element of time is added.

Other than those in the second category, not all games must have a definitive end. You don’t ever win snake, you just improve. Although rare, the same can true of player(s) vs. player(s) games. Games like taboo or apples to apples could go on forever but it’s unlikely that anyone would play them like that.  More likely would be a game that is integrated into everyday life like two friends competing to see who can clothespin the other without them noticing more. If no endpoint is included in the game’s rules then you can be winning or losing but you will never “win” or “lose”.

As with almost every complex definition there are gray areas. The biggest one here would probably be the definition of active decisions. The distinction was intended to separate games from other competitions that deal with ability and instinct rather that tactics and strategy. But the line isn’t exactly clear. Does running involve strategy? A bit. Does Candyland? Doubtful. Although it may be possible to eliminate this grey area and this might make the definition more useful in some situations overall I don’t think it would make it any more accurate. In my opinion the term is best left a bit vague and open for debate rather than arbitrarily one way or another. So I’ve listed what I believe to be the most fundamental characteristics of games and will leave whatever gray areas there are up to interpretation.


3. As stated earlier I felt that Costikyan’s definition did a good job of being both narrow and broad at the same time. Although his definition differs from mine in some ways, I felt that he chose his terms with purpose and defined them with eloquence any discrepancies between our definitions are most likely based simply on our personal relationship with the word and with games themselves and so I can easily forgive them.

As far as puzzles go, I wouldn’t consider them games although they may fall into the gray area since there is a certain level of decision making but it’s hard to say how much it changes the process and/or outcome of the puzzle. I fully agree that programs like Sim City and Second Life are toys until they are turned into games by creating goals. His ideas about color are interesting but I think it is worth noting that preferably a games color would be somehow integrated into the game play.

In terms of narrative, I disagree with Costikyan slightly because I think that a game could potentially successfully utilize narrative in a similar way to the hypertext fiction he referred too.  I don’t think every narrative has a single path that suits it better than all the rest. If one considers the process of creation in judging the value of a narrative, it is possible that there could be many perfect ways to resolve the same story, and therefore games, if designed extremely well could function as narratives as well.