Reading Notes 1

1. I think the definition that appeals most to me is Suits’ definition, which states that “Playing a game is the voluntary effort to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” This definition sounds so bizarre, yet it’s so true at the same time. It’s interesting because “unnecessary obstacles” seems to connote something negative, making these obstacles seem like a chore. But in most games, these “unnecessary obstacles” are often fun little challenges that provide an invigorating sense of accomplishment.

2. When thinking of how I would define a game in my own words, I have to consider the video games that I have made. While most of the definitions focus on the mechanics of how a game is played, the games that I make are more of a world-building exercise. When I make a game, I’m generally less interested in designing a game system than in the content I’m creating and bringing into life. Some might argue that the “worlds” that I create are an entity separate from the games themselves: perhaps a kind of skin–or in Costikyan’s words, “color”–that wraps around the game. But I think the “worlds” take on more significance when the world is conceived first and the gameplay second: a case in which the game is wrapped around the world, rather than the other way around. I might say, then, that a game is simply the creation of another world.

3. I think Costikyan’s definition of games is too narrow. The first thing that comes to mind is that not all games involve managing resources. It’s really ironic that he mentions Mario Bros. when he says that games “all involve decision making, managing resources in pursuit of a goal” because Super Mario Bros., as I see it, doesn’t involve either of those things. I guess one might consider the time limit, lives, and coins as manageable resources; but when the main component of the game is the platforming skill required to complete stages, the definition seems rather irrelevant.

His claim that cooperative games are totally illegitimate also seems a bit uninformed. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, for example, combines both cooperation and competition: it requires players to cooperate in order to overcome obstacles, but also pits them against each other by rewarding the player that collects the most Rupees. I have also heard of a board game called Pandemic, in which all the players cooperate with each other to stop a common (non-player) adversary.

Costikyan’s claim that “games are not stories” is also pretty relevant to my work, since I think of my games more as worlds than as games. A significant part of these game-worlds tends to be narrative, but the narrative is not always a linear story as Costikyan suggests. The game I made about my friend Eric Choi, for example, literally has no storyline. At it’s core, it’s just a Mario-esque or Megaman-esque platformer where the player tries to reach the other end of the stage. Its world, however, packs a significant amount of narrative. Everything in the game–the Settlers piece-shaped platforms, the kimchi flamethrower and recorder weapons, the disembodied hand enemies that tickle the player, the Chick Corea music playing the background–”narrates” something about who Eric is and the community we were part of. It’s hardly a linear narrative, as its content never progresses from point A to point B, but it clearly is the centerpiece of the game’s appeal.