Reading Notes 1 – Philip Scott

1. While my own personal definition of games is a combination of many of the definitions outlined in the essay, I was most drawn to Greg Costikyan’s view of games in the first essay. He was the only one of the authors mentioned to define games as ‘art’, a phenomenally important descriptor when discussing both the nature and future of gaming. Some argue that games like Call Of Duty that sacrifice innovation for profit prevent games as a genre to be considered art, but I find it unfair to leave games out of the art world entirely because of the capitalistic and ultimately lazy nature of a select few video game developers. Just like in design, painting, or writing, there are good games and bad games, and the bad games shouldn’t hold back the legitimacy of the good ones. He also introduced the idea of tokens, which adds an interesting and necessary element to the definition of games – motivation. The idea of a token provides the player with not only a goal but a reason for attempting to reach that goal. Upon first glance, I wasn’t sure about the idea of a token due to the materialistic connotations with the word, but upon further thought, every successful game I can imagine utilizes a kind of token, whether it be in-game money or a more abstract kind of token like karma. My personal favorite example of a token driven game is Fallout 3, a computer game in which you play in post nuclear war Washington D.C. The game uses tokens in just about every aspect of play, whether it be good or bad karma, weapons, bottle caps, or collectible items. This kind of system makes gameplay both rewarding and engaging, and should without a doubt be mentioned in any definition of games.

2. Games are a difficult thing for me to define because I have categorized certain types of games differently for as long as I can remember. I viewed board games, video games, and physical games as entirely separate entities, but upon more critical thought have found the need to combine the definitions of the three into a more concise, all-encompassing theory. First and foremost, a game must have player(s). Without players, that is, people to play the games, the games wouldn’t exist at all. Next, the game must have a goal. The goal is an end to a task, a point in which the requirements of the task have been met and play can reset. It is also important to note that there can be many goals to a game – to use the same example as the previous question, the open-world game Fallout 3 has a potentially infinite amount of goals. While the ultimate goal of the game is to finish your father’s water purification project, there are a plethora of side-quests with differing end points. The player can also set goals for him/herself, i.e. ‘I will kill all NPCs’ or ‘I will collect every Nuka-Cola bottle in the game’. This same idea applies to all aspects of gaming, whether it be creating new, unique rules for a classic board game or creating a new form of tag. The same goals mentioned here encompass the next piece of my definition of games, the guidelines. I say guidelines instead of rules to highlight the personal and potentially changing set of instructions provided to the player. Finally, the game must have context. By context, I don’t necessarily mean social or historical context (although both of these are meant to be optionally included in the definition), I mean context as a more broad and all-encompassing way of saying setting. A game must have a place that it may be played, whether it be Washington D.C. post-nuclear war in Fallout 3, in a magic world of Planeswalkers and spells in Magic: The Gathering, or simply ‘in a space’ for games like tag or hide and seek.

These four terms are meant to be as open-ended as possible to allow for a very wide definition for what a game actually is. I want to be able to include something as trivial as counting the bricks on a building as a game – there is a player, a goal (to count the bricks), guidelines (counting in ascending order), and a context (the game is played in thought). Whether or not we realize it, we are playing games with ourselves almost every day, and I want my definition of games to encompass even the ones we aren’t aware we are playing.

3. This essay was very interesting to read immediately after the brief abstract in the first reading. While I agree with the majority of his logic, the way in which Costikyan so easily casts off certain types of activities as ‘linear’ or ‘static’ is problematic. How can one flatly say that a puzzle is not a game? Is Myst, a game made up entirely of puzzles that require critical thought to reveal emotional choices not a game? What are strategy games such as Warhammer and Civilization if not grand puzzles that require the re-arranging of pieces for the most plausible way to defeat an opponent at war? The open ended-ness of games does not fit with these types of generalizations. I also hugely disagree that personal goals to not count towards the functioning of a toy as a game. He claims that the game itself needs to set a singular goal, and while a game must set certain goals, it is important to recognize that those goals do not necessarily need to be the end-all game resetters that he makes them out to be. Is getting a job for your Sim not a goal in and of itself? What about fostering a family of Sims? These are all goals that provide emotional choices at some point in their completion, and thus legitimize The Sims and similar ‘software toys’ as games. Toys, also, is far too general of a term to leave out of gaming entirely. While a toy car may not be a game, pitting two spinning tops against each other most certainly is. These types of generalizations in the context of a hugely specific definition of games simply do not fit in a number of categories, and ultimately turn this essay into a collection of interesting concepts and opinions relating to games as opposed to a comprehensive definition.