Reading Notes #1


1) I have to say, I’m a lot more drawn to Salen & Zimmerman’s “Rules of Play” than Greg Costikyan’s “I Have No Words & I Must Design,” mostly because – in its uncertainty/openness – I believe Salen & Zimmerman’s to be a much more malleable, pragmatic, and thus, useful definition. There’s an almost militant idealism to Costikyan’s definition of games, which excludes a “toy”-based role. I feel like that’s part of the draw of games, and the precise quality, or perhaps better worded as “connotation” that enables the artificial “circle of play” environment; it’s all about the game’s approachable nature and perceived triviality, which – if we are looking again at Costikyan’s view of games as exclusive pieces of culture – allows subjects to approach and engage with less comfortable subjects. And this engagement is obviously essential, if we are thinking of games as pieces of culture. I think games should be considered as such; but considering a game to have entertaining qualities as well does not exclude it from cultural value.


2) For me, a game is an explicitly coded set of behaviors, which one or more people participate in, and which activity is somehow set apart from typical real-world behaviors, or beliefs. A game could be more loosely formulated and enacted. For instance, I think that a game could both include Candy Land, which has game pieces, written instructions, and a group of friends sitting in class, trying to provoke the silent attention of another select student with direct and unbroken eye contact. In both scenarios, there is a mutual understanding of some sort of rules, or collective goal. To add to my definition, I think a goal is another essential component. The goal may not lead to a conclusion of the game, but regardless, there is some task a player or players(s) attempt to accomplish, and which drives the action of the game forward.


3) To reiterate my view from question one, I would say that Costikyan’s definition of games is too narrow, because it excludes the potential of a game to be valued for its entertaining qualities, and states that this aforementioned potential prevents its consideration as a valued piece of culture. To illustrate this point, Costikyan critiques Sim City for lacking an “objective” and thus what it takes to take it from “toy” to an interactive cultural object. I would disagree, not just with that point but also with the example he provides. Sure, there is no conclusive end goal to Sim City, but i think the mechanisms of the game, and city building, shapes the player’s mind in a fresh and new way around a subject that they probably had never before considered in detail, etc, and the player’s mental illumination could be objective of the game designer. It’s interesting that he thinks of the toy, within the game, as not capable of being a game in itself: a looser, less structured game of exploration, which gains strange power in its extraction from its context. For the aforemetioned reasons, I do indeed consider Second Life a game. Puzzles remain difficult for me to define; I agree with Costikyan that they can be a component within the microcosm of a game. However, within my own personal definition, I think a puzzle could be a game; there is the overall goal or objective of the puzzle’s solution, and the act of solving the puzzle could be an important learning experience that would not be experienced outside the inviting circle of play. I agree with his idea of narrative in games. I think tension provides the incentive and natural player magnetism to obligate the player to continue playing the game; if something is artificial, without any real life stakes to participate, there must be another element to secure the player’s investment in the game. Why else would one play? I agree with his notions of color and competition. Color can be a superficial, but important, element in games. The theme, and aesthetics, of Monopoly, are what makes it so interesting, and what people cherish about the game, not the mechanics. I agree that games should be considered as “art,”  and important cultural objects, as I mentioned in question one; just not in conflict with, or at the cost of games as “entertainment”.