READING NOTES #1

1. After reading Salen & Zimmerman’s taxonomy of game definitions. explain which definition(s) for game appeals to you most?

When personally defining what qualities make up the definition of a game, my first thought was that a game needed to have rules, or restrictions. Therefore, I agree with the consensus that the majority of contributors emphasized the importance of rules. Bernard Suits gives the example that a runner cannot just cut across the track to reach the goal of the game (finish line), the rules are placed because it makes the play possible. Not only do rules make the whole play function and have meaning with goals to accomplish given set circumstances, rules provide the perfect boundary for creative minds to flourish in the game. Creating limitations enables the players to strategize and creatively work; in a sense asking, what can you do with what you have been given? In this system brings the enjoyment and the captivating element of games. Though not every game offers this I think games like Love Letter (the card game) is an example of how severe limitations make the game fun. The cards basically tell the player what they have to do when they play the card while the player adheres to the rule of the general game to cough up one of two cards each time. As I played, I found myself trying to “mentally beat the system” by paying close attention to how others played, what cards were being put down out of the deck etc. It was stimulating.

The foundation of having rules, brings in other traits of games that were discussed in Salen & Zimmernan, such as decision-making. Greg Costikyan states that games require active game participation as choices are made. Salen & Zimmernan mention that puzzles are a type of  game while Costikyan’s definition says that puzzles are not games with the difference being that games change with player-decision. In that sense, I find that the decision-making factor of a game appealing because in the created “fixed system” that makes up a game, the outcome possibilities are up to chance in accordance to the step by step actions made. Not only does decision-making dictate the outcome, but because there is a sense of ownership behind our actions that define the end-result of a game, it brings an emotional element into the game as well as personal interactions with the game. If further developed, it can go as far as revealing and developing our character and personality traits. From the initial notion of choosing a over b, every move shapes the experience as one step leads to another; at the end if I am successful or a failure, I will determine how I see and rate my entire process and ability to make decisions from it. In this psychological sense, games and defining characteristics have the ability to influence other self-realities and sensibilities to come to light.

2. How would you define a game in your own word

As mentioned, I think a game has rules and limitations that partake in a particular goal. In Salen & Zimmeran’s chart, I agree with the two popular understandings of what a game is: proceeds according to rules that limit players and goal oriented/outcome-oriented. Costikyan states “Whatever goal you’ve chosen, you’ve turned it into a game”, therefore a game has objectives that must be attainable and have an end. In order to have objectives, there should be conflicts that counter the player from easily reaching the end.

As I define my understanding of games, the process of going through a game can be made in an analogy of going through life in general. Each period of our lives, we strive towards a goal and must overcome the conflicts to reach that goal. Our limitations are our circumstances varying person by person. Costikyan emphasizes that whatever goals we set our players, we must make the players work to achieve their goals.. Even when a player has an opponent, putting other obstacles in the game can increase its richness and emotional appeal. Similarly, every obstacle we endure is another one that develops the richness of our experience and character. In Salen & Zimmeran’s article, Chris Crawford says that a game is safe way to experience reality, the results of a game are less harsh than the situations the game models; therefore, a game is a sub-reality that manifests itself in different themes and tangents with reality as a primary influence in its system.

3.What is your opinion of Costikyan’s definition of games, is it too broad , too narrow,which aspects of his definition do agree with and which do you disagree with? Are puzzles games? Is second life a game? What do you make of his ideas about narrative in games? And his notions of color and competition? What about his idea that games should be considered “art”?

I agree with the majority of Costikyan’s understanding of a game, possibly because he offers it in a succinct, bold manner. When looking at Salen & Zimmerman’s chart, I think some aspects mentioned by other game-analyzers confuse the definition of a game with makes a game captivating. However, Costikyan’s format of his article in explaining what makes a game a game and his secondary topic of what strengthens games clearly communicates the difference between identity and trait. Some of his key topics: opposition and goals I agree are foundational in a game; however I think his mentioning of resources and tokens would be better off as sub-categories.

Costikyan mentions stimulation through competition and tokens. I appreciate the two categories of resources and tokens that he makes. “Resources are things you must manage efficiently to achieve your goals; tokens are your means of managing them.” In the broader definition, a game has obstacles that the player must endure. Having resources and tokens enable that need to be fulfilled and supported for the system to work as a whole. It’s a detailed aspect of what a game needs but it is not a defining characteristic. Since games are tangible, smaller-scaled simulations, using tokens, whether it be pieces or ourselves, is the only way that simulation works. In the same way, resources are all part of the means to achieve the goal.

Similarly to Costikyan’s opinion, I don’t think a game can be a story. However, I think a story enhances games and plugs itself into aspects of the game such as stimulation, conflict, rules, etc. Making a game in account of a story proves no use for the character to have an end or attempt to have an end because it is predetermined. So far, a game is defined as one where decisions of the player affects the outcome. He mentions narrative tension as a game-strengthener is a proper way to see the success effects of narrative influence a game.

Costikyan’s balance of game defining and game supplements provides a clear understanding between the necessities of a game and what is useful to have a successful game. More so, I agree with his foundational definitions. One element of his article that I would like to see emphasized is aesthetic of a game. He mentions color and the enhancement of a game’s playability but I think the design, whether it be conceptual or physical is one subject that he should touch on. Is there a general way to determine what makes a game’s roads or world successful? How do the details of the pieces differ the experience of a game emotionally? He touches on games being an art form but I didn’t get his message other than the beginning of the article but I found that contradictory too because he says art is passive and games are interactive. It is a form of art as he mentions, but I think more elaboration on what elements make it artful would be helpful. I think games are art forms in the most general definition of art possible. They are intentional systems that manifests and simulates our understanding of society and culture that we’ve “miniaturized” to help us understand broader concepts. Though done in a variety of means, it gives us the role of changing and challenging (through play) what we observe.