READING NOTES #1

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

Following reading the “Defining Games” chapter of Salen and Zimmerman’s book “Rules of Play,” I find a few of the definitions to be the most appealing, relatable, and understandable. The first of which is Clark C. Abt’s in which he defines games as “an activity among two or more independent decision-makers seeking to achieve their objectives in some limiting context” (Salen and Zimmerman 74). This definition appeals to me because it simply and concisely encompasses what a game has meant to me and my experiences. One of the first games that I remember being introduced to as a child was Guess and, despite the simplicity of this game—as it is one created primarily for a young audience—it follows all of the guidelines that Abt’s definition lays out. Guess who is an activity as it follows a process. It requires decision making, as players must think critically and carefully ask the other player questions that will ultimately lead to them winning or losing the game. This game also has objectives in which the goal is to correctly determine what character the opponent has on their card. Additionally, guess who has a limited context in which players are only aloud to ask yes-or-no question and must take turns when doing so. While there is a bit of randomness that can require luck to win the game—there is a higher chance of losing if you pulled a card with a female, as there are significantly less female characters as opposed to males—Guess who requires players to ask questions carefully in order to win the game. My ability to quickly understand and evaluate Abt’s definition allows it to be one of much appeal.

The second definition that I like the best is that of computer game designer and writer Chris Crawford. He uses a set of four words to describe what a game is to him: representation, interaction, conflict, and safety. While I view this definition as fairly complicated, I also find that the intricacies of this definition are what make it successful. Crawford’s definition encompasses much of what games and the field of game design—as well as game play—highly fascinating. For example, the explanation of the use conflict, for me, really encompasses what a game is, saying that, “the player is actively pursuing some goal. Conflict is an intrinsic element of all games. It can be direct or indirect, violent or nonviolent, but it is always present in every game” (Crawford). I like the aspect of his definition because, even in the simplest of games, it rings true. For example, tic tac toe is very simple and most often a laid-back game, but there is still a conflict involved and it is one of that fits Crawford’s explanation.

While it doesn’t appeal to me in its entirety, I find one aspect of Greg Costikyan’s definition of games to be interesting. What I find appealing, especially in relation to this class and the department, is how Costikyan uses the word “art” as a key element in his definition, saying that, “games are identified as a form of culture” (Costikyan). As we will have the potential to design and produce games that have meaning beyond the rules in this class, this mention of art, interaction, and culture adds a very important element to my understanding of the vast possibilities of the definition of the word “game.”

How would you define a game in your own words?

I would consider myself to be fairly unexperienced about the world of games as I have a small group of favorites (Super Monkey Ball 2, Just Dance, Animal Crossing, Scattergories, and Cards Against Humanity) that I tend to stick to. However, I would define a game as something in with a goal in which a series of specific steps are needed to complete it. I don’t necessarily define it as a competition because, for example in Animal Crossing, there is no one or nothing that you are racing against. Players set their own goals and decide what they want to accomplish in the game and set out to do so. My personal goal is to expand my house and created a well designed interior and, while there are may ways to go about doing so, there is one method that is most efficient and that is to sell bunches of perfect fruit in another villager’s town. Thus, Animal Crossing has goals and steps. As discussed in “Defining Games,” however, I recognize that this definition could be considered to broad as it encompasses more than what is typically categorized as games, however, through my personal experience and interaction with games, I would still follow my own definition as one of the possibilities.

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”?

As stated in the first question, the part of Greg Costikyan’s definition of game that most resonates with my is the mention of games’ artistic, interactive, and cultural elements. However, as I continue reading and developing my thoughts of the definition of games, I find Costikyan’s to be particularly well rounded. While the argument that his definition “embroils them in contemporary debates about games and art, high culture and low culture, and the social status of games,” I find his definition to be particularly applicable to this class and the ways in which we will be creating games and game art (Salen and Zimmerman 78). The element of decision-making players, defined as “games require active participation as choices are made,” however, is one that I don’t always find to be true. For example, in Candy Land—which is most likely not up for debate about his status as a game or not—players actively participate, but there are not decisions being made. This game is pushed entirely by randomness as a dice is rolled to determine how many space a player moves, an action that does not involve decision making. Outside of this, I consider Costikyan’s definition to be well thought out and encompassing.

I think that a puzzle is a game but a game is not a puzzle, just as a rectangle is a square but a square is not a rectangle. I think that many games include an element of puzzles, such as decision-making, critical thinking, and problem solving, but that it does not move in both directions.

Although I have never previously heard of Second Life, after reading a brief description of it, I would personally consider it a game. While it does not suit Costikyan’s definition of a game, my experience with other simulation-type activities—including Animal Crossing, Club Penguin, Neopets, and Club Penguin—I would classify it as a game. The software does not inherently have a goal defined for it, but users set goals for themselves, thus I think that makes it a game.

I find Costikyan’s argument about narrative and narrative tension in games very compelling. I am someone who finds a lot of interest in storytelling (i.e. my love and adoration for Disney parks) because it adds a level of enrichment to an experience. For example, the if you look at just the mechanics of the rides at Disneyland, they are enjoyable but when you add the element of narrative and give guests a sense of adventure and agency, the experience is entirely more enjoyable. Thus, I really relate to the desire to create a game that has such building tension via narrative storyline.

As someone who is very visually driven (I seek to make everything in my life beautiful, or as I often say “instagrammable”), the element of color discussed is one of utmost importance to me. I recognize that a game cannot be made “good” by solely making it beautiful, but I think color can also add another level of immersion and allow for a more enjoyable experience. Another element discussed is that of opposition or competition. In my view, a game would not be a game if it did not have some element of competition, whether that be against another player, time, or some other unknown force. The battle against whatever-it-may-be makes the game interesting and worthwhile, as battling against something, regardless of whether or not you win or loss, produces some level of catharsis when a final result is produced. As discussed previously, I think the element of “art” in Costikyan’s definition is particularly interesting and relevant to this course. As everyone enrolled is studying design/media arts, we are all coming from a creative place wherein the work will inherently have an artistic spin. I don’t think that every game ever created can be considered art, but I think elements in the process in which games are created can always be considered artistic.