READING NOTE #1

1)

After reading Salen and Zimmerman’s taxonomy of game definitions, I feel that I am not satisfied by any one definition of what a game actually is. Without overlapping on what my answer to question two would be and in keeping to the elements and definitions outlined Rules of Play, the elements that I deem necessary to define a game maintain that a game must:

 

    1. proceed according to rules
    2. be a system (or part of a system)

 

    1. be goal/objective/outcome oriented
    2. involves interaction (primarily in the form decision-making)

 

To me, the author’s’ justification for why a game must include rules and a system is convincing and true in every aspect of a game that I can think of. To summarize, Salen and ZImmerman state that, “Rules provide the structure out of which play emerges, by delimiting what the player can and cannot do.” Systems within games supplement this by adding the objects, attributes, internal relationships, and environments to which these rules are applied. As mentioned by Chris Crawford, “a game must be “closed…completely and self-sufficient as a structure” and “internally complete.” Without the structure that is inevitably created by rules and systems, a game can become utterly chaotic and lawless or wholly uninteresting; competition-based games (such as Blackjack) would lose their sense of winning and losing, defeating the competition aspect entirely while open-world games (such as Grand Theft Auto V) would become too open and abstract, losing their identity and charm.

Additionally, the lusory attitude which philosopher Bernard Suits describes further convinces me as to why rules are necessary. Coming up with ways to overcome the unnecessary obstacles created by rules within games are typically where the joy of playing comes from. For example, the appeal of Blackjack comes from defying the Gods of statistics and hitting that magical 21 (or as close to it as you can get). Similarly, the fascination that millions have for Minecraft comes form building illustrious and magnificent creations from one 1×1 block unit at a time, as tedious as it may be.

 

The latter two elements that I find necessary to define a game are largely influenced by Clark C. Abt’s belief that games require players to make decisions to generate meaningful outcomes and partially from David Parlett’s idea of “ends” in which he states that there must be an objective. For me, a game must have opportunities for the player(s) to interact with it in order to achieve a goal or to realize an “ends”. These necessary interactions become the “cause” and the “action” that generate a necessary “effect” and “outcome” (Crawford).

 

2)

Coming up with my personal definition of a game proved to be a very challenging and thought-provoking process. I believe that a game is a system with parameters and limitations that require player(s) to make decisions to overcome challenges that work against the player(s) in their attempt to achieve a pre-existing goal or a goal that is discovered/created by the player.

 

For me, I believe that competition is not an essential element of games. As Greg Costikyan mentions in his article, “I Have No Words & I Must Design,” many games work to achieve a sense of struggle within for the player(s) to achieve a certain goal. As Costikyan states, “Even when a player has an opponent, putting other obstacles in the game can increase its richness and emotional appeal.” While competition (against another player) can create this sense of struggle, other methods exist, such as conflicting elements or even plotline/narrative changes.

I also believe that games do not require multiple players, whether the additional players be other (human) players, NPCs, card dealers, bankers, the AI, etc. Though commonly played as multiplayer games, childhood playground games such as wall-ball and tetherball both can be played by yourself (assuming the wall or tether-pole does not count as a player). Puzzle games, such as Connect 4 and Tetris are also examples of this notion.

 


3)

In his article, “I Have No Words & I Must Design,” Greg Costikyan raises many intriguing ideas on what a game actually is. After much thought, I agree with nearly all of his points and have come to the conclusion that his definition of games is neither too broad nor too narrow and encompasses as many examples of games as I can think of.

To me, Costikyan’s ideas regarding puzzles and toys were two very revolutionary discoveries that I found in this piece. Although puzzles do retain many of the elements of what I believes constitutes a game, his argument that a puzzle is static (it has one solution and one solution only with clues that lead to this solution) and that games are interactive resonate with me a lot. The fact that puzzles may be elements of games, but not games themselves strengthens his argument as it shows that puzzles simply do not have enough content (usually by means of unique solutions) for it to be considered a game. Adding on to this, the entire genre of puzzle games such as Tetris, Portal, and Candy Crush are essentially gamified puzzles; puzzles with an element of randomness to keep it constantly intriguing, engaging and unique when interacted with.

Costikyan’s delineation between toys and games was a topic that kept me thinking for hours. How is Sim City not considered a game? Does that mean Minecraft isn’t a game? How about Garry’s Mod or Second Life or Star Wars Galaxies? Though it was hard to wrap my head around the concept at first, further research upon the topic allowed me to better understand this topic. In 1982, an art game with a “heavy emphasis on the artistic aspects of computer-generated simulation” and experimentation entitled Alien Garden was released. Unlike most other games of the time, Alien Garden was a game that was termed a non-game, “a class of software on the border between video games and toys,” primarily because it does not hold many properties of traditionally defined games. As defined on Wikipedia, “the main difference between non-games and traditional video games is the lack of structured goals, objectives, and challenges. This allows the player a greater degree of self-expression through freeform play, since he or she can set up his or her own goals to achieve.”

Costikyan directly references Will Wright, the creator of Sim City, who states that Sim City is a toy much like a ball; “you may use it in a game…but the game is not intrinsic in the [ball].” Similar to the ball, because there are no defined objectives and/or goals for Sim City, it becomes termed as a non-game “software toy” rather than a full-fledged video game. You are given the necessary tools to create, but to create what and why you create is completely up to you, the player, and not the game.

How does this concept hold for other games? I believe Sandbox games such as Minecraft and Garry’s Mod fall more along the lines of “software toys” than video games simply because in its base state, it is merely a platform to create and explore without any defined objective and/or goal very similar to Alien Garden.

To me, a role-playing game like Star Wars Galaxies retains its identity as a game because of the many objectives in which the game contains. Though you are free to progress in the game as you wish and there isn’t a defined end goal or objective, there are many smaller “quests” and “missions” to be explored in its base state. Though it is also a role-playing game, I don’t believe that Second Life should be called a game simply because of how, similar to the aforementioned sandbox games, there seem to be virtually no pre-determined objectives and/or goals to be accomplished in the game. Much like Alien Garden and Minecraft, it seems much more like a game to explore and experiment.

One of my favorite elements of Costikyan’s article is his notion of color and the example he uses with Monopoly as a real-estate game. Often times, designing a game is not about creating exact representations of the topic you are going after, but rather, using general themes to create an idea and illusion within the game. Costikyan’s statement about not necessarily needing a direct-sense of competition, but rather a sense of struggle also hits the nail directly on the head of my beliefs for game-making (as mentioned in my answer for question two). Costikyan’s beliefs on “Narrative Tension” is another idea that I believe strongly in. As an avid player of first-person shooter games, many narrative storylines of single-player modes are weak and lacking in narrative tension. His reference to the anticlimax captures why many players of Triple A title shooter games avoid single-player modes (or story-mode) completely, opting for the competitive thrill of multi-player modes.

In terms of Costikyan’s beliefs on producing games that are worthy to be termed as “art,” I believe that, in its current state, very few games have struck me as works of art rather than feats of design. Competitive games such as Chess, Mah-Jong, and Backgammon feature an element of game balance that is simply not-seen in complex video games today. Arcade games such as Tetris, Pong, and Pac-Man continue to survive on our phones today because of their simplicity, yet undying challenge and struggle that they present to us players. I’m not quite sure if I will ever see games as feats of art versus design, but hopefully that will be something I develop during this course.