Reading Notes #1

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

Different parts of the definitions set forth by David Parlett, Bernard Suits, and Greg Costikayan appeal to me. I like that Parlett distinguishes between an informal game and a formal game. He characterizes “playing around” like kids or puppies do as an informal game. In order for something to be characterized as a formal game, it must have an ends and a means to an end. The means are the rules and game pieces and the ends is the goal that only one player can achieve. He also notes that when this goal is met, the game ends. This definition appeals to me because I associate most games (that I’d want to play anyway) with being able to win. If I can’t be competitive and win, I’m a lot less interested in the game. I also like the distinction between formal and informal play. I believe that roughhousing and playing chess are related activities, but they don’t belong under the same definition.

Bernard Suits says, “playing a game is the voluntary effort to overcome unnecessary obstacles”. I like the component of this definition that points out that the obstacles you overcome in a game are unnecessary and the rules institute some level of inefficiency in the  gameplay. It would be quicker to beeline across a game board but instead there are some rules to govern how you can move. I like this idea because it serves as a good reminder that in a game everything is constructed and there needs to be something that makes it interesting enough that people will want to play this inefficient, unnecessary thing. It has to be fun or thought-provoking, or engrossing.

In Greg Costikyan’s words, “a game is a form of art in which participants make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in pursuit of a goal.” What I like about this definition is that Costikyan points out that decision-making is integral to a game and that managing resources is a good way to require decision-making and make it interesting. As a person who isn’t very game-literate, this definition helped me start to see how a game could function, how you can keep people engaged. I also like that Costikayan considers games to be art, because I agree. Some people contend that art can’t serve a purpose, lest it’s actually design, not art. I think that games fit within art because as Johann Hutzinga points out, you don’t profit from playing a game. There’s nothing accomplished by playing a game except the goals within the game and the joy of experiencing it.


2. How would you define a game in your own words?

A game is an interactive art form that uses systems and rules to govern the behavior of players in pursuit of achieving one or many end-goals. This definition draws ideas from Costikayan, Suits, and Parlett. A game requires human participation and decision-making (it’s interactive). It requires systems and rules for players to know what to do and for it to function. They also must have one or more goals, whether the goal is specified by the game itself or decided on by the players within the game. Finally, a game is an art form because it exists purely for the experience of itself and/or communicating a message as art does.


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 think Costikayan’s definition of games makes a lot of sense, but I disagree with some of his finer points about the interpretation of the definition. He says, “a game is a form of art in which participants make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in pursuit of a goal.” The definition is specific enough that I can apply it to games I’ve heard of, but not so narrow as to exclude a lot of games. I agree with the definition but disagree with the interpretation of it that puzzles are not games, that games should not tell stories, that games like Sim City have no goal etc.

Costikayan asserts that because puzzles are static they can’t be considered games. He believes that a puzzle is not a game because it does not change with the player’s actions. I disagree and side with the authors of the textbook that a puzzle is a game. According to my definition, a game needs a system, rules, and a goal. In a puzzle the system is interlocking pieces, the rules are to fit them together, and the goal is to form a complete picture. I understand what Costikayan is saying but I think that puzzles are games. If you want to be picky perhaps they could be categorized as static games.

I believe that Second Life is a game, but Costikayan would not. He would categorize it as a toy because it’s interactive but has no goals. He cites the example of a ball or Sim City as toys because you can do many things with them, but there is no set objective. To me, Second Life is a game because you would generate your own goals as you play. Depending on what activities within the game interest a player, they would prioritize those activities, effectively creating a strategy and goals for themselves. The fact that the game does not have one built-in goal does not detract from this.

I disagree with Costikayan’s assertion that “gaming is not about telling stories”. I believe games can be about telling stories or expressing a certain viewpoint. Costikayan’s logic is that because stories are linear and games are nonlinear, they are incompatible. Has he never heard of a nonlinear story? It may be true that the majority of stories are linear, but this does not mean that it is impossible to create a nonlinear one. His concern with storytelling and games seemed to be that they would lead the players too much and not allow for free decision-making, but I think a compromise between these two ideas could be found so that a game is decision-based but also communicates something.

Costikayan says that color and competition are two ways to make a game more engrossing. I agree with this – I will be more likely to want to play something that has an interesting theme or is beautifully designed. I am also very competitive so I understand how that would make a game more exciting. I also liked Costikayan’s point about diplomacy – that giving the players the ability to help or hinder eachother makes the game more interesting. I think that’s the component of games that makes them really fun to play in a group of friends. It’s always fun to mess with someone or form alliances.

Finally, I agree with Costikayan’s categorization of games as art. The definition of art is definitely debatable but I think games qualify as art because they are designed and made to create experiences for players but they are not necessary. You don’t play a game to survive (unless of course you’re playing Jumanji), you play a game for the enjoyment of the experience.