Reading Notes # 1

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

Of all of the definitions provided, I find myself agreeing the most with the essential form of Parlett’s definition: Ends + Means = Game.  The main part that I disagree with in his definition is the assertion that all games have an end.   The simple idea that games have goals, and a means to achieve those goals feels almost open enough to include all games.

Another idea I found interesting, was Chris Crawford’s claim that games are internally complete. I like this idea too, the idea that within a game, given you’re following the rules, every possible choice or outcome is accounted for. For example, if you roll a dice, every side of the dice triggers either a specific action or decision on the players part. I think this is an important aspect of a game. Aka, every “what if I blah blah blah” has an answer.

I was also interested in the idea that a game must be voluntary. The authors of the book don’t seem to find this very useful, but I think it’s an interesting and plausible aspect of a game. If we think of a “game” as a lens with which to view physical or mental decisions and actions, then without the “lens” of Rummy for example, all one is left with is a group of people passing pieces of shiny paper and picking them up and and putting them down. The action of playing a game and the theoretical rules of the game can exist without each other. The authors use the example of a child being peer pressured into playing a game: here, while the literal actions of playing the game might not be voluntary, the child’s choice to participate in the lens of a game is. And perhaps that is what matters.

**As an aside, I think of a scenario like this: A child is walking very slowly and mother realizes they are late. She devises a game where the two of them pretend to be dolphins and race to the car whilst making dolphin noises and whoever wins is the fastest dolphin. Mother lets child win so as to spur speedy running. For mother in child in this situation, are the understandings of the rules of the game different? or are playing two different games? Perhaps fully developed and agreed upon rules are not part of a game.

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

I think perhaps because a) I grew up as an only child and thus played often by myself  and b) I find competition to be an extremely normalized and prevalent part of daily life, I am more inclined towards broad definitions of “games”. I am comfortable with the idea that elections and debates and driving in LA traffic can all be a game. Sometimes carrying a cup of coffee from the kitchen to the living room without spilling is game, complete with obstacles and a goal. I might define a game as:

A person or people working within constraints to reach one or multiple goals.

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 that Costikyan’s definition is not so very different from my own. It’s complex, and I don’t think that everything he discusses is a requirement for a game, but they are all interesting and possible factors in game play. He explains the difference between end-oriented and goal-oriented well in his description of RPGs – the idea that players can have different goals that don’t necessarily involving winning opens the doors successfully to many things that I would classify as games. This also implies for me that the rules of a game aren’t always static, and players playing the same game at the same time, may be doing so in entirely different ways. Costikyan says, “If you have no goal, your decisions are meaningless,” saying that without the lens of a game, the actions taken are just movements without meaning.

I do not agree that all games require decision making though. The most simple example of this is the card game War, but really, any game reliant on chance. Candy Land! That doesn’t make them not games, and the reason they can still be mildly enjoyable games (especially for children) is that even without decision making, the outcome is still unknown.

In terms of puzzles – I lean more towards puzzles being included in the category of a game. They are somewhat more static certainly, but they still involve a goal and a set of constraints.

His addition of the word art is also fine with me. I don’t think that all games are inherently art, but they can be art. And art can certainly be a game – what was marina abramovic’s goal with The Artist is Present? I would probably label that piece of art as a game.

Narrative, personal identification, simulation, and color all tie together expanding the game beyond its literal pieces and movements into implications of greater social, fantasy, military etc. reflections of the real world. I don’t think they always matter, but they certainly can make games funny, heart-warming, and relatable.  Color is not static and can change, whether it be star wars monopoly, or playing tag in a different playground every day. Additionally, narrative is linear, but color is not. And even that is changing maybe, as new interesting ways to make narratives that are non-linear in games develop with generative stories etc.