Reading Note #1

1. After reading Salen and Zimmerman’s taxonomy of game definitions, I’m inclined towards Greg Costikyan’s definition and the definition Salen and Zimmerman give in the book. In Salen and Zimmerman’s definition, a game is defined and structured with a system, player(s), rules, conflicts, quantifiable outcome and is artificial. First, I agree that games are constructed with a system, defined by rules, and most importantly, the rules lead to some kind of conflict, which is the most important part of a game. A game without conflict would be dull and meaningless, and resolving the conflict is what I consider to be the game play process. However, there is one element missing in this definition, which is decision making. It is part of Costikyan’s definition of game, in which he links game to art. Even the simplest games would require some kind of decision making for the players, which is another central element that makes games interesting. I think games are inevitably a representation of our culture, social life and history, so it should be considered an interactive form of art, which is an essential product and component of our cultural and social life, as well as a defining characteristic of games. Therefore, a combination of both Costikyan’s and Salen & Zimmerman’s definition would appeal to me as the most accurate and comprehensive definition of games.

2. My definition of a game would be somewhat between Costikyan’s and Salen & Zimmerman’s: A game is a form of art, defined by a system of rules, in which players make decisions in order to engage and resolve conflicts, and reach a result.

3. I agree with most parts of Costikyan’s definition of games, but some parts of his definition is a little too narrow. I like how he emphasizes decision making, participation and a final goal as defining characteristics of games. I agree that Sim City itself wouldn’t be a game, but only a toy because it doesn’t have any goals or conflicts, but it is a game when players play it and naturally set some kind of goals for themselves.

I also question his distinction between roleplaying and position identification. He suggests that roleplaying is a performance, so if it is a solitaire game with no audience, it cannot be roleplaying. I disagree, because roleplaying are based off of a narrative, and if the player is provided with the background narrative of a role or character, he/she can “play” that role, think and react in that character’s shoe no matter how many players there are. On the contrary, when roleplaying is involved with socializing and communicating, the characters players are supposed to “play” will likely become only a name card. In games like Mafia, that are highly social and psychological, players constitute the roles, instead of being influenced by any designed characters.

I also disagree with his distinction between puzzle and games. I think puzzles are definitely games, and they are interactive and require decision-making. For example, a Rubic Cube is a puzzle, but solving it is playing a game, as it is  about making decisions to resolve conflicts and reaching a final goal. Every turn and move of the cube would result in an entirely different situation, moving towards or away from winning, and this is how puzzles respond to our actions and decisions. As he said, no game can be interesting without puzzle, or in other words, conflicts, opposition and rules, so it is unreasonable to me to separate puzzles and games.

I think his idea of narrative is closely linked to his idea of color, because they are both elements that would construct the setting and appearance of the game. I agree that narrative tension would make a game more interesting sometimes, but complicated narrative can also take away the players’ patience and reduce the fun. Many boardgames like Backgammon doesn’t really have a narrative, but it is still fun. The same applies to color. Sometimes it’s helpful for games to have great design and packaging, but without it, an ingeniously designed game would still be interesting to play. As for competition, I think it is a very central element in most games. Even in solitaire games like Flappy Bird, to compete with your own high score can also make the game interesting.

I agree with his notion of games being a form of art, because it is not only a representation of our culture, society, but also fosters a lot of aesthetic and intellectual creations. Isn’t that what art is? It’s just not the kind of art that are only to be viewed passively.