Reading Note 1

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

The most appealing definition to me is Salen and Zimmerman’s own: a game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome. The second most appealing definition is Avedon and Sutton-Smith’s: games are an exercise of voluntary control systems, in which there is a contest between powers, confined by rules in order to produce a disequilibrial outcome. I also find Costikyan’s definition appealing for its first component defining a game as a form of art.

Salen and Zimmerman’s and Avedon and Sutton-Smith’s definitions are similar in structure, but I find the former most appealing because it is the most succinct one. It directly addresses or alludes to almost all of the elements of the other definitions including rules, conflict, outcome-oriented, activity, decision-making, etc. I also find both of these definitions to be the most true and encompassing of all formal games. I think Salen and Zimmerman’s definition would benefit from two aspects of the other definitions I mentioned: describing the outcome as disequilibrial and defining a game as a form of art.

These two notions are important because they are not mentioned or implied in Salen and Zimmerman’s definition, and are features that regulate many formal games. I believe the games always intend to produce a disequilibrial outcome in order to name winners and generally as a form of a goal for the players. Further, many games are challenging the notion of the form of games by bending and stretching the rules to create social, political, and otherwise relevant commentary regarding the experience of the game. This, combined with the aesthetics of the game itself, qualifies it as art, an element that is not mentioned in any definitions except Costikyan’s.


How would you define a game in your own words?

A game is a form of art, which creates a system that allows players to engage in an artificial engagement, confined by rules, in order to result in a quantifiable, often disequilibrial outcome.

Obviously this definition combines and borrows from the previously mentioned definition but I believe it is more encompassing than the individuals ones, although not as concise as some. I chose the word “engagement” instead of the word “conflict” because I believe “conflict” implies a battle between two equal and opposing sides, which is not necessarily true of all games. For example, in a card game like Solitaire, the challenge is not a conflict with an opponent per say, but rather an engagement with the rules of the game itself.

I also chose to include the word “often” before “disequilibrial” because I do acknowledge that not all games seek to specifically produce a disequilibrial outcome, instead just offer an engagement with artificial rules in order to quantify the outcome. This is especially true of games that seek to qualify as art; the commentary the game may seek to produce may want to redefine the concept of winning the game and thus intentionally try not to create disequilibrium.


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”?

Costikyan defines a game as “a form of art in which participants, termed players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal.”

I question this definition’s latter components because of its initial introduction of game as a form of art. Costikyan prefaces his definition by detailing what a game is not, claiming that a game is not a puzzle because it is not static, that it is not a toy like Sim City, and that it is not a story because it is not linear, amongst other things. I disagree with these claims because if a game is a form of art, the game designer reserves the right to include whatever elements s/he wishes in order to manipulate the meaning and experience gained from the game.

For example, with the example of The Sims, many would argue that the product is a game. After all, it is sold in the video games section of the store, not the toys section. Further, The Sims follows every aspect of Cotsikyan’s own definition; participants, or players, make decisions constantly for their Sims in order to manage the resources the game has provided in pursuit of the basic goal to keep the Sims alive, but providing freedom to choose to not pursue that goal definitively. For example, a player can choose to make decisions that will cause their Sim to die, and they can choose to kill their Sim to achieve a certain other goal they have created for themselves. Additionally, games like The Sims can also serve as a linear story, even if after the fact. The Sims inherently works to create a story based on the player’s actions and decisions for their Sims.

While I disagree with elements of Costikyan’s analysis, I do agree with one major point he makes about color. He essentially states that the aesthetics of a game make it more appealing by evoking the “ethos and atmosphere and pageantry of its setting.” The concept of aesthetics is especially interesting to explore when considering games as an art. Art, in various facets of its history, has offered a majority of its appeal not due to its functionality but due to its aesthetics. The indulgence aesthetics offer can be featured in games well to make them more appealing. In a lot of ways, games themselves are acts of indulgence, while completely based on functionality they are without any real purpose, just like art.