Monday, 10 October 2011

Play the game (Defining Games)

Defining videogames
Theorists have tried to define games over the years but many disagree on what makes a "game" and when we add videogames to the mix, this complicates the definition even more.

(Image courtesy of

Games are constantly evolving, they stretch to different types of technology and applied in activity, so it is difficult to define them. Games can cover a range of things,board games, to sports, to social games and to video games. In my opinion, games can apply to anything in life to digital, whether it be the game of love, to the game of chance (gambling). It is subjective, you can make a game out of anything, the mind is a creative game maker. ""The game" is an amazingly plastic medium. It's adaptable to any and every technology, from the neolithic to the high tech"- I have No Words & I Must Design: Toward a Critical Vocabulary for Games, Greg Costikyan - this pretty much sums up what I tried to explain but with a more critical mind and vocabulary.

Specifically for this blog I will be talking about digital games (video/computer/console/portable games).

What makes a videogame?

James Newman's Videogames book adapted a list of elements of a videogame from Howland 1998a. I decided to put this table up because these elements are often used as a foundation for many modern games.We must note that these elements simply do not mean that the game will be great or a success. The quality, time and love designers put in to a game can make it a success.

Greg Costikyan defines games as: an interactive structure of endogenous meaning that requires players to struggle toward a goal. He too splits his definition of a game in to components or elements that make up a game.

Interaction allows the player to progress through the game and to change things. He says that puzzles are not games because they are static - you can't develop or progresss from your actions, they only offer a single final solution solved by logic. In contrast, he says games are not static, but change with the player's actions.
GoalsPlayers need goals to add meaning to the interaction and there are two types of goals: explicit goals set by the game designer and the implicit goals set by the players themselves. SimCity is a great example of the success of implicit goals since the player can decide what type of city they want to build, however there are still explicit goals e.g if you make a really bad town you will eventually become bankrupt and in debt, meaning the end of the game either that or you run out of room to expand on the map for your city because it is such a success.

Costikyan states in his book that "There can be no game without struggle". If everything is given to the player or too easy to get, there would no reason for them to play or spend their time on getting better at it. Struggle created by obstacles(puzzles), competition (other players), or by NPC/Monsters.It is a designers job to balance this, to get it just right so that the game is not too hard or too easy. Certain games, such as RPGs, give the option to increase or decrease difficulty.

Structure is a set rules that a game have, to keep the player immersed in the game and to guide their behaviour. Costikyan's quotes structure, "a game's structure as akin to an economy, or an ecosystem". Rules we create can affect the players outcome for a player greatly, whether it be too easy, hard or cause an unintentional abusable loophole or bug.
Endogenous MeaningThe value of an item or things in a game itself compared to reality. Costikyan uses Monopoly money as an example because it has no real value in reality but to win the game you need that fake money. Some games can add real meaning and value in-game and reality. For example MapleStory allows tradeable virtual items with real money or purchased from cash shops in-game. This is a relatively new concept and more online games are implementing this as a way of getting revenue for games instead of advertisements. In my opinion this ruins game experience for other players. Also the black market for game items allow players to trade their items for real cash, some games have restrictions on this to keep the game economy balance fair. On the other hand the company/publisher/developer have to make money somehow. If a game implements cash shops considering gameplay - items that allow customisation and no advantage against another player - will it make it a fair game? Only time can tell of the success of online games with cash shops, for now it is too early to define them.

Since I have written too much already I will post more later about defining games, covering: paidea, ludus, agon, alea, illinx, and mimicry.