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What defines a Game?

“What is a Game?”

            Creating an all-encompassing definition for the elusive nature of a game can be daunting task, but I believe I have developed a definition that can help shed illumination on this shrouded topic. Most people can agree that we play games because they are fun. But what is fun? Raph Koster veteran game designer and author of “A Theory of Fun“ wrote: “Fun arises out of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that make games fun. With games, learning is the drug.”  Our brains have the ability to grow in learning and that is what drives us to play games. Learning supplies us with tools to overcome the challenges that are part of life, and overcoming challenges gives us a sense of achievement. The best game is a game that constantly challenges the player and forces them to learn. So part of the definition of a game must include that learning is at the core of why we play. Albert Einstein even once noted that play is the highest form of research, so who is going to argue with Einstein?

Another key element of games is rules and components. In most games the rules are usually more significant than the components, but there are some games where the roles are reversed. An example of the components being more important than the rules is trading card games like Pokémon and Magic the Gathering. Additionally all game rules are defined by goal conditions which can be described in two major principles. The victory condition requirements and the strategy needed to win the game. There are thousands of games, but only a small number of game goals. That means that most games share the same goal. The goal should be relatively simple to measure, and easily depicted.

There is a plethora of other elements that could be described but for the sake of this paper I will end on competition and equality. All games demonstrate competition; there are winners and losers. Even in cooperative games or when players work as a team, competition exists. The competition and the measurement of the game results are limits on how a game can convey certain feelings of emotion. This is one of the big differences between games and their media counter parts books, movies, and music. For example, love, freedom, harmony, pain, sorrow, etc. The criteria “competition” is also the reason why it is so difficult to develop games that are not aggressive or violent in nature. As I digress it is important to note that all games treat the players as equals in having the same chance to win. This is one of the reasons children love to play games, because in a game with adults, they are equal partners.

Author: Gavin Johnston

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Works Cited

Raph Koster “A Theory of Fun” O’Reilly Media, December 2 2013

Nils Pettersson “What is a game and why do we play?” Gamasutra, January 16 2013

Wolfgang Kramer “What is a Game?” The game Journal, December 2000

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