What's in a Game?

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What's in a Game?

How we define videogames has changed much since their creation.

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"Using Games for Windows Live - while about as challenging as Dark Souls..." It's funny because it's true.

He done got all hairy!

Not sure about your definition. If "play" can include "probing new systems and discovering how they behave in response to your input" then one can "play" with, say, Photoshop. I'm sure we've all heard people use the term when experimenting with a new application.

Personally I'm gonna go with an interactive virtual medium. The output to you is the same as a movie but you can modify what happens. So I guess for me a game where all you do is walk around and interact with absolutely nothing, it's case is a bit water-thin. I hate the have to be able to win/lose definition. If I wanted an experience that ended I would buy a movie not a game.

Isn't the core of this debate the fact that the term "game" doesn't have a single, simple definition, as Wittgenstein noted? If "games" in general don't always have rules or win/lose conditions, why should videogames require them?

Zhukov:
He done got all hairy!

Not sure about your definition. If "play" can include "probing new systems and discovering how they behave in response to your input" then one can "play" with, say, Photoshop. I'm sure we've all heard people use the term when experimenting with a new application.

Yeah, I came here pretty much to post this. All you've done is taken the broad term "video game", for which everyone has their own definition, and replace it with the broad term "play", for which everyone has their own definition. Total progress: zero.

When you make a term overly broad it loses meaning. As such I do not believe that everything called a game is a game.

I tend to consider things like Sim City and some piloting games "Simulations" rather than games because in general they exsit to represent something and well... simulate it, rather than actually setting out to provide gamplay or any kind of objective. They typically aren't entirely out to entertain, though they usually do. Not everyone creates this kind of a distinction but I think it's what best applies to the situation, and has even been used that way officially, though it always comes down to the masses not wanting to accept a more complicated vernacular.

By definition when you want to define video games as anything that can be played, you pretty much wind up including almost every bit of software in existance, so there is no real reason to even have the term "video game".

To my way of thinking the kind of software that we're seeing now that raises these questions will eventually get a label if it ever becomes popular enough to matter. To be entirely fair outside of a relatively select group of people things like "Dear Esther" are pretty much unknown, unlike the way video games in general have seeped into the mainstream consciousness. I'm tempted to just call it all "Computer Art", while other things might have artistic intent along with other purposes, such productions have nothing else to them except for the art, a lot of them are even stated as having no intent to entertain, so much as to represent a mental exercise or convey a message. "Dear Esther" is more or less defined as basically being a giant waste of space, it exists because it can, which is kind of the point. The creators more or less acknowleged that there is no actual answers or storyline, it's just wierdness and narrative for the intent of having it, and for people to broadcast onto, it means nothing. I guess you could pretty much call it a piece of "Troll Art" in the long term given the eventual reveals I was reading.

Falseprophet:
Isn't the core of this debate the fact that the term "game" doesn't have a single, simple definition, as Wittgenstein noted?

Honestly, this is a debate as old as time it's self with nothing new on this table to offer up a worthwhile purpose to regurgitate the whole "when is a game not a game?" debate. I'll just mention that Ludwig Wittgenstein did work on Language-Game theory and that should be enough regurgitation about this subject that's needed for now.

Falseprophet:
Isn't the core of this debate the fact that the term "game" doesn't have a single, simple definition, as Wittgenstein noted? If "games" in general don't always have rules or win/lose conditions, why should videogames require them?

Exactly. And while we're at it, what is even the point of this debate? What would we achieve if we somehow came to the final consensus what is and isn't a game?

I'd go further than other people are going. A game is a set of rules and stimuli that demand interaction of some form or another. Usually that involves some degree (or lack of) action and reaction, but not always.

If you have a screen saying "use the arrow keys to move" and a dude on the screen who will do nothing until you press a button, then it is demanding you to interact with it. If you have a blank photoshop window, you can play around in it and certainly have fun from drawing in it and messing with the myriad of tools, but it isn't a game because the software is not reacting to the stimulus you're providing it, you are the only one reacting to said stimulus. A movie asks us to react to the stimulus, but it will not react to our reactions.

Now a better question is how do we define the difference between a Game and the Theatre? That I don't know, because there most definitely is an interaction between audience and actor. Perhaps it's something as simple as the degree of interaction. Perhaps the stimuli demand interaction, but the rules do not.

Good piece.
Missed ya on here! Now, where's my Stolen Pixels?! ;-)

I'm going to go with the 'Why does it matter'? school of thought. I'm reminded somewhat of the discussion over whether or not there was such a thing as an 'art game'. Ultimately I think it's a game if you think it is. I don't think it's possible to come up with a definition that is both concise enough to be understandable while still including Minecraft, Dear Esther, and Minesweeper and precise enough to separate such distinctions as Minecraft and a Lego Design Tool.

I'd define "game" as an activity used for entertainment which has a clearly defined goal(short-term or long-term). This doesn't necessarily mean a "win" or "loss" condition, but merely something the player is supposed to accomplish. Sports are all games because they are primarily meant to be enjoyable, and have clearly defined goals(which happen to include win/loss conditions). A dart isn't a game, but it can be used for games. Throwing darts alone is a game, even without a clearly defined win/loss scenario, because there is a clearly defined goal(hit your target) which the player can take effort to accomplish.

I'd say "software toy" is a good catch-all for any program used for entertainment. All videogames are software toys, but not all software toys are videogames. MSPaint isn't a videogame, but CAN be used as a software toy, and can even be used to INVENT games to play(see who can draw the best picture!). This doesn't make it at videogame.

Curiously, this definition means Minecraft survival mode is a game because it has emergent goals(survive, improve gear, defeat bosses, etc) but creative mode is a software toy, since the player has no goals or emergent goals. The player can make goals(build a scale model of the earth), and turn them into a game(do it as fast as possible), but then they're just utilizing a toy to facilitate a game they want to play, not turning the toy into as videogame.

I suppose this means Loneliness is a videogame by definition, because it does have a stated goal(wait for the end) and an emergent goal(play with the dots).

On the subject of planets, something few modern people know is that for a time in the 19th century, we had 11 planets in our solar system, because the four largest asteroids were not called "asteroids" until decades after their discovery (as the word had not been invented yet).

This situation with Pluto is not new. We've been through it before, and will probably be through it again. Eventually, we'll all come to embrace our new solar system, with its planets, asteroids, and plutoids.

Not a fan of this first installment, but I'll play along.

I believe that you're looking at the entire argument from the wrong angle. Any word is used in order to communicate an idea, or an image. It's to facilitate understanding. The point is that it's a commonly understood thing that everyone can identify with.

The issue with Pluto is that a minority came along and told the world that it was in the wrong. That the majority who have used the term planet for Pluto were incorrect. So they renamed it a "Dwarf Planet", seemingly just to tick us off. We all knew that Pluto was small, but we used other terms to describe that element of it. We described it's mass, it's width, it's gravitational pull.

We have a separate word for Jupiter: "Gas Giant". That doesn't mean it stopped being a planet. It was like someone went into an art gallery, said you were looking at the Mona Lisa wrong, moved it 3 degrees to the right, and then said "Enjoy". Nothing at all has changed, you just messed with something because you have nothing better to do.

Now, for games, I believe you definitely need win loss scenarios for a game. Otherwise, you're just "playing". If we both have Legos and are building things, we're playing. If we're each trying to build the better Robot, it's a game. There are defines goals and ways to win or lose.

The game you described is a movable screensaver. Not a game. This is the general position of society, therefore it is the definition.

I'm happy that you mentioned The Stanley Parable there. A truly great Half-Life 2 mod, with one of the best narrators out there.

Woo hoo, a new Shamus post! And it's GOOD!

Rogue 09:

Now, for games, I believe you definitely need win loss scenarios for a game. Otherwise, you're just "playing". If we both have Legos and are building things, we're playing. If we're each trying to build the better Robot, it's a game. There are defines goals and ways to win or lose.

This doesn't work. If I use Visual Studio to write a program, then by your definition I'm playing a game, since a successfully written program can be termed a "win condition".

I like Shamus' definition, partly because it doesn't try to be over-perscriptive. Its interpretation hinges on the subjective understanding of "playing".

Rot Krieg:
"Using Games for Windows Live - while about as challenging as Dark Souls..." It's funny because it's true.

Funnily enough, GFWL is the reason I CAN'T play Dark Souls. ;__;

"Beat our non-game before even trying the real thing!" Sorry, three days of fury with no reward isn't cutting it.

Rogue 09:
Not a fan of this first installment, but I'll play along.

I believe that you're looking at the entire argument from the wrong angle. Any word is used in order to communicate an idea, or an image. It's to facilitate understanding. The point is that it's a commonly understood thing that everyone can identify with.

The issue with Pluto is that a minority came along and told the world that it was in the wrong. That the majority who have used the term planet for Pluto were incorrect. So they renamed it a "Dwarf Planet", seemingly just to tick us off. We all knew that Pluto was small, but we used other terms to describe that element of it. We described it's mass, it's width, it's gravitational pull.

We have a separate word for Jupiter: "Gas Giant". That doesn't mean it stopped being a planet. It was like someone went into an art gallery, said you were looking at the Mona Lisa wrong, moved it 3 degrees to the right, and then said "Enjoy". Nothing at all has changed, you just messed with something because you have nothing better to do.

Now, for games, I believe you definitely need win loss scenarios for a game. Otherwise, you're just "playing". If we both have Legos and are building things, we're playing. If we're each trying to build the better Robot, it's a game. There are defines goals and ways to win or lose.

The game you described is a movable screensaver. Not a game. This is the general position of society, therefore it is the definition.

They changed it because better classification helps keep things clear. The official definition of "planet" (since I took an astronomy class two years ago, anyways) is "a large celestial body that controls its own orbit", ie. doesn't encounter other bodies in the same orbit for a significant chunk of the time. Pluto doesn't do this. Thus, it became a dwarf planet. If you're saying that we might as well keep it a "planet" because it annoys the majority, then you're going to annoy them MORE when you introduce hundreds to thousands of more "planets" that need classification. (There's a lot of dwarf planets out there.)

Also, I hate the "society defines right" point of view, because if THAT'S true, then many standards of grammar would be out the window, as would be the definitions of various words and phrases, such as "entitled", "I could care less", and "game".

And if we're going to go by your definition, then Sim City isn't a game, The Sims isn't a game, a free-form round of Tropico isn't a game, Minecraft isn't a game, and any "sandbox mode" is a non-game inside a game. I'm going to go ahead and say that Shamus has a much better definition of "game" than you.

Shamus Young:
What's in a Game?

How we define videogames has changed much since their creation.

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I personally dont believe there is, or suppose to be, a singular yes/no definition of the term videogame. There are degrees. While the term "videogame" can be used to describe a large number of things, there are degrees that people associate with the term "videogame". While you may consider Dear Esther a videogame, others do not.

Simply put, the term "videogame", and what it applies to, are subjective as hell.

Never really understood the exclusionist attitude among some gamers when it comes to what are and aren't games. You know, the type of people who seem offended when you call Minecraft or Dear Esther a game, and are quick to correct you. As if them being considered games by someone is just blasphemous.

There's really no point. Every definition of "game/video game" varies, why do people even attempt to claim they know the definitive rules for this shit?

Rogue 09:
Not a fan of this first installment, but I'll play along.

Care to explain what you mean by "first installment"?

Anyway, I played through the end of "Loneliness" and its author claims he created the "notgame" as a love letter to everyone who has felt loneliness. So, in order to homage people who have felt loneliness, he creates a game that makes you feel loneliness. Jeez, that's like punching someone to comfort him for taking a beating.

game
/gām/
Noun
A form of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.

vid·e·o
/ˈvidēˌō/
Noun
The system of recording, reproducing, or broadcasting moving visual images on or from videotape or other storage media.

I'm not trying to be a smartass here, but you're all thinking way too deeply about this. A "video game" is just a form of play, especially a competitive one played according to rules decided by skill, strength or luck that is broadcast (to your TV or Monitor from your PC or XBox or whatever) on or from videotape(some early games did come on tapes) or other storage media.

In the case of something like Dear Esther, which is purely a "look and don't touch" experience, you can put that down to nothing but a virtual art gallery, in my opinion. The same goes for anything that requires no actual input from a player or third party.

All that and no mention of Yume Nikki or LSD? Those are probably the most mainstream examples of "notgames".

Shamus Young:
What's in a Game?

How we define videogames has changed much since their creation.

Read Full Article

Even your definition has problems, Shamus. If a videogame is software that can be played, what does play mean? If we do a quick google we come up with "Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose."

If that's the case, if you were doing the coding you described for something other than a practical purpose (i.e. for fun) then coding is a videogame. Same with drawing those anime characters in Paint Tool Sai.

"Play" is a broad enough term to include lots of things. It means surviving as long as possible in a game with an explicit lose state. It means getting to the end credits in a game with an explicit win state. But play also means probing new systems and discovering how they behave in response to your input. What happens if I build an incomplete rollercoaster? What if I take away all the trash cans in my Sims house? What if I set fire to these Minecraft trees? You don't win or lose when you answer these questions, but you are still playing. Play can also include exploring a game world to get an emotional response.

The English word "Play" is very broad, which may be the cause of some of the confusion. Some languages have a very clear distinction between "playing" and "playing a game". The activities often overlap though. When someone is playing a tabletop wargame they may also be playing with toysoldiers in a less rulebound way. When someone is playing with lego they may make up rules that are very similar to playing a game.

But even though definitions are never completely clear and almost always overlap, they are still useful. If a developer describes their software as a non-game that description is very telling because the definition exists and relates to it. It isn't possible to describe something as a non-game without having the definition of a game in mind.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the use of words often change depending on the context in which they are used. Describing SimCity as a game can be useful to set it apart from office software. Describing it as a toy can be useful to distinguish it from more traditional games. Our language is very dependant on context, so something can be a game in one context and a non-game in another context. It only seems confusing when the context is taken away and the defintions are discussed in general.

Win/Loss states of a game is not something we learned to accept from arcade machines. Chess is a game that is thousands of years old, which has very clear win/loss states. The existence of traditional board games may be a reason why we have a very strong conception of what makes a game. One characteristic of gaming that may be very new is the conception of a single player game, this is a concept that used to be difficult to accomplish without the use of software. I think D&D and roleplaying games in general was very influential for this development because it introduced the concept we often call PvE nowadays, the idea that a game doesn't need to be competitive. For this reason roleplaying games used to be considered something different than a game.

I feel like this is relevant somehow:
http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2012/01/microsoft-pimps-it-old-school-with-a-pricey-text-adventure-game/

Even Visual Studio can be seen as a game if you stretch the definitions enough...

I like how you've described it, but the problem will always be that certain parts of a definition can be reinterpreted by anyone. In this case "play". Lately I've been thinking about it more in terms of function vs form. What it does/how it works vs how it looks/feels (where "feel" is distinct from a pure mechanical sense).

Basically for videogames, form and function are either tied to each other (most types of games), or the function works to serve the form (in the case of games like Proteus/Dear Esther). In other software applications like Paint or Word, the form (ie the UI) is there to serve the function (to make pictures, write books). But that's not really any more definitive than anything else.

Rogue 09:
The issue with Pluto is that a minority came along and told the world that it was in the wrong. That the majority who have used the term planet for Pluto were incorrect. So they renamed it a "Dwarf Planet", seemingly just to tick us off. We all knew that Pluto was small, but we used other terms to describe that element of it. We described it's mass, it's width, it's gravitational pull.

We have a separate word for Jupiter: "Gas Giant". That doesn't mean it stopped being a planet. It was like someone went into an art gallery, said you were looking at the Mona Lisa wrong, moved it 3 degrees to the right, and then said "Enjoy". Nothing at all has changed, you just messed with something because you have nothing better to do.

The "minority" that came along are also know as astronomers, people who know about, study, and seek to further our knowledge of spacestuff. In the case of Pluto, it wasn't telling people they are wrong just to annoy them. It was telling people their wrong because they/we were ignorant of correct information. The short version of the Pluto reclassification is basically Asteroid Belt part 2.

A still pretty short but entertaining and non-condescending version:

Being wrong is how you learn new things and learning is good.

It's funny, when the Pluto stuff started I jokingly suggested we do what Nova Scotia did. To oversimplify: With all the kids moving out west, the tax base was falling apart and the town of Canso was in danger of not being a town anymore. One of the options floated was the new designation of "Heritage Town", which basically meant "village but we're gonna keep calling you a town so we don't have to change the signs", presumably with the hope that it would either revitalize or collapse completely before someone had to do something about it for realz.

So I suggested that Pluto be designated a "Heritage planet" so that we could just officially do what was happening anyway: Everyone who learned it was a planet in school got to keep calling it a planet if they wanted but kids had to be taught it wasn't, thus letting the problem either wait for a new astronomical paradigm shift or for all the adults to age and die.

For an amusingly forward-looking take on the Pluto controversy, read David Neilsen's "Brief Conversations with the Planet Pluto", which were written before the "dwarf planet" holy wars took off:

http://brunching.com/conversationpluto.html
http://brunching.com/morepluto.html

mikespoff:

This doesn't work. If I use Visual Studio to write a program, then by your definition I'm playing a game, since a successfully written program can be termed a "win condition".

I like Shamus' definition, partly because it doesn't try to be over-perscriptive. Its interpretation hinges on the subjective understanding of "playing".

Sorry, I'm a little confused by the scenario you described. Are you saying that I'm saying that contracting a company to writing coding is a game? Because I'm not... if that's what you're saying. If not, I guess... yes? Maybe? I just have no idea what you're saying. More please!

lacktheknack:

They changed it because better classification helps keep things clear. The official definition of "planet" (since I took an astronomy class two years ago, anyways) is "a large celestial body that controls its own orbit", ie. doesn't encounter other bodies in the same orbit for a significant chunk of the time. Pluto doesn't do this. Thus, it became a dwarf planet. If you're saying that we might as well keep it a "planet" because it annoys the majority, then you're going to annoy them MORE when you introduce hundreds to thousands of more "planets" that need classification. (There's a lot of dwarf planets out there.)

Also, I hate the "society defines right" point of view, because if THAT'S true, then many standards of grammar would be out the window, as would be the definitions of various words and phrases, such as "entitled", "I could care less", and "game".

And if we're going to go by your definition, then Sim City isn't a game, The Sims isn't a game, a free-form round of Tropico isn't a game, Minecraft isn't a game, and any "sandbox mode" is a non-game inside a game. I'm going to go ahead and say that Shamus has a much better definition of "game" than you.

Ack! More confusion! Just googled "definition of planet" (figured that would be the safest source for this thread) and came up with this:

plan·et /ˈplanit/ Noun
A celestial body moving in an elliptical orbit around a star.

I would say that Pluto would fall into this definition. The problem is that the IAU created a brand new definition:

1) Has to orbit the sun
2)(Basically) Has to be spherical in shape
3) Has to have cleared the area of it's orbit

The people who created the definition redefined Pluto because of the third entry. But this was not the first time that Pluto had not been included with the rest of the planets. My contention is that they seemed to specifically want to adjust the definition to meet their own specifications. Another problem is that there are a number of other planets (including Earth) who share their orbit with Asteroids, which means we're not on a planet either.

As for "Society deems right", I agree that it doesn't work most of the time. However, when we're talking about forms of communication where the specific purpose is clear communication of an idea, I have to say that numbers = correct.

For the definition of a game, I may be wrong. However, I would agree with the idea that Sim City isn't a game. A more accurate word might be derived from the title: it's a simulator. It's "pretend". Not a game, just playing. Minecraft isn't any more of a game than Legos are a game. You build things for fun, and interact in a world you can build. Unless you have a specific goal which you can reach or fail, I still say it's not a game.

Dreadjaws:

Care to explain what you mean by "first installment"?

Sorry, I've never seen this segment before, and didn't see any previous articles. Is this not new?

burningdragoon:

The "minority" that came along are also know as astronomers, people who know about, study, and seek to further our knowledge of spacestuff. In the case of Pluto, it wasn't telling people they are wrong just to annoy them. It was telling people their wrong because they/we were ignorant of correct information.

Again, they created a new definition for planet. We weren't wrong, we were right. They altered the parameters. It would be if I told you that a ball can only be a sphere, and therefore a football is not a ball. We will redefine it as a "Misshapen Ball"... which will now also include pucks. You're messing with something for absolutely no reason!

Labels matter. It's how we compartmentalize and digest the world around us. It's how we share our perceptions of it with each other. Labels are also very useful to people with preferences. Most people have those, right? I know I do!

I was bored to tears by Journey. Call me a cad, but I need excitement to feel excited. I'm not the kind of person who forms bonds with random people or enjoys looking at all the pretty colors--I'm the asshole who trips balls on power by hoarding the barricades in Zombie Panic! Source then sealing everyone in the barn with the walking dead just before the escape vehicle arrives. Can't be helped. Or maybe it can and I just don't want that. Either way, if trying to find something new to entertain me, labels can help me make the purchase that best suits my taste. Is there sadism, or is there flowers? I'll take the one with the sadism, please. Hooray for labels!

Why does everything you play on a console have to be a video game? What's wrong with calling a piece of software like Journey or Proteus, or even Heavy Rain, something like interactive digital media? Or interactive narrative? Would that somehow diminish your enjoyment of it? Would that diminish the quality of it? I spent a large part of my formative years playing simulators on my PC and the fact that they weren't games had no bearing on my ability to enjoy them.

"But labels is hard! Sometimes concepts overlap, and the lines are fuzzy, and and and..." well, you've got a point there, sometimes we have to exchange hard work for precision, and sometimes the degree of precision we'd like isn't always accessible to us, but, well, I know I'd much rather put the time and effort into clearly defining than ever having to collect another scrap of scarf for the rest of my life.

P.S.: reclassifying Pluto was totes the right call. Mad props, science mans.

Rogue 09:
Orbital Snip

Okay, if you would like to consider every single rock circling around the sun a planet, including all of the asteroids in the asteroid belt and all the pluto-like ice balls out "near" where Pluto is, by all means, go for it. But don't act like they changed it for no reason.

Or you could hear the reasons, say "yeah that makes sense" and not be bothered when relatively tiny (>.>) things change.

burningdragoon:

Okay, if you would like to consider every single rock circling around the sun a planet, including all of the asteroids in the asteroid belt and all the pluto-like ice balls out "near" where Pluto is, by all means, go for it. But don't act like they changed it for no reason.

Or you could hear the reasons, say "yeah that makes sense" and not be bothered when relatively tiny (>.>) things change.

Or you could completely dismiss my arguments and use replace my wording with complete nonsense, I suppose you can go for it. But don't act like you're side is correct because you refuse to engage in an active discussion and instead run away like a coward.

Or you could actually read my statements, say "yeah, but here is evidence to the contrary", and not create strawman arguments that will keep you from actively thinking.

PeterMerkin69:

Why does everything you play on a console have to be a video game? What's wrong with calling a piece of software like Journey or Proteus, or even Heavy Rain, something like interactive digital media? Or interactive narrative? Would that somehow diminish your enjoyment of it? Would that diminish the quality of it? I spent a large part of my formative years playing simulators on my PC and the fact that they weren't games had no bearing on my ability to enjoy them.

P.S.: reclassifying Pluto was totes the right call. Mad props, science mans.

HAHA! I really enjoyed this post.

Interactive digital media has been around in the academic art appreciation circles for some time now. For the most part they are simply referred to as "art installations". I find the term fitting when discussing some of the interactive medium being pawned off as games.

image

The trick here is something I noticed a while back was a sense of "massaging" of definitions of words such as "art", "game", "play"; so that various creative works could be slipped into the dialog and sold in the same venue as your more traditional game. Now that being said Heavy Rain was interesting but even in it's advertising it was billed as an interactive experience, not as a "game". In fact it's creative director is heavily influenced by the French realist art movement and has said that he see's his work as being an extension of that.

The last thing that guy talks about is "game mechanics".

Even if he does it is very much like a film director that utilizes "3d" in his film medium. As a gimmick to placate the shareholders. There are exceptions, for example Dredd 3D uses the 3D as a part of the narrative in it's communication.

Heavy Rain... is a tech demo sold at retail like a completed work.

For all it's glitz, Monkey Island is an infinitely better game.

Now when I think of a game, I think of a system designed with the intention of being played; that play facilitated by the tools that are available in the game. Many games use their game mechanics to help tell the story, such as a powerful boss, or a dexterous protagonist such as Faith in Mirror's Edge. What really sets the definition apart is the implication of a series of cause and effect, action and reaction within the bounded rationality of the game space.

Organizing that "controlled chaos" within a system is typically the problem for which player agency "plays" with, to solve problems.

This is what has been called the "game play" or in conversation... "how (does) the game play?"

Stuff like Proteus (for me) fails this, it is akin to walking around a golf course, with no stick and balls.

It has no balls.

Game mechanics in a game are as much a part of the game medium as the art or audio direction. Sim City has most of this game element of "reaction" under the hood, although nothing is going to take place without character agency both beginning the action and responding to the results of that action. To this end it's strength is in it's simulation characteristics.

Simulation characteristics have been the corner stone of game development. Some of the most well received and beloved pc games have certainly been from the same people who where designing simulations as well. To that end some of the most successful games in recent history all attempt to simulate aspects of the world with high fidelity. The suspension of disbelief is an art form in and of itself.

Words such as "immersive" are here to stay.

Day Z mod... sold over a million copies of Arma 2... and it wasn't because of it's narrative, but really, right down to the heart of it, it had killer game play with very harsh win and lose states built on a military simulation.

Sim City again, take a couple loans from the bank and build nothing... one will "lose" the game. It has states. They are just cleverly concealed.

Again this is where most of this procedural generated stuff tends to fail, while it utilizes a strong generation hierarchy that is fundamentally expressed within the work, like a fractal; there is little to no interaction with player agency.

image

It is the lack of player agency which breaks down any sense of drama within the mechanism itself. Sure it may be interesting to look at.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all, but I fail to see the game here. That is, what does the situation placed before me have to do with me? Proteus doesn't need me, it's perfectly content just chewing up resources and making my utility bill go up.

Where is the sense of urgency to click an icon? It's bait without a hook.

Strong games allow for a certain degree of creative problem solving by the player. A golf ball in an obscure location requires a creative swing. Screwing someone over in a game to get ahead, or simply choosing to wear a pink bunny outfit.

All of these decisions imply ramifications some more direct than others. In many of these "notgames" there is little to no ramification to the action of player agency. Many games that are "on rails" now, are also questionable as to their status as "games", at least games as in "game-theory" which implies "stake holders".

Exceptional games, such as chess with something like 10E100 plausible games, for all it's rigidity, offers a replay value within it's context that even the best QTE or on rails narrative simply will never deliver on. They are one shot experiences and giving credit where credit is due some of them are very interesting and quite enjoyable.

Many are simply not very interesting games. A whole slew of FPS make my point here.

Proteus is the lowest of all the hanging fruit, there is simply "NO" agency for the player. There is no problem to solve, no tools to solve it. It is interesting, but a game it isn't.

It is a park. It is the "possibility" of a golf course, but it is an incomplete thought. To make it into a game like a lot of this stuff would require much more effort then what is really contained within it.

Hell even Mass Effect used procedural terrain for the planets... and that is nothing particularly new.

image

Plenty of games randomize maps, thus it has been used as a tool for the facilitation of a game, not as the "game" in and of itself. Planetside 2 used it as well as part of it's lazy game development and it hurt the game play. Looking at Skyrim, make no mistake, that bitch was built from the ground up by a person for a person.

Dear Esther is another one. A couple short stories more or less on a theme, cut up, and fed randomly to the audience as the trip script triggers. Some voice acting and the talents of a DiCE level designer, presto... there really isn't much of a game here though. The creators didn't think so, in fact the original application for the grant to make it described it as a "narrative experiment". The fact that they have let the discussion rage on is more an anecdote to the purpose of it's design. To see if people would "pot hole" a coherent narrative out of snippets of information.

They did, and they still do.

It is interesting, and very "artful" in many respects, but it was NOT designed as a "game". It really wasn't designed to be much in the way of art as an expression. It is an art installation that plays with some interesting concepts and stretches metaphor more artifice than art. Very clever.

The game (to me) has always been the one that was being played by the developers on the audience, not really contained within the "context" or the "wrapper" of the product itself.

Much like how psychology of various schools, and the study of astrology are considered "pseudo science" so to are these products "pseudo games".

Now should these things be made? Sure why not, free country. Plenty of headroom in the general marketplace to sell all sorts of stuff on.

Just don't piss on my roof and tell me it's raining.

When the audience of a title finds themselves having to defend what they are interacting with, it probably isn't much of a game. Many of these things are really just toys, and in that Will Wright was way ahead of his time.

image

The Sims being one of the most successful games out there really amounts to what is a doll house with an extensive back end under the hood is as good as any "not game" out there, yet there it is complete with tremendous amounts of player agency and tools. I am pretty sure it has balls.

I think that the discerning eye sees that much of what has been called "video games" are hardly games at all. Trying to expand the definition like an inflated bubble economy has no where to go but "pop". I say let the thing pop, but then again if these kickstarters and little companies where looking for my dollars, they would of long since been out of business.

The beauty of most of these arguments is that they do tend to work from the "video games are not toys, video game creators are not toy makers, players of this stuff are not playing with toys" standpoint, and attempt to build a cohesive case from there. Finding ourselves stuck defending some personal ego rather than looking at what this stuff actually is.

The fact of the matter is, video games are toys, video game makers are toy makers, and most people that play with this stuff are kids or kids at heart.

image

There will always be a push from industry and production side to pawn off any ole' piece of crap as being something that it isn't. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between aggressive laziness and a real attempt to try something different.

That is where the discussion is at. Finding the lowest possible minimum for some code to qualify as a product to be stamped out for the maximum amount of return.

Calling some of this stuff "games" is no more accurate than calling a McDonald's patty a "steak". There is a stark lack of intention to actually make a "game" never-the-less a "good game".

There is a big intention to make a "buck". Grey patty is more plentiful than prime rib. Just how it goes.

There is a big intention to be considered a "game developer", when in fact so few people have actually made a game. It's very "artsy" to look for credit and accolades where none is due. Very common in the industry as it is for better or for worse heavily leveraged in Art and liberal education centers.

Personally, the games and game play across the board have suffered as a consequence of it.

With no where for this stuff to go this conversation seems to come up every couple of months. Set my watch to it.

Still not a game.

:D

Rogue 09:
Solar Snip

I did present evidence, in the form of a video from a generally enjoyable and informative series. If you watched it and still came away thinking they changed the definition for no reason then I don't know what to say.

Great article, Shamus. Although as some people pointed out you're just shifting the problem into another word. If I have nothing to do and starting dicking around with Virtual Basic, and then my mom girlfriend comes along and asks me what I'm doing and I reply 'Oh just playing around', this doesn't mean Virtual Basic is a game. (I get that in English adding a preposition to a verb changes its meaning, but I think my point remains valid.)

Rogue 09:
Not a fan of this first installment, but I'll play along.

I believe that you're looking at the entire argument from the wrong angle. Any word is used in order to communicate an idea, or an image. It's to facilitate understanding. The point is that it's a commonly understood thing that everyone can identify with.

The issue with Pluto is that a minority came along and told the world that it was in the wrong. That the majority who have used the term planet for Pluto were incorrect. So they renamed it a "Dwarf Planet", seemingly just to tick us off. We all knew that Pluto was small, but we used other terms to describe that element of it. We described it's mass, it's width, it's gravitational pull.

We have a separate word for Jupiter: "Gas Giant". That doesn't mean it stopped being a planet. It was like someone went into an art gallery, said you were looking at the Mona Lisa wrong, moved it 3 degrees to the right, and then said "Enjoy". Nothing at all has changed, you just messed with something because you have nothing better to do.

Now, for games, I believe you definitely need win loss scenarios for a game. Otherwise, you're just "playing". If we both have Legos and are building things, we're playing. If we're each trying to build the better Robot, it's a game. There are defines goals and ways to win or lose.

The game you described is a movable screensaver. Not a game. This is the general position of society, therefore it is the definition.

On the account of the word planet, while I'm a descriptivist, there are a few occasions where it's fine for a body to dictate the meaning of a word to the masses, and one such occasion is when new evidence shows that the previous definition was faulty to the point that it would hamper research (if Pluto is a planet, the solar system has at least twelve planets, and we might find more in the future). It wouldn't be a horrible end of all scientifical thought if poeple continue to refer to Pluto as a planet, but popular use being matched up with scientific use makes life better for scientists.

On the account of games, there is no such body (unless you're arguing for the people who study games, who never seem bothered by what the popular use of words they have specific meanings for are). So: Proteus is covered by gaming sites, it's reviewed by them, it's been created by a person who identifies himself as a game developer, it has been nominated for and won awards at video game based events, and is sold by Steam, a game distribution tool, in a section that's clearly labeled for games (and not the 'productivity software', i.e. non-game software, it also sells). How the hell is the general position of society that it's not a game?

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