What’s in a game? It’s a decent question. If you’re like me, you play dozens of games per year, each for a different reason, but all for the same purpose: to have fun.

Yet games are so much more complex than that. Sure, the good ones are generally always fun, but they can also be terrifying, upsetting, sad, funny and thought-provoking. Even when there’s nothing there but the fun, it can come from many different directions. Sometimes it’s fun to kill zombies with plants. Sometimes you’re killing zombies with bowling balls. Sometimes with WWII-era firearms. Sometimes with a shotgun. Sometimes, zombies aren’t involved at all! See? Games are diverse!

Kidding aside, games are diverse, and getting more so every day. Yet although the experiences presented vary widely (again, more widely by the day), the core of the experience remains startlingly similar. Videogames, similar to literature, thrive on conflict.

Pick your favorite game and remove the conflict and what’s left? Usually nothing. Even the most basic of games have, at their core, a conflict between you and whatever stands in the way of your objective. Without conflict there can be no drama, no action and no reward. Imagine Space Invaders without the aliens, half the games released last year without the zombies or any Japanese-made videogame without the boss monster. Conflict isn’t simply an agency of enemies, however, it’s the rate at which the blocks fall in Tetris, or your Sims’ need for sleep. Conflict is the shuffling of the deck in Solitaire, the passage of time or the number of bullets in a gun. Conflict is the river raging between the side you are on and the side you need to get to.

Conflict is also opportunity. If you can overcome the obstacle, then you reap the rewards. So, games have at least two components, then, conflict and opportunity. Are there more? Undoubtedly. Smarter men than me have spent their lives attempting to define exactly what goes into a winning game formula – a conflict in itself – and the best at figuring out that puzzle reap rewards beyond imagining.

This week, for Issue 255 of The Escapist, “Anatomy of a Game Design,” we’re going deep into the guts of the games, digging up what makes them tick and why. Andrew Bell explores the idea that there’s a tacit understanding between player and game that it’s going to be a fair fight; Andrew Webster examines whether or not we really need those over-powered, ridiculously difficult-to-kill boss monsters; Jeff Groves ponders the limits of complexity and Rob Zacny attempts to answer, once and for all, the question that’s plaguing the industry: Are games addictive? Enjoy!


Russ Pitts

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