Michaël Samyn of Tale of Tales, the developer of The Path, an art game that some people said isn't a game, is taking that same observation and making it about his indie peers. Games like Braid and Everyday Shooter, he wonders, maybe aren't games at all.
Michaël Samyn hasn't finished games that many people like: Braid, Everyday Shooter, Knytt, Zeno Clash. It's not that he has a problem with supporting his fellow indie game developers, it's just that he gets to the point where he's stuck and has failed - the point, he eloquently puts it, at which "the game blocks itself off, closes up like an oyster refusing to give up its pearl."
He'll admit that he doesn't "particularly like games." But when it comes to games like chess, there's a difference. There, he might lose, but he still likes playing, and is happy to see someone (his human opponent) win. Not so with videogames. With games, he says "nobody really wins. And it feels more like the game is designed to make you lose. As if you deserve to be punished for something. When all you did was try to play a game."
Electronic games, Samyn ventures, are like tests. "They make it hard for you, on purpose. They're not meant to be easy," he writes. "It's a format that lends itself to quizzes as well as school exams." Quizzes are considered games, but exams aren't, though formally, they're pretty similar: you answer hard questions, but you do one for fun and the other because you have to.
Braid is, on some level, like an exam. "What makes Braid a game?" Samyn asks. "Its rules, goals and challenges? No. Because the same format can apply to something that is not a game (an exam, e.g.). On some level, Braid is serious. Like an exam."
After which point he admits that maybe it comes down to subjectivity, suggesting maybe we can call something a game simply because it's fun for someone out there. By that logic, counting ducks can be a game, an exam can be a game, and, Samyn admits, "maybe everything can be a game!"
That's kind of dodging the question he brought up initially, but the observation stands. Sometimes a videogame can get hard enough to the point where it feels like nobody wins. I know there were some points during my Braid playthrough when it felt more like an exercise in a logic textbook than a game. Anyway, some food for thought for you to chew on.
[Via Kieron Gillen's Twitter]