Pushing the Boundary of the Definition of a Game
Robert Seater
United States
Ashland
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Director of Game Development at Cambridge Games Factory
badge
Feed me...games...
mbmbmbmbmb
Recommend
27 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
I have seen several attempts to formally define what a game is, but they all miss some rather important corner cases. For example many definitions basically say "A game is a sequence of choices leading to a win or a loss" or "A game is a low stakes activity meant for relaxation". Of course, you can use such definitions to create a new category or term, but if you are trying to capture the common, intuitive notion of 'game' then you need to capture the more subtle boundaries of the category.

The items in this list are all, I would argue, obviously games. However, they are excluded from some popular definitions and conceptions, going to show that the true definition is somewhat more subtle. I am not aiming to create the one true definition, but rather to provide a set of corner cases to stress existing and potential definitions.
Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
  • [+] Dice rolls
1. Board Game: Candy Land [Average Rating:3.17 Overall Rank:11179]
Robert Seater
United States
Ashland
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Director of Game Development at Cambridge Games Factory
badge
Feed me...games...
mbmbmbmbmb
"Games must have choices or else they are merely toys"

While I prefer my games to have choices, this is clearly not a strict requirement. Ask any child or non-gamer, and they will not hesitate to say that Candy Land is a game. Any definition that says otherwise is incomplete.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
2. Board Game: Trivial Pursuit [Average Rating:5.23 Overall Rank:11092]
Robert Seater
United States
Ashland
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Director of Game Development at Cambridge Games Factory
badge
Feed me...games...
mbmbmbmbmb
"Games create a level playing field for competition"

Certainly, one great aspect of games is that they set aside outside conditions and allow success of failure on the merits of a new set of criteria. However, trivial games predicate your success in the game on your knowledge outside of the game.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
3. Board Game: Diplomacy [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:361]
Robert Seater
United States
Ashland
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Director of Game Development at Cambridge Games Factory
badge
Feed me...games...
mbmbmbmbmb
"Games are activities that are fun and relaxing"

Serious gamers all know that games can be very intense and even stressful.

If you are stuck playing a tedious game that you despise, you may say "this is a terrible game" but the mere fast that you dislike it does not make a non-game. A game that nobody enjoys is still a game!
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
4. Board Game: Killer [Average Rating:6.17 Overall Rank:5172]
Robert Seater
United States
Ashland
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Director of Game Development at Cambridge Games Factory
badge
Feed me...games...
mbmbmbmbmb
"Games are an escape from normal life"

I certainly enjoy games that put me in situations and present me with choices different from my normal life. However, some games blend the real world with the gaming world.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
5. Board Game: Mao [Average Rating:5.66 Overall Rank:8198]
Robert Seater
United States
Ashland
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Director of Game Development at Cambridge Games Factory
badge
Feed me...games...
mbmbmbmbmb
"Games are a group of people agreeing to follow a well defined set of rules"

In Mao, the whole point is that the rules are not well defined. Only some players know them, and (if using the common variant where winners create new rules to be used in the next round) they are not even well defined. Similarly, games like 1000 Blank Cards violate this property.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
6. Board Game: Poker [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:676]
Robert Seater
United States
Ashland
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Director of Game Development at Cambridge Games Factory
badge
Feed me...games...
mbmbmbmbmb
"Games are low stakes activities, where you can experiment with no real consequence"

While I don't play games for money, the fact that money is at stake does not make it not a game.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
7. Board Game: Oasis [Average Rating:5.24 Unranked]
Robert Seater
United States
Ashland
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Director of Game Development at Cambridge Games Factory
badge
Feed me...games...
mbmbmbmbmb
"Games are activities that are won or lost"

Most games have this properties, but Oasis (and all other games by Family Pastimes) are not only fully cooperative but they are neither won nor lost. You can win by more or less, but the team always wins. I fin this unsatisfying, but it is definitely a game.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
8. Board Game: Tic-Tac-Toe [Average Rating:2.56 Overall Rank:11183]
Robert Seater
United States
Ashland
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Director of Game Development at Cambridge Games Factory
badge
Feed me...games...
mbmbmbmbmb
"Games have an uncertain outcome"

Even once two players have mastered Tic Tac Toe, and the outcome is assured to be a draw, it is still a game. It's just not one they will probably play anymore.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
9. Board Game: Apples to Apples [Average Rating:6.09 Overall Rank:1837] [Average Rating:6.09 Unranked]
Robert Seater
United States
Ashland
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Director of Game Development at Cambridge Games Factory
badge
Feed me...games...
mbmbmbmbmb
"Games must have a goal that players try to accomplish."

While technically games like A2A, Dixit, Attribute, etc. give you an objective and a mechanism for declaring a winner, such objectives look almost like afterthoughts. The real fun of such activities is to make weird comparisons and laugh about the results, then stop playing when everyone is tired of it. My most serious gaming friends rarely if ever actually compute the scores at the ends of such games, despite their normally competitive nature. But even if these activities had no scoring at all, I would still have to say that they are games (if only barely).
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.