Little Blog Adventure

A gaming "sketchblog"

Friday, January 20, 2006

What is a game?

So, what is a game? It's a hard question to answer, for any definition of "game" would have to be applicable to all things that are called "games." Hmmm... I'll take a stab at this. A game, in it's essence, is a system. The elements of this system are the player(s), the rules that govern the system, the tools used by the players and the 'field' on which the game is played. This system's rules must define a winning condition. Without the possibility of winning and losing, there is no game- there is just aimless play (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

To illustrate this definition, I'll use an example of a game- the simplest that I can think of. A coin-toss game. Now, a coin-toss, in and of itself, is not a game. It's just a probability event. Now, if we consider the person tossing the coin the player and add a rule: the player wins if the coin lands heads-up, then we've got a game (the coin being the player's tool and the field of play being the area in which the toin coss takes place- the ground, perhaps?). It's not a very interesting game, but it's a game.

Now, let's test this definition with a videogame. Say, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (my personal favourite of the lot- excepting the original). You've got a player- the guy with the controller in front of the TV. The tools are the controller and well, the PS2 (or XBox or PC) that the player's playing the game on. The gameworld where the player runs and drives around in is the playing field. What about a winning condition? Now here's where it gets tricky. The open-ended nature of the game allows a player to muck around in the gameworld without ever needing to actually play through the game's storyline, which comprises of missions with goals that can be achieved or failed and leads to an ending (arguably the final winning condition of the game). But many players do indeed just muck around, exploring the gameworld in pointless yet enjoyable reverie. So what to make of this, then?

Here's my hypothesis- though Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a videogame, players only play it as a game when they're goal-driven- either completing the core story missions of the game or engaging in the many side-goals that the game provides. When players engage in goal-less play, they're using the game as a "sandbox"- as the game has been called.

Whew! I think that's all I have to say on that topic.


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