Defining Games Pt. 1: Why Do We Try to Define Games?

There have been many times during our class discussion where our conversations have boiled down to two people having conflicting ideas of what constitutes a game. At these points, constructive conversation tends to reach a standstill, and is replaced with a cycle of disagreeing opinions until someone suggests trying to find a middle ground definition. Interestingly, this isn’t unique to our class. Just about every non-design based class on games I’ve been in has, at one point, attempted to come up with a definition for what a game is. In fact, this phenomena can be seen in the works of the majority of academics who write about games too. To be honest, I think this is a pointless waste of time, but I’ll get to that in a later blog post. For now, let’s start with the following question: Why do we try to define games?

The urge to define games often seems to stem from conversations like the ones we have had in class. Some people would say a Choose Your Own Adventure book is a game. Other people would say that it isn’t. Clearly, there are many differing opinions as to what is (or isn’t) a game. Moreover, these conflicting definitions serve to hinder our ability to have productive discussions about games. After all, how can we talk about the boundless nuances to how narrative is created in games when we can’t even agree on what a game is? This is a very real and complex problem to have. Often the next logical leap people make in order to solve this dilemma is to come up with a clear, often shared, definition for a game is. In this way, it does make sense why people try to define games.

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