Defining Games Pt. 3: What Can Be Learned From Game Definitions?

In my previous two blog posts on defining games, I wrote first on the topic of why people define games, and then on the topic of why people (academics in particular) trying to define games is ultimately very problematic. While I would argue that we should abandon the hopeless task of trying to create game definitions to be used in academic discourse, I feel that it would be morally irresponsible of me to leave the problem of how to study games unaddressed having now refuted its most commonplace solution. In this third and final blog post, I hope to address how to move forwards in the realm of game studies through addressing the following question: What can be learned from game definitions?

Although it is true that I do not believe that coming up with our own definitions for what does and doesn’t constitutes a game is not  a worthwhile endeavor, that doesn’t mean that I think we should completely abandon the topic of game definitions. In fact, I would argue the opposite. I think there is a lot to learn from looking at how people define games. The problems that arise from defining games only come out of the creation of definitions that exclude and pedistoling those definitions in an academic context. But what if we were to instead look at how specific people in real world contexts already define games and use these definitions as a means to analyze how people create meaning through and around games? The urge to create a shared definition of games arises from the conflict surrounding differing definitions, but what if such a diversity in definitions wasn’t seen as a problem but rather a way to better understand what games are to different people?

In his book The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, sociologist Arjun Appadurai takes a novel approach to studying commodities. If you can get past his over-reliance on SAT words and paragraph long sentences, he argues that commadaties are fluid and subjective. In order to study them, one must understand that the value people place in objects is dependent on many factors, and will undoubtedly change from culture to culture, or even within one culture over time. Through no longer viewing the value of objects as fix and intrinsic, you can learn so much more about the people that assign value to it based off of the specific contexts in which it is commodified. I believe the same approach can be taken when studying game definitions. If we were to not look at what constitutes a game as fixed and intrinsic, but rather fluid and dependent on cultural contexts, we could learn so much more about games, and more importantly, the people who play them.


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