I came across Oscar Barda’s Gamasutra article where he make a bold attempt to define games.
The definition of games is a game in itself, havings its own traps and dangers. There are going to people who are going to vehemently disagree, and people that will simply ignore you. I fall into a third category of people that appreciates his effort, but would like to see it refined.
Oscar’s definition of “Games as a formalized fiction of doing” is pretty accurate. There is nothing to fundamentally disagree with, but I think that it doesn’t provide enough depth.
While Oscar’s definition can be accurate, I think it is perhaps too broad, captures too many things that makes the definition not helpful when you dig deeper. After all, in saying that human beings are living creatures is an accurate statement, it is so broad that humans are not distinguishable from other animals or even insects. A definition is most helpful when its both broad and deep enough.
The problem with “Games being a formalized fiction of doing” is that there are too many other human activities that fall into that definition or neglects game activities that don’t fit his definition, such as:
- Any form of acting including role playing.
- Practicing a skill or activity for performance. When we practice a performance, we pretend to demonstrate mastery of a skill/activity so when we are ready, we can perform to the best of our ability. Practicing an instrument for a performance is not a game.
- Sports are a kind of game but when I dig deeper not all games are sports. Oscar does not provide an explanation about how sports are different from games, just saying that they are played for their own sake. This can be said about any hobby.
- Puzzles are a form of play but when I dig deeper they are not games.
- Gambling is a kind of game, but does not fit his definition since playing for money tends to be serious and not a fiction.
There are people who will argue that these diverse activities are all simply kinds of games. I disagree with that blanket type of rationalization and believe that a more accurate definition can be elicited.
Oscar may be quite happy with his definition and will use it to guide his understanding. He is welcome, as is anybody to accept any definition they wish. What I am attempting to argue is that a definition can be ‘right’ but not be ‘right enough’. It can be broadly accurate, but does not pass the depth test of meaning.
In future posts I’ll be illustrating what I believe is a definition of games that is both broad and deep enough to be helpful.