This article’s purpose is to define what “games” and “videogames” are — any conclusions based on these definitions will come later. You’d be surprised how many people never stop to think about what a word really means, but it will make future articles a heck of a lot easier to write and easier to follow. Clear definitions are cool that way.
Since games are an old concept, I figured I would just borrow someone else’s words. The first paragraph at Wikipedia tries to define the term “game”, but launches into a long-winded and wishy-washy mess that would leave people still classifying “games” versus “work” versus “puzzles” versus “art” based on gut reactions and unclear criteria. Not useful. It then lists several conflicting definitions that classify games as art, not art, goal-oriented, non-productive, structured, and dependent on attacking people. Some of those definitions fit some types of games, but are too specific to define “games” as a whole. This makes me think that some people tried to define “game” to support a personal agenda, instead of simply capturing what people mean when they use the word.
Those things happen when a site gathers opinions without performing critical validation. So, forget Wikipedia.
Next up, dictionaries. After all, lexicographers have been researching and refining definitions for centuries. After reviewing a few, I found the following at dictionary.com. It’s not quite right, but I can work with it:
“A competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators.”
Based on this definition, videogames aren’t necessarily games. Dictionaries recycle most of their material, so this was probably written before the rise of singleplayer videogames. That’s what happens with language; people adapt the meanings of existing words to incorporate new concepts, and dictionaries lag behind. The modern use of “game” isn’t based around two persons, but competition. Even a singleplayer game has competition; the player is competing against predictable circumstances arising from the game’s set of rules, and often against his own past performance, while still being governed by those rules. So I’ll remove the part about “two or more persons”, since it’s no longer appropriate in our new world . . . but “competitive” gets to stay because there’s always someone or something to be overcome. Just keep in mind that the competitor isn’t necessarily another person.
The phrase “usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators” is silly. If it’s “usually” done for those reasons, then it’s sometimes not done for those reasons, and has no place in a proper definition. Five minutes of thought should be enough to realize why amusement and spectating don’t belong. I’ll remove that part, too.
The bit about “skill, chance, or endurance” is true, but there’s nothing in this world that doesn’t involve “skill, chance, or endurance” — whether we’re talking about walking across the street, delivering a presentation to the board of directors, or playing Russian Roulette. There’s no need to include such a meaningless phrase in a definition; that piece gets cut.
So here’s the definition of “game”:
That’s a really broad definition that could encompass a whole lot of activities, but “game” is a really broad concept so that’s okay. Qualifiers like “fun” or “non-productive” or “disequilibrial outcome” only belong in definitions of specific types of games, if at all. For example, games don’t have to be fun — they don’t even have to be intended to be fun — but a good game will be fun (among other qualities).
With “game” defined, here’s the definition for “videogame”:
In other words, a videogame doesn’t just include electronic parts to manage a physical playfield (a pinball game’s output), an electronic device to supplement the main game (the Dark Tower boardgame), or a video screen that keeps running unless the player hits stop (exercise videos). Videogames are based around electronic input and video output. Even though players may chart out maps, a dungeoncrawler is still primarily about interacting with the hardware and software — it’s not about writing stuff down on graph paper.