I decided to spice things up and post some original content this week.
When we were first asked to define ‘game’, or at least provide some key characteristics of most games, I had an immediate answer: a game is [typically] structured by rules, and a game [typically] has a defining objective.
I have a nagging feeling that I had heard someone talk about this previously, rather than actually having experienced a sudden flash of genius. Either way, I had thought about this definition of ‘game’ enough to know that I agreed with it.
While researching this topic later on (read: typing “what is a game” in the Google search bar), I came across a video by Extra Credits addressing the issue. I watched this for the first time back in 2013 when it was uploaded. The guys at Extra Credits argue that asking the question that I had Googled – “what is a game?” – is faulty in and of itself, and that the debate surrounding the definition of ‘game’ is creating artificial divides in the gaming community as well as limiting creative expression. Instead, they prefer to use the more inclusive term “interactive experience”.
Just as we discussed agency as a key component of gameplay, the video identifies volition as the defining characteristic of an interactive experience. If we have volition, or “the ability to fundamentally change an experience”, then the experience is interactive. This definition encompasses everything from Antiflânerie to “Colossal Cave Adventure” to “howling dogs” (though perhaps not the “Super Press Space to Win RPG”).
But they don’t all necessarily conform to my earlier Rules + Objective formula. Antiflânerie, while allowing participants to make story-altering decisions, does not have a real objective to guide these decisions. I think something similar could be said for “howling dogs” – rather than pursuing an objective, decisions are primarily made to reveal a predetermined narrative. “Colossal Cave Adventure”, however, seems to lie well within these guidelines. In its case, the rules dictate how participants explore the gameworld with the dual objectives of earning points and escaping the cave alive. The Super PSTW RPG… well, the rules that dictate a participant’s decisions in this satire don’t actually allow any true decisions to be made. So I’m counting that one out.
The primary argument of the video, however, is that the debate regarding what constitutes a game is fundamentally misguided. And yet that’s exactly what I’ve addressed in this post. While I completely agree that the hostility in the gaming community surrounding this issue stifles creative expression, I don’t think it’s possible to throw out the term entirely. I also don’t think it’s realistic to suppress the debate. As with all art, the boundaries of each genre are continually molded and expanded by innovation. The ongoing debate is essential to this process – the challenge is in making this debate inclusive of viewpoints held by those other than the most powerful or prominent in the gaming community.