When I posted my entry for the Ludum Dare competition, Heart, I received mostly positive comments, though many of them were appended with something close to this sentence: “But it is not a game.” I was not too surprised. Indeed, when I talk to people about games, they normally think of them in terms of gameplay, interaction, challenge, fun, goals. Which is not wrong, as most video games can be accurately described with these words, but it is unnecessarily restrictive to categorize the whole art within these boundaries—doing so is an exercise in exclusivity. This ties directly with my previous post about expanding the scope of video games. Do we really need to keep a short leash on what video games are or can be?
I came across a definition for game today, by Corvus Elrod. It is the most elegant and explicit that I’ve found so far. Here it is:
Game is a set of rules and/or conditions, established by a community, which serve as a bounded space for play.
Where play stands for “the self-guided exploration of possibility within a bounded space”, which is a definition I feel to be accurate. I believe that Corvus is forcefully nudging the ‘community’ element into the definition, though (where is the community if one person creates a game for himself alone to play?), so I would actually simplify it into this:
Game is a set of rules and/or conditions which serve as a bounded space for play.
I can’t think of a single game that this definition does not embrace, including board games, sports, playground games, and, yes, video games. It also suggests that games can be entertaining or not, challenging or not, involve goals or not. By this definition, exquisite corpse is a game, which rings true to me.
The definition speaks nothing of the amount of interactivity that is to be expected of a game, but the mention of rules and conditions implies that choice needs to be present. In Heart, the player is required to explore, as the game does nothing without their input. They would discover that the right arrow key makes the character move in that direction. And the opposite key? It triggers a response in the avatar: he cannot go back. It is part of the process of discovery. In Heart, the player is the force that drives the character forward, for without their input, he would stay in place forever. Nothing would happen, the game would not be played, the character would not confront his fate. Is it not a meaningful choice that the player is making, then?
I didn’t mean this post to be in defense of my game, though it looks like it turned out that way. This subject is something that I consider to be relevant, as I don’t see enough game makers thinking about where to lead video games, so I feel the need to touch upon it. I hope to spark debate in some circles, frankly!