Thoughts on the ‘Understanding Games Tutorial, Episode 1’

For what it’s worth, here are the take home messages I got from the first episode of the Understanding Games tutorial on Kongregate.

– Rules of the game define the possible actions of the players.
– No game can be played without the interaction of the player.
– The outcome of the game has to be uncertain, otherwise it loses its appeal.
– Computer games simulate or change properties and processes of the real world.
– Rules and representation of a game are not independent but interact with each other.

Linking this back to So What is a Game?, I’d suggest that rules are seen as being crucial in the definition of a game. Although goals are not explicitly mentioned, an uncertain outcome is seen as being important. So too is the interaction of the player, and in particular the way in which the player’s actions might affect the outcome of the game. For me, the goal is a desired outcome, specified within the context of the rules and something that I must try to achieve through interacting with the game components within (or in spite of!) the rules. Components are not explicitly mentioned, although they do help define the representation of the game.

The motivation of the player, and their expectations about the game, are also identified – if the outcome is predictable, the player will lose interest (motivation); and the rules and the representation of the game are seen as interacting – this was demonstrated by the different expectations of the player when the representation – or depiction – of the components were taken out of the abstract ‘pong’ world, and replaced by a ‘real-world’ table tennis view.

Finally, games are defined here in the context of real world correlates – table tennis, squash, table football. These can be seen as shorthand ways of explaining the game – or setting up expectations about the game, its goals, and how it might be played – in terms of things we are already familiar with or likely to understand.

One thing I particularly liked about the use of the medium was the way the abstract representation of pong changed to a table tennis representation as I played, both visually and audibly (as the sound of the ping pong ball bouncing became more realistic). I felt this communicated in a very powerful way the role of representation in the game. The stop/start nature of the interactive also allowed me to control the pace as I took notes along the way. Playing the games were fun, too, and offered me a playful reward at several points, which kept me engaged.

Stepping back even further, I asked myself whether playing a game to learn something affected the way I perceived the authority of the information, coming as it did from the Kongregate website, rather than it being a course from a recognised UK or US university, for example.

Here’s my original impression: “At first sight, I thought the Kongregate website looked a bit like YouTube, but for games; I thought the chat window was intrusive and the discussion going on there made me think the game would be pointless, and just that – a quick, throwaway game. Although the graphics weren’t great, and the music was a bit intrusive, the points the game made seem okay; none of them were referenced, though, so maybe they were just the opinion of the game’s creator?”

That last point is telling – “none of [the points made by the game] were referenced, though, so maybe they were just the opinion of the game’s creator?”.

Even so, by reflecting on those points, and analysing them in the context of my own three point model (rules, games, and interaction), I was able to explore my own understanding of just what it is that makes a game.

So for now at least, I think I’m going to use the following definition…

A game is a directed activity played for entertainment that consists of an aim or set of objectives, which are achieved using specific components by means of a set of rules.

Or maybe someone else would like to offer an alternative? (If you’re really keen, we could maybe even collect a few other definitions in the comments, and then chat around them?)

6 Responses to “Thoughts on the ‘Understanding Games Tutorial, Episode 1’”

  1. 1 Kate March 7, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Question: Does this course continue at weekends?

    If so, please can I have an extension for the next two day – I’m not sure I will have an internet connection in The Wirral.


  2. 2 Tony Hirst March 7, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    I’ll be posting most days, though I do hope to take weekends off some of the time…

    In fact, what I want to try to do is post an activity on a Friday that’s good for a couple of hours or so over the weekend…

    re: the Wirral – ah yes, the RoboCup Junior UK finals this weekend. Wish your team good luck from me :-)

    I wonder what the Amberfield team will be taking in the robot dance competition. Their “Flight of the Phantom Phoenix” blew me away…

    Wouldn’t it be great if they could get sponsorship to put on a full show?!

  3. 3 Kate March 8, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Thanks for the good wishes – we improved on last year’s position by two, so MAC2 are now National champions. :-)
    Amberfield are doing St Trinians – short skirts and all!! A change from the bird theme, but amazing as usual. There is a video somewhere, but possibly not in the public arena yet.
    Nice to meet some guys for the Isle of Wight today. :-)

  4. 4 Andreas Zecher March 23, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    A lot of points made in the Understanding Games series have their origins in various books and articles about game design theory. You can find all used references in my diploma thesis. (It’s in German language, but you will still be able to track the references.)

  5. 5 Jon Breen September 29, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    “A game is a directed activity played for entertainment that consists of an aim or set of objectives, which are achieved using specific components by means of a set of rules.”

    There’s been a debate about whether a game is still a game if it is not played for entertainment purposes, i.e., if a football player [and I dislike football greatly too may I add!] was playing just for the money and not for enjoyment. It is in my opinion that a game is still a game even if no one was playing at the time as we know that it has rules as well as an aim.

  1. 1 Getting Philosophical About Games « Digital Worlds - Interactive Media and Game Design Trackback on March 11, 2008 at 5:58 pm

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