I intend to make this the last post on the question of what is a game, at least for a little while, so I thought I’d bring another book to your attention: Jesper Juul‘s “Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds”, 2003, ISBN 0262101106 (“official” book website, read the first chapter, or via Amazon or Google books).
Juul defines a game as follows:
A game is a rule-based formal system with a variable and quantifiable outcome, where different outcomes are assigned different values, the player exerts effort in order to influence the outcome, the player feels attached to the outcome, and the consequences of the activity are optional and negotiable.
Compare this to the definition I gave in Thoughts on the ‘Understanding Games Tutorial, Episode 1′: 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.
The major difference between the two lies in the notion of components, which I didn’t really justify when I originally gave the definition. At their most obvious level, components might correspond to playing pieces in a board game – or even the board itself. In a computer game, the components might correspond to the instances of objects that are defined by the game rules.
Of more significance is a six point model that elaborates in more – and graphical – detail the attributes that characterise a game. The model was originally described in “The Game, the Player, the World: Looking for a Heart of Gameness“, which is well worth a read if you have half an hour to spare.
Before you read on any further, can you spot six characteristics of a game in Juul’s definition?
Using the new ‘create a form‘ feature on Google spreadsheets, I created a form for you to record your answers (or you can post a comment): Juul: “Six characteristics of a game” definition quiz. I’ll make the (anonymised) results (if any!) public in a day or two…
As well as reviewing several classic definitions of a game (see also Salen and Zimmerman’s definition comparison chart referred to in a comment to an earlier post; if you have your own blog, you may like to write a post about these definitions, and how they differ…) Juul offers this diagram that captures in raw form the model he develops more completely in his book:
The six defining characteristic features of a game, that provide the basis for his definition of a game, are shown in the inner wheel of the diagram.
Several examples of “not games” are given in the outer wheel of the circle. Can you think of any further examples of “not games” that feature different subsets of Juul’s six defining characteristics of a game?
Using graphical techniques like this is one powerful way of clarifying a definition. If you did come up with a definition of a game of your own, can you describe it in a graphical way?
(If you want to try drawing your definition, gliffy.com is an online drawing package that allows you to easily share your drawings with other people – as well as collaborating with them on the production of the image…)
If you’d like to hear from the man himself, here’s a video recording of a lecture Juul gave at MIT in December, 2006: Half-Real: A Video Game in the Hands of a Player.
Inside the Magic Circle
To wrap up this topic (for now!), I like to briefly return to the notion of “play”, the psychological stance we often (always?) take towards a game…
The act of play itself has been the focus of much serious philosophical study. Johann Huizinga, author of Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, likened the act of playing to ritual (Formally speaking…).
Drawing on Huizinga’s original idea of a “play-ground”, a hallowed area “within which special rules obtain” and within which “an absolute and peculiar order obtains”, Salen and Zimmerman popularised the phrase “magic circle” to describe “the boundary that defines the game in time and space”. (See the quote in context here: What is going on in these examples…)
The idea of the “magic circle” holds popular sway for many people, and is often thought of as a bubble of ‘altered reality’ within which the game world exists. The “magic circle” is experienced by the game player when they are immersed in a game. This may be a purely psychological space, or it may extend into the real world, as for example in a board game, or a sports pitch.
When inside the magic circle, the game becomes, to a large extent, ‘reality’, although it is possible to step outside the circle, pause the game, and pop the kettle on…
…which is exactly what I’m going to do now :-)
Here’s something I’ll be pondering as I do so: what is the relationship between “games” and “play”? Can I do anything with a game other than play it? (except make it, of course! ;-)