Skip to Content

Pure concept of game and historical derivations + biology

14 replies [Last post]
Masacroso
Masacroso's picture
Offline
Joined: 05/05/2014

Hi. I will try to write (in some language similar to english or so) about some philosophy behind the concept of game.

About pure concept of game

What is a game? In a general conception I must says that a game are two things:

A1) Fun -> something that make you feel good*

A2) Rules -> the action/participation can be rationalized** on some way

So... what ISNT a game? (What is not gamificable?)

B1) No fun -> suffering or boredom.

B2) No rules -> you can take fun with something but you cant think in it as a game after you "discover" or create some rules.

* this need to be expanded/explained A LOT.

** rationalized in a philosophic concept of the word i.e. divide a complex thing in parts, e. g., verbalize something, make it discrete/defined in some way. The rationalization can be on the way something evolve and/or about the finality of the actions/decisions. I will come later on this.

Historical derivation of concept of "game"

The general historic concept of game is the explicit concept of a game: where fun and rules were chosen and created deliberately.

The historical derivations of explicit games are related to adult non-taboo and actual themes: generally representations of war or social competition as in olympic games. There are others games, ofc, but I think than these have greater representation.

These explicit games can be divided, at least to me, in two big groups:

1) Competitive games -> where the finality is different of the means (in some way)**

2) Social games -> where finality is directly** attached to the means

Of course exist the conception of _implicit_games, social and competitive games... but it isnt the general use of the concept game.

(And a game may lose his condition of game in any point cause B1 or B2, explicit and implicit ones.)

About biology and games

Coming from the previous text is obvious that something related to the fun of something is strongly related to biology, not just in a sense of animal instinct: in a sense of actual human social and historic needs/tools (think e.g. in politics, religions, psicology (stress), philosophic conception of party attached to any culture/traditions, etc.)

And, in some way** cause the first conception of pure game, our ability to take fun of something is related to our ability to see rules on the things.

In the same manner all the things that are no-games generally are very hard to rationalize (e.g. death).

There is a close relation between games and no-games**. I dont think is a coincidence the excessive representation of the death on many games, from the present or the past. But following this line of thinking seems rare that sex or basics needs as eating, sleeping or drinking are no represented too often on games (just in kid games).

End by now

This is all my ruminations by now. I will continue (or not) in the future. I will appreciate any commentary. And I hope that my "evolved english" (xD) can be understandable after all.

James Allen
Offline
Joined: 08/07/2014
Game Philosophy

My personal preference is to conceive of a game as an activity that has victory conditions (activities without victory conditions I would call toys--not in a demeaning way, I have nothing against toys). This creates some uncomfortable outcomes for some people; for example, World of Warcraft is not a game, but a toy. I find the distinction really useful though. The reason I mention this is because a victory condition is the only rule a game needs. I can say to the person next to me, "fist one to that tree across the street wins", and I have established a game; however, if I say, "let's just run," I have not established a game. So, victory conditions are the only thing necessary to establish a game and a game requires at least one victory condition.

With that said, "fun" isn't necessary for a game--though it may be preferable. Many games aren't remotely fun, like Russian roulette. I think what you're calling fun can be generalized and better described as positional goods. A positional good is what you get when you fulfill a victory condition; it is that sense of winning. This is distinct from an exchange good because it's value is based not in what you can trade it for, but in the obstacles to achieving it (gold medals, for example, are positional goods; things like world peace can be conceived as positional goods as well). There has been quite a lot of philosophical work done with regard to positional goods, including work with regard their relationship to biology. You'll probably find some of that helpful.

Masacroso
Masacroso's picture
Offline
Joined: 05/05/2014
Thank you very much!!! Really

Thank you very much!!! Really you have a perspective very interesting to me, I can learn and think in new ways.

DifferentName
DifferentName's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/08/2013
Common Sense

James Allen wrote:
This creates some uncomfortable outcomes for some people; for example, World of Warcraft is not a game, but a toy.

Of course MMOs are games. Even with your own argument that a game requires a victory condition (and I'm sure also requires a failure condition), for any particular fight, there's a success state and a failure state. You can win the fight, or lose the fight and then play again to have another fight. It's more like layers of success and failure, winning fights to win dungeons to win whole game expansions.

By your argument, if you're playing D&D and someone asks if you're playing a game, you wouldn't know if it's a game or not until you decide if you'll have an end to your campaign some day.

I think the fun and rules definition fits better. Fun of course is relative, but if the intention of the rules is to give a fun experience (whether it successfully meets that goal or not), I think that makes something more of a game. I'm fine with throwing out Russian Roulette from the games category based on that.

Tbone
Tbone's picture
Offline
Joined: 02/18/2013
Fun is relative and can also

Fun is relative and can also describe if the game is successful or not. You can also have a boring game... Still doesn't answer the question - we are merely listing one of its characeristics.

Games have structure, they pull you into a world built by predefined rules typically used to rouse some sort of conquest between players or even oneself. Mechanics and components are what generally develope this structure.

Also I feel games should have some sort of resolve; there has to be something players want to achieve. This would then envoke a challenge. Now, difficulty is also relative. You have D&D and then you have elementary card matching, Chess and Checkers, Risk and Candyland. But there is still a challenge. Whether it be "get to the end" or "conquer you enemy" there is a struggle.

Heres another thing to think about... Games completely control by luck (Candyland) is it still a game? are we actually playing it or is it probability playing only using us to reveal its course? Games like Candyland usually always have a predefined winner we just can't see it and its the mystery that keeps kids occupied.

Just some thoughts.

James Allen
Offline
Joined: 08/07/2014
Sense is Rarely Common

"By your argument, if you're playing D&D and someone asks if you're playing a game, you wouldn't know if it's a game or not until you decide if you'll have an end to your campaign some day."

It's not that you wouldn't know; it's that it wouldn't be a game until there are victory conditions. What's the problem with that? Why isn't, for example, playing make-believe with Barbies a game? Maybe you think it is. That's fine, you can define game however you want. I just find grounding it in victory conditions the most useful definition. Again, I have nothing against toys. Toys are great. D&D without victory conditions is a toy or an activity probably better described as playing (rather than, say, gaming).

"Even with your own argument that a game requires a victory condition (and I'm sure also requires a failure condition), for any particular fight, there's a success state and a failure state. You can win the fight, or lose the fight and then play again to have another fight. It's more like layers of success and failure, winning fights to win dungeons to win whole game expansions."

You are arguing that WOW is a toy that is comprised of a bunch of small games; I agree. That is a useful way to talk about WoW.

"Fun of course is relative, but if the intention of the rules is to give a fun experience (whether it successfully meets that goal or not), I think that makes something more of a game."

The point of a game isn't necessarily to have fun though. Take war games (as in, the kind that the military takes part in). Certainly, some people might have fun participating in those, but their purpose isn't to experience fun.

And again, you can define game however you want. Certainly you can say that anything that isn't fun for you, or that claims a purpose other than fun isn't a game, but to what end? Why pick that joint to cut at? As you've pointed out, fun is subjective, and there are a ton of things that are fun but aren't games as well as games whose purpose isn't fun. In fact, a game's purpose is subjective. People use games (the same game even) for different purposes: fun, fulfillment, challenge, pride, experimentation, etc. Victory Conditions have the benefit of being an objective criteria that seems to fit just about every game in existence.

All that being as it may, D&D and WoW, RPGs in general do--as you've noted--feel like games and we do call them games (even I do!). I think what makes these activities feel like games is that they share mechanisms and tools associated with games, and players do ultimately devise their own victory conditions (aka. set their own goals). So, I think, even under my definition, they could still be called game--games characterized by informal victory conditions.

DifferentName
DifferentName's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/08/2013
Stuff

Tbone wrote:
Games completely control by luck (Candyland) is it still a game? are we actually playing it or is it probability playing only using us to reveal its course?

In Soviet Russia, Candyland Plays You! :D

James Allen wrote:
Why isn't, for example, playing make-believe with Barbies a game?

Because it doesn't have rules, and structure. There's more to rules than the end of the game.

Sorry for titling my post "common sense" without explaining my thoughts on that. Basically, I'd say almost anyone you ask is going to call World of Warcraft a game, not a toy. You might be able to argue your definition of Games to sway someone away from that, but it's a surprising outcome from your definition of games. It's surprising, because your definition is wrong. The word game means something, and we all have enough of a sense of it's meaning to say that World of Warcraft and D&D are games, and would probably mostly agree that playing make-believe isn't. A good definition for games will include what we call games and exclude what we don't.

A game isn't made/played simply for it's ending. Having success/failure states throughout playing may be essential to call something a game, but not just the big success/failure at the end.

I wonder though if there are things most people might call a game without any winners and losers. Probably a lot of Drinking games. It has the structure and rules to call something a game, but the end result may be having a drink instead of a winner and loser. Like "I never" (or whatever other names it goes by), where you say something you've never done, and if the other people have done it they drink. Or maybe drinking means they lost? Hmm.

Masacroso
Masacroso's picture
Offline
Joined: 05/05/2014
Interesting point

Interesting point DifferentNames. Some time ago (not very much... no more than some months)I read an article where someone was talking about game on the sense of just means without a end or not focused to a final state.

Ah, I found the article, is this.

Any original perspective is interesting to me.

James Allen
Offline
Joined: 08/07/2014
"It's surprising, because

"It's surprising, because your definition is wrong"

The fact that the earth isn't flat was surprising too, doesn't make it wrong.

"The word game means something ..."

And what would that be?

"A good definition for games will include what we call games and exclude what we don't."

That's not a good definition, it's an uncontroversial one. There's a difference between describing a word's usage (what you're advocating) and describing a useful definition of a word (what I'm doing). Sometimes, popular usage is useful in it's own right, and certainly the popular usage of game conveys a sense of tradition and custom, but usage doesn't underwrite coherency or usefulness or goodness. Conversely, a distinction between an activity with victory conditions and one without describes two usefully distinct universes of activity.

"A game isn't made/played simply for it's ending. Having success/failure states throughout playing may be essential to call something a game, but not just the big success/failure at the end"

I didn't say the purpose of a game is it's end conditions (in fact, I said otherwise a number of times). I said that victory conditions are the crucial difference between a game and an activity that is not a game. Having success/failure states throughout a game is not essential. Here's an example game.

Rule: the first of us to type the word "it" wins.

It.

I won that game. No success/failure states necessary. Now let's look at that same rule as not a game.

Rule: you must type the word "it".

Is that a game? Maybe we can stretch the definition of game to encompass that, but I think it's pretty obvious that the first is a game (a pretty unfair and boring game, but a game nonetheless) while the second it's not so certain.

All games have winners and losers. Even drinking games. In drinking games, you win when you drink, and the game ends every time you take a drink. They are like poker that way. One sitting commonly comprises a series of attempts at the game. "I never" just isn't a game. It's "play," which I have no problem with, but it's not a game. I think the only reason we call those kinds of things games is that we've come to use the word game to describe any diversion or pastime. Sex is a game. Watching TV is a game. Having a conversation is a game. Which is fine. We can use language however we want to, but it isn't a reason to include every diversion or pastime into any theory of games. Which brings me to problem the most important point I'd like to make about where you're going terribly wrong.

Words fall into all sorts of usages for a variety of reasons. Those accidents of history do not oblige us to find consistent meanings across those usages in order to justify them. In other words, just because people use the phrase "head games" to describe manipulative behavior, doesn't oblige me to include manipulative behavior in a theoretical definition of "games". It would require that I include it in a dictionary definition, because dictionaries describe usage, but that's not what we're doing. We're trying to describe an particular constellation of activities that it just so happens we're calling "games".

You see the difference?

DifferentName
DifferentName's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/08/2013
Semantics

James Allen wrote:
The fact that the earth isn't flat was surprising too, doesn't make it wrong.

What we call a game and what we don't is a question of how to classify different activities. It's not the same discovering a fact about reality. It's just semantics, to get an accurate definition of the word.

Massively Multiplayer Online Games are Games. Everyone knows it. It's even in the name. If your definition doesn't include them, that doesn't mean you've discovered some new fact about MMOs. It means there's something wrong with your definition.

Masacroso wrote:
I read an article where someone was talking about game on the sense of just means without a end or not focused to a final state.

Weird article. I don't really think he was talking about games when he described "infinite games", as he called life itself a game, then went on about spiritual things. I do like the idea of infinite games though. Like most MMOs, or the Sims, or Horde Mode in various games.

- Of course, now that I mentioned The Sims, I do see the Sims as kind of straddling the line of game and toy. I think what makes it still a game to me is the needs and wants that get fulfilled or not. Your actions earn you points of various kinds, and money. You can attempt to increase your relationship with someone, and succeed or fail. I think if you remove those, and put total control of that into the player (like you might do with hacks/mods), then you really start to leave game territory.

James Allen
Offline
Joined: 08/07/2014
Confusion

"What we call a game and what we don't is a question of how to classify different activities. It's not the same discovering a fact about reality. It's just semantics, to get an accurate definition of the word."

This is precisely where you keep making your mistake. You're arguing here that words are merely usage. That is a perfectly valid way of approaching words. But you cannot simultaneously tell me that "game" has an authoritative meaning. If it's merely usage, then it's meaning is just the sum of every usage, and my usage is just as valid as any other usage, so I can't possibly be wrong. On the other hand, if we want to define a useful term with which to discuss the philosophy of a particular phenomenon in the world, and we want to call phenomenon "game", the term "game" has to have more content then just the colourful history of it's usage. Or do you think MMOs are the same thing as picking up women?

"Massively Multiplayer Online Games are Games. Everyone knows it. It's even in the name. "

When you press them, it turns out nobody really knows this; yourself included. Saying the word is in the name is, well, "just semantics". A phenomenon doesn't have anything in common with another thing merely as a consequence of them sharing a name. We can *hope* that we all busy ourselves giving things similar names because they are similar, but we know that isn't always the case.

"If your definition doesn't include them, that doesn't mean you've discovered some new fact about MMOs. It means there's something wrong with your definition."

I haven't argued that I've discovered something new about MMOs, nor is my definition dependent on this hypothetical discovery. I've argued that my definition describes something useful about games. And it does.

DifferentName
DifferentName's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/08/2013
Not Really.

Not really. Your definition changes the meaning of the word to something people find surprising and controversial. There are more useful definitions of the word, definitions discussed in this topic, which encompass more activities into games without being too inclusive.

You simply asserted that a game requires an ending (because victory conditions before the ending don't count?), then when examples are given of games without an ending, you declare that those are not games. What makes you think that's a valid use for the word when so many games get thrown out?

What if you don't finish a game? Was it not a game because you never got to the victory condition?

You said earlier that MMOs are a toy comprised of many games, because I have a victory condition for each quest. So if I play World of Warcraft and do a few quests, then you're saying a more accurate use of the word "game" would be to tell people:

Hypothetical Conversation wrote:
"I played some games yesterday. They were called "A Fisherman's Feast", "Bladeleaf the Elder", and "Bark for the BarleyBrews". They're all part of this toy called World of Warcraft, which lets me use the same character in several different games.

These examples have some absurdity to them. That should show that there's something wrong with that definition. Not just because of historical use of the word game, but because it's not that useful, and leads to confusing conversation.

It's not the victory condition that makes a game. The victory condition simply ends it. This, I think, describes something useful about games.

X3M
X3M's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/28/2013
Grey area's

I toss in;

Quote:
Minecraft

Is it really a game? Or just playing around. It is a large grey area in this (uhmmm...) "game".

The grey area would be sand box games. You simply play around. But it is just playing, not playing a game?
There are rules like gravity and light etc. But in creative mode, all you do is creating houses/castles/roads etc.

It doesn't end either, there is no real victory condition.

The same goes for survival mode. Where the victory condition is staying alive for as long as possible. Now players have the difficulty option. But also while playing any level, they can make it themselves hard or not. On the hardest mode, you still can survive infinitely by digging a hole, close it above you and sit there forever. Or, you create a mob spawner, and you stand right under it, trying to defeat all the mobs that appear.

Players often created mini games in minecraft. An easy example would be a maze, or hide and seek.

So the question is, is Minecraft a game? Or simply an environment where you could create a game?

You can translate Minecraft (video version) to Lego (table version). Lego to Barbies (no more constructing?).

With this logic, I say that Minecraft is not a game, until you add rules yourself. The "game" does offer options to add rules like trying to survive. Or trying to defeat the ender dragon. But before that, Minecraft is just a toy.

A mean example of 25 years ago:

Quote:

Try to catch the Barbies while I toss them around.

There we go, no more toys, but a game. Funny for me, not for my sister.

James Allen
Offline
Joined: 08/07/2014
More Flesh

"Your definition changes the meaning of the word to something people find surprising and controversial."

It's an interesting definition, I admit it. Another great feature of it, thank you.

"There are more useful definitions of the word, definitions discussed in this topic, which encompass more activities into games without being too inclusive."

I haven't heard a more useful or description definition. And "inclusiveness," where inclusiveness means correspondence with every usage of the word, is not more useful, but less useful. I'm not giving the word definition to make people less surprised by it, or to avoid controversy, but to provide a useful tool for talking about the kinds of activities the original post was getting at.

"You simply asserted that a game requires an ending (because victory conditions before the ending don't count?), then when examples are given of games without an ending, you declare that those are not games. What makes you think that's a valid use for the word when so many games get thrown out?"

That's not what I asserted; that's what you interpreted. Mostly because you're confused about what a victory condition is (which I'll get to later). But ending is a feature of a victory condition, and it's a feature that exposes the impossibility of what you're describing. If there is game beyond the victory conditions, that means that these particular conditions are not "victory" conditions--they did not signal victory, aka. the ultimate end. So no, victory conditions in the middle of a game don't count because there are never and have never been such a thing. The idea is absurd.

This is another good feature of my definition. Its logically coherent and rationally discernible.

This line you've been taking has another fatal problem. You can't really say "when examples of games are given" because what we're arguing about is what games are. When you give examples of an activity and call it a game, you're assuming the answer to the question we're investigating. It's circular logic. It runs like this:

You: this is a game.
Me: why is that a game?
You: because I said it's a game.

And like I've said, this is a perfectly valid use of colloquial language. We're free to just call things by names because we're in the habit of calling those things that name; however, it's not a useful tool for investigating the nature of the thing being named. And the nature of the thing is what I'm discussing; not the history of our linguistic habits.

"What makes you think that's a valid use for the word when so many games get thrown out?"

I've given dozens of reasons. Just scroll up. The only reason you've given to the contrary is that you and others are in the habit of using the word differently.

"You said earlier that MMOs are a toy comprised of many games, because I have a victory condition for each quest. So if I play World of Warcraft and do a few quests, then you're saying a more accurate use of the word "game" would be to tell people:"

No, I'm saying--again--it's a more useful definition of the word. You're looking for accuracy of usage (in vein I would say, because it's pretty obvious there isn't one single accurate usage). That's fine if you want to look for that, but that's not what I'm doing and I have been clear about that since my very first comment. That I am not after the same thing as you is not an error on my part.

Let me put this in--hopefully--a more easily digestible way. You are treating the usage of language as if it's evidence to the nature of a thing referred to by that language. It isn't. It's convenient when the usage of language corresponds to the nature of things, but it's rarely the case.

"These examples have some absurdity to them. That should show that there's something wrong with that definition. Not just because of historical use of the word game, but because it's not that useful, and leads to confusing conversation."

A conversation that blends together WoW, picking up women, chess, playing cricket, any amusement or pastime, materials used in playing games, an occasion on which games are played, the number of points required to win a game, the score at a particular stage in a game, a style of playing a game, a style of being in general, a vision of life, and so on including every use of "game" ever imagined.... is far more absurd than anything I've said.

What's more, you're examples of "absurdity" are themselves absurdly irrelevant. I'm explicitly not suggesting my definition of game in order to accommodate colloquial discourse about average goings on in the world, but in order to be clear about phenomenon in the world and to give the word some content to work with. That my definition of "game" isn't useful in all contexts and for all purposes just puts it on par with every other definition of game. But hey, if you have a definition that captures every usage of game ever employed, don't let me hold you back.

"It's not the victory condition that makes a game. The victory condition simply ends it. This, I think, describes something useful about games."

This isn't an argument. You are just obstinately denying without any reason. I can just as easily deny your denial. You need to provide reasons for why victory conditions are a bad definition.

More importantly, you're misunderstanding what a victory condition is (I told you I'd get back to it). It isn't simply demarcating the end of an activity. If I say to someone, "walk to the end of the street and you will have completed your walk along the street," I have established an ending but not established a victory condition. A victory condition requires a positional good. So, if I said, "walk to the end of the street and you win," then I have established a victory condition (and a game). So, it is false to say that victory conditions simply end the game. "Supplies an ending" is an insufficient description of a victory condition.

Positional goods are key here. Let's go back to MMOs. Don't MMOs have positional goods? They have character levels, special clothing, and all sorts of rewards. These rewards are goods, but not positional goods. Why? Because everyone can get them. (In fact, they're semi-positional, but that's a whole other can of beans best opened later). So no, MMOs do not supply positional good, so they don't have victory conditions, so they aren't games. Here comes the big claim:

Pursuing positional goods is what distinguishes games as activities.

Consider a PvP dual in an MMO. That is a game. One person will win and no matter how many other duels there are, that fact will never change. No one else can ever win that duel. Winning that particular duel is a positional good and it's what sets that activity aside as a game. When we call MMOs games, it's only because they contain such activities, and we are naming the whole activity after one of it's parts (like referring to the crew of a ship as hands isn't really saying that they are literally hands). There is no such positional good at stake in an MMO (as a whole). This is why MMOs end in disillusionment rather than satisfaction. When an MMO is over, it's because you are bored with the toy.

@3M

That's pretty much along the lines I'm shooting down.

DifferentName
DifferentName's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/08/2013
Video games and board games

X3M wrote:
Minecraft... in creative mode, all you do is creating houses/castles/roads etc.

Yeah, I can see where creative mode is more borderline. I think what makes something a toy rather than a game, is being able to just do what you want with it, like playing pretend. Games where you have to survive have a challenge to it though.

I wonder though if it may just be in the nature of fun computer programs to be games rather than toys though. Everything you can do must be programmed into it. A set of rules built directly into it. If you hand a kid a board game without the instructions, I imagine they would use it's pieces as toys rather than as a game, doing things with the pieces that don't fit into the guidelines of the game. However, if that kid plays a video game, all they can do is what was built into the game. Even without going towards an objective, they're bound by the rules that were built into the game.

Syndicate content


forum | by Dr. Radut