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Games without winners

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Anonymous

Howdy all,

I have taken to writing a weekly (we'll see how long that lasts!) column on my website (www.paintedhorsegames.com) on topics of interest to the gaming community.

In my next column I am discussing games that do not have winners or losers (and I am not talking about simply failing to keep track of the score, as they do in some little league soccer games), but rather the types of games we played as children (Does anyone remember the parachute game that we used to play in physical education class? Ah the joy!) extrapolated to our adulthood.

I can immediately see game styles like roleplaying that lend themselves to precluding winners and losers, but what about board games or card games? As designers, what kind of mechanic would you develop for a game without a winner? What kind of condition would you invoke to end the game?

Any inputs, comments or ideas are more than welcome!

Steven F. Diaz

Painted Horse Games

hpox
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Games without winners

Can a game be competitive and have no winner or loser?

FastLearner
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Games without winners

Cooperative games, including good ones like Knizia's Lord of the Rings, have no winner or loser, but for everyone. The players in such games are working together against the game system.

-- Matthew

Anonymous
Games without winners

While it is true that Knizia's Lord of the Rings does not have an individual player who is singled out as a winner, it is still possible to win or lose in the game. At the end of the day I can tally each player as a winner or loser (Though in this case they are either all winners or all losers).

Take the example of "Catch the Dragons Tail" where a row of people grab onto the person in front of them. The object of the game is for the head to catch the tail. One may make the definition that the head is the winner when he catches the tail (and would thus be a loser), but how do we define the end state of the players in the middle? Since the player in front of the tail somewhat dictates the movement of the tail, how does this effect our definition of the tail? Are they still a loser?

As for whether a game without winning conditions can be competitive, I believe so. While not preciesly a game, one example is the competition between video game consoles (Atari, Nintendo, Sega, PlayStation, XBox, etc...). The competition between these items is fierce, yet after 20 years of console design, who is the winner? Will there ever be a definitive winner?

If a game was designed with the theme of dueling video game consoles, some arbitrary end condition would most likely be put into place like households reached or target revenue amount. Of course there always exists the possibility of having an end condition based on the number of player turns (os something like that), and each player chooses how they will compete with the others (most money earned, most households reached, whatever) or even compete against their own personal bests.

Anonymous
Games without winners

Quote:
competition between video game consoles (Atari, Nintendo, Sega, PlayStation, XBox, etc...). The competition between these items is fierce, yet after 20 years of console design, who is the winner? Will there ever be a definitive winner?

Actually yes, when Bill Gates definitivley decimates or buys out the competition and takes over the known universe.

Remember, Bill Gates always wins. Even when he floats his old buddy steve jobs a couple billion to keep MAC alive...

Incidently Bill Gates just made $3000 in the time it took me to type this.

Did you know its not worth Bill Gates time to stop and pick up a hundred dollar bill, he would actually lose more money by taking the time out to do that.

All hail BG!

jwarrend
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Games without winners

PaintedHorse wrote:

As for whether a game without winning conditions can be competitive, I believe so. While not preciesly a game, one example is the competition between video game consoles (Atari, Nintendo, Sega, PlayStation, XBox, etc...). The competition between these items is fierce, yet after 20 years of console design, who is the winner? Will there ever be a definitive winner?

If you're making a board game about it, there had darn well better be, or else the universal reaction will be "why the heck am I playing this?"

I think that a game understood in the common sense implies, at the least, a goal that is set before the players; an objective. What you refer to as the "parachute game" is really more what I would consider to be "play". And I think it stretches the language beyond the point of usefulness to consider all types of play to be "games".

Now, there are games where the objective is secondary to the activity of the game itself. Party games are a good example of this -- often the social interaction is the point, and the goal is just tacked on, but isn't central to the fun of the game. But it's still important. In Apples to Apples, e.g, you don't care who wins, but if there was no concept of "winning" in the game, it would simply be an activity, and would fall flat.

But is it possible to have a game, in the conventional sense, without a goal being set before the players (achievement of which would connote "winning")? I don't really think so. The more important question is, "would anyone want to play such a creation?" Can you think of an example where anyone would?

Just my thoughts. It's an interesting question.

-Jeff

Anonymous
Rock Paper Scissor

Hey,
I guess you all must have played the rock,paper,scissor game during your childhood.When a player wins the loser extends his wrist (the same wrist must be used throughout the course of the game), face up, to the winner. The winner will hold the loser's hand steady with one hand (not tightly or forcibly) and use the first two fingers (only!) of the other hand to slap the loser's wrist. Wetting the two fingers just slightly is permissible; this provides a somewhat sharper sting. It's also better to hold the two fingers loosely rather than stiffly so that they slap instead of hit. The winner only gets one shot; if the slap is bungled, the loser is off the hook.
So basically the loser has a chance to defend himself n come back to play.So its kind of a loop system n there is also a possibility of draw.

hpox
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Games without winners

I asked the question because the only game I see being a GAME and having no winners are the creative social games where everybody make something together... such as a story or a drawing.

phpbbadmin
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Games without winners

hpox wrote:
I asked the question because the only game I see being a GAME and having no winners are the creative social games where everybody make something together... such as a story or a drawing.

I agree. 'Games' in which players create a story together would be a great example. But one might argue that this isn't actually a game. It would probably be best to define, ahead of time, what your definition of a game is and make sure everyone is on the same page, before you continue further discussion. Odds are you're stretching the limit of what most people would consider a game.

-Darke

Zomulgustar
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Games without winners

The obvious equivalent to the console-wars 'game' is poker (not the tournament elimination variety). The companies don't care about being ranked #1 except insofar as it results in them making as much money as they possibly can. As I understand it, the status of a unique 'winner' has been made to be psychologically important over the centuries in large part through offsetting the declining popularity of gambling on the results of the game. Just have an ante enough that the players feel each point and you'll move into a different style of play...(May not be legal in all locations. Some restrictions apply. For external use only. Beware of lint.)

Zzzzz
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Games without winners

You all suck ;) Now you have me brain tied, trying to decide what I think the definition of game should be.

Some online resources say:

1) A game is a recreational activity involving one or more players, defined by a) a goal that the players try to reach, and b) some set of rules that determines what the players can do.

2) A competitive activity or sport in which players contend with each other according to a set of rules.

3) An active interest or pursuit, especially one involving competitive engagement or adherence to rules.

Besides a few examples, such as, "The winner of the GAME should score 10 points...". I did not see any definitions that actually stated that someone had to be a winner or loser. Though most people would expect there to be a winner and loser.

Ugh.... so what really defines a GAME? A Winner and Loser? Goals? Scoring? Fun? Rules? ???????

What are the bounds of what a game can be?
Is writing a poem a game? There are rules and guidelines for writing a poem. The goal is to finish writing a poem. So in thisw case, I dont think you have to have winner and loser as much as a goal. Though a goal tends to implies success or winning based on completion of the poem.

Ugh... I have to work and now my brain is churning... did I already tell you all you suck? :P

FastLearner
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Games without winners

Jeff hit the nail on the head for me. "Game" and "play" are not synonymous terms.

And then everyone else hit the nail on the head: the definitions are tricky!

Challengers
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Games without winners

I love pizza. I love eating pizza.
I love chess. I love playing chess.

So, a game is not defined by what we love. Nor, apparently, is it defined by what we eat.

I love basketball. I love watching basketball.
I love pretty women. I love watching pretty women.

So, a game is not defined by participatory status. All you single men, just don't answer that :)

Now the comparison between pizza and chess is not fair, so how about replacing the pizza with a piano?
I love playing the piano.
Now games aren't even defined by what we play!

What kind of **** is that!

Mitch

hpox
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Games without winners

Good observations Mitch :)

Anonymous
Games without winners

hpox wrote:
Good observations Mitch :)

But the conclusions aren't as useful.
Challengers wrote:
I love pizza. I love eating pizza.
I love chess. I love playing chess.

So, a game is not defined by what we love. Nor, apparently, is it defined by what we eat.

This part is true. The amount you love something doesn't seem to correlate with wherther it's a game. For most people at least......

Challengers wrote:

I love basketball. I love watching basketball.
I love pretty women. I love watching pretty women.

So, a game is not defined by participatory status. All you single men, just don't answer that :)

Well according to your statements a game is not defined by how much you love or watch it. Doesn't mention participation.
Now the comparison between pizza and chess is not fair, so how about replacing the pizza with a piano?

Challengers wrote:

I love playing the piano.
Now games aren't even defined by what we play!

What kind of **** is that!

Mitch
Games are defined by play they are defined by HOW you play.
A game is playing something with some sort of goal in mind.
Now i'm stealing this from somewhere but if a game doesn't have a goal then it's a toy like simcity. If there is no interaction then it's just a puzzle.

/ramble off

Anonymous
Games without winners

Thanks all for the comments so far.

I think it would be beneficial to provide a working definition of a game for this thread, for it is games I am after and not informal play.

The best definition I have run across is that offered by Salen and Zimmerman in Rules of Play:

"A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome."

The key idea here, as it relates to this particular discussion, is a quantifiable outcome. Traditionally this means that at the game conclusion the points are tallied and a winner is delcared. For clarity, let us say the rules define what this quantifiable outcome is.

While I believe it is possible for a winnerless game to have a single route to the quantifiable outcome, a game with multiple routes to the quantifiable outcome, but which has no single outcome that trumps or is additive to any other outcome is an easier (if somewhat contrived)case to consider.

The game that comes to my mind is Vegas style solitaire on your computer. A player can tally the number of times they clear the board (the traditional victory condition for solitaire) or maximize their cash winnings (a rather meaningless gauge unless one is comparing to others or keeping a positive balance). It is up to the individual player to determine whether they have achieved the victory condition, since the rules do not provide which quantifiable outcome is superior.

Has a multiplayer game been designed that does not have a victory condition? I cannot think of any, though there have been moments during play in other games where I would pursue my own victory conditions rather than those dictated by the game (in Vampire the Eternal Struggle, I would always try to set up a "perpetual motion" blood generating system before pursuing any player elimination goals, and would consider my play a success if I could build such a structure, even if I did not win the game by the designers definiton).

markmist
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Games without winners

PaintedHorse wrote:

"A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome."

The key idea here, as it relates to this particular discussion, is a quantifiable outcome. Traditionally this means that at the game conclusion the points are tallied and a winner is delcared. For clarity, let us say the rules define what this quantifiable outcome is.

Maybe I am missing something here, but how can you have a multi-player quantifiable outcome and not have a winner? What is the point of playing a game (by the above definition) if you don't have a winner? Why bother with quantifying anything then?

Now, if you were talking about a game that has no score, then the Great Dalmuti is a good example. Players try to win individual hands, but the game doesn't end - players just get reranked. So there is no actual ending to the game. Therefore there is no quantifiable outcome and your definition of a game is flawed.

Scurra
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Games without winners

Yes, but because there is clear ranking in The Great Dalmuti, it's actually fairly easy to quantify how well or otherwise players have done (it often devolves to a scoring system that rates people on how they have moved, rather than necessarily their final positions since once you are at the top a competent player should stay there.) But you are playing to improve your position and there are strategic and tactical judgements to be made in reaching that point.

Instead, I would proffer Fluxx as a better example of a game that isn't a game. It clearly has a very defined ruleset, and there is equally clearly an endpoint and a winner. But anyone who has played it would agree that it cannot possibly be said to have any real strategic or tactical element; OK, it has a minor tactical element but not really one that affects the outcome that much!

p.s. My posting yesterday about Apples to Apples got lost somewhere, so I'll try again. I think A2A is actually an excellent example of an "activity" that is enjoyable regardless of whether you put a scoring system and/or an endpoint on it. It would be easy to add more complexity to A2A by e.g. adding a scoring track that restricts types of cards according to where particular markers are at the time - an approach taken by similar packaged party games such as Pictionary or Scattergories - but (imo sensibly) they decided not to take that approach.

jwarrend
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Games without winners

Scurra wrote:

Instead, I would proffer Fluxx as a better example of a game that isn't a game. It clearly has a very defined ruleset, and there is equally clearly an endpoint and a winner. But anyone who has played it would agree that it cannot possibly be said to have any real strategic or tactical element; OK, it has a minor tactical element but not really one that affects the outcome that much!

While I agree that Fluxx suxx, I still would consider it to be a game, in the same sense that I consider Chutes and Ladders or Candyland to be games. I think it's overly restrictive to say that a game must have meaningful decisions to be a game. I think that the presence of a goal is far more central to the concept of something being a "game" and the tactical merit. Mind you, I don't seek to play Candyland, but I can't help but feel that when someone says "Candyland/Monopoly/whatever isn't a game", they're merely sharing their opinion, rather than an objective fact.

-Jeff

IngredientX
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Games without winners

Let me toss in a couple of examples here...

There are a few games out there in which one player will not necessarily win the game. In Piranha Pedro, the game ends with one "loser," and all other players share the victory. Betrayal at House on the Hill will either end with one "loser" or one "winner." In the case of multiple victors triggered by one player losing the game, it's difficult to tell who the single winner is.

Also, we may want to toss campaign-style games here. I'm still working on my GDW game, Championship Dynasty, in which each player runs a sports team and tries to win three league championships. However, the three is arbitrary, and if I don't screw up the design, players should be able to resume a previous game from scratch, ending the session when a single player wins three more championships. Thus, you have an individual "session winner," but in the grand scheme of things, there is no winner or loser - everyone is playing to experience the ups and downs of a professional sports dynasty, watching players enter the league, age, and retire. If I can make it anywhere near as compelling as a computer GM game (Championship Manager, Out of the Park Baseball, Front Office Football), then I think it will succeed on both counts.

On that note, we can step outside boardgaming for a second and look at RPGs. No single winners or losers there - everyone plays for the experience (points).

So to me, a ranking system is important. Most board games have a specified end and use the ranking system to determine the final scoring. But if extended to a campaign setting, then a gaming session ends at an arbitrary moment. Ranking can occur as a short-term payoff, but the long-term reward will be seeing the campaign's "storyline" (whether scripted or just watching empires rise and fall) develop.

Anonymous
Games without winners

One of my interests in game design is coming up with games that *can* be won but are extremely difficult to win.

Perhaps the game ends with players having achieved different degrees of success toward the final objective (which is incorporated into the game system.)

Chess ends in a stalemate much of the time and it's one of the most beloved games in human history. If simply attempting to win is fulfilling enough to justify playing a game then the game is a success, imo.

Challengers
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Games without winners

IngredientX wrote:

On that note, we can step outside boardgaming for a second and look at RPGs. No single winners or losers there - everyone plays for the experience (points).

Hmmm.
On what do you base the idea that an RPG'er who keeps getting killed would not consider such a series of events as "losing"? Or, if the quantifiable outcome is to achieve some ├╝ber-rank via the aforementioned experience points, could it not be stated that attaining such exalted rank constitutes "winning"? In both cases, the affected player no longer has an incentive to continue the game.

Mitch

Deviant
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Games without winners

"If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him." - Voltaire

The same applies to winning conditions, I think. Even if a game could be made with no clear way to win or lose, competitive players will always find a way to "keep score". Think back to those early arcade games like Centipede and Defender that cycled endlessly, always getting faster and more difficult but never coming to a stop. And yet, players still kept track of the "high score", and made beating that high score their victory condition. What if one of these games (let's say Defender) did not keep track of scores? Then players would "score" by levels completed. And if there were no levels? Then "killing the most aliens" would become the new objective, or "staying alive longest", or any of an infinite number of things. And if there were no aliens? Wait, do we even have a game anymore?

No matter your intention, no matter how hard you try to create an "unwinnable" game, you'll never succeed. Don't underestimate the power of a competitive player to assert his dominance with arbitrary scoring methods. It is even possible to judge one player or another the "best artist", "best team player", etc. There is no objective in gaming that can't be quantified or qualified, though the scoring system in question might be of dubious valididity.

Anonymous
Games without winners

Not to break out of the box here, but considering computer games, one of the most successful series are the family of "Sim" products. These products (if you're not familiar with them) are rather open ended. Some games include goals but there is hardly any other winning conditions. "The Sims" for instance you ... well... live the simulated life of your character. That's it, nothing special. You go to work, eat, sleep make money buy better stuff, make friends. etc. It's kinda errie how that could be fun but it is. For a time at least.

Perhaps the game with no winners or losers has only goals and playing is just how fast you can achive them.

Weather or not that qualifies as a game, I leave to smarter people then I.

Zzzzz
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Games without winners

NeonElf wrote:

Perhaps the game with no winners or losers has only goals and playing is just how fast you can achive them.

If this is the case, I would say that achieving the goals and the time in which you completed the goals is a condition that indirectly(maybe directly) says "you are a winner". Failure to complete one or more goals would imply you have yet to win the game, or are a loser.

FastLearner
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Games without winners

Yet I would argue that The Sims is an excellent example of a computer toy, something that's in a different class than a computer game. I suspect, from interviews that I've read, that Will Wright, its inventor (along with other computer toys that were a little more game like, including SimCity) would agree.

KyRez
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Games without winners

FastLearner wrote:
Yet I would argue that The Sims is an excellent example of a computer toy, something that's in a different class than a computer game. I suspect, from interviews that I've read, that Will Wright, its inventor (along with other computer toys that were a little more game like, including SimCity) would agree.

I would agree. I see the Sims as a toy rather than a game. You meddle with the lives of your Sims but in the end there is no specific aim - the goal of the game is, in a sense, achieved throughout play rather than by any sort of winning.

Anonymous
Games without winners

I am thinking of a game, that might fit your description of a "winnerless" or "looserles" game!
Think the computergame "Sim City"!
What about a Boardgame that is all about devleoping such a city. Their doesn't need to be an end where to stop at. You just could go on developing your city until no gamepieces and pawns are left! ;)
So still some people say, Sim City is no real game but rather a Simulation, and I have to agree with them! Still you can have a helluvatime playing it ;)
Each game that is openended that just provides the environment and defines a ruleset to work with may fit, the question really is: Is it still a game when no winning condition is given?

dete
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Games without winners

in the real universe if nothing is truly black and white,

a game and toy are 2 extremes ends on the same line.

If you look at D&D, sure it has game elements,
objectives, what not,
but also
"toy" elements like the Sims. the fun is in acting out your
character.

And if during the game play, you for one moments actually
felt like the character, then it was a pretty fun successful
game wasn't it?

so if your not gonna have a winner and looser, then
your gonna have to reward the player with other feelings,
building things, developing characters, surviving, story telling, etc.

Anonymous
Games without winners

The long term for any MMO is never a win situation, you usually set goals or task objectives and hope to complete them.

The same for the Sims, or even a huge majority of Will Wrights other games are more time wasters than a game.

I can think of a few others from the last few years, Furby's and Tamagotchi's.

If anyone has been to Vegas in the last few years than you know that slot machines play more like video games than the old one armed bandits they used to be.

Josh

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