So What Makes A Game?


What I’ve referred to as “week one” on this project was in actuality only two days and weekend, so this is still only really the first week of development. For simplicity’s sake I’m not going to start adjusting my weeks so that they begin on Thursdays as I don’t really think that’s going to help anyone. The little weekly headers are in correlation to the time-plan I’ve set myself in my Learning Agreement, which is something I’m hoping to have finished by the end of the week. Once we are all agreed, I can properly delve in.

So, I’m really still revolving my thoughts around last weeks goals, which were to research and refine ideas. I’ve already thrown out a few ideas about subject matter, but before I properly convert my theme into a game I want to make sure I’ve got a few questions answered about what a good game actually is. Unfortunately, no matter how deeply I look into this, there is no definite, resounding answer.

I’ve been especially enjoying this book Rules of Play recently. The book is designed to provide developers with an insight into the theory behind development choices and processes, without suggesting any sort of development framework to follow. The book begins by attempting to define the general term “game” by combining definitions provided by a selection of theorists. To reference a few…

Reduced to its formal essence, a game is an activity among two or more independent decision-makers seeking to achieve their objectives in some limiting context. A more conventional definition would say that a game is a context with rules among adversaries trying to win objectives.

~Clark C Abt

A game is a form of art in which participants, termed players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal.

~Greg Costikyan

Games are an exercise of voluntary control systems, in which there is a context between powers, confined by rules in order to produce a disequilibrial outcome.

~Elliot Avedon & Brian Sutton Smith

The consensus is:

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

Simply put, a game is something which must be “played” in order to achieve the objective. The emphasis of the book is obviously on the rules which exist in games, that the developer and the player must follow. As human beings, we understand the things which happen to us in our daily lives because of the natural and unquestionable rules which surround us. If a game does not follow rules, or consistently breaks its own rules without reason, it will not feel natural to play. From a developer’s perspective, making a “good game” is to create a sound system and a consistent set of rules, preferably ones which aren’t in conflict with the desires of the player.

In the online extra for Indie Game The Movie which I posted about a couple of days ago, Super Meat Boy was complimented for its natural playability. The objective of the game is simply to get from starting point A to finishing point B without getting killed by the severe obstacles which lie in your path. Ultimately, a simple goal.

System
A group of interacting, interrelated, or independent elements forming a complex whole.
Here, the system is the strange setting and world of Super Meat Boy, including its inhabitants. The way it looks and the way all the elements interact with each other create the “system”.
Player
The player is introduced to the system by being allowed to move within it, and interact with it. The player is represented by the main character Meat Boy.
Artificial
The game world in this case only exists within an artificial space, and has no correlation to reality. The player can expect the unexpected.
Conflict
The underlying conflict of Super Meat Boy is between the playable character and nemesis Dr Fetus over possession of female character Bandage Girl. I did mention this is a very strange game. It’s the typical “girl gets captured, girl must be rescued” scenario.
Rules
The rules are touched on briefly by the developers, who discuss the aspect of wall-jumping. The unique game physics are part of the rules which all game elements must adhere to, as well as the outcomes of various actions etc. Every action has a specific reaction.
Quantifiable Outcome
To put it simply, either the player wins or loses. Meat Boy may die on his quest, or he may reach his goal in every level and eventual re-acquire his kidnapped girlfriend.


Super Meat Boy is incredibly challenging to play, but consistency within the game allows the player to really get to grips with the gameplay mechanics and methods of play. By mastering control of the game, the player will eventually recognise its systems and rules in order to advance.

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