Question Time: What is a Game? Part 1

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Read the rest of the four-part series here!

While there are many great resources out there on games and game design, I find that most of them explore game genres and game design elements in all their diverse wonder without ever hitting on a simple, practical definition of what the core subject is, and what it is not. Absent that fundamental understanding, it’s difficult to take a discussion on the value of games in training and education very far.

I want to get down to a very basic description in the course of these posts, which we can easily and consistently apply throughout our deeper exploration of games and learning. So, to start with, every game has one or more players. Without players, you don’t have a game – you may have a game concept, a set of recorded rules, game assets, and so on, but all of those pieces exist solely to serve the players’ game experience, and players are what turn those raw materials into a game.

But what makes a player a player as opposed to just a student or an operator or something else? The answer is play, of course. But games offer a specific kind of play experience. Two people might casually play catch, but that’s just play – it’s not a game. We engage in all kinds of play throughout our lives without ever playing a game.

A game, in contrast, is an experience containing unified elements designed in a consistent way in order to facilitate and structure play among players. That’s a basic definition. But this definition is not really illuminating on its own. To gain a better understanding of what games are,we’ll dig a little deeper into the “unified elements” that my definition points to in the following post.

Have any questions for me? Ask away in the comments!

Robert Bell is Minister of Games at Enspire Studios.