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What is a game?
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What is a game?:

 1 Noaqiyeum, Sun, 20th Oct '13 2:23:47 PM from across the gulf of space Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
the it-thingy
A miserable pile of targets and lives

No, but seriously. This has come up in a few threads I've been lurking or posting in and it seems like a worthy topic to give its own discussion. Philosophy! :D

My understanding, from what I've seen, is that this question usually arises in the context of the gameplay-versus-narrative debate. There is a substantial group of players who argue that gameplay is intrinsic to the nature of games - which is hard to disagree with! - and that therefore games with an high-enough narrative:gameplay ratio are "not really games". And of course there are others who disagree with this. (I don't want to limit the conversation to this argument, but I don't know whether the question even factors into any other topics.)

I don't want to start this thread to discuss my thoughts particularly, but without going into wall-of-speculative-musing-aloud mode, I think my favourite definition is that a game is "a series of interesting choices". (I forget who said that. Someone involved with Spore, I think, maybe?)

Disclaimer 

So the questions I'd like to ask first, then, are thus:
  • What is a game?
  • If we define it in terms of gameplay, then... what is "gameplay"?
DRYH
OEOE
NSUA
TTRD
 2 Kayeka, Sun, 20th Oct '13 2:27:22 PM from Amsterdam Relationship Status: Brony
World's biggest wannabe
I'd say a game is any piece of entertainment in which the audience is an active agent.
 3 Ninety, Sun, 20th Oct '13 2:42:47 PM from Land of Quakes and Hills Relationship Status: In Spades with myself
Absolutely no relation to NLK
An electronic simulation in which the recipient's input is an inextricable part of the overall experience?
math792d: "If there was a tagline to the Aesir beyond 'war never changes, ' it would be 'alcohol was involved.'"
 4 The Airman, Sun, 20th Oct '13 2:45:08 PM Relationship Status: Gay for Big Boss
I'm going to second Ninety's definition.

 5 Noaqiyeum, Sun, 20th Oct '13 3:04:34 PM from across the gulf of space Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
the it-thingy
Can you elaborate on what you mean by "active agent" (Kayeka) and "inextricable" (Ninety)?
DRYH
OEOE
NSUA
TTRD
Damn you for stealing the SOTN reference.

A "game" is a past-time which is meant to occupy and/or entertain the parties involved.

A "video game" is like a movie: Pay money to create a past-time that consumers will pay through the nose to get.
 
 7 Ekuran, Sun, 20th Oct '13 3:15:14 PM from somewhere. Relationship Status: watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ
Hi.
A (video) game is entertainment where your choice affects the experience.

edited 20th Oct '13 3:15:53 PM by Ekuran

[Insert seemingly profound or amusing phrase here.]
 8 Kayeka, Sun, 20th Oct '13 3:23:44 PM from Amsterdam Relationship Status: Brony
World's biggest wannabe
Can you elaborate on what you mean by "active agent"?

It means that the audience has a say in the way the events unfold.
[up][up]PFAAAAHHHH HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA!!!!!

That thing is GONE, good sir. Have you seen the newest Pokmon game? It's ALL Railroading, ALL the time!
 
Mah Headphones
I think a game is something that involves the player as...well a player in its events, rather than some kind of spectator being pulled along in some kind of museum ride where you occasionally shoot exhibits. I find that The Cynical Brit has a good video on this subject.

I need HoH SiS
 11 Irene, Sun, 20th Oct '13 3:30:16 PM from Friend Code: 1203-9265-8784 Relationship Status: Love is an open door
Myo
A video game is just an electronic game where the player has some kind of control over what the character does. It can be very little all the way up to everything in the game.

If you have absolutely no control in any way, it's just a Movie.(like most cutscenes happen to be, but the game itself is still a video game)

Railroading is irrelevant, as it's been in a ton of video games for ages. Doesn't make it less of a video game after all.
 12 Ars Thaumaturgis, Sun, 20th Oct '13 3:40:01 PM Relationship Status: I've been dreaming of True Love's Kiss
[up][up][up][up] Although I'd like to add to that the caveat that "the way that events unfold" can be as simple as "the player character dies, or continues on"; I do count a simple "light gun"-style rail-shooter as a game.
[edit] So many ninjas in games! [/edit]

Others have given definitions that I'd agree with, I think. To put my own definition in, I'd start by noting that "game" and "video game" are not necessarily synonyms, and that I'm going to define "video game", not "game".

That said, I might define a "video game" as an interactive experience produced primarily via software, computer hardware or some combination or middle ground of the two. I suppose that the important part of that for this conversation is the term "interactive": a video game is in part defined by allowing the player some degree of control, whether over the order of events, which events occur, etc.

This can be very simple: imagine a game in which there is a completely static narrative spread out over an environment (perhaps via a mix of text-logs and events that can be triggered), and in which the player's only controls are determining the order in which they experience the elements of this narrative (by moving around and clicking, perhaps). To my mind this is a video game. Is it a good one? That's another matter — and a very subjective one.

All of that said, I do think that one of the great strengths of games are in allowing the player agency (or at the least the illusion thereof). There are games that I think would be significantly weakened if translated to a more passive medium (such as film), simply by the loss of the player feeling that they are the one making the choices. A good example, for me at least, is Planescape: Torment: the philosophy behind the game is, I feel, conveyed rather effectively in the player getting to choose the Nameless One's path, determine his nature and fate.

edited 20th Oct '13 3:41:27 PM by ArsThaumaturgis

A miserable pi Wait, shit, you already did that one

A game is a system of rules designed to entertain
panic
 14 Ninety, Sun, 20th Oct '13 3:44:34 PM from Land of Quakes and Hills Relationship Status: In Spades with myself
Absolutely no relation to NLK
@Noaqiyeum: I mean that if the player were removed, the experience wouldn't work. A movie can play if nobody's watching it, a book still works if nobody's reading it, but without player input, a game is utterly pointless.
math792d: "If there was a tagline to the Aesir beyond 'war never changes, ' it would be 'alcohol was involved.'"
 15 Recon 5, Sun, 20th Oct '13 3:58:19 PM from Southeast Asia
Avvie-free for life!
In a lot of traditional past times the player's only involvement is to trigger some form of random number generation and follow the prescribed outcome, yet we're fine with considering them as 'games'. That probably fits into this discussion at some point.

edited 20th Oct '13 3:58:52 PM by Recon5

 16 joesolo, Sun, 20th Oct '13 4:07:17 PM Relationship Status: watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ
[up] that's still the player doing SOMETHING though.
I am going to shove the sunshine so far up where the sun don't shine that you will vomit nothing but warm summer days -Belkar
Every JRPG has railroading, including Pokemon from the beginning. It's not always subtle, but it's always there. You kind of need it.
 
Level 9999
A game is a single or series of objectives that may or may not be guided by a narrative.

Gameplay represents the series of choices made around those objectives, usually to influence or alter the narrative.
 19 Mukora, Sun, 20th Oct '13 8:35:28 PM from a place Relationship Status: Love is an open door
Uniocular
hat thing is GONE, good sir. Have you seen the newest Pokmon game? It's ALL Railroading, ALL the time!
Just because the plot is railroaded doesn't mean the player's choice doesn't matter. You still choose which Pokemon to have in your party, which moves you use, how you spend your money, et cetera, et cetera.

Personally, I define a video game by whether or not it could work if it weren't interactive- ie, if all player input were removed, if you could get the same experience just watching a video on Youtube.

But for just "game" in general- yeah, a system of rules designed to entertain seems reasonable.

edited 20th Oct '13 8:36:39 PM by Mukora

 20 Major Tom, Sun, 20th Oct '13 9:47:54 PM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
What is a game?

Only the single greatest creation in human history since the invention of the transistor.
Endless Conflict: Every war ends in time, even supposedly this one.
 21 Physical Stamina, Sun, 20th Oct '13 10:52:04 PM from boooouuunnnddd to fall iiiiin loooooooove Relationship Status: If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it
'ey, dis is Toime Gal, aka dee 'Eroine of Toim
I think I'd define a game as a form of entertainment in which you control your character. As in, making him/her move and do things.
 22 Shirow Shirow, Sun, 20th Oct '13 11:13:06 PM from Land of maple syrup Relationship Status: In Lesbians with you
Saintia SHOU!
A Video Game is any piece of interactive electronic entertainment that challenges the player.

That's my definition, and it's deliberately left vagueish. What a "Challenge" is can be the avoidance of a lose state or the pursuit of a win state (And various degrees thereof, IE high scores). Anything that doesn't challenge the player is not a Video Game. It becomes something else, just a toy. Not that there's anything WRONG with that. Visual Novels and stuff like Proteus are certainly enjoyable, but they're enjoyable in a different way.

Some games do have modes that strip away the "Game" and turn it into a "Toy". An example of that is Minecraft. Minecraft has two modes: "Creative" and "Survival". Creative is a toy. There are no limits to what you can do or how you can do it, nothing can stop you other than yourself and you're given unlimited resources to do whatever you want to do. Survival is a game. Suddenly there are obstacles, limited resources and mechanics to master as well as a lose state (No win state until the ender dragon, but one isn't necessary.) that you are supposed to avoid.

They're both fun. I would only call "Survival" mode a game though.

"But wait!" you might say. "What if I play Creative mode and give myself a challenge! Like, say, recreating the Mona Lisa with dirt blocks!?" and to that I say yes you're playing a game, but one you've designed and conceptualized yourself. You've set your own rules up and used Creative mode as the medium to play your own game. It still doesn't make creative mode a game. You could, say, play chess with soda bottles but that doesn't make soda bottles a game. Merely a tool to play a game with.

But yes. To qualify as a video game there must be some test of skill. Reflexes, strategy, memorization.

edited 20th Oct '13 11:15:10 PM by ShirowShirow

"Well, of course they'd be "colorful" - they're male battle-whores." - Nomuru2d
Vikings
Visual Novels absolutely have win states and lose states.
Uh the fundamental spirit of cooperation and unity that drives the human race is unconfirmed to be more efficient than random computer input
 24 Shirow Shirow, Sun, 20th Oct '13 11:46:55 PM from Land of maple syrup Relationship Status: In Lesbians with you
Saintia SHOU!
Yes, but they don't have any gameplay mechanics. Nothing to master. Only choices with little means to predict the outcome. You can't "Play" a visual novel any better or worse no matter how many times you read it.

A win state and a lose state don't make a game, they merely frame it.

You could make a game using the trappings of a visual novel in a "We dropped some hints to a mystery now solve it" way, which is perhaps where you could argue where a game like Ace Attorney lies.

edited 20th Oct '13 11:49:05 PM by ShirowShirow

"Well, of course they'd be "colorful" - they're male battle-whores." - Nomuru2d
Boiled and Mashed
I'd say a game is any work where the experience is dependent upon input from the consumer/audience to play out to completion, thus the way the experience plays out is shaped by said input. I use experience instead of story because many games do not have a story behind them at all, for example Scrabble.

If this allows some works that some people don't consider games (for example, Visual Novels), we can use "interactive media", which basically menas the exact same thing. Like comics have "graphic novels" and music has "organized sound"
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