20 Digging Deep Inside the Game of Go Fish

Jacob Costello

Go Fish is a very popular game for children.  But there is more to this game than asking for random cards.  There is a dynamic to this game and more meaning to it.  If we truly analyze the game if Go Fish, we will see there are several parts of this game that many complicated and mature games have in common with Go Fish.  In this analysis, I have stated important definitions from David Parlett, Clark C. Abt, and Bernard Suits.  Their definitions of games states what games should contain, prevent from happening, and what should happen while you play a certain game.  I have used these definitions because they all relate to the game of Go Fish and have several elements Go Fish contains.

The name of the game is Go Fish.  The intended audience and the game are designed for children.  It is made this way to make a simple card game for younger kids to understand.  The only materials needed to play this game is a deck of playing cards, without the jokers.  The game is turn-based.  A typical turn consists of a player asking the opponents for a certain card that they have, if the opponent has that card, they must give it to them.  The player keeps asking other players for any card they have until they have a “book” or a group of four to put down.  If the opponent says “Go Fish” that player must pick up a card and it is the next persons turn.  The player with the most books wins the game.

“A game has “ends and means”: an objective, an outcome, and a set of rules to get there.”  David Parlett said this about games having an ending, where the game is over, and someone wins.  In order to win a game you need to have an objective, outcome and rules to complete the game.  The objective of the game is to get the most books or groups of four. The player with the most groups of four wins, you need to have more books than your opponents to be victorious.

Go Fish is an easy game.  The rules are simple, you use a full deck of cards, without the jokers, every player starts off with five cards, one player at a time asks their opponents for cards that they have, if you don’t have a specific card, you can’t ask for it.  Once you have a group of four cards, you place it down on the table.  You keep asking for cards until someone doesn’t have the card you are looking for and they say “Go Fish” then it is the next person’s turn.  You can ask any person and it doesn’t have to be in any order.  Go Fish contains all the elements in the definition, there is an ending to Go Fish, when the pile of cards is gone, the player with the most books wins.  There is the objective of getting the most books, the outcome is the end goal and what you are trying to accomplish, and there are a set of rules of what you can or cannot do in the game of Go Fish.

 “A game is an activity involving player decisions, seeking objectives within a “limiting context” [i.e. rules].”  Clark C. Abt wrote this about games being involved with decision making and players seeking the objective with limited context or rules.  The game of Go Fish is based on player decisions.  Making the decision of which card to call out and which player to choose from, it makes the game intriguing.

  In Go Fish there is very limiting context.  There are a set of rules you must follow to complete the objective of the game.  For example, you can’t ask someone for a 5 card if you don’t have that card.  There are rules set in place so you can have an idea of what you can or cannot do.  You have no idea which players have which cards and it makes it hard to make decisions.  Go Fish is a fun activity that all players must make decisions each turn.  The context is limiting, what players can do is to listen to what their opponents need for cards.  If they are asking for cards that you have, when it is their turn, ask for the card that they wanted previously.  In Go Fish there is “limiting context” within the rules so there is something to think about when making your move.

“A game is a ‘voluntary effort to overcome unnecessary obstacles.’”  Bernard Suits stated this definition.  When playing games, you need to overcome obstacles along the way.  For example, you must get more books than your opponents to be victorious.  You must do your best to avoid what your opponent’s do that will affect your progress to win.

In Go Fish, you can’t take everyone’s cards in one turn.  Everyone goes around asking other players if they have a specific card, and if they don’t the opposing player says, “Go Fish” and you must pick up a card from the pile.  If one of your opponents ask for a card that you have, it makes it harder for you to win the game.  Which makes you want to put in the extra effort to win.  The obstacles you face in Go Fish will want you to use strategy and think of ways to make your chances of winning easier.  That is what makes Go Fish more challenging.

The rules impact the game.  The rules are connected because they get in the way to make the game easy to win and they are the unnecessary obstacles in the game.  The rules cause an inefficiency on purpose.  Go Fish is voluntary, it has goals and rules as well.  The effort is how you want to spend your moves, you want to make the best out of your turn.  You need a strategy when it’s your turn, which creates effort.  Depending on your opponent’s moves, you must change your strategy based on what they do.  The game is voluntary, and the rules are the unnecessary obstacles.  The rules make the game fun, challenging, to make you put in more effort and playable.  The unnecessary obstacles are the rules because they make the game harder and not easy to win.

As you can see, Go Fish relates with the definitions about games.  There is much more to Go Fish than most people think.  There are several parts to Go Fish that make it more complicated and intriguing.  Go Fish has many elements to it that many games don’t.  There are several rules to Go Fish.  There are objectives and unnecessary obstacles must face when playing Go Fish.  There are outcomes that could change the game.  To play Go Fish you need to make decisions to keep the game going and give the game an ending or means.  Overall, the game of Go Fish, is more fascinating than you think.  There are rules, objectives, outcomes, and obstacles that consider Go Fish a game.

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Creating Games by Jacob Costello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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