4 Weaknesses of Definitions

Which of the earlier definitions is correct?

None of them are perfect. If you try to come up with your own definition, it will likely be imperfect as well. Here are a few common edge cases that commonly cause problems with definitions:

  • Puzzles, such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku, Rubik’s Cube, or logic puzzles. Are these games? It depends on the definition. Salen & Zimmerman say they are a subset of games where there is a set of correct answers. Costikyan says they are not games, although they may be contained within a game.
  • Role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons. They have the word “game” right in the title, yet they are often not considered games (for example, because they often have no final outcome or resolution, no winning or losing).
  • Choose-your-own-adventure books. These are not generally thought of as games; you say you are “reading” a book, not “playing” it. And yet, it fits most of the criteria for most definitions of a game. To make things even more confusing, if you take one of these books, add a tear-out “character sheet” with some numeric stats, include “skill checks” on some pages where you roll a die against a stat, and call it an “adventure module” instead of a “choose-your-own-adventure book,” we would now call it a game!
  • Stories. Are games stories? On the one hand, most stories are linear, while games tend to be more dynamic. On the other hand, most games have some kind of story or narrative in them; we even have professional story writers that work on multi-million-dollar video game projects. And even beyond that, a player can tell a story about their game experience (“let me tell you about this Chess game I played last night, it was awesome”). For now, keep in mind that the concepts of story and game are related in many ways, and we’ll explore this more thoroughly later in the course.

This chapter was adapted from Level 1 of Ian Schreiber’s Game Design Concepts course.

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

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