If my presence here is any indication, I have a rather substantial obsession with gaming and game philosophy. I scour and scrutinize other people's insights into this emergent medium whenever I possible; however, one very simple question has eluded me: What, exactly, is a game? Is a game like Tetris more game-like than, say, The Walking Dead? Would adventure games be better if they had more "gamey" mechanics integrated into them? Is a digital game more effective in its use of the medium than, say, a board game, or a pen and paper game?
It'd seem like the fundamental basis of any sort of understanding with a medium to at least know what explicitly defines it, and yet I haven't seen anyone discuss this important topic in any depth. So, I think it's only reasonable that, for my first blog post, I'd try to tackle it myself.
Breadth of Perspective:
First off, I don't think any specific example is an ideal means of identifying what makes games special from other media. Even though a game might be objectively good it's ultimately hampered by the narrow scope of design a game provides, and really only leads to insights in design, not purpose.
No, I think we need to broaden our focus. But, looking at all games, we are provided with the problem that makes them so difficult to define in the first place, given how widely they differ in design and experience. They all share one attribute in that the player is interacting with them, but if interaction is what defines a game then that sounds like everything is a game. It's not particularly insightful.
Perhaps, then, we should broaden our focus further...
It's a Trick Question:
Let us, instead of asking what games are, look at the medium of interaction as a whole and ask where gaming fits into this tapestry.
Important tangent, I find the question of "Are games Art?" many months ago to be rather amusing. The dismissal of such a query as being obviously true is certainly in the right, but a lot of people argue that, since gaming is such a young medium, it had yet to mature into its full potential. While I agree that gaming in the digital context is certainly young, when you connect it to the interactive medium as a whole, it becomes a part of a medium far older than any other art form out there.
Why, then, is the medium of interaction not so widely regarded as an art form, Like literature or cinema? The answer should be obvious: It's impossible to hang up an interaction on your wall. Interaction demands a candid experience, which is limited in its scope without turning it into a static medium, thereby rendering interactive component of the experience moot.
This is where games fit in, games offer us a facsimiled replication of a candid interaction through a static creation. This recreation of an interaction is the core of what gaming provides separate from other mediums; it empowers the artist, not simply to convey something to the audience, but for them to interact with the audience in a lasting -- if albeit indirect -- manner.
I could go on to explain more in detail, but for now we'll leave it at that. I thank you for reading and hope you might find this useful.