The other day I started discussing what a game is with a few friends. This made me stop and consider what a game truly is. Is there a difference between a game and play? After opening my textbooks I found several other people whom also pondered this question. I found two game definitions I really liked. Eric Zimmermans definition from this book and Jesper Juuls definition. Juuls definition was by far the most complex and detailed one but I am attracted to Zimmermans definition because it is short, simple and easy to understand. This is Zimmermans definition and I will now explain why I like it.
A game is a voluntary interactive activity, in which one or more players follow rules that constrain their behavior, enacting an artificial conflict that ends in a quantifiable outcome.
This definition states several attributes that is required in a game. The first part states that a game needs to be voluntary and interactive. This means you must have the choice not to play and that you must be able to influence the game. This actually excludes the somewhat popular Norwegian children’s game Stigespillet from being a game. Dice is the only influencing factor in this game and the player can not make any choices affecting the game.
Zimmerman states that a game can have any number of players. This is good because it includes solitaire games. Next comes what I believe is the most important part of a good game definition. A game needs rules that limit the choices the participants have. This is an important difference between games and play. When playing there are no real limits, in a game the rules define the playing field. The definition goes further to state that a game needs an artificial conflict. This requires us to look at the word conflict in a wide sense. The artificial conflict can be between the challenges the game sets the players and need not be between the players. The last part of Zimmerman’s definition is the part that conflicts most with simulation games. Zimmerman states that a game needs a quantifiable outcome. A quantifiable outcome is quite common in many games but it is nonexistent in many computergames.
It may seem a bit strange that it is possible to define games in such a short sentence and in one way this is correct. It would not be very hard to find games that are would not fit in this definition. For instance this definition does not cover simulation computer games like Sim City. Still simplicity and being short is a good trait for a definition to have so I still like Zimmermans definition and will continue to use it.