Wrote this on another thread but wanted to do a full post on it.

What is a game?

I like to distinguish between 1. entertainment, 2. games, 3. fun.

both ideally are 'fun' (conveying a sense of immersion, flow, or pleasure).

a game is distinct (usually) from entertainment by the presence of interaction, but certain minimalists games have so little decision making, practice, or interaction-learning that in practice they're closer to entertainment.

theres also the issue of "interesting" interaction vs uninteresting ones. While in broad terms, it really comes down to the individual, in aggregate we can (usefully) say some things, by the utility, are either games or not. For example if having interaction were sufficient to make something a game, then light switches could become a game.

now supposed you added multiple switches and you had to hit a sequence to open a door. Now thats a sort of "game". So we see games are toys with goals.

Now what is a toy?

There are two varieties of toy: impromptu toys and intentional toys.

An impromptu toy is anything NOT intended primarily, by design, to induce pleasure or entertainment when interacted with. We'll call these "devices" or "toys" with a lowercase t.

"Toys", made with the intent of entertainment (primarily or secondarily) we'll label with an uppercase T.

Now whether something is used with the intent behind its own design (witness people using dildos, sex toys, as slapstick and gag items lol), or whether the designer achieves their intent with the toy or item is another matter entirely.

But what about more atmospheric games? What about idle games? Or clickers?

Take clickers. In the degenerate case of a single button and a number that increases, whats the difference between a clicker and a calculator? One is a device (calculator) turned into an impromptu toy and then a game by the user's intent and goal (larger number). The second, is a game proper, by the designers intent. In the degenerate case of a badly designed game it devolves into a really shitty calculator.

Likewise in the case of atmospheric games, in the degenerate case, they become mere cinematic entertainment with a glorified pause/play button.

Now while we could get into the definition of *play*, I'll only briefly get into it because there are a number of broad definitions. "Play" is loosely: freely structured (or structured) interaction with some sort of pleasure as either the primary or secondary object, with or without a goal, thats it. And by this definition you can play with a toy, you can play a game, you can play with a lightswitch, hell you can play with yourself.

This of course leaves out goals, the idea of "interesting decisions" or decision making, and a variety of other important elements.

But what makes a good game?

A lot of elements go into making a good game, and it's not a stretch to say that a good game is a totality of factors. At the core of all "good" games is a focus on mechanics, aesthetics, story, and technology. So we can already see that what makes a good game is less of an either-or-categorization and more like a rating or scale across categories of design elements.
Broadly, while aesthetics and atmosphere might be more important in games like Journey (2012) by Thatonegamecompany, for players of games like Rimworld the mechanics and interactions are going to be more important.

In fact going a little deeper, mechanics are usually (but not always) equivalent to interactions. And we see this dichtonomy arise when looking at games like Journey vs say, Dwarf Fortress. But, as an aside, is it possible to have atmospheric games that are also highly interactive or have a strong focus on mechanics? This is often what "realistic" (as opposed to *immersive*) games try to accomplish in design. Done poorly they instead lead to player frusteration, which depending on player type may or may not be pleasureable (witness 'hardcore' games whos difficulty and focus on do-overs is the fun the game is designed for, like roguelikes, and we'll get to that in a moment), but without the proper player base, leads to breaking player flow and immersion. One example of a badly designed game in the roguelike genre would be Early Access Stoneshard, where difficulty was more related to luck and chance than player skill or planning. A large part of this was because of a poorly designed stealth system, where picking off a single enemy alerted *all enemies* nearbye, who would then *stay* alerted until you changed maps, negating tactics that roguelike players enjoy and are used to resorting to. This is an important case worth examining because it shows how minor designer choices in mechanical design can radically alter the final quality of the game. Some games instead chose the cheaper route of managing player *perceptions* with a pregame note: Darkest Dungeons and Amnesia TDD are just two I can think of.

  • 1
    While the result is that both toys and games "are what you make of them", Toys and Games proper, are at their best when designers are *aware* of the tradeoffs made in every design choice. Some of this is negated if the designer has a vision for play, and we see this happen often with indies, where they dont know *explicitly* what they want or don't want, but by process of experience and elimination they settle on something that in its final incarnation is brilliant in design, a proceas of "careful and deliberate stumbling in the dark" away from bad design choices, and towards good design choices, like knowing the layout of your own house even with the lights off.

    And so it's important I think, if you want to be a good designer, if you want to know what makes a "good" game, to first have examples to draw on, to make the games *you* want to play, and better understabd what *you* want out of a game.
  • 6
    Sid Meier said that "Games are a series of interesting decisions"

    I think that's a pretty good summary of both what motivates folks to play games, and a good definition of one.

    I would say that if you're just clicking to move the story forward, that starts to fade out of the realm of games a bit.
  • 0
    ...Because I have found, over time, the single most important element to a "good" or "fun" game, has nothing to do with mechanics, story, technology, art, the designer, or programmer.

    No, ultimately what makes a good game is the presence of playtesting. With the variety of people out there (from people who play *farmville* to people who play with calculators, or dwarf fortress, or *build* calculators in minecraft), the single most important element to knowing if something works, and *how precisely* it effects the players engagement and satisfaction, ultimately comes down to *who* tests it. And those who test it ultimately shape the final design.

    And when you're the sole designer, your first tester is *you*.

    Be sure you have fun testing it.
  • 2
    @N00bPancakes absolutely. Meier is one of my all time favorite designers, (and i take it hes one of yours too) because he had such a fundemental ability to summarize things just as you wrote. Usually the only people that are that good at boiling an idea down are popsci writers.
  • 2
    Games have arbitrary rules. A toy can be featured in a game but isn't a game by itself, per se, since with most toys your play with it is limited only by your imagination. But if you start to play house with your toy doll, you add some (loose) rules to the activity. Then you might say you're playing a game.

    At a certain point, as a game loses its rules, it becomes a sandbox and you've devolved to something more like freestyle play (in other words, a toy) and less like a game.
  • 1
    Too long; didn’t read
    Also too tired to respond.
    Stupid sickness.
  • 3
    Fucking hell I lost again reading the beginning of this rant
  • 1
    Please Add A SUMMARY For People With Short Attention Span
  • 1

    summary: games r gud.

    im an ass.
  • 2
    ok then, i'll write my followup response here a bit later
  • 1
    Doom Eternal lol that’s a GAME (and Bloodstained bc 2d castlevania is sick as fuck)
Add Comment