by Chris Cra wford
P r e f a c e t o t h e E le c t r o n ic Ve r s io n
This text was originally composed by computer game designer
Chris Crawford in 1982. When searching for literature on the
nature of gaming and its relationship to narrative in 1997, Prof.
Sue Peabody learned of The Art of Computer Game Design,
which was then long out of print. Prof. Peabody requested Mr.
Crawford's permission to publish an electronic version of the
text on the World Wide Web so that it would be available to her
students and to others interested in game design. Washington
State University Vancouver generously made resources
avail-able to hire graphic artist Donna Loper to produce this
elec-tronic version. WSUV currently houses and maintains the site.
Correspondance regarding that site should be addressed to
Prof. Sue Peabody, Department of History, Washington State
University Vancouver, peabody@ vancouver.wsu.edu.
If you are interested in more recent writings by Chris
Crawford, see the "Reflections" interview at the end of The Art
of Computer Game Design. Also, visit Chris Crawford's
This document was convert by Mario Croteau, from the Web
site of the Department of History of Washington State
University at Vancouver.
by Chris Cra wford
C h a p t e r 7 - T h e F u t u r e o f C o m p u t e r G a m e s
FAD OR FIXTURE? 74
THE TECHNOLOGICAL EXTRAPOLATION 75
ASSESSMENT: TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION 76
THE NATURE OF CHANGE 78 The Mass Market 78 The Flowering of Heterogeneity 79 CONCLUSIONS 80
C h a p t e r 8 - D e v e lo p m e n t o f E x c a lib u r
EARLY WORK: JANUARY-APRIL, 1982 82
THE LONG HAUL: MAY-DECEMBER 1982 84
I n t e r v ie w 8 5
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T
Iam deeply indebted to Madeleine M. Gro ss fo r her painstaking and tho ro ugh criticisms o fthis bo o k. In many cases she invested greater effo rts into her criticisms than I had put into my o riginal tho ughts. She stro ve to restrain my wild hyperbo le and place my arguments o n a
firmer fo undatio n o f rigo ro us lo gic. The lo gical co nsistency and reliability in this bo o k I o we to
her; the speculative flights o f fancy must be laid at my do o rstep.
P R E FA C E
The central premise o f this bo o k is that co mputer games co nstitute a new and as yet po o rly
devel-o ped art fdevel-o rm that hdevel-o lds great prdevel-o mise fdevel-o r bdevel-o th designers and players.
This premise may seem laughable o r flippant. Ho w co uld anybo dy classify the likes o f SPACE
INVADERS and PAC MAN as art? Ho w can TEMPEST o r MISSILE CO MMAND co mpare with
Beetho ven’s Fifth Sympho ny, Michelangelo ’s Pieta, o r Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms?
Co mputer games are to o trivial, to o frivo lo us to be called art. They are idle recreatio n at best. So
says the skeptic.
But we canno t relegate co mputer games to the cesspit o f po p culture so lely o n the evidence o f the
current cro p o f games. The industry is to o yo ung and the situatio n is to o dynamic fo r us to
dis-miss co mputer games so easily. We must co nsider the po tential, no t the actuality. We must
address the fundamental aspects o f co mputer games to achieve a co nclusio n that will withstand
the ravages o f time and change.
There are many definitio ns o f art, few o f which make much sense to the uninitiated. I will
pres-ent my o wn pedestrian definitio n: art is so mething designed to evo ke emo tio n thro ugh fantasy.
The artist presents his audience with a set o f senso ry experiences that stimulates co mmo nly
shared fantasies, and so generates emo tio ns. Art is made po ssible o nly by the richness o f the
fan-tasy wo rld we share. Art is nevertheless difficult, because there are so many practical pro blems
asso ciated with stimulating fantasies deep inside ano ther perso n’s mind. A majo r pro blem is
get-ting the attentio n o r participatio n o f the audience. Mo st art allo ws very little participatio n. Yo u sit
quietly and listen to music that o ther peo ple created and perfo rm, o r yo u stro ll thro ugh a
muse-um and stare at pictures o r statues o ther peo ple made. Yo u sit passively and read a no vel, o r a
po em, o r a sho rt sto ry. With all o f these art fo rms, the ro le o f the audience is passive. The artist
do es all the active wo rk, makes the biggest emo tio nal investment. The audience is expected to
abso rb quietly the fruits o f the artist’s exertio ns. Active participatio n is severely curtailed. Witho ut
participatio n, attentio n dwindles and impact crumbles away.
This is in no wise a criticism o f art o r artists. The techno lo gies o f art preclude participatio n. If we
Picasso , we wo uld have so me great parties but no art. it seems the curse o f art that artists can say
so much in their wo rk and mo st peo ple will hear so little because they canno t participate in the
Enter the co mputer. Co nceived lo ng ago , bo rn in war, reared as the servant o f business, this no w
ado lescent techno lo gy has explo ded o ut o f the co mputer ro o m and invaded sho pping centers,
pizza parlo rs, and ho mes. Po pular characterizatio ns o f the co mputer alternate between the o ld
image o f the co mputer as o mniscient, co ld blo o ded, giant calculato r, and the new image o f the
co mputer as purveyo r o f video thrills and 25 cent fixes. O riginally develo ped as a number
crunch-er, the co mputer assumed a new perso nality when it was given graphics and so und capabilities.
These capabilities gave the co mputer a po werful asset: it co uld no w co mmunicate with the
human, no t just in the co ld and distant language o f digits, but in the emo tio nally immediate and
co mpelling language o f images and so unds. With this capability came a new, previo usly
undreamed o f po ssibility: the po ssibility o f using the co mputer as a medium fo r emo tio nal co
municatio n art. The co mputer game has emerged as the prime vehicle fo r this medium. The co
m-puter game is an art fo rm because it presents its audience with fantasy experiences that stimulate
emo tio n.
Unfo rtunately, the current generatio n o f micro co mputers canno t pro duce a senso ry experience as
rich as that pro duced by, say, a sympho ny o rchestra o r a mo vie. This weakness is mo re than o
ff-set by a fundamental advantage lacking in mo st o ther art fo rms: a game is intrinsically
participa-to ry in nature. The artist has here a participa-to o l that is mo re subtly indirect than traditio nal art. With
o ther art fo rms, the artist directly creates the experience that the audience will enco unter. Since
this experience is carefully planned and executed, the audience must so meho w be prevented fro m
disturbing it; hence, no n participatio n. With a game, the artist creates no t the experience itself but
the co nditio ns and rules under which the audience will create its o wn individualized experience.
The demand o n the artist is greater, fo r s/ he must plan the experience indirectly, taking into
acco unt the pro bable and po ssible actio ns and reactio ns o f the audience. The return is far greater,
fo r participatio n increases attentio n and heightens the intensity o f the experience. When we
pas-sively o bserve so meo ne else’s artistic presentatio n, we derive so me emo tio nal benefit, but when
we actively participate in a game, we invest a po rtio n o f o ur o wn ego into the fantasy wo rld o f the
game. This mo re sizable investment o f participatio n yields a co mmensurately greater return o f
emo tio nal satisfactio n. Indeed, the ro le o f participatio n is so impo rtant that many peo ple derive
greater satisfactio n fro m participating in an amateur artistic effo rt than fro m o bserving a pro
fes-sio nal effo rt. Hence, games, being intrinsically participato ry, present the artist with a fantastic
o ppo rtunity fo r reaching peo ple.
Until no w, games in general and co mputer games in particular have no t been very impressive as
art fo rms. The co mputer games especially are do wnright puerile. This is because the techno lo gy
o f co mputer games has been in the hands o f techno lo gists, no t artists. These guys ( and they are
almo st all male) can write beautiful o perating systems, languages, linking lo aders, and o ther
tech-no lo gical wo nders, but artistic flair has hereto fo re been treated as subo rdinate to technical
Ano ther co ntributo r to the fecklessness o f o ur current co mputer games is the timidity o f the
mar-ketplace. These machines are new; the public is unfamiliar with them and the manufacturers are
hesitant to press the public to o hard to o fast. We therefo re o pt to build inhibited little games
pathetically whispering so me trivial emo tio n. Truly intense emo tio ns o r situatio ns such as
patho s, ecstasy, majesty, rapture, catharsis, o r tragedy intimidate use. We hide behind the defense
that we are in the entertainment business, no t the art business, but that defense o nly betrays a
pro fo und misunderstanding o f art. Art can be starchily elitist, but go o d art can also be a fo o t
sto mping blast. Elitism arises fro m the intellectual co ntent o f art; impact springs fro m its emo
-tio nal ho nesty.
Fo rtunately, times are changing. Already, we see a backlash develo ping against co mputer games.
It expresses itself in many ways: in o rdinances against the placement o f arcade games in so me
areas, in statements by educato rs deno uncing the games, and in mo re vigilant regulatio n o f
chil-dren’s game activities by parents. This backlash is viewed by smaller minded members o f the
industry with anxiety. Mo re visio nary thinkers watch the backlash with eager interest rather than
defensiveness. The American peo ple are telling us so mething here, so mething very impo rtant. It
is impo rant eno ugh to them that they are willing to co mpro mise their traditio nal reluctance to
interfere with o ther peo ple’s business. While the arguments presented in public debates no
rmal-ly fo cus o n fo rmal issues such as delinquency fro m scho o l, creatio n o f large gro ups o f ro wdy
teenagers, and so fo rth, the co ncerns expressed privately reflect a distaste fo r the games, a vague
suspicio n that the games are a waste o f time. Yo u can’t fo o l all o f the peo ple all o f the time; they
are beginning to realize that the wo rld o f co mputer games is as yet a vast wasteland.
Co mputer games are much like candy, co mic bo o ks, and carto o ns. All fo ur activities pro vide
intense o r exaggerated experiences. Whether they use sugar, exclamatio n po ints, o r animated
explo sio ns, the go al is the same: to pro vide extreme experiences. Children appreciate these
activ-ities because their no velty value is still stro ng. Adults, jaded by years o f experience with such
things, prefer diversio ns with greater subtlety and depth. We thus have the pano ply o f culinary
achievement, the vast array o f literature, and the universe o f mo vies as the adult co unterparts to
candy, co mic bo o ks, and carto o ns. Yet, we have no adult co unterpart to co mputer games. This
deficit is pregnant with po ssibilities, fo r it suggests a mo mento us upheaval in co mputer game
This develo ping revo lutio n has no thing to do with the rapid techno lo gical develo pments o f the
last few years. While techno lo gical impro vements will surely co ntinue, we are no lo nger
ham-pered primarily by the limitatio ns o f the hardware. O ur primary pro blem is that we have little
the-o ry the-o n which tthe-o base the-o ur effthe-o rts. We dthe-o n’t really knthe-o w what a game is, the-o r why pethe-o ple play games,
o r what makes a game great. Real art thro ugh co mputer games is achievable, but it will never be
achieved so lo ng as we have no path to understanding. We need to establish o ur principles o f
aes-thetics, a framewo rk fo r criticism, and a mo del fo r develo pment. New and better hardware will
impro ve o ur games, but it will no t guarantee o ur artistic success any mo re than the develo pment
co mparable to a Shakespeare play, a Tchaiko wsky sympho ny, o r a Van Go gh self po rtrait. Each o f
these artists sto o d o n the sho ulders o f earlier artists who plunged into an unexplo red wo rld and
mapped o ut its territo ries so that later artists co uld build o n their wo rk and achieve greater things.
We co mputer game designers must put o ur sho ulders to gether so that o ur successo rs may stand
C H A P T E R O N E
W h a t is a G a m e ?
Ifwe desire to understand games and game design, we must first clearly establish o ur funda-mental o rientatio n. We must define what we mean by the wo rd “game.” We must also
deter-mine the fundamental characteristics o f all games. After discussing so me o f the o bstacles
inherent in this effo rt, I will briefly describe the salient classes o f games; then I will pro po se a set
o f attributes that characterize all games.
Games are a fundamental part o f human existence. The parlance o f games has insinuated itself
into o ur language to refer to activities that are no t truly games. We play alo ng with activities we
find distasteful. We play ball with tho se who require o ur co o peratio n. We play games when we
are insincere. A willing participant is game fo r the enterprise. This bro ad penetratio n o f gaming
co ncepts into the entire spectrum o f human experience presents us with two po tential barriers to
First, o ur liberal use o f gaming terms pro mo tes an exaggerated perceptio n o f o ur o wn
under-standing o f games. We fail to render unto the subject the careful and critical analysis that we
ten-der to mo re academic to pics, and we blithely igno re the co mplexities o f game design. Co mplete
amateurs who se o nly relevant skill is pro gramming undertake to design games with no further
preparatio n than their o wn experience as game players. Tho se who o verrate their o wn
under-standing undercut their o wn po tential fo r learning.
The seco nd o bstacle is ambiguity. We have applied the principles and co ncepts o f gaming so
wide-ly that we have watered do wn their o riginal meanings. There is no lo nger a clear fo cus to the co
n-cepts we seek to understand. Game designers have no well defined set o f co mmo n terms with
which to co mmunicate with each o ther. Discussio ns o f game design frequently disintegrate into
arguments o ver semantics. To cut thro ugh the tangled undergro wth that has gro wn up aro und
gaming we shall need the bulldo zer and the scalpel.
Let us begin this endeavo r by stepping back fo r a mo ment and taking o ur bearings. Let us take a
brief to ur o f the universe o f games, glancing briefly at each o f the majo r regio ns. In the co urse o f
this to ur I ho pe to refresh the reader’s memo ry o f games and make so me simple po ints befo re
digging into the serio us analysis o f fundamental game characteristics. I perceive five majo r regio ns
o f games: bo ard games, card games, athletic games, children’s games, and co mputer games.
We begin with the bo ard games. These games co nsist o f a playing surface divided into secto rs po
pulated by a set o f mo vable pieces. In the mo st co mmo n arrangement the pieces are directly asso
-ciated with the players, while the playing surface represents an enviro nment beyo nd the players’
o ther players’ pieces, reach an o bjective, gain co ntro l o f territo ry, o r acquire so me valued co
m-mo dity. The player’s primary co ncern in these games is the analysis o f geo metrical relatio nships
between the pieces.
A seco nd class o f games is the card games. These games utilize a set o f 52 symbo ls generated fro m
two facto rs: rank ( 13 values) and suit ( 4 values) . The games revo lve aro und co mbinatio ns built
fro m these two facto rs. Players may gain o r lo se po ssessio n o f symbo ls either by rando m pro
cess-es o r by matching so me co mbinatio n allo wed by the rulcess-es o f the game. Each legal co mbinatio n
is assigned a victo ry value fo r final assessment o f game results. Players must reco gnize bo th
exist-ing and po tential co mbinatio ns and estimate pro babilities o f o btainexist-ing the cards necessary fo r
co mpleting a co mbinatio n. This pro bability must be weighed against the victo ry value o f the
co mbinatio n. Since the number o f co mbinatio ns is very large, precise co mputatio n o f the
requi-site pro babilities exceeds the mental po wers o f almo st all players, rendering the game a
primari-ly intuitive exercise. Thus, the player’s primary co ncern in these games is the anaprimari-lysis o f co
Ano ther traditio nal game fo rm is the athletic game. These games emphasize physical mo re than
mental pro wess. The rules o f the game rigo ro usly specify a precise set o f actio ns that the player is
either allo wed to execute o r required to execute. Skillful use o f the bo dy is the player’s primary
co ncern in these .games.
We must be careful to distinguish between athletic games and athletic co mpetitio ns. Fo r example,
a race is a co mpetitio n, no t a game. The line o f demarcatio n between games and co mpetitio n
illu-minates o ne o f the fundamental elements o f all games. I distinguish the two by the degree o f
interactio n between players. Theo retically speaking, the runners in a race do no t interact with each
o ther. Each is racing o nly against the clo ck; the presence o f o ther runners sho uld be immaterial.
In truth, the runners do interact psycho lo gically, fo r the perfo rmance o f o ne runner can affect the
perfo rmance o f the o ther runners. Furthermo re, in so me races a runner ( o r driver o r pilo t o r
cap-tain) can physically interpo se himself in between the go al and ano ther racer, thereby gaining an
advantage. I co nclude that the simplest co mpetitio ns, tho se in which each perso n strives to
per-fo rm so me task o ptimally witho ut direct interactio n with the o ther co mpetito rs, do no t co
nsti-tute games but co mpetitio ns. A co mpetitio n that do es allo w interactio n is a game.
Ano ther type o f gaming activity is the children’s game. Hide and Seek, Red Ro ver, Tag, and Kick
the Can are co mmo n examples. Such games frequently take the fo rm o f gro up activities
their functio n is no t to challenge the child to perfo rm to his o r her limits in either do main.
Instead, the player’s primary co ncern in these games is the use o f so cial skills illuminating the
fun-damental ro le o f the gro up in human life.
A wide variety o f children’s activities are frequently referred to as games. When a child talks to a
strip o f bark, maneuvers it, and pro vides so und effects, we are tempted to refer to such behavio r
as game playing. Fo r the purpo ses o f this bo o k, I ,exclude such activities fro m the fo ld o f games.
These impro visatio nal games are to o ill defined to pro vide us with any useful info rmatio n abo ut
The next area o f gaming we shall glance at is the current fad in gaming and the subject o f this
bo o k, the co mputer game. These games are played o n five types o f co mputers: expensive
dedicat-ed machines fo r the arcades ( “co in o p” machines) , inexpensive ddedicat-edicatdedicat-ed machines ( “hand
helds”) , multi pro gram ho me games, machines such as the ATARI 2600 and the ATARI 5200,
per-so nal co mputers, and large mainframe co mputers. The co mputer acts as o ppo nent and referee in
mo st o f these games; in many o f them it also pro vides animated graphics. The mo st co mmo n
fo rm o f co mputer game is the skill and actio n ( “S&A”) game emphasizing hand eye co o rdinatio n.
These S&A games are frequently vio lent in nature. There are many o ther areas o f co mputer
gam-ing: adventure games, fantasy ro le playing games, and war games. In o ur curso ry o verview, these
o ther co mputer games are eclipsed by the sheer vo lume o f the skill and actio n games.
This co ncludes o ur quick survey o f the mo st pro minent gro upings in the universe o f games. We
shall return to the subject later, to create a taxo no my o f co mputer games, and later still to draw
o n specific examples o f games to make po ints abo ut their nature. We must no w address the
ques-tio n which mo tivated o ur initial reco nnaissance: what are the fundamental elements co mmo n to
these games? I perceive fo ur co mmo n facto rs: representatio n, interactio n, co nflict, and safety.
First, a game is a clo sed fo rmal system that subjectively represents a subset o f reality. Let us
exam-ine each term o f this statement carefully. By 'clo sed' I mean that the game is co mplete and self
sufficient as a structure. The mo del wo rld created by the game is internally co mplete; no reference
need be made to agents o utside o f the game. So me badly designed games fail to meet this
require-ment. Such games pro duce disputes o ver the rules, fo r they allo w situatio ns to develo p that the
rules do no t address. The players must then extend the rules to co ver the situatio n in which they
find themselves. This situatio n always pro duces arguments. A pro perly designed game precludes
By fo rmal I mean o nly that the game has explicit rules. There are info rmal games in which the
rules are lo o sely stated o r deliberately vague. Such games are far remo ved fro m the mainstream
o f game play.
The term 'system' is o ften misused, but in this case its applicatio n is quite appro priate. A game’s
co llectio n o f parts which interact with each o ther, o ften in co mplex ways. It is a system.
Representatio n is a co in with two faces: an o bjective face and a subjective face. The two faces are
no t mutually exclusive, fo r the subjective reality springs fro m and feeds o n o bjective reality. In a
game, these two faces are intertwined, with emphasis o n the subjective face. Fo r example, when a
player blasts hundreds o f alien invaders, no bo dy believes that his recreatio n directly mirro rs the
o bjective wo rld. Ho wever, the game may be a very real metapho r fo r the player’s perceptio n o f his
wo rld. I do no t wish to sully my arguments with po p psycho lo gical analyses o f players giving vent
to deep seated aggressio ns at the arcades. Clearly, tho ugh, so mething mo re than a simple
blast-ing o f alien mo nsters is go blast-ing o n in the mind o f the player. We need no t co ncern o urselves with
its exact nature; fo r the mo ment it is entirely adequate to realize that the player do es perceive the
game to represent so mething fro m his private fantasy wo rld. Thus, a game represents so mething
fro m subjective reality, no t o bjective. Games are o bjectively unreal in that they do no t physically
re create the situatio ns they represent, yet they are subjectively real to the player. The agent that
transfo rms an o bjectively unreal situatio n into a subjectively real o ne is human fantasy. Fantasy
thus plays a vital ro le in any game situatio n. A game creates a fantasy representatio n, no t a
scien-tific mo del.
Games versus Simulations
The distinctio n between o bjective representatio n and subjective representatio n is made clear by
a co nsideratio n o f the differences between simulatio ns and games. A simulatio n is a serio us
attempt to accurately represent a real pheno meno n in ano ther, mo re malleable fo rm. A game is
an artistically simplified representatio n o f a pheno meno n. The simulatio ns designer simplifies
reluctantly and o nly as a co ncessio n to material and intellectual limitatio ns. The game designer
simplifies deliberately in o rder to fo cus the player’s attentio n o n tho se facto rs the designer judges
to be impo rtant. The fundamental difference between the two lies in their purpo ses. A
simula-tio n is created fo r co mputasimula-tio nal o r evaluative purpo ses; a game is created fo r educasimula-tio nal o r
entertainment purpo ses.( There is a middle gro und where training simulatio ns blend into
A sim ulatio n bears the same relatio nship to a game that a technical drawing bears to a painting.
A game is no t merely a small simulatio n lacking the degree o f detail that a simulatio n po ssesses;
a game deliberately suppresses detail to accentuate the bro ader message that the designer wishes
to present. Where a simulatio n is detailed a game is stylized.
Co nsider, fo r example, the differences between a flight simulato r pro gram fo r a perso nal co
m-puter and the co in o p game RED BARO N”. Bo th pro grams co ncern flying an airplane; bo th o
per-ate o n micro co mputer systems. The flight simulato r demo nstrper-ates many o f the technical aspects
o f flying: stalls, ro lls, and spins, fo r example RED BARO N has no ne o f these. Indeed, the aircraft
that the player files in RED BARO N is quite unrealistic. It canno t be stalled, ro lled, spun, o r dived
into the gro und. When the stick is released it auto matically rights itself. It is inco rrect to co nclude
fro m these o bservatio ns that RED BARO N is inferio r to the flight simulato r. RED BARO N is no t
a game abo ut realistic flying; it is a game abo ut flying and sho o ting and avo iding being sho t. The
inclusio n o f technical details o f flying wo uld distract mo st players fro m the o ther aspects o f the
game. The designers o f RED BARO N quite co rrectly stripped o ut technical details o f flight to fo cus
the player’s attentio n o n the co mbat aspects o f the game. The absence o f these technical details
fro m RED BARO N is no t a liability but an asset, fo r it pro vides fo cus to the game. Their absence
fro m a flight simulato r wo uld be a liability.
Subset of Reality
The last term I use is “subset o f reality.” O ne aspect o f this term ( “subset”) is easily justified.
Clearly, no game co uld include all o f reality witho ut being reality itself; thus, a game must be at
mo st a subset o f reality. The cho ice o f matter in the subset is the means o f pro viding fo cus to the
game. A game that represents to o large a subset o f reality defies the player’s co mprehensio n and
beco mes almo st indistinguishable fro m life itself, ro bbing the game o f o ne o f its mo st appealing
facto rs, its fo cus.
Summary of Representation
A game creates a subjective and deliberately simplified representatio n o f emo tio nal reality. A
game is no t an o bjectively accurate representatio n o f reality; o bjective accuracy is o nly necessary
to the extent required to suppo rt the player’s fantasy. The player’s fantasy is the key agent in
mak-ing the game psycho lo gically real.
So me media fo r representing reality are static. A painting o r sculpture depicts a snapsho t o f
real-ity fro zen in time. So me media are dynamic; they sho w change with time. Mo vies, music, and
dance are dynamic in this way. They are able to represent the changing aspect o f reality mo re
rich-ly. But the mo st fascinating thing abo ut reality is no t that it is, o r even that it changes, but ho w it
way to pro perly represent this webwo rk is to allo w the audience to explo re its no o ks and crannies
to let them generate causes and o bserve effects. Thus, the highest and mo st co mplete fo rm o f
rep-resentatio n is interactive reprep-resentatio n. Games pro vide this interactive element, and it is a
cru-cial facto r in their appeal.
Games versus Puzzles
O ne way to understand the nature o f the interactive element o f games is to co ntrast games with
puzzles and o ther no n interactive challenges. Co mpare playing a cube puzzle with playing a game
o f tic tac to e. Co mpare the spo rt o f high jumping with the game o f basketball. In each co
mpari-so n the two activities pro vide similar challenges to the player. The key difference that makes o ne
activity a game and the o ther activity no t a game is the interactive element. A cube puzzle do es
no t actively respo nd to the human’s mo ves; a high jump po le do es no t react to the jumper’s
effo rts. In bo th tic tac to e and basketball the o ppo sing players ackno wledge and respo nd to the
player’s actio ns.
The difference between games and puzzles has little to do with the mechanics o f the situatio n; we
can easily turn many puzzles and athletic challenges into games and vice versa. Fo r example,
chess, a game, has spawned a who le class o f puzzles, the end game pro blems. Games can include
puzzles as subsets, and many do . Mo st o f the time the puzzles are a mino r co mpo nent o f the o
ver-all game, fo r a game that puts mo st o f its chver-allenge value o n included puzzles will rapidly lo se its
challenge o nce the puzzles have been so lved.
Games versus Stories
Ano ther way to illustrate the ro le o f interactio n is to co mpare games with sto ries. A sto ry is a co
l-lectio n o f facts in time sequenced o rder that suggest a cause and effect relatio nship. Frequently,
the facts presented are deliberately fictitio us, because the facts o f a sto ry are intrinsically
unim-po rtant. Indeed, the entire co ncept o f fictio n ( “an untruth that is no t a lie”) o nly makes sense
when o ne realizes that the facts presented in the fictio n are themselves unimpo rtant. The cause
and effect relatio nships suggested by the sequence o f facts are the impo rtant part o f the sto ry. Fo r
example, we care no t whether Luke Skywalker and the Death Star really existed. We saw that Luke
Skywalker was go o d and pure, and that the Death Star was evil, and that Luke Skywalker destro yed
the Death Star. The cause and effect relatio nship suggested by the sto ry was that go o d o verco mes
evil. Thus, a sto ry is a vehicle fo r representing reality, no t thro ugh its facts per se, but thro ugh the
cause and effect relatio nships suggested by the sequence o f facts.
Games also attempt to represent reality. The difference between the two is that a sto ry presents the
facts in an immutable sequence, while a game presents a branching tree o f sequences and allo ws
must infer causal relatio nships fro m a single sequence o f facts; the player o f a game is enco uraged
to explo re alternatives, co ntrapo sitives, and inversio ns. The game player is free to explo re the
causal relatio nship fro m many different angles.
Indeed, the player expects to play the game many times, trying different strategies each time. A
sto ry is meant to be experienced o nce; its representatio nal value decreases with subsequent
retellings because it presents no new info rmatio n. A game’s representatio nal value increases with
each playing until the player has explo red a representative subset o f all o f the branches in the
This do es no t mean that games are better than sto ries. Altho ugh sto ries trace o nly a single
sequence o f causal develo pment, they do so with greater intricacy and detail than games. Detail
is crucial to the creative success o f a sto ry, fo r it pro vides the texture, the feel o f reality that makes
a sto ry co mpelling. The sto ry writer unleashes a mighty swirling to rrent o f facts that sweeps the
audience to its predestined co nclusio n. The game designer creates a co mplex netwo rk o f paths
cunningly crafted to sho w the player all po ssible facets o f a single truth. In this respect, a sto ry is
like a statuette where a game is like a jewel. The statuette’s value arises fro m the fineness o f detail
and intricacy o f co nstructio n. A jewel, by co ntrast, has no detail; its faces must be abso lutely
smo o th. The jewel’s value arises fro m its ability to refract light into many different angles. A
stat-uette is meant to be statio nary; a jewel is meant to be mo ved. So to o , is a sto ry static where a game
Sto ries enjo y a particular advantage o ver the current generatio n o f co mputer games: the element
o f surprise. A go o d sto ry bo asts an array o f interesting plo t twists. The sto ryteller leads us into a
set o f expectatio ns and then cleverly inserts a new facto r that creates a disjunctio n, a new and
dra-matically different situatio n. This pro cess can be repeated many times during the co urse o f the
sto ry. Amo ng co mputer games, o nly adventures pro vide this element o f surprise. Unfo rtunately,
the surprise can o nly be created by limiting the player’s freedo m o f actio n so as to guarantee that
the player will enco unter the surprise under the pro per circumstances. After a while, all adventures
begin to smell like primro se paths. The really exciting po ssibility o ffered by co mputer games is
the pro spect o f fo rmulating a plo t twist in respo nse to the player’s actio ns, instead o f merely
drag-ging him do wn a pre-o rdained primro se path. Ho wever, the ability to fo rmulate surprise requires
an ability to analyze the player’s actio ns, deduce his expectatio ns, and generate a believable plo t
twist that co nfutes his expectatio ns witho ut frustrating him. Artificial intelligence that advanced
has yet to be created.
Games versus Toys
Games lie between sto ries and to ys o n a scale o f manipulability. Sto ries do no t permit the
audi-ence any o ppo rtunity to co ntro l the sequaudi-ence o f facts presented. Games allo w the player to
are much lo o ser; the to y user is free to manipulate it in any manner that strikes his fancy. The sto
-ryteller has direct creative co ntro l o ver his audience’s experience; the game designer has indirect
co ntro l; the to ymaker has almo st no ne.
Significance of Interaction
Interactio n is impo rtant fo r several reaso ns. First, it injects a so cial o r interperso nal element into
the event. It transfo rms the challenge o f the game fro m a technical o ne to an interperso nal o ne.
So lving a cube puzzle is a strictly technical o peratio n; playing chess is an interperso nal o peratio n.
In the fo rmer, o ne plays against the lo gic o f the situatio n; in the latter, o ne uses the lo gic o f the
situatio n to play against the o ppo nent.
Seco nd, interactio n transfo rms the nature o f the challenge fro m a passive challenge to an active
challenge. A puzzle will always present the player with exactly the same challenge. But a game
o ppo nent reacts to player’s actio ns, and presents different challenges in each game. This difference
has majo r emo tio nal significance. The perso n so lving the puzzle must so meho w divine, guess,
deduce, master, o r disco ver the key trick built into the puzzle by the designer. Emo tio nally, the
puzzle player is wo rking against the puzzle o r its designer to unmask its secret. O nce the secret is
kno wn, the puzzle is no lo nger interesting. The game-player, by co ntrast, faces different challenges
each time she plays the game. Where a puzzle is dead a game is alive; the player must create her
so lutio n to the game in a manner best suited to her o wn perso nality and that o f her o ppo nent.
The key distinctio n between a game and a puzzle is the difference between creating yo ur o wn
so lutio n and disco vering the designer’s so lutio n. A game ackno wledges the player’s existence and
reacts to the player’s perso nality; a puzzle lies do wn like a dead fish.
Co mputer games seldo m pro vide a human o ppo nent, and so they lack the so cial element that
o ther games o ffer. They can, ho wever, present an illuso ry perso nality against which the player
must wo rk. This is o ne o f the mo st exciting and least develo ped po tentials o f the co mputer as a
game techno lo gy. And regardless o f the co mputer’s success o r failure in synthesizing a so cial
ele-ment, the co mputer can readily make the game a highly interactive experience fo r the player. It
can react to the player’s mo ves with speed and tho ro ughness.
N ature of Interaction
Interactiveness is no t a binary quantity; it is a co ntinuo us quantity with a range o f values. Puzzles
have little o r no interactiveness, while games have mo re interactiveness. This suggests that
inter-activeness is an index o f “gaminess”. So me games, such as blackjack, tag, o r PO NG pro vide very
little interactio n between the players. Altho ugh the players may wish to interact, the games pro
-vide very limited mo des o f interactio n ( binary decisio n to stand o r hit, running, and twisting
pad-dle) . The games do no t allo w players to invest much o f themselves into the play, o r to react in a
rich way to their o ppo nents. O ther games, such as bridge, fo o tball, and LEGIO NNAIRE (
grap-ple with each o ther at a variety o f levels. The first gro up o f games is generally ackno wledged to be
dull, while the seco nd gro up o f games is generally regarded as mo re interesting. What is impo
r-tant abo ut the mo des o f interactio n is no t their mechanical quality but their emo tio nal
signifi-cance. PO NG is insipid because I can’t express much o f my perso nality thro ugh the medium o f a
bo uncing ball. Bridge is better because it includes within its interactio n elements o f teamwo rk,
deceptio n, and co o peratio n. I can better imprint my perso nality traits o nto a game o f bridge.
Thus, degree o f interactio n pro vides a useful index o f “gaminess”.
A third element appearing in all games is co nflict. Co nflict arises naturally fro m the interactio n
in a game. The player is actively pursuing so me go al. O bstacles prevent him fro m easily achieving
this go al. If the o bstacles are passive o r static, the challenge is a puzzle o r athletic challenge. If they
are active o r dynamic, if they purpo sefully respo nd to the player, the challenge is a game.
Ho wever, active, respo nsive, purpo seful o bstacles require an intelligent agent. If that intelligent
agent actively blo cks the player’s attempts to reach his go als, co nflict between the player and the
agent is inevitable. Thus, co nflict is fundamental to all games.
Games without conflict?
So me peo ple shrink’ fro m this aspect o f games. A number o f attempts have been made to design
“nice” games cleansed o f co nflict. Such games emphasize co o perative effo rts rather than co nflict.
They have no t been successful co mmercially; this suggests that few peo ple enjo y them.
Mo re impo rtantly, these games are failures because they are no t games in the first place. Co nflict
can o nly be avo ided by eliminating the active respo nse to the player’s actio ns. Witho ut active
respo nse, there can be no interactio n. Thus, expunging co nflict fro m a game inevitably destro ys
While it is impo ssible to eliminate co nflict fro m a game witho ut destro ying the game, it is po
ssi-ble to include co o perative elements by shifting the co nflict. Members o f a team can co o perate
with each o ther in the team’s co nflict with ano ther agent. This o ther agent co uld be ano ther team,
an individual human, o r a co mputer simulated player. In all cases, the o ppo nent must be
per-ceivable as endo wed with a perso na. Witho ut at least the illusio n o f purpo seful reactio n to the
player’s actio ns, the game co llapses.
This “blo o d and guts” view o f co nflict in games is reinfo rced by the so cial co ntext in which they
are o ften played. O ur real wo rld co nflicts are always indirect, diffused o ver time, and tightly
reg-ulated. Mo reo ver, they all to o frequently lack reso lutio n, fo r seldo m do es o ne achieve an o utright
victo ry in the co nflicts o f daily life. Lo cal successes, yes, but the struggle co ntinues witho ut clear
reso lutio n. Because games are subjective representatio ns o f the real wo rld, they fo cus o ur
to be ( but need no t always be) accentuated to its mo st direct and intense fo rm vio lence. Vio lence
is no t essential o r fundamental to games. It is co mmo n in games because it is the mo st o bvio us
and natural expressio n fo r co nflict.
Summary of Conflict
Co nflict is an intrinsic element o f all games. It can be direct o r indirect, vio lent o r no nvio lent, but
it is always present in every game.
Co nflict implies danger; danger means risk o f harm; harm is undesirable. Therefo re, a game is an
artifice fo r pro viding the psycho lo gical experiences o f co nflict and danger while excluding their
physical realizatio ns. In sho rt, a game is a safe way to experience reality. Mo re accurately, the
results o f a game are always less harsh than the situatio ns the game mo dels. A player can blast the
mo nsters all day lo ng and risk o nly her quarter. She can amass huge financial empires and lo se
them in an ho ur witho ut risking her piggy bank. She can lead great armies into desperate battles
o n which hang the fate o f natio ns, all witho ut shedding a dro p o f blo o d. In a wo rld o f relentless
cause and effect, o f tragic linkages and inevitable co nsequences, the disasso ciatio n o f actio ns fro m
co nsequences is a co mpelling feature o f games.
This is no t to imply that games are devo id o f co nsequences. The penalties fo r lo sing a game can
so metimes be a significant deterrent to game play. Lo sing to ano ther perso n always entails so me
lo ss o f dignity. This may be an attractio n o f co mputer games there is less shame in lo sing to a
co mputer. The lo ser can keep co ming back fo r mo re defeats witho ut lo sing face. Mo reo ver, true
victo ry the to tal destructio n o f the co mputer’s fo rces, is ackno wledged to be impo ssible in mo st
such games; this further lessens the shame o f defeat.
A seco nd penalty fo r lo sing is the less o f any reward that might have been gained by winning. In
almo st all games the reward penalty structure is po sitive. That is, the lo ser is no t punished fo r lo
s-ing, the winner is rewarded fo r winning. The lo ser’s o nly lo ss is any investment that he made to
enter the game, such as a bet o r entry fee. This investment is usually very small, and may rightly
be regarded as a recreatio nal fee fo r the services asso ciated with the administratio n o f the game
rather than a penalty fo r all po tential lo sers.
Gambling presents us with so me difficult pro blems related to the issue o f the safety o f games.
Gamblers risk mo ney o r go o ds o n the o utco me o f a rando m o r near rando m pro cess. Lo sers fo
r-feit their bets and winners reap a large reward. Hence, gambling presents a real financial risk to
the player. Ho wever, two extenuating circumstances intervene: first, the recreatio nal gambler risks
very little mo ney; seco nd, so me gamblers deny to themselves the laws o f chance. They indulge in
the fantasy o f co ntro l. The pro per into natio n in the shake o f the dice, the co rrect twist o n the
han-dle o f the slo t machine these things make the difference, o r so they tell themselves. Thus,
inclusio n in the fo ld o f games. Serio us gambling, ho wever, invo lving large sums o f mo ney
expended mo re fo r anticipated financial gain than fo r recreatio n, lies o n the far side o f the gray
A special fo rm o f gambling, deserving special co nsideratio n here, is po ker. Po ker is a game o f
bluffing; the key to success in the game lies in co nvincing yo ur o ppo nent that yo u have better o r
wo rse cards than yo u really have. Because mo ney is at stake, the player experiences stresses that
strain his ability to deceive his o ppo nents. Thus, the risk o f gambling, a mere o utco me o f o ther
games, is an intrinsic part o f the structure o f po ker. This unique aspect o f po ker merits special co
n-sideratio n. I wo uld no t hesitate to classify po ker as a game.
Summary of Safety
Games pro vide safe ways to experience reality. Special cases abo und, but the central principle
remains: games are safe. In this chapter I have presented a set o f characteristics that defines what
I mean by the wo rd “game”. Fo r the mo st part, I have emphasized the characteristics intrinsic to
the games themselves rather than the mo tivatio ns o f the players. Such separatio n o f game fro m
player is artificial and misleading, fo r neither exists witho ut the o ther. In the next chapter, I turn
C h a p t e r Tw o
W h y D o P e o p le P la y G a m e s ?
Game-playing requires two co mpo nents: a game and a player. The game designer wo rks topro duce a game, and so her immediate preo ccupatio n is with the game itself. Yet, her final go al is to educate, entertain, o r edify the game-player; hence, the human player is
the pro per primary co ncern o f the game designer. Why do peo ple play games? What mo tivates
them? What makes games fun? The answers to these questio ns are crucial to go o d game design.
O ne way to address the questio n o f the purpo se o f games is to inquire into their histo ry. Games
no w are to o varied, to o intricate, to o invo lved, to indicate a single clear functio n. Perhaps their
fundamental nature wo uld be mo re evident in their earliest incarnatio ns. Ho w far back must we
go ? To MO NO PO LY, created during the Depressio n? No , card games were played lo ng befo re that.
Indeed, the disco verers o f King Tutankhamen’s to mb fo und amo ng the wealth there a wo o den
surface with regular divisio ns that appears to be so me so rt o f bo ardgame. But even archaeo lo gy
do es no t take us far eno ugh back. If we wish to get back to the beginnings o f games, we must go
beyo nd the realm o f the archaeo lo gist and into the realm o f the paleo nto lo gist. We must reach
no t tho usands but millio ns o f years into the past to find the earliest games, fo r games predate no t
just histo ry but all o f mankind. They are no t a human inventio n.
Fo rtunately, direct reco urse to paleo nto lo gy is unnecessary. A trip to the zo o will suffice. There we
find two lio n cubs wrestling near their mo ther. They gro wl and claw at each o ther. They bite and
kick. O ne cub wanders o ff and no tices a butterfly. It cro uches in the grass, creeps ever so slo wly
to ward its insect prey, then raises its haunches, wiggles them, and po unces. We laugh at the co
m-edy; we say that the cubs are playing a game, that they are having fun, and that they are such
fun-lo ving, carefree creatures.
We are right o n the first co unt: these cubs do indeed appear to be playing a kind o f game. We can
certainly see in their behavio r all fo ur o f the fundamental game attributes described in Chapter 1:
representatio n, interactio n, co nflict, and safety. We may be right o n the seco nd co unt; who kno ws
if lio ns can have fun? But we are dead wro ng o n the last co unt. These cubs are no t carefree. They
do no t indulge in games to while away the years o f their cubho o d. These games are deadly
seri-o us business. They are studying the skills seri-o f hunting, the skills seri-o f survival. They are learning hseri-o w
to appro ach their prey witho ut being seen, ho w to po unce, and ho w to grapple with and dispatch
prey witho ut being injured. They are learning by do ing, but in a safe way. Better to make mistakes
with butterfly and sibling than with the ho rns o f the wildebeest.
Games are thus the mo st ancient and time-ho no red vehicle fo r educatio n. They are the o riginal
educatio nal techno lo gy, the natural o ne, having received the seal o f appro val o f natural selectio n.
We do n’t see mo ther lio ns lecturing cubs at the chalkbo ard; we do n’t see senio r lio ns writing their
memo irs fo r po sterity. In light o f this, the questio n, "Can games have educatio nal value?" beco mes
absurd. It is no t games but scho o ls that are the newfangled no tio n, the untested fad, the vio lato r
The incidence o f game-playing in animals is itself instructive. Game-playing has been o bserved
o nly in mammals and birds. The phylo genetically earlier o rders ( fish, insects, amphibians, and
reptiles) have no t been sho wn to engage in game-playing. ( See Animal Play Behavio r, by Ro bert
Fagen, O xfo rd University Press.) Game play seems to be asso ciated with that quality which we
have clumsily attempted to measure with brain size, intelligence, and ability to learn. This co
rre-spo ndence canno t be attributed to accident; clearly game play is an impo rtant co mpo nent in the
develo pment o f many creatures.
We co mmo nly asso ciate the playing o f games with children. Indeed, "play" as an activity is co
n-sidered to be the almo st exclusive preserve o f children, and the term is applied to adults either
disparagingly o r jo cularly. Children are expected to play games because we reco gnize ( perhaps
unco nscio usly) the fundamental utility o f games as an educatio nal to o l. As children gro w up,
cul-tural pressures change and they are enco uraged to devo te less time to the playing o f games so that
they can devo te themselves to mo re serio us activities.
I claim that the fundamental mo tivatio n fo r all game-playing is to learn. This is the o riginal mo
ti-vatio n fo r game-playing, and surely retains much o f its impo rtance. This claim do es no t co nflict
with my o ther primary assertio n that co mputer games co nstitute a new art fo rm. Co nsider, fo r
example, humans and fo o d. The fundamental mo tivatio n to eat fo o d is the base desire fo r no
ur-ishment, yet this has no t prevented us fro m embellishing this fundamental activity with all
man-ner o f elabo rate and no n-no urishing custo ms, rituals, seaso nings, and garnishes. I do no t mean
to imply that fo o d is an art fo rm; o nly that we humans can take an activity far beyo nd its prime
cause witho ut denying that prime cause.
I must qualify my claim that the fundamental mo tivatio n fo r all game-play is to learn. First, the
educatio nal mo tivatio n may no t be co nscio us. Indeed, it may well take the fo rm o f a vague
predilectio n to play games. The fact that this mo tivatio n may be unco nscio us do es no t lessen its
impo rt; indeed, the fact wo uld lend credence to the assertio n that learning is a truly
fundamen-tal mo tivatio n.
Seco nd, there are many o ther mo tivatio ns to play games that have little to do with learning, and
in so me cases these seco ndary mo tivatio ns may assume greater lo cal impo rtance than the
ances-tral mo tivatio n to learn. These o ther mo tivatio ns include: fantasy/ explo ratio n, no se-thumbing,
pro ving o neself, so cial lubricatio n, exercise, and need fo r ackno wledgment. I shall examine each
A very impo rtant mo tivatio n to play games is fantasy fulfillment. Like a mo vie, a bo o k, o r music,
a game can transpo rt the player away fro m the tawdry wo rld that o ppresses him and create a
fan-tasy wo rld in which he can fo rget his pro blems. Games are po tentially superio r to the traditio nal
a mo vie reading a bo o k, o r listening to music, the player is actively invo lved in the game. Indeed,
the player drives the game, co ntro ls it in a way that is quite impo ssible with the passive fantasies.
This need to escape, to fantasize is certainly an impo rtant mo tivatio n.
Fantasy fulfillment frequently takes the fo rm o f symbo lic explo ratio n. There’s a big wo rld o ut
there, full o f exciting things, peo ple, and places, yet mo st o f us are co nfined to a wo rld ,o f asphalt,
plastic, and paper. Many art fo rms attempt to transpo rt the audience into a different wo rld, to
present experiences o r feelings no t o ften kno wn in the everyday wo rld.
Co nsider, fo r example, the success o f Disneyland. This place is undo ubtedly the mo st successful
o f its genre. Such parks are o ften called "amusement parks" o r "theme parks." These terms are
misleading, fo r the success o f Disneyland canno t be attributed so lely to its amusements and
diversio ns. These elements are technically excellent, but o ther amusement parks spo rt
technical-ly excellent rides. The success o f Disneyland can be summed up in o ne wo rd: fantasy. Disneyland
creates and suppo rts an aura o f fantasy, a co ntext o f make-believe that permeates all o f the
activ-ities within the park. Within mo ments o f entering the park, the visito r feels that s/ he is in a
dif-ferent wo rld. Fanatic attentio n to detail in signpo sts, walls, windo ws, even railings has created an
enviro nment that enco urages suspensio n o f disbelief.
Fantasy is an impo rtant co mpo nent o f human play. It is critical to o ur recreatio n, o ur art and o ur
A co mmo n functio n o f games is to pro vide a means o f o verco ming so cial restrictio ns, at least in
fantasy. Many games place the player in a ro le that wo uld no t be so cially acceptable in real life,
such as a pirate o r a thief. An excellent ( albeit extreme) example o f this is the game CRUSH,
CRUMBLE, AND CHO MP by Auto mated Simulatio ns. In this game the player is cast as a
1950’s-vintage mo nster go ing o n a rampage thro ugh his favo rite city. He sto mps o n po lice cars, crushes
buildings, swats helico pters, and creates general mayhem. The bo x art sho ws a mo nster abo ut to
attack an IRS building as terrified citizens flee. This represents an extreme case o f anti-so cial
behavio r made acceptable by the safety o f the game.
So metimes the player’s ro le is itself so cially acceptable, but the actio ns taken are disco uraged in
real life. MO NO PO LY enco urages players to engage in what the Federal Trade Co mmissio n
deli-cately calls "predato ry trade practices." Wargames enco urage players to start and win wars. So me
games address sexual matters, allo wing players to indulge in make-believe behavio r that they
co uld never exhibit in the real wo rld.
The mo st telling example o f this no se-thumbing pheno meno n lies in the arcade games. These
games emphasize vio lence, and lo ts o f it. The theme is almo st universal in arcades: destro y so
me-bo dy. The co up de grace is no t delivered discreetly o r elegantly. O n the co ntrary, the victim is
the vio lence is the who le po int and purpo se o f the enterprise. Yet, even as we pander to these
dis-tasteful emo tio ns, we delicately mask them in less o ffensive garb. We never, never o bliterate
human beings; instead, we vapo rize ugly space mo nsters. The mo nsters have perpetrated so me
o dio us interstellar crime, so the player is cast as the defender, the pro tecto r, o r the avenger. The
case is o ften presented that the game represents a time o f extreme crisis ( "THE FATE O F
HUMAN-ITY IS AT STAKE! ! ! ") . This heightens the player’s sense o f urgency; it also co nveniently justifies the
use o f extreme vio lence, thereby allo wing the player to have vio lence witho ut guilt. The player can
thumb his no se at so cial strictures and engage in vio lence and mass murder witho ut risking
cen-sure. The game pro vides a safe way to thumb o ne’s no se.
Proving O neself
Ano ther functio n o f games is as a means o f demo nstrating pro wess. All games suppo rt this mo
ti-vatio n to a greater o r lesser degree. Many game-playing co mmunities spo nso r to urnaments o r
player ratings. Arcade games suppo rt this functio n by reco rding and displaying the initials o f the
to p-sco ring players. There are also players who carry this to extremes. Their prime go al is no t
merely to win, but to beat so mebo dy, preferably so mebo dy wo rth beating. Chess has an
unusu-ally high co ncentratio n o f such sharks; so do wargames. A co mmo n questio n asked during a
wargame is "Are yo u playing fo r blo o d o r fo r fun?" Such players no rmally prefer games that allo w
their skill to be pro perly bro ught to bear, so they tend to wards games in which chance plays a
minimal ro le.
Despite this co ncentratio n o f such players in deductive lo gic games, almo st all games have sharks
preying o n the playful players. When a shark plays fo r serio us rewards ( e.g., so cial do minance)
and -takes serio us risks o f failure, the crucial element o f safety is eliminated fro m the game, and
the game ceases to be a game; it beco mes a co nflict.
Inasmuch as all games have the po tential fo r being played in an o verly co mpetitive way, so me
peo ple who are especially sensitive to the so cial risks o f game-as-co nflict refuse to play games, fo r
they do no t perceive the games to be safe. If they do play, they prefer to play games o f pure chance,
no t so much to disable o r disco urage the shark as to create a situatio n in which winning is
patent-ly unrelated to pro wess. If winning is arbitrary, so cial risk is eliminated and safety is resto red.
It is impo ssible to design a game that is unalterably safe ( i.e., invulnerable to sharks) witho ut
reso rting to pure chance as the so le determinant o f victo ry. If the game in any way allo ws
indi-vidual pro wess to affect the o utco me, then the o utco me is perceivable as a reflectio n o f
individ-ual pro wess. In mo st games, safety fro m so cial risk is co nferred o nto the game by the attitudes o f
Games are frequently used ( especially by adults) as so cial lubricants. The game itself is o f mino r
impo rtance to the players; its real significance is its functio n as a fo cus aro und which an evening
o f so cializing will be built. Card games and so me light bo ard games serve this functio n. An
excel-lent example o f such a so cial lubricant game is a game utilizing a large plastic gamebo ard abo ut
fo ur feet square that is marked with co lo red spo ts. O n each player’s turn, a rando m pro cess is used
to determine which o f fo ur appendages ( arms o r legs) is to be placed o n which spo t o n the bo ard.
As the players co nto rt to fulfill the game requirements, they inevitably make physical co ntact with
each o ther in inno cent and fo o lishly humo ro us ways. So cial interactio n is thereby fo stered.
Exercise is ano ther co mmo n mo tivatio n to play games. The exercise can be mental o r physical o r so me co mbinatio n o f bo th; in either event, the game is an entertaining way to stay in shape. So me players like to exercise their co gnitive skills, while o thers prefer the use o f intuitio n. So me players prefer to exercise their athletic skills. Furthermo re, players need to exercise their skills at an appro priate level. A chess player will get very lit-tle exercise o ut o f a game o f tic-tac-to e. Similarly, a perso n who finds tic-tac-to e chal-lenging will get little useful exercise o ut o f chess. These preferences so rt players o ut and ro ute them to the different games available.
N eed for Acknowledgment
We all need to be ackno wledged, to be reco gnized by o ther peo ple. The ackno wledgment we crave
is no t merely an ackno wledgment o f o ur existence, but o f o ur perso nalities. Fo r example, when
we meet a casual acquaintance, we usually get a perfuncto ry ackno wledgment ( "Hello there,
Jo nes.") We are mo re gratified when the greeting in so me way ackno wledges us as individuals
with special perso nalities and pro blems ( "Hello there, Jo nes; is that knee still bo thering yo u?")
The po pularity o f pets pro vide ano ther example o f the need fo r ackno wledgment. Why o n earth
do we keep in o ur ho mes animals that require fo o d, veterinary attentio n, and sanitary
mainte-nance? Because they ackno wledge us. We can interact with pets; we talk to them, play with them,
and emo te with them. A do g is an especially respo nsive creature; it can read o ur facial expressio ns
and interpret o ur to ne o f vo ice. A smile will trigger tall-wagging; a kind wo rd will precipitate
jumping, licking, barking, o r so me o ther expressio n o f affectio n. Go ldfish, by co ntrast, neither
appreciate no r express emo tio n. Thus, even tho ugh go ldfish are much easier to care fo r, mo st peo
-ple prefer do gs as pets. Peo -ple value ackno wledgment eno ugh to expend the effo rt to o btain it.
This is o ne reaso n why interactio n is so impo rtant to a game; it allo ws the two players to ackno
wl-edge each o ther. A truly excellent game allo ws us to imprint a greater po rtio n o f o ur perso nalities
My o ppo nent must lo o k beyo nd the playing pieces and ackno wledge my cleverness, my rashness,
my devio usness, my entire perso nality. When such a game ends, my o ppo nent and I kno w each
o ther better than we did befo re we sat do wn to play.
Many facto rs play a ro le in mo tivating a perso n to play a game. The o riginal ( and almo st
instinc-tive) mo tivatio n is to learn, but o ther mo tivatio ns co me to bear as well.
MO TIVATIO N VERSUS SELECTIO N
We must be careful to distinguish between facto rs that mo tivate peo ple to play games in the first
place and facto rs that allo w peo ple to cho o se between games. In o ther wo rds, the answer to the
questio n, "Why do peo ple play games?" can be quite different fro m the answer to the questio n,
"What makes o ne game mo re fun than ano ther?" So me facto rs mo tivate a perso n to play games;
o ther facto rs help that perso n select a particular game. Fo r example, senso ry gratificatio n is such
a selectio n facto r. A player who has decided to play a particular type o f game will prefer a game
with excellent graphics o ver games with po o r graphics; yet the graphics alo ne will no t mo tivate
many peo ple to play games. Mo tivating facto rs get peo ple to appro ach games in general; enjo
y-ment facto rs help them make their cho ice o f particular games.
Distinguishing mo tivatio n fro m enjo yment is no t tantamo unt to denying co rrelatio n’s between
mo tivating facto rs and enjo yment facto rs. Clearly, any game that do es no t deliver the experiences
implied by the mo tivating facto r will no t be enjo yed. Thus, so me ( but no t all) mo tivating facto rs
will also be used as enjo yment facto rs. If a player is mo tivated to play a game fo r mental exercise,
that player will pro bably prefer tho se games that o ffer better mental exercise than do o ther games.
A game canno t be fun if its facto rs do no t satisfy the mo tivatio ns o f the player. Two enjo yment
facto rs that are no t in themselves mo tivatio nal are game play and senso ry gratificatio n.
Game play is a crucial element in any skill-and-actio n game. This term has been used fo r so me
years, but no clear co nsensus has arisen as to its meaning. Everyo ne agrees that go o d game play
is essential to the success o f a game, and that game play has so mething to do with the quality o f
the player’s interactio n with the game. Beyo nd that, nuances o f meaning are as numero us as users
o f the phrase. The term is lo sing descriptive value because o f its ambiguity. I therefo re present here
a mo re precise, mo re limited, and ( I ho pe) mo re useful meaning fo r the term "game play". I
sug-gest that this elusive trait is derived fro m the co mbinatio n o f pace and co gnitive effo rt required
by the game. Games like TEMPEST have a demo nic pace, while games like BATTLEZ0NE have a
far mo re deliberate pace. Despite this difference, bo th games have go o d game play, fo r the pace is
appro priate to the co gnitive demands o f the game. TEMPEST requires far less planning and co
fast pace. BATTLEZO NE requires co nsiderably greater co gnitive effo rt fro m the player, but at a
slo wer pace. Thus, bo th games have ro ughly equivalent game play even tho ugh they have very
dif-ferent paces. Pace and co gnitive effo rt co mbine to yield game play.
Senso ry gratificatio n is ano ther impo rtant enjo yment facto r. Go o d graphics, co lo r, animatio n,
and so und are all valued by game players. They suppo rt the fantasy o f the game by pro viding
sen-so ry "pro o f" o f the game’s reality. We see a related pheno meno n in the mo vies: special effects.
So me o f the newer mo vies have excited great interest because o f the excellent special effects they
utilize. These mo vies have placed us in the thick o f space battles, let us meet strange and wo
n-derful creatures, and taken us to faraway places. The things we see lo o k so real that we believe the
fantasy; we kno w ( subjectively) that the fantasy is real. Similar pro cesses can be applied to games.
Special effects, graphics, so und, animatio n-these facto rs all help distinguish a go o d game fro m a
bad game. We must no t co nfuse their ro le, ho wever; senso ry gratificatio n is a crucial suppo rt
func-tio n, no t a central feature. Senso ry texture enhances the impact o f the fantasy created by the game
o r mo vie, but wo nderful graphics o r so und do no t by themselves make the pro duct. A mo vie
witho ut a believable o r enjo yable fantasy is just a co llectio n o f pretty pictures; a game witho ut an
entertaining fantasy is just a co llectio n o f interactive pretty pictures.
So far I have discussed mo tivatio nal and enjo yment facto rs as if they were abso lute quan-tities who se significance is independent o f the individual player. Such is no t the case; the respo nse to a given game depends heavily o n the perso nality o f the pro spective player. Ho w are we to deal with the perso nality differences that do minate the individual's respo nse to games?
O ne academic so lutio n to this pro blem is to po stulate the existence o f a very large num-ber o f perso nality traits that determine the individual respo nse to a game. We next po stulate a like number o f game traits that, taken to gether, co mpletely define the psycho -lo gical pro file o f the game. Next, we measure and cata-lo g all o f the perso nality traits o f any given individual, presumably with an o mniscient "perso nalito meter". Then we measure all the game traits o f the game in questio n with an equally po werful "gamo me-ter". We then perfo rm a matrix multiplicatio n o f perso nality traits against game traits. So metime befo re the sun enters its red giant phase, o ur mo nster co mputer returns a number telling us ho w much that perso n will enjo y that game.
industry. We can at this time identify o nly a few bro ad, vague, and o verlapping gro ups o f players: skill-and-actio n enthusiasts, D&D enthusiasts, and strategy gamers. There remain several o ther game types, but they have no t attracted so large a fo llo wing as to present us with a definable gro up o f players. The passage o f time and further research will certainly give us mo re info rmatio n with which to wo rk.
Individual tastes in games are no t static; as a perso n changes so do the tastes. The fo l-lo wing anal-lo gy with music illustrates this po int.
As children, we are all expo sed to music in a variety o f fo rms, but it has little impact o n us because o ur tastes are po o rly develo ped. We sing and dance to simple so ngs, but a full appreciatio n o f the emo tio nal range o f music eludes us. The po wer o f music arises fro m o ur ability to asso ciate musical expressio ns with emo tio ns. It takes years to develo p these asso ciatio ns, and they are made in the co ntext o f o ur experiences. Fo r many in my gen-eratio n, the first deep co ntact with music came with ro ck 'n ro ll in the 60’s. The po und-ing beat, simple themes, and sho rt duratio ns were easily grasped by o ur ado lescent and unso phisticated minds. We co uld understand this music. Mo reo ver, the act o f listening to and enjo ying this music was itself an educatio nal experience. As the range o f o ur musi-cal experience expanded, we learned mo re co mplex co mpo nents o f the musimusi-cal lexico n and develo ped a wider range o f asso ciatio ns. So o n we were able to understand and appreciate o ther musical co mpo sitio ns previo usly inaccessible to o ur untrained ears. Ro ck music changed to reflect this maturatio n; so me o f us stayed with ro ck. O thers mo ved to jazz, co untry, o r fo lk. Like so me o thers, I mo ved fro m ro ck to classical in a series o f stages. As I mo ved alo ng this evo lutio nary path, the lesso ns o f o ne stage enabled me to understand the material o f the next stage. O ther peo ple fo llo wed their o wn paths, explo ring and learning the areas o f musical expressio n that mo st appealed to them. The co mmo n experience was that o ur musical tastes evo lved, no matter what directio n we cho se. Ro ck music was the bro ad base we all shared, the entry po int o r ,junk o ut o f which sprang many branches.