[Chris Crawford] The Art Of Computer Game Design (BookFi org) pdf


Full text


of Computer

Game Design

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

web-page, Erasmatazz.

This document was convert by Mario Croteau, from the Web

site of the Department of History of Washington State

University at Vancouver.


of Computer

Game Design

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

7 4




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

8 1




I n t e r v ie w 8 5




am 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.


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



W h a t is a G a m e ?


fwe 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

understanding games.

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

mbi-natio ns.


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.

Subjectively Represents

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

game net.

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

is dynamic.

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

the game.

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

zo ne.

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 ?


ame-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

in turn.


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


N ose-Thumbing

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


Social Lubrication

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.


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

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.

Sensory Gratification

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.






Download now (96 pages)