I have been reading through some of my notes from uni and have decided to post them here partly as retyping them will help me learn them and also it may be interesting to discuss some of the theory behind why game designers make certain decisions.
Elements of a Game A Game has 4 main elements, Play, Pretending, Goals and Rules.
Games are participatory forms of entertainment. This is different from books and film which are presentational. The author of a book entertains you. When you play a game you are entertaining yourself. Books and films are the same every time. When you play a game you make decisions that effect it, even if it something as small as choosing whether to walk or run.
Play includes the freedom to act and the freedom to choose how to act. Your choices will however, always be constrained by rules and this requires you to be clever and skilful in your play.
The act of creating a reality in the mind. This reality can be described as the magic circle. This circle is the boundary that divides activities that are meaningful in the real world and activities that are meaningful in the reality of the game world.
In a single player games the magic circle is created just by choosing to play, in multiplayer a group of players agree to follow certain rules and pretend the same things.
These rules don't just apply to video games. A physical game like cricket also has the same elements. You may not be pretending to be a different person but you still assign significance to events in the game, this is pretending. For example when playing cricket all the players decide to follow the rule that hitting the stumps means that a batsman is out. In the real worlds all you have done is hit some wood with a ball, but in the game world of the cricket match you have taken a wicket and that batsman is now out.
A game must have a goal. Even creative non-competitive play has a goal, creation. The object of a game need not be achievable as long as players try to achieve it. early arcade games are a good example of this.
The Goal is defined by the rules and is arbitrary. In cricket the goal is to achieve more runs than the other team and concede less wickets. This is an example of a type of goal referred to as a victory condition, a point where one player may be declared the victor. In most cases the victory condition is also the termination condition that ends the game, but this is not always the case. A racing game does not end as soon as the first player crosses the line, it continues until the last car does.
Some games do not have victory conditions at all only loss conditions. An example of this is Sim City. You can play indefinitely as long as you have money.
Rules are limitations and instructions that a player agrees to accept before playing a game. Every game has rules. Rules establish the object and the meaning of events in the magic circle. Rules make catching a ball during a cricket match more significant that simply catching a ball.
- Gameplay - set of rules that consist of actions that the game offers the player.
- Sequence of Play - progression of activities in a game.
- Goals - objectives a player must complete or attempt to complete.
- Termination conditions
- Meta rules - rules about rules. Define when rules can change.
Games Are Not
Games are not dependant on competition or conflict. A game is an activity not a system of rules, games are not theoretical themselves. Also games don't have to be fun.
What key elements do you think a game has to have? Do you have any suggestions on what aspect of game design I write about next?