Defining Games Via Intrinsic Properties

General / 01 May 2018

My position on Salen and Zimmerman's distinctions between non-digital and digital games is that they skillfully identify key elements for supporting a difference, yet include the fitting disclaimer that they are not enough to truly distinguish them as entirely unique.  Basically, I agree with their approach.  In addition to this reading, other books attempt to define terms like game and play, but this is obviously not an easy task.  I do not think it may even be feasible to have a universal definition for such terms, considering the limitations or exclusions that verbiage place on any form of a definition.  And despite going through several examples to differentiate digital from non-digital, Salen and Zimmerman explicitly isolate the properties of games from the various media in which they occur.  I think that they succinctly resolve any confusion by noting that "the underlying properties of games are ultimately more similar than different" (Salen 90).

Digital technology is simply a medium and the distinctions from non-digital games noted can easily be applied to many non-digital games as noted in the reading's various examples.  True, these distinctions may be more evident in a digital format like a PlayStation game console, but they also appear in may non-digital games, which reinforces the "underlying properties of games" as a consistent foundation among games (Salen 90).  
A recent pastime of mine has been tinkering with a Rubik's Cube, which I think embodies the definition of game as noted in the reading: "A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by the rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome" (Salen 79).  Of particular note is the specific distinction that they make for puzzles as a subset of games (Salen 84); I find this to be an adept observation and accurate perspective.  With the Rubik's Cube, the player is in conflict with the disorder of colored squares, the rules clearly limit the type of operations permissible when rotating sides of the square, and the outcome is a solved, fully coordinated cube.

Another recreation of mine is playing games on the PlayStation console.  Thinking of Salen and Zimmerman's digital game distinctions, playing the console games certainly showcases the 4 traits (Salen 87-89).  The few buttons on the controllers allow for a limited range of interactivity, but the complex system, network, and encyclopedic-level of information propels the PlayStation game to a highly engaging conflict for the player that requires resolution.

But some of these traits can easily be applied to the Rubik's Cube as well.  The interactivity is limited by the few operations permitted to rotate the cube's sides, and could be construed as immediate if using a version of the game designed for "speedcubing" (Speedcubing).  The hidden complex system behind each square holds the key to understanding how they can each move around a cube system without being taken apart.  And with exposure to the intricate internal mechanics, the "information manipulation" trait becomes a bit more apparent (Salen 87).  Even thought it does not seem to exhibit a networked communication, the Rubik's Cube serves as an example of a non-digital game that shares many of the traits common to digital games.

The strength in Salen and Zimmerman's analysis and perspective of defining a game is the open-ended potential of different experiences to be categorized as a game.  With this, the process of game design can focus on the key principles that support these experiences.

As an additional note, the term experience appears in this reading along with several others where topics like games, play, and game design are discussed.  Reading the different perspectives, definitions, and analyses, it reminds of my studies in architecture where the term experience has been just as prevalent.  When I think of an experience, I think of how I perceive it; it's influenced subjectively.  And others would perceive and respond differently.  To me, this makes it difficult to clearly define a term like game or distinguish a non-digital and digital game, but it is their intrinsic properties that can precisely guide game designers through the process of creating experiences.

Works Cited

"Speedcubing - The Fastest Solving of the Rubik's Cube - Ever!" Rubik's, Accessed 17 April 2018.
"How to take apart the Rubik's Cube and put it back together."  Ruwix: Rubik's Cube Wiki. Accessed 17 April 2018.
Salen, Katie & Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play. The MIT Press, 2003.