After all these interwoven and sometimes contradictory definitions, you might be wondering why this book has spent so much time exploring the definition of the word game. I have to admit that in my day-to-day work as an educator and game designer, I don't spend a lot of time wrestling with the definitions of words. As Shakespeare points out, were a rose to be named something else, it would still smell as sweet, still have thorns, and still be a thing of fragile beauty. However, I believe that an understanding of these definitions can be critical to you as a designer in the following three ways:
Definitions help you understand what people expect from your games. This proves especially true if you're working in a specific genre or for a specific audience. Understanding how your audience defines the term can help you to craft better games for them.
Definitions can lead you to understand not only the core of the defined concept but also the periphery. As you read through this chapter, you encountered several different definitions by different people, and each had both a core and a periphery (i.e., games that fit the definition perfectly [the core] and games that just barely fit the definition [the periphery]). The places where these peripheries don't mesh can be hints at some of the interesting areas to explore with a new game. For example, the area of disagreement between Fullerton and Midgley about whether a game is a closed system highlights the previously untracked ground that in the 2000s grew into alternate reality games (ARGs), a genre centered on perforating the closed magic circle of play.15
Definitions can help you speak eloquently with others in the field. This chapter has more references and footnotes than any other in the book because I want you to be able to explore the philosophical understanding of games in ways that are beyond the scope of this one book (especially since this book focuses on the practicalities of actually making digital games). Following these footnotes and reading the source material can help improve your critical thinking about games.
The Core Lessons of This Book
This book teaches you how to design a lot more than just games. In fact, it teaches you how to craft any kind of interactive experience. As I define it:
An interactive experience is any experience created by a designer; inscribed into rules, media, or technology; and decoded by people through play.
That makes interactive experience an intentionally expansive term. In fact, any time that you attempt to craft an experience for people—whether you're designing a game, planning a surprise birthday party, or even planning a wedding—you're using the same tools that you will learn as a game designer. The processes described in this book are more than just the proper way to approach game design. They are a meaningful way to approach any design problem, and the iterative process of design that is introduced in Chapter 7, "Acting Like a Designer," is the essential method for improving the quality of any design.
No one bursts forth from the womb as a brilliant game designer. My friend Chris Swain16 is fond of saying that "Game design is 1% inspiration and 99% iteration," a play on the famous quote by Thomas Edison. He is absolutely correct, and one of the great things about game design (unlike the previously mentioned examples of the surprise party and the wedding) is that you get the chance to iterate on your designs, playtest the game, make subtle tweaks, and play it again. With each prototype you make—and with every iteration of each prototype—your skills as a designer improve. Similarly, after you reach the parts of this book that teach digital development, be sure to keep experimenting and iterating. The code samples and tutorials are designed to show you how to make a playable game prototype, but every tutorial in this book ends where your work as a designer should begin. Each one of these prototypes could be built into a larger, more robust, better balanced game, and I encourage you to do so.
Now that you've experienced a bit of game design and explored various definitions of game, it's time to move on to a more in-depth exploration of a few different analytical frameworks that game designers use to understand games and game design. The next chapter explores various frameworks that have been used over the past several years, and the chapter that follows synthesizes those into the Layered Tetrad framework used throughout the remainder of this book.