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									Thinking About Games
What is a Game?

Work consists of whatever a body is
obliged to do, and … Play consists of
whatever a body is not obliged to do.
                         - Mark Twain,
         The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

What is a Game?

   There are many ways to define the term
    “game”. Game researchers still debate
    even this simple point ...
   We’re going to look at a few and see
    what we can learn.
       After all, if we can’t figure out what a game
        is, how can we possibly design one?

What is a Game?

   A textbook definition, adapted
    from Adams:
       A game is a type of play activity, conducted
        in the context of a pretended reality, in which
        the participant(s) try to achieve at least one
        arbitrary, nontrivial goal acting in accordance
        with rules.
   It’s kind of dry, but gives us a few things
    to think about …
Essential Elements
of a Game
   Based on this definition, all games have
    four essential elements:
     Play
     Pretending

     Goals

     Rules

   This is regardless of the type of game,
    and the way the game is played.
   Some forms of entertainment are
    presentational, like books and film.
       They entertain you.
       They do not change over time.
   Play, on the other hand, is an interactive and
    participatory form of entertainment.
       You, in essence, entertain yourself.
       You actively modify the experience and change
        the course of the game through playing it.
   Not all play is for entertainment, just as not
    all books or films are for entertainment.           6

   Play must ultimately include some
    freedom for the player.
     This includes the freedom of choosing what
      to do and how to go about doing it.
     Without this freedom, the outcome is
      predetermined, and you are not really
      playing a game.
   Ultimately though, freedom is restricted
    by the rules of the game, as we will see.

   Pretending creates an alternate reality,
    at least in our minds, in which the game
    is played.
   This alternate reality attempts to
    recreate or simulate some elements of
    reality, and allows fantasy to fill in the


   The type and amount of pretending
    varies from game to game.
   The player can pretend that:
     A new world replaces the old one.
     The player is a different person.

     The outcomes of actions are different.

     Artificial significance is attached to various
      situations and events.


   A game must have a goal, and it can have
    more than one.
   Some type of challenge prevents the player
    from trivially achieving the goal(s):
       Other players (including any computer agents)
       Elements of game reality (the game
       Time (in the case of races, etc.)
       The player’s own self (in the case of puzzles,
        etc.)                                            10

   The goal of a game is defined by its
   This commonly takes many forms:
     A victory condition – something to be
      achieved in order to win the game.
     A loss condition – something to avoid
      to not lose the game.
     A termination condition – something that
      causes the game to end (can be necessary
      when victory or loss does not end the game).
   Rules are definitions and instructions that
    dictate how the game is played.
     They should be unambiguous and without
      conflicts between them.
     Some will be explicit, while others will be
   There can be many types of rules:
     Obligations – what you must do
     Permissions – what you can do
     Prohibitions – what you must not do
Another Definition
   Schell takes a different approach, starting
    with an incredibly simple definition:
       A game is something you play
   While spot on, this definition isn’t overly
    useful on its own.
   Recognizing this, Schell examined several
    definitions from top game researchers, and
    identified a collection of common qualities
    for games …
Qualities of Games
   Schell identified 10 qualities in total:
       Games   are entered willfully
       Games   have goals
       Games   have conflict
       Games   have rules
       Games   can be won and lost
       Games   are interactive
       Games   have challenge
       Games   can create their own internal value
       Games   engage players
       Games   are closed, formal systems
Going Further
   Is this definition of a game too complex
    though? Aren’t they simpler than this?
   Schell went back to things, re-examined
    definitions, and talked to players.
   When asked why they play games, a
    common answer emerged again and again:
       Players liked solving the problems
        presented by their games.

Solving Problems?
   People tend to think of problems as
    something negative.
   Still though, it is hard to come up with a
    game that does not, at some point, boil
    down to problem solving.
       After all, any game with a goal basically has
        presented you with a problem to solve …
   Games are more than just problem solving
    though. Often, solving problems are work
    and not for play or fun …
Solving Problems?
   In the end, Schell settled on this definition:
       A game is a problem-solving activity,
        approached with a playful attitude.
   This playful attitude usually implies that
    the player comes with a sense of curiosity,
    looking for fun, entertainment, and
   While simple, this definition is both useful
    and insightful to us as game designers.
What is Game Design?
   Essentially, game design is the act of
    deciding what a game should be.
   Because it’s all about decision making,
    special software or equipment is not
    needed. You only need to be able to
    record and communicate your decisions.
   You don’t need to be a programmer, or an
    artist, or a writer. Those backgrounds can
    help you make better decisions, or make
    them faster, but are not strictly essential.
What is Game Design?
   Designing a game involves hundreds or
    thousands of decisions.
   Design almost always continues
    throughout the development of the game,
    from its start to its finish.
   While it is common for a game to have
    dedicated designers, most people involved
    in development make decisions at some
    point in time, and so are also designers.
Skills for Game Design
   Interestingly, most skills and disciplines
    can be useful and applied to the design of
    a video game.
   This includes (from Schell):
       Animation, anthropology, architecture,
        brainstorming, business, cinematography,
        communication, creative writing, economics,
        engineering, history, management,
        mathematics, music, psychology, public
        speaking, sound design, technical writing,
        visual arts, …
Skills for Game Design
   What is the most important skill though?
     Creativity?
     Critical thinking?
     Logic?
     Communication?

   These are all important, but most people
    believe something else to be even more
    important …

   Not simply hearing, but listening …
    deep listening in a way that involves
    appreciating, understanding, and empathy.

   Schell identifies five different kinds of
    listening that are essential to the design of
    video games …

   To your team: Collectively, they have the skills
    and experience needed to make the game.
   To your audience: If they aren’t satisfied with
    your game, you have failed. To know how to
    satisfy them, you have to listen to them.
   To your game: Like a mechanic that can tell what
    is wrong with a car by listening to its engine run, a
    good designer will know what is wrong with their
    game by listening to it run.
   To your client: If you do not listen to the one
    paying to support development, they will go to
    someone who will. If not now, eventually …
   To your self: This is how you tap into your own
    creativity. You must be able to do this …           23
Why do People Play
   There are a lot of generally accepted
    reasons why people play games:
     Mastery
     Escapism
     Competition
     Knowledge
     Social interaction
     Physical seclusion
     Addiction
     And others …
Why do People Play
   Mastery.
     Most players play to overcome the problems
      presented to them by the game.
     Some players are motivated further to
      master the game itself, wanting to
      completely dominate every aspect of it.
     This is also to prove one’s self by overcoming
      challenges presented within the game, for a
      sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, or
Why do People Play
   Escapism.
     Players often say that they play games to
      escape or withdraw from the challenges or
      stresses of the real world.
     In essence, games can be a participatory
      means of escape.
     They can also provide fantasy fulfillment and
      exploration, allowing the player to go places
      and do things they couldn’t do otherwise.
Why do People Play
   Competition.
     Simply put, some players enjoy the thrill of
      competing against other players.
     Other players in this case are typically human
      (to provide sufficient challenge) but could be
      driven by artificial intelligence instead.
     This is only a natural extension of the same
      kind of competitive spirit found in sports,
      only now in a virtual space instead.
Why do People Play
   Knowledge.
     Many of our earliest learning experiences as
      children come in the form of games.
     Many examples of this can be found in the
      animal kingdom as well.
     What is learned depends greatly on the
      particular game in question.
     Learning could be either conscious or
      subconscious, explicit or implicit.
     Some researchers theorize that all games
      involve learning, in one way or another.       28
Why do People Play
   Social interaction
     Multiplayer games allow for unique
      socializing and interactions among people
      that are difficult to find elsewhere.
     This can occur both within the same room,
      and remotely through a network.
     This experience can also occur with only
      two people, or thousands, as is the case
      with Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO)
Why do People Play
   Physical seclusion
     While this might seem to be the opposite of
      social interaction, it need not be.
     For example, in an MMO game, you can have
      many players in the same virtual place, with
      each in their own private physical space.
     Some people do play single player games for
      this reason, but others play multiplayer
      games to have an interactive experience, just
      in a secluded environment.
Why do People Play
   Addiction.
     Some players indicate they are motivated by
      an addiction; a tendency to focus on one
      activity at the expense of others.
     Most game developers argue they want their
      games to be addictive, in that the players are
      given such a compelling experience that they
      do not want to stop playing.
     However, one must also consider the social
      and ethical ramifications when this gets
      carried too far. (More on this later.)
Why do People Play
   Other reasons:
     A form of therapy. Games can provide a
      safe means to relax or relieve stress.
     A form of exercise. Games can provide both
      mental and physical exercise.
     A safe way to “thumb one’s nose” at society
      and overcome social restrictions. Examples:
         You can do things in a game that you cannot or
          should not do in reality.
         You can assume a role unacceptable by society or
          engage in unacceptable activity.
Why do People Play

   Why not? They are fun after all …

Who Plays Games?

   To understand how to make better
    games, it is good to consider the different
    types of players that play games.
     Not all players are the same.
     Not all players experience the same
      game in the same way.
     Not all players play for the same reasons.

   We are going to examine geographics,
    psychographics, and demographics.
Who Plays Games?
   Geographics relate to players’ locations.
   A player’s country can affect their
    attitude towards games or particular
    types of games or gameplay.
       In some cases, even the particular region
        within a country can have similar effects.
   Geographic effects must be taken into
    account when developing and marketing
    games for them to be successful.
Who Plays Games?
   Examples of geographics issues:
       Dominant hardware infrastructure.
          Consoles vs. computers?
          Wired vs. wireless connectivity?

     Dominant platform.
     Tolerance to certain types of content.
            Violence, sex, and so on.
     Use of licenses and licensed properties.
     Genre and gameplay adoption.
     And many, many others.
Who Plays Games?
   Psychographics consists of people’s
    values, attitudes, perceptions, lifestyles,
    and ways of thinking.
   This can affect attitudes towards games,
    game genres, and types of gameplay as
    well, in a wide variety of ways.
   Consequently, psychographics must also
    be considered in developing a game.
   There are several ways to look at this …      37
Who Plays Games?
Bartle’s Suits
   In 1996, Richard Bartle wrote a seminal article
    on the types of players who play multi-user
    dungeons (MUDs) or virtual worlds.
       These games were typically Dungeons and
        Dragons like games consisting of numerous people
        playing online at the same time.
       Early MUDs were text-based, but newer ones are
        graphical. (Some claim that MUDs led to the
        development of games like Everquest and WoW.)
   The same player classifications extend easily
    to other kinds of video games, and games in
    general as well.
  Who Plays Games?
  Bartle’s Suits
                         Enjoying Acting

             Killers                         Achievers

 Player                                                   World
Oriented                                                 Oriented

           Socializers                       Explorers

                         Enjoy Interacting                     39
Who Plays Games?
Bartle’s Suits
   How are virtual worlds seen?
     Achievers see them as games. Their aim is
      to improve, advance, and ultimately win.
     Explorers see them more as pastimes, with
      rewards coming from discovery and
      furthering understanding.
     Socializers see them as entertainment and
      opportunities to communicate with others.
     Killers see them as sport, in the same way
      that hunting and fishing are sports.         40
Who Plays Games?
Bartle’s Suits
   Bartle made several interesting observations
    based on this classification scheme:
       A game requires a healthy balance of the different
        types of players to be successful. (The exact
        balance depends heavily upon the game, however.)
       In many cases, games will reach an equilibrium of
        player types on their own. This may or may not be
        a good thing!
       The design of a game greatly affects player types;
        simple tuning of a game can shift the balance of
        types for better (or worse).
       As players mature, they often change types or adapt
        their roles in the game somewhat.                  41
Who Plays Games?
Bartle’s Suits
   More achievers                      More socializers
       Slightly fewer socializers          More socializers
       More killers                        More killers

   Fewer achievers                     Fewer socializers
                                            Fewer socializers
       Slightly fewer socializers
                                            Fewer killers
       Fewer killers
                                        More killers
   More explorers                          Fewer achievers
       More explorers                      Slightly fewer explorers
       Slightly fewer killers              Far fewer socializers
   Fewer explorers                     Fewer killers
       Slightly more killers               More achievers
                                            Far more socializers
Who Plays Games?
Bartle’s Suits
    Based on these observations Bartle deduced
     four stable configurations:
    1)   Killers and achievers in equilibrium, with hardly
         any socializers or explorers.
    2)   Socializers in dominance, with everyone else only
         having bit parts.
    3)   A balance between all four types, with enough
         explorers to keep killers in check.
    4)   An empty virtual world.
    The third configuration is likely the best
     prospect for a world’s longevity, with the first
     and second tending towards the fourth.                  43
Who Plays Games?
Bartle’s Suits
   The paper itself is a fascinating read:
       Richard Bartle, “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds,
        Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs”. Journal of
        MUD Research, Volume 1, Issue 1. June
        1996. Available online at:

   Or, you can check out Bartle’s book
    “Designing Virtual Worlds”, published by
    New Riders. (It’s in the Western library.)       44
Who Plays Games?
Four Keys to More Emotion
   In 2004, XEODesign released a report entitled
    “Why We Play Games”.
   In this report, they discuss their findings from a
    field study of gamers on their experiences and
    emotions during gameplay.
   In the end they found four pathways or keys to
    more emotion in a game without story.
       Each key corresponds closely to a type of player.
       Interestingly enough, they found that the most
        successful and best selling games possessed
        gameplay catering to at least three of the keys.    45
Who Plays Games?
Four Keys to More Emotion
1. Hard fun.
      Emotions are drawn from meaningful
       challenges, strategies, and puzzles.
      This caters to players who play to
       overcome obstacles in their way to derive a
       feeling of accomplishment.
      By providing challenges to the player, the
       player experiences a satisfying level of
       frustration balanced by a sense of triumph
       over adversity.
Who Plays Games?
Four Keys to More Emotion
2. Easy fun.
      Other players focus on the sheer
       enjoyment of experiencing the game
      In this case, there is less focus on
       achieving and success.
      Instead, the game immerses the player in a
       world that inspires curiosity, awe, wonder,
       and a desire to explore the world and all
       that it has to offer.
Who Plays Games?
Four Keys to More Emotion
3. Altered states.
      Players using this key play to change from
       one mental state to another. For example,
       to relieve stress, avoid boredom, clear their
       minds, and so on.
      In this case, suitable interactions and
       gameplay elements are required in the
       game world external to the player to
       create the altered state internal to the
Who Plays Games?
Four Keys to More Emotion
4. The People Factor.
      In this case, the game creates
       opportunities for player competition,
       cooperation, performance, and spectacle.
      In this case, enjoyment is derived from
       playing with or against others.
      Players using this key see games as
       mechanisms for social interaction.

Who Plays Games?
Four Keys to More Emotion
   There are quite a few similarities to their
    findings and Bartle’s observations,
    although there are some differences too.

   An abstract of this report, as well as the
    complete document can be found at:
Who Plays Games?
Casual versus Hard-Core
   A common way of classifying players is to lump
    them into one of two categories: casual or
   This was studied in more detail by Ernest
    Adams, followed by Scott Kim, and then again
    by Adams and Barry Ip.
   In their latest work, Ip and Adams identify 15
    factors for classifying players as casual or hard-
    core, and develop methods for computing a
    player’s “gamer dedication” to produce a scale
    of classification instead of simply two
    categories.                                      51
Who Plays Games?
Casual versus Hard-Core
   Hard-core gamers are: (taken from Kim)
    1. Technologically savvy.
    2. Have the latest high-end
    3. Willingness to pay (also by Adams).
    4. Prefer violent/action games.
    5. Prefer games that have depth and
    6. Play games over many long sessions (also
       by Adams).
Who Plays Games?
Casual versus Hard-Core
   Hard-core gamers: (taken from Adams)
    7. Hunger for gaming-related information.
    8. Discuss games with friends/bulletin
    9. Play for the exhilaration of defeating (or
        completing) the game.
    10. Are much more tolerant of frustration.
    11. Tend to be engaged in competition with
        him or herself, the game, and other
        players.                                    53
Who Plays Games?
Casual versus Hard-Core
   Other factors by Ip and Adams:
    12.    Age at which first started playing games.
    13.    Comparative knowledge of the industry.
    14.    Indications of early adoption behaviour.
    15.    Desire to modify or extend games in a
          creative way.

Who Plays Games?
Casual versus Hard-Core
   Based on these factors, Ip and Adams
    compute a “gamer dedication” score.

Who Plays Games?
Casual versus Hard-Core
   Ip and Adams are continuing their work.
         Looking into formal studies to validate their
          methods and analyses.
         Using “gamer dedication” as a metric to
          improve games (or game marketing).

   More details can be found at:

Who Plays Games?
VALS Psychotypes
   The Values, Attitudes, and Lifestyles
    Survey (VALS) was developed by the
    Stanford Research Institute.
   VALS analyses the consumer market into
    eight segments associated with different
    motivations (ideals, achievement, and
    self expression) as well as access to

Who Plays Games?
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
   The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
    (MBTI) is built upon four pairs of traits
    considered to be complementary.
     All eight traits are present in all people,
      to various degrees.
     Each person is categorized into one of
      sixteen types depending on their tendencies
      in the pairings of traits, although each
      person can draw upon all eight traits in
      different situations.                         59
Who Plays Games?
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Who Plays Games?
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
   ISTJ – Trustee                    ESTP – Promoter
   ISFJ – Conservator                ESFP – Entertainer
   INFJ – Author                     ENFP – Journalist
   INTJ – Scientist                  ENTP – Inventor
   ISTP – Artisan                    ESTJ – Administrator
   ISFP – Artist                     ESFJ – Seller
   INFP – Questor                    ENFJ – Pedagogue
   INTP – Architect                  ENTJ – Field Marshall
      Conceptual Summaries of the Sixteen Myers-Briggs Types
Who Plays Games?
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
   Myers-Briggs types can have many
    implications on game design:
     How games are played (E vs. I)
     Learning and problem solving (S vs. N)
     Overall motivation (T vs. F)
     Goal orientation and structure (J vs. P)
     Challenge versus fun (TJ vs. FP)
     And so on

   For a good discussion refer to 21st
    Century Game Design by Bateman and           62
Who Plays Games? Flow
and Optimal Experience
   Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
    conducted interesting research into what
    he called “flow” or “optimal experience”.
       The main idea is that in certain mental states
        we feel a complete an energized focus on an
        activity, accompanied by a high level of
        enjoyment and fulfillment in what we do.
   As such, flow is typically defined as
    the experience of devoting total
    concentration effortlessly upon a task.          63
Who Plays Games? Flow
and Optimal Experience
   Csikszentmihalyi identified seven
    characteristics of the flow experience.
     1. The subject undertakes an activity they
        believe they can complete.
     2. The subject can focus their concentration
        completely on the activity.
     3. The activity has clear goals.
     4. The activity has direct feedback.

Who Plays Games? Flow
and Optimal Experience
   Characteristics (continued):
     5. The subject experiences a sense of
        effortless involvement such that worries
        and concerns seem to vanish.
     6. The subject feels that they are in control of
        the activity.
     7. Subjective experience of time is altered.
   Not all characteristics need to be present
    for flow to be experienced, but they are
    common traits of a flow experience.
Who Plays Games? Flow
and Optimal Experience
   People that study games recognize these
    traits as common to playing games.
       Consequently, a state of flow can be
        correlated with a highly enjoyable and
        immersive gameplay experience.
   As a result, to provide an enjoyable game
    experience, a game should strive to place
    the player in an optimal experience or
    provide a framework that makes it more
    likely to occur.                             66
Who Plays Games? Flow
and Optimal Experience
   A central idea to the psychology of
    optimal experience is the flow channel.
     When a subject faces challenges for which
      they have insufficient skills, they experience
     When a subject faces challenges for which
      their skills are excessive, they experience
      boredom instead.
     The key to reaching the flow channel where
      an optimal experience is achieved is to
      balance challenge and skill.
Who Plays Games? Flow
and Optimal Experience


    of                  Flow
 Challenge             Channel


                   Degree of Skill
Who Plays Games? Flow
and Optimal Experience
   The concept of flow has very important
    implications on good game design.
   Games must strive to balance the
    challenge they provide to the player
    playing the game.
     How can this be done when every player
      brings different skills, experiences, and
      tolerances to the game?
     How does the game cope and adjust
      difficulty as expected player skill increases,
      especially when the rate of increase varies?     69
Who Plays Games?
   The demographics of players include
    statistic information including:
     Gender
     Age

     Income level

     Education level

     Marital status

     Ethnicity

     And so on.
Who Plays Games?
   Understanding demographics can provide
    valuable information on the target
    audience and market for your game.
   Also, if you intended to target a game to
    a particular audience, demographic
    information on that audience can help
    you tune gameplay to meet the needs
    and wants of that audience.
Who Plays Games?
   Demographics can influence games
    in many ways:
     Interface design.
     Story elements such as plot and characters.

     Pace of action.

     Target level of difficulty.

     Multiplayer and online support.

     Appropriateness of content.

     And so on.

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