Saturday, February 19, 2011

What is a (video) game? Part 1

Webster defines a game as an activity engaged in for diversion or amusement. Keep that in mind.

In doing research for this post I can tell you there is a history of nerdiness that follows video games that I will spare you. What I want to point out is that throughout history most games have required two or more players. Most sports, card games, board/trinket games and to a lesser extent brain teasers (riddles were actually listed as a game in one document I read) require at least two participants. Certainly there are exceptions, but that isn’t the point. Prior to 1970 a bulk of what we would consider games required more than one person to be involved. What happened in 1970…my older readers probably know: Arcades happened. Every article I read referred to the 1970’s as the ‘golden age’ of arcade games. What once was a haven for pinball machines (which have a history that dates back to the 15th Century, believe it or not) was overrun by electronic games like Pac Man, Space Invaders and Asteroids. Sure you could compete for high scores, but it was really the advent of one person staring at a screen for the purpose of isolated amusement. This gave way to home consoles which later reduced the arcades to novelty. It is with the home console that my point begins to take shape. With early game consoles the technology was limited so most games were designed and created for one player at a time. This became the norm and is still very true. A majority of video games created today are designed with a single player focus.

This brings me back to the definition. There are three key words: activity, amusement and diversion. Let's begin with activity. We are doing something when we play games. However, I would argue that there are not many video games that challenge people all that much mentally (games like Brain Age and Professor Layton are exceptions). Most games are designed around a simple, fun premise. Josh told me once that the Halo development team had a goal to design the most fun thirty seconds a player could possibly have and then repeat it over and over again. That would certainly seem to be the premise of most games. The formula does not ask much of the player. In addition, with even fewer exceptions are there games that actively challenge players physically. Perhaps that is why games like Wii Fit, Just Dance and Rock Band have been such great successes with a female audience that is concerned about being active. Generally speaking, the activity of gaming is one that encourages relaxation. In our busy world that can't hurt...can it?

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