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All games have these four characteristics

This is an excerpt from Student-Designed Games by Peter Hastie.


All Games Have a Goal

When Suits speaks of "a specific state of affairs," he is referring to the goal of the game. The goal here is not winning, per se, but it relates more to a situation where players use their skills to achieve a particular end point. In badminton, that end point arrives when the shuttle has landed on the court of the opponent, while the end point in soccer is when the ball goes into the goal. Consequently, the skill required of the badminton player is to strike the shuttle over a net to a point where the opponent cannot return it, while soccer players must kick the ball with their feet or strike it with their heads away from the defenders and past the goalkeeper.

All Games Have Rules

The second necessary condition is that a game must have rules, and these rules provide both descriptive and defining frameworks for how the goal is to be achieved. The descriptive framework describes the setup of the game and its equipment, while the defining framework stipulates what means of play are required and permitted. In volleyball, for example, the descriptive framework refers to the measurement of the court, the net and its height, and the type of ball that is used. The defining framework of volleyball is that the ball is not allowed to touch the ground and that you are allowed three hits to send the ball over the net.

The descriptive and defining frameworks (i.e., rules) also serve to differentiate between different games. As an example, what defines handball as handball and not basketball are those rules that describe how you can move with the ball and run with it in ways that are not possible in basketball. The defining rules of softball list the ways the ball must be sent to the batter, which differentiates it from baseball and rounders, other sports whose goal is to hit the ball with a stick and run around a series of bases.

All Games Have Restrictions

Games will also include rules about what is not allowed in the course of play. Nearly all games include rules that favor less efficient over more efficient ways to achieve the goal. Indeed, sometimes the most logical and easiest solution is not available. Take soccer for example. Most of us would agree it would be easier to throw the ball into the goal than to kick it. However, if this were the case, soccer would cease to be soccer and would become handball. How often during a game of golf do you wish you could kick the ball from behind a tree or throw it out of a bunker or over a water hazard?

As Suits quotes, "In anything but a game, the gratuitous introduction of unnecessary obstacles to the achievement of an end is regarded as a decidedly irrational thing to do, whereas in games it appears to be an absolutely essential thing to do" (Suits, 1978, page 39). And so these limits are put in games in order to make them fun and challenging. Whereas in work and daily life we try to avoid all unnecessary obstacles, in games we do exactly the opposite.

Huizinga (1950, page 13) also comments how games and play move outside our ordinary lives:

Summing up the formal characteristics of play we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside "ordinary" life as being "not serious," but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the world by disguise or other means.

The descriptive and defining frameworks, together with a game’s restrictions, make up a game’s constitutive rules: those that define all of the circumstances that must be satisfied when participating in a game. That is, constitutive rules delineate the means that must, can, and cannot be employed in pursuit of the goal of the game.

Games Require the Acceptance of Rules by the Players

The fourth necessary condition to legitimize a game is the acceptance of the constitutive rules. Unless all players are operating from the same set of rules and agree to these, the game cannot exist. Although fair play is defined as conduct that adheres to the rules, it is still preceded by the acceptance of these rules in spirit so as to make the game possible. How often do backyard games break down because of disputes over the agreed-upon rules?

So all games must fulfill the four conditions. There must be a goal, rules that provide the framework of the game, rules that restrict what people can do in order to provide challenge from both thinking and physical perspectives, and players who are in accord when they play the game. When students design their own games, it is useful for them to begin by thinking of these conditions. In chapters 5 through 9 there are templates aimed at helping students think about how to develop a game’s goal and its constitutive rules.

 

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