Is Fallout 3 a Game?


Game is an activity undertaken for diversion or entertainment, often involving contest and rivalry. It may require skill, strategy or luck, or a combination of both. Some games, like chess, are primarily strategic games; others, such as poker and pinball, are solely or in part luck-based. A wide variety of games exist, and people may classify them as children’s games, adult games, board games, computer games or sports. A number of different props can be used to play games, but the one common denominator is a set of rules that establish and shape the playing experience.

While there are many definitions of game, some scholars have pushed for more precise and prescriptive definitions. However, it is important to recognize that the purpose of a definition is not to establish a fixed list of things that are and are not games; instead, it is to guide research and discussion within a certain context. As such, attempts to produce a perfect definition of game are doomed to fail.

A good example of this is the debate over whether or not Fallout 3 is a game (Bjork and Juul 2012; see also Bogost 2009; Deterding 2013; Esposito 2005; Karhulahti 2015b; Tavinor 2008; Whitton 2009; Wolf 2001). Attempting to settle that question once and for all would simply ignore the vast majority of previous definitional work on the topic.

Another reason to avoid attempting to define games is the difficulty of doing so in practice. When a researcher asks someone how much time they spend on video games, for instance, that person will likely self-report that information. While there have been calls for more direct measurements of video game behaviour, this has so far been difficult because video games companies have not volunteered to share their player data with independent scientists.

It is possible that a study will find that people who self-report a lot of time playing video games actually do play a lot of them, but it is equally likely that the opposite will be true. In any case, the use of self-reports will limit the conclusions that can be drawn from such studies, and it is not clear how to overcome this limitation.

For these reasons, it is unlikely that any definitive definition of game will ever be found. The best that can be hoped for is that the current discussion about how to define game will help guide future research and understanding of this important cultural phenomenon. In the meantime, there is still plenty to explore, both in the field of video game studies and more broadly in humanities and social science. Regardless of how this debate is resolved, it will be interesting to observe the ways in which games are shaped by these various debates. The resulting games are sure to be as diverse and fascinating as the humans who play them. The future of gaming is bright! Image courtesy of the author, via Flickr.