What Is a Game?


A game is an activity, often structured to involve goal setting, rules, challenge, and interaction. Games are usually undertaken for entertainment or fun, and may serve educational, simulational, or psychological functions. They can be social, such as board games or sports, or socially competitive, such as a poker game. A game can also be a form of art, as with role-playing games or works of fiction, or a tool for creative expression, such as art games or jigsaw puzzles.

A number of different philosophical approaches have been used in an effort to cope with the challenges presented by the uniqueness of games. Early academic attempts tried to deal with the problem by treating games as a subtype of narrative and interpreting them in just the same way that one interprets static, linear stories. A faction of the field known as ludologists argued that this approach was not appropriate because games are not static, linear works of fiction but are interactive, complex systems of interconnected causes and effects.

More recently, other streams of work have been more focused on understanding what is it about games that makes them different from other kinds of entertainment or creativity. Some have emphasized the nature of the “magic circle” within which game play takes place, a kind of altered reality in which the world of the game is the only reality and in which actions have different meanings.

Others have shifted the focus to a closer examination of the role of pleasure in the experience of playing games. They have argued that games are not just entertaining, but that they are also pleasurable, and that this is an important aspect of what makes them different from other forms of entertainment. This view of games has been influenced by research into adult play and by studies of the pleasures of children’s play.

It has also been influenced by a growing body of literature on the cognitive and emotional benefits of leisure activities, such as reading and walking. In a society that is increasingly pressurized and time constrained, games provide an opportunity for people to relax, escape into fantasy, or otherwise relieve tensions in their lives.

Whatever approach is taken to defining games, it is important that the definition take into account previous work in the area. Otherwise, the definition will likely be inaccurate and misleading. It is also possible to make useful definitions without taking previous work into consideration, but it is much more difficult and prone to error. A good starting point is to look at the definitions of games used in the discipline of game studies. These are listed below.