A game is an activity involving mental or physical stimulation, or both, performed by players. They usually involve goals, rules, challenge, and interaction. Some games serve educational, simulational, or psychological roles and others are more traditional forms of entertainment.
To play a game is to engage in activity directed towards bringing about a specific state of affairs, using only means permitted by rules. These rules may prohibit more efficient in favor of less efficient means, or they may be accepted just because they make possible such activity.
This definition is based on the notion that games are real rule-based systems that players interact with in the real world (Avedon & Sutton Smith 1981). It contrasts strongly with a common definition of games as fictive worlds, in which game-worlds are meant to be an alternative universe within which players act and make decisions in the real world.
The goal of game theory is to study competitive situations in which two or more people have an interest and to determine the best way to satisfy that interest. A famous example of a game-theoretic model is the Prisoner’s Dilemma, in which a criminal is questioned by officials in separate chambers to obtain a confession. If both confess, each will receive a certain amount of time in prison.
One reason for the difficulty of defining games is that cultural phenomena often have multiple meanings and definitions can change over time. For example, an ancient Egyptian game scholar might have included in their definition something about burials. But if the same scholars needed to define the same phenomenon in the 21st century, they would likely include something about fun or enjoyment.
Generally, it is believed that the goal of a game is to satisfy the player’s emotional needs by providing pleasurable experiences. Some games do this by offering a realistic, albeit fictional setting in which players can act and have their actions affect the world around them; other games offer more imaginative settings.
A key part of a game is the game’s tools, which may include tokens such as chess pawns or marbles; intangible items like play money; or objects that can be used to represent other things, such as a point scored. Many games also require a particular environment, for example hide-and-seek requires that the game take place in a specific building or park.
The interactivity of the tool or object is determined by the game’s rules, which govern the relationship between the player and the environment. This can result in games being radically different depending on the environment.
If the game’s environment changes, the rules will also need to change, as the game’s purpose and objectives may have changed. This can be a major issue for game designers and designers of other types of entertainment, such as movies or books.
There is a lot of research in psychology and sociology that explores how gaming influences the amount of time gamers spend playing. Researchers have identified push and pull influences on the amount of gaming, both personal and external to the individual.