What Is a Game?


A game is a structured form of play, often undertaken for entertainment or fun, and sometimes used as an educational tool. The key components of a game are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction. Most games involve mental or physical stimulation, and many help develop practical skills, serve as a form of exercise, or otherwise perform an educational, simulational, or psychological role.

A variety of game formats exist, from traditional board games to sports and computer games. Many of these use a system of luck or chance to determine outcomes, such as rolling dice or drawing straws; others are based on skill, strategy, or other intellectual abilities, such as the Asian game go and the western game of checkers. Some game-playing activities are also considered forms of art, such as jigsaw puzzles and solitaire. In addition, games may be viewed as work (professional players of spectator sports or video games), or entertainment, such as watching movies or playing board games with friends.

While the definition of game is widely disputed, most scholars consider a game to be a pursuit that involves competing with or challenging an opponent. The earliest recorded games involved methods of divination and fortune telling, and later developed into forms that relied on skill or chance, such as the Chinese game of go or the European games of checkers and Monopoly. As processing power increased, new genres of video games were created that allow the player to interact with a character in a fictional world and navigate through a set of obstacles to reach a goal or defeat an adversary.

Regardless of the particular type of game, all games share certain features. First, they have a clear set of rules and a clear purpose. Second, they are socially constructed and are governed by a complex network of interactions and relationships. Finally, they have the potential to produce a positive emotional response in the player, as evidenced by studies that correlate time spent playing with feelings of happiness and well-being.

There is also a sense in which the word can be applied to other activities involving competition and challenge: “I’m game for a swim,” he said. It can even mean a willingness to take on a difficult challenge, such as hiking through the woods: “I’m game for a hike through the woods.”

There is also a sense in which “game” can be applied to other activities: To squander money gambling; to play games with dishonesty; to rig a policy. To be game can mean to be a good sport: “The children played their hearts out in the parade.” Interestingly, this article was originally entitled “Classic Game Model and Video Games.” The word classic has been removed to avoid confusion with a prescriptive definition of game. It is my hope that this revision will help prevent the classic game model from being interpreted as a rigid, static set of rules that could not possibly be modified or extended by video game designers.