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Jenga, a game

A game is something that people do for fun. It is different from work. In many games, people play against other people.

There are different kinds of games. For example, in video games, people often use controllers to control what happens on a screen, such as a television screen. In board games, players often move pieces on a flat surface called a board. Some examples of board games include Monopoly, chess, and checkers. In card games, players use playing cards.


Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein was probably the first academic philosopher to address the definition of the word game. In his Philosophical Investigations,[1] Wittgenstein demonstrated that the elements (parts) of games, such as play, rules, and competition, all fail to correctly define what games are. He concluded that people apply the term game to a range of different human activities that are only related a little bit.

Roger Caillois

French sociologist Roger Caillois, in his book Les jeux et les hommes (Games and Men),[2] said that a game is an activity that must have the following traits:

  • fun: the activity is chosen because it is fun
  • separate: it is circumscribed in time and place
  • uncertain: the outcome of the activity is not known at the beginning
  • non-productive: participation does not accomplish anything useful
  • governed by rules: the activity has rules that are different from everyday life
  • fictitious: it is accompanied by the awareness of a different reality

Chris Crawford

Computer game designer Chris Crawford attempted to define the term game[3] using a series of dichotomies:

  1. Creative expression is art if made for its own beauty, and entertainment if made for money. (This is the least rigid of his definitions. Crawford acknowledges that he often chooses a creative path over conventional business wisdom, which is why only one of his 13 games is a sequel.)
  2. A piece of entertainment is a plaything if it is interactive. Movies and books are cited as examples of non-interactive entertainment.
  3. If no goals are associated with a plaything, it is a toy. (Crawford notes that by his definition, (a) a toy can become a game element if the player makes up rules, and (b) The Sims and SimCity are toys, not games.) If it has goals, a plaything is a challenge.
  4. If a challenge has no “active agent against whom you compete,” it is a puzzle; if there is one, it is a conflict. (Crawford admits that this is a subjective test. Video games with noticeably algorithmic artificial intelligence can be played as puzzles; these include the patterns used to evade ghosts in Pac-Man.)
  5. Finally, if the player can only outperform the opponent, but not attack them to interfere with their performance, the conflict is a competition. (Competitions include racing and figure skating.) However, if attacks are allowed, then the conflict qualifies as a game.

Crawford's definition may thus be rendered as: an interactive, goal-oriented activity, active agents to play against, in which players (including active agents) can interfere with each other.

Other definitions

  • "A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome." (Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman)[4]
  • "A game is a form of art in which participants, termed players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal." (Greg Costikyan)[5]
  • "A game is an activity among two or more independent decision-makers seeking to achieve their objectives in some limiting context." (Clark C. Abt)[6]
  • "At its most elementary level then we can define game as an exercise of voluntary control systems in which there is an opposition between forces, confined by a procedure and rules in order to produce a disequilibrial outcome." (Elliot Avedon and Brian Sutton-Smith)[7]
  • "A game is a form of play with goals and structure." (Kevin Maroney)[8]

Related pages


  1. Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953/2002). Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-23127-7 . 
  2. Caillois, Roger (1957). Les jeux et les hommes. Gallimard. 
  3. Crawford, Chris (2003). Chris Crawford on Game Design. New Riders. ISBN 0-88134-117-7 . 
  4. Salen, Katie; Zimmerman, Eric (2003), Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, MIT Press, p. 80, ISBN 0-262-24045-9  
  5. Costikyan, Greg (1994), I Have No Words & I Must Design,, retrieved 2008-08-17 
  6. Serious Games, Viking Press, 1970, p. 6, ISBN 0670634905  
  7. Avedon, Elliot; Sutton-Smith, Brian (1971), The Study of Games, J. Wiley, p. 405, ISBN 0471038393  
  8. Maroney, Kevin (2001), My Entire Waking Life, The Games Journal,, retrieved 2008-08-17