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The Definition of Game
A game is a game when there one or more main agents, called players, have a set of actions they can do, that will alter the current state or the environment, and when, alongside that, there are two kinds of reward possible for such actions:
- Positive reward: think grabbing a coin, a powerup or a life.
- Negative reward: think being hit by an enemy, or just plain dying.
To help understand more about games, why they are so, and why (most) games are perfectly fine, we first need to take a look at a few, very important (but at first glance little related) notes, that will help answer those questions:
1. Video games are fiction.
Games will never incur in any psychological consequence unintended by the producers. In other words, games like LSD: Dream Emulator are likely to cause nightmares, paranoia, or other slight conditions on human players, while, in the other hand, even hardcore shooter games, like Quake III Arena, or horror games, like Resident Evil, will at most cause natural reflexes and feelings, such as fear, and no psychological anomaly.
2. No game will turn you, or your kid, into an assassin, a serial killer, nor will they incentive crimes.
Even kids with a few years of age can discern between fiction and reality (although they might enjoy fiction by imagining its experience, as if it were reality). Even games that are based on true facts are usually more artistic, and will not create psychological or neurological anomaly or incentive.
3. Video game deaths are just virtual events. They can only represent real deaths.
In most earlier games that feature death, to ease the moral consequence of decease, death is usually made temporary, or emotionally insignificant, in various ways:
- It can be made so by giving infinite lives to the player (like Doom, but not like Wolfenstein 3-D);
- It can be made so by giving checkpoints to the player (like Sonic the Hedgehog);
- It can also be made so by adding a respawn feature (like traditional deathmatch on games like Unreal Tournament or Quake).
Nowadays, the weight of this moral has reduced, mostly subsequent to the gradual increase in the acceptance of games as special, interactive forms of art and literature (more than plain, mindless entertainment).
4. Video games don't kill. Players kill themselves.
In 2015, a 38-year-old man **actually** died playing video games. But before you put your blame cards on the games themselves, I have to remind you that the games didn't force him to play five days straight at the computer. That was purely his choice.
A game is a game. It's an interactive piece of art and rules (the latter usually set as code, and sometimes even the former), where you can perform actions, those actions sometimes alter the environment and the state, and these three factors together give you reward (or punishment). That is the basis for games, and so it has been since Pong.
But, wait a minute. Is Pong really a game? Well, let's verify, with the three concepts we
discussed at the beginning:
- Is it interactive, and allow for actions?
Check! You can move the paddle in this game.
- Does it feature players?
Check! Two opponents (one of which may be an automatic paddle, and
thus an AI), or player agents, that battle for the highest score.
- Does it have rewards?
Check, baby! You love to score, but you hate to be scored. Remember, games usually don't explicit what rewards are good and which are bad. You decide – you are the player, after all! The game is yours and you do what you want. No wonder Super Mario 64 players are doing "coinless speedruns".
And that's why Pong isn't just a sport, or a bunch of electronics, or an hyper advanced calculator designed with entertainment in mind. Nope! It's a video game. And these three basic principles are the most objective and precise way to categorize and define what is a game.