Responding to Bill

by Darius Kazemi on May 12, 2005

in Uncategorized

So my friend Bill just posted something regarding the educational games that I had linked in my sidebar. His sub-argument is that the educational games on that site aren’t really “games.” But I beg to differ.

If you haven’t played these games, go do so; they really only take a minute or two of your time. Bill is saying that these aren’t “gamey” enough to actually count as games. But let’s look at one of them, “Place the State – Advanced”. You are presented with a blank map of the United States, and you are given states, sequentially, to drag and drop onto the map. The states disappear after you place them, so you only get to see one state at a time. The game keeps track of your average error in terms of how many miles off you were in placing the states.

I contend that this is a game. I like to use Salen/Zimmerman’s definition of game:

A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome. [my emphasis]

In the context of this definition, a “system” has four elements: objects, attributes of objects, relationships among objects, and an evironment (context). Let’s look at the old checklist.

  • System: the objects are the states, the objects have attributes (shape, preferred location), the objects are related (one of the challenges lies in remembering how they are related geographically), and it all takes place in an environment (the blank map).
  • Conflict: the conflict is a classic, single-player puzzle.
  • Rules: there are rules governing placement, scoring, and object behavior.
  • Quantifiable outcome: absolutely! It grades you with numbers on how well you did. Can’t get more quantified than that.

Of course, you can certainly take exception to the definition that I’m using. I happen to like the Salen/Zimmerman definition because it is inclusive. So many definitions of “game” out there exclude things that intuitively feel like games to me. While I think that this definition may err a little bit on the broad side, I’ll settle for a definition of “game” that includes everything I think of as a game, plus a little extra.

What it comes down to for me is: if it feels like a game, it’s a game as far as I’m concerned! Though theory and definitions are great to have, too.

All that aside, Bill’s overall point is that we need educational games that are more than glorified flash cards if the educational games sector is ever going to be taken seriously. I agree with him 100% on that front!


M0oFo0 May 13, 2005 at 1:16 am

Salam goozooo ;))

Craig Perko May 13, 2005 at 3:10 pm

Darius, I think you’re wrong. Your definition of “game” is pretty weak.

I believe that in order for it to be a game, there has to be at least one feedback loop. In fact, I might even go so far as to define a game as a system of feedback loops which accept player input.

Think about it. Can you name one game without a feedback loop? Every game, including board games, sports, and the very first computer games, all had feedback loops. You do something, and the game changes due to it. Even the simplest children’s games have these feedback loops: you only have as much time to pick up jacks as the ball you bounced takes to reach the ground again. You have to jump to the stone you threw. You have to catch the ball you threw as it bounces. All of these games depend HEAVILY on feedback loops.

Otherwise, they’re just puzzles.

Darius Kazemi May 13, 2005 at 3:58 pm

Sorry Craig, but the definition is weak on purpose because I believe that puzzles are games.

Craig Perko May 13, 2005 at 5:09 pm


Darius Kazemi May 13, 2005 at 5:58 pm

Because they intuitively feel like games to me. I’m willing to admit that this is not a rational decision of mine.

Some puzzles are more gamey than others. A jigsaw puzzle (which you could argue the match-the-states game is like) I would not consider to be a game, because the feedback loop is so damn weak. On the other hand, a slide-the-pieces puzzle where you complete a picture feels more like a game to me because there’s an iterative nature to playing it.

Craig Perko May 13, 2005 at 6:15 pm

I just did an excessively long and boring post on the subject, but I’m mostly agreed with you.

But the “states” game has NO feedback loop. There’s NO iteration. It’s not like the states you placed STAY there and you get to work off them.

I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. :)

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