Games Without Consequences?

The recent ruckus over the Eve Mittanigate scandal, where a prominent Eve player elected to the head of the CSM messed up at the recent fanfest and as a consequence apologised, resigned as the head, and then was sacked and 30 day banned by CCP has generated many, many words. That previous sentence was one of them. There’s been a lot of back and forth about bullying in games, how actions have consequences, even predictions of the effect this will have on Eve in the long term.

Some of those words were written tonight by Tobold where he asks What Is A Game Anyway?

He was asked that question by a reader, who includes all kinds of games, including the “gamification” of real life with location services or 3D games that use the environs around you as input into the game world.

Tobolds response was essentially that a game stops being a game when there are real life consequences.

Now I realise that he was probably talking about computer and ‘gamey’ (like board and card games) in particular, but I think he is missing the point. defines games this way:

  1. an amusement or pastime: children’s games.
  2. the material or equipment used in playing certain games: a store selling toys and games.
  3. a competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators.

There is nothing there that says that a game stops being a game when money is involved, or when one of the players starts bullying or threatening another player. Tobold states that: gambling isn’t a game in spite of some resemblances. I’m sorry Tobold, that is just silly. I occassionally go over to friends to play the occassional game of poker. We use chips and no money changes hands. It’s a game. When does it stop being a game, when we start betting for M&Ms, chump change, or when a casino holds a professional tournament?

The same applies to sports. A bunch of guys kicking around an odd shaped ball are playing a game called football (Aussie Rules rules!) Once again, when does it stop being a game? When the players start getting paid? Or when the punters are able to lay down a bet? And sports games have real life consequences too, for both amateur and professional alike. Even junior league players risk injury.

There are real life consequences to playing computer games too. Some have more ramifications that others. When I choose to play a game, or MMORPG, I give up that time to that activity. I won’t be reading, watching TV, or going to the local to meet friends. If I let that get out of control, those ramifications can get serious. Does World of Warcraft cease being a game if I stop bathing, working, and socialising. Nope. It’s still a game, just one I have a problem with.

I guess one of the things I have a problem with in Tobolds statement, is that he trying to define what a game is and isn’t.

Technology is providing people with many more opportunities to play games. Location based services, while fairly simple now, will evolve over time and give some the opportunity to play fictional scenarios in real world locations. Halting State by Charles Stross is a novel which addresses this to some extent. Some of which he wrote about for the near future is happening now.

Can we deny that an amusement or pastime or a competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators isn’t really a game because it doesn’t fit into Tobolds narrow criteria?


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  1. Arkenor

    I guess what he was reacting to is all the folks who say “It’s just a game” when called out for poor behaviour. As you’ve ably pointed out, that’s a rather empty defense.

  2. RPG Paradise

    I’m going to venture out and say that the term “game” is very subjective. What one person may feel is a “game” others might not.

    To take your poker analogy as an example, you could say that people use the terms “game of poker” and “poker tournament” to separate the real-life implications of the two methods of taking part (being that a tournament is generally said to cost money and/or reward players for winning, whereas a free game doesn’t).

    I, myself, however, feel that anything that’s fun is a game. “Trying to score an A on my test is a game of recollection.” Others don’t necessarily feel the same way.

    I completely disagree that the separation of real-life to virtual in any way pushes something from being a game to not being one. To me, this is like the statement that you should “treat life like a game, because you’ll never make it out alive.”

  3. Stropp (Post author)

    @RPG Paradise — I’m not sure the term is really that subjective. After all there is a clear definition posted above.

    A tournament is really a series of games. A poker tournament consists of a number of games of poker where the contestants are eliminated in some fashion. I played table tennis tournaments in high school. There are ten pin bowling tournaments, and even Starcraft tournaments.

    I don’t agree with you that anything that is fun is a game. I quite enjoy aspects of my work, I’ve had great fun as a programmer over the years. I’ve also had great fun having dinner with friends, laughing at jokes, and seeing movies. I’m not sure you can classify those as games.

    I’ve also played games that I have considered not fun at all. That doesn’t stop them from being games either.

    Making a game of something that isn’t really a game is quite valid. It applies a set of rules to what might be otherwise quite boring to make it less tedious. Someone else might not see it as a game, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t.

    I’m not sure what you mean by your last sentence, it reads a little contradictory to me.

  4. RPG Paradise

    I probably should have re-worded the last sentence a bit better. More or less what I mean is that “a game is what you make of it.” While there may be a “clear definition” right now, many words change over time and/or are just flat out used incorrectly (sometimes by a majority of the population). As a result, there will always be disagreements as to their meanings (or in this case, as to what constitutes being a “game”).

    The rest of my post was geared towards the following: “an amusement or pastime…” Based on this, In inferred it as being “something that’s amusing,” or therefore something that’s enjoyable.

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