What Are Games? An Essentialist Definition May Be the Answer
Games are a well-known form of amusement, normally undertaken for fun or entertainment, and occasionally used as a teaching tool. Games are distinctly different from work, which traditionally is performed for remuneration; and from literature, which, although may be written in a variety of styles, is typically an expression of cultural or aesthetic elements. In the classroom, games, if they are not being used merely for diversion, can add real value to the learning process. Many teachers encourage the use of games in the classroom because they can help to lesson plan, since games can be shared and enjoyed by students of different ages. They also provide an environment in which students feel a sense of involvement, and this feeling can have positive consequences when it comes to student’s later studies.
Analytical work on games has not been without controversy, however. GAMES DEATH is one such book, although its title suggests otherwise. Although not entirely about the subject of games, its author contends that the subject is itself a dead end in terms of research. This article intends to explore the question, with an eye to providing an answer, of what constitutes analytical work on games.
The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that there is no simple answer to the question, what constitutes analytical work on games. In fact, there are many possible answers to this, each of which potentially equally valid. This discussion will deal with the most common definition of analytical work in the context of games, as applied to educational situations. This definition will be described in terms of a new definition, that is concerned with defining what makes games analyzable, and what makes the activity any more worthy of academic analysis.
The question “what makes games analytical” has become an important one, as researchers have sought answers to many interesting questions, some quite technical, others more procedural in nature. One way in which scholars have sought new definitions for games has been by looking at existing definitions. A new definition may take the concept of analyzability and apply it to educational games. One example of this was found in a paper published last year by Paul Carruthers and Claire Hyams, who defined analytical activities as those that are necessary to derive knowledge or to achieve some goal.
This definition was then used by a variety of different individuals and groups. For example, a group working on an educational board game formulated a new definition for how to think about the meaning of a board game. This group included well-known historians, artists, professors, and computer programmers. Another group, working on an educational video game, took the definition further by claiming that it was an analytical activity, dependent upon the ability to collect data, and use that data to teach something, even if that something was not clear at first glance. Finally, a group using an age-old definition for how to think about and define games came up with a very literal definition for their own group, claiming that a game was a cultural phenomenon.
All of these definitions are important to understand. Games can be an essential part of culture and society, depending upon the type of culture and society that is being discussed. Different individuals and groups will create essentialist definitions for how to think about and define different games. As researchers continue to look for more complex definitions, however, it appears that the essentialist definition is one that many people have already come to love and latch on to.