2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Games

Tug of war is an easily organized, impromptu game that requires little equipment.
Tug of war is an easily organized, impromptu game that requires little equipment.
Paul Cézanne - The Card Players, 1895
Paul Cézanne - The Card Players, 1895

A game is a structured or semi-structured activity, usually undertaken for enjoyment. The term "game" is also used to describe simulation of various activities e.g., for the purposes of training, analysis or prediction, etc., see " Game (simulation)".

Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interactivity. Games generally involve mental or physical stimulation, and sometimes both. Many games help develop practical skills, serve as a form of exercise, or otherwise perform an educational, simulational or psychological role.

Known to have been played as far back as prehistoric times, games are generally distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration, and from art, which is more concerned with the expression of ideas. However, the distinction is not clear-cut, and many games may also be considered work and/or art.


Ludwig Wittgenstein was probably the first to give serious thought to the definition of the word. In his Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein demonstrated that the elements of games, such as play, rules, and competition, all fail to adequately define what games are. He subsequently argued that the concept "game" could not be contained by any single definition, but that games must be looked at as a series of definitions that share a "family resemblance" to one another.

Computer game designer Chris Crawford attempted to define the term game 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 he rarely produces sequels to his games.)
  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. Some 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 which features opposition with which the player can interfere and is not done primarily for aesthetic or monetary concerns.

Crawford also notes (ibid.) these other definitions:

  • “A form of play with goals and structure.” ( Kevin Maroney)
  • “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)
  • “An activity with some rules engaged in for an outcome.” ( Eric Zimmerman)

Single-player games

Single-player games are unique in respect to the type of challenges a player faces. Unlike a game with multiple players competing with or against each other to reach the game's goal, a one-player game is a battle solely against an artificial opponent, against oneself's own skills, or against chance.

Playing with a yo-yo or playing tennis against a wall is not generally recognised as playing a game due to the lack of any formidable opposition. However, this is not the case in a single player computer game where the computer provides opposition.

Play and gameplay

Games can be characterized by "what the player does." This is often referred to as gameplay. Major key elements identified in this context are tools and rules which define the overall context of game and which in turn produce skill, strategy, and chance.

The term gameplay arose along the development of computer game designers in the 1980s, and was used primarily within the context of video or computer games, though now its popularity has begun to see use in the description of other, more traditional, game forms.


Games are often classified by the components that are required to play them (e.g. a ball, cards, a board and pieces or a computer). In places where the use of leather is well established, the ball has been a popular game piece throughout recorded history, resulting in a worldwide popularity of ball games ( rugby, basketball, football, cricket, tennis, volleyball). Other tools are more idiosyncratic to a certain region. Cards, for instance, display great variations between the countries of Europe where they were originally popularized. Other games such as chess may be traced primarily through the development and evolution of its game pieces.

Many game tools are tokens, meant to represent other things. This may be a pawn on a board, fake money, or even intangible things such as points earned by scoring a goal.

In computer games, the evolution of user interfaces from simple keyboard to mouse, joystick or joypad has had a profound impact to game development. Moreover, computer games can create virtual tools to be used in a game, such as cards or dice.

Games such as hide-and-seek or tag do not utilise any obvious tool. Rather its interactivity is defined by the environment. Games with the same or similar rules may have different gameplay if the environment is altered. For example, hide-and-seek in a school building differs from the same game in a park; an auto race can be radically different depending on the track or street course, even with the same cars.


Whereas games are often characterized by their tools, they are often defined by their rules. While rules are subject to variations and changes, enough change in the rules usually results in a "new" game. For instance, baseball can be played with "real" baseballs or with whiffleballs. However, if the players decide to play with only three bases, they are arguably playing a different game.

Rules generally determine turn order, the rights and responsibilities of the players, and win conditions. Player rights may include when they may spend resources or move tokens. Win conditions are often measured in meeting a certain quota of tokens (as in Settlers of Catan), having the greatest number of tokens at the end of the game (as in Monopoly), or some relationship of game tokens (as in chess's checkmate).

Ludwig Wittgenstein went as far as arguing that language was itself a game consisting of tokens governed by rough-and-ready rules that arise by convention and are not strict.

Skill, strategy, and chance

The emergent effect of a game's tools and rules applied by players is to display skill, strategy, and chance. Games may be typified when they prominently feature one of these.

Games of skill includes games of physical skill, such as wrestling, tag of war, hopscotch and target shooting, and games of mental skill such as checkers and chess. However, certain competitive sports such as marathons, 100m track, or gymnastics are often not recognised as games (though it is a part of the Olympic Games) because the idea of testing pure physical attributes does not contain interactivity.

Games of strategy include checkers, chess, go, arimaa, and tic-tac-toe. They, as in games of chance, often require special equipment to be played.

Games of chance include various form of gambling games (blackjack, mah jong, roulette etc) and snakes and ladders as well as rock-scissor-paper. However, flipping a coin is not consider to be a game because pure chance determines the outcome.

However, most games contain various degrees of all above elements. For example, football and baseball involve both skill and strategy while poker and Monopoly involve strategy and chance. It is often the interaction of these elements that makes gameplay enjoyable.

Anthropology of games

Games are intimately connected to culture and often have some social aspect. For example, games can be characterized in terms of the intended occasion of play: party games are played at parties, and family games with families. This characterization may also serve as a tool of exclusion. A drinking game is rarely appropriate for children, for instance, and polo requires significant investment both in terms of money and leisure time, making it a game of the upper class.

Some games are simply mind games. These games can be played anywhere ands by anyone and are spread by word of mouth. A modern day example of this is The Game. the Object of The Game is not to think about it. If you think about The Game then you have lost and the losing player must announce this fact.

Animals and games

Domestic animals have been observed playing simpler games such as tag, tug-of-war, and fetch. Whether this is due to instinct or conscious choice, and whether the animals are capable of the strategic thinking to interfere with their opposition, questions whether this activity is actually a game.

Types of games

Field games (sports)

Association football is a popular sport worldwide.
Association football is a popular sport worldwide.

Sports are arguably the most popular type of game. Sports often require special equipment and playing fields or prepared grounds dedicated to their practice. This fact often requires the involvement of a community beyond the players themselves. The community may set aside such resources for the benefit of the young, such as in Little League.

Popular sports may have spectators who are entertained by just watching it. Communities often align themselves with sports teams, who in a sense represent that community; they often align themselves against their opponents or have traditional rivalries. The concept of fandom began with sports fans.

Stanley Fish cited the balls and strikes of baseball as a clear example of social construction, the operation of rules on the game's tools. While the strike zone target is governed by the rules of the game, it epitomizes the category of things that exist only because people have agreed to treat them as real. No pitch is a ball or a strike until it has been labeled as such by an appropriate authority, the plate umpire, whose judgment on this matter cannot be challenged within the current game.

Computer games

A computer game is a computer-controlled game. There always must also be some sort of input device, usually in the form of button/joystick combinations (on arcade games), a keyboard and mouse or trackball combination ( computer games), or a controller ( console games), or a combination of any of the above. More esoteric devices have also been used for input.

An interesting feature of computer games is the conceit that any game can be emulated as a computer game. Because computer games are simulations, every conceviable tool, environment or rules can be created. Whether or not the computer emulation possesses the same gameplay as the original game is an open question.

In more open-ended computer simulations, the player may be free to do whatever they like within the confines of the virtual universe. However, without goals and opposition, it is questionable whether these programs are games or toys. Noted game designer Will Wright is well known for making use of this 'open-ended' design philosophy, though he seems to prefer the terms 'simulation' or 'sandbox', and uses these terms almost exclusively when describing his work.

Parcheesi is a board game originating in India.
Parcheesi is a board game originating in India.

Board games

Board games use as a central tool a board on which the players' status, resources, and progress are tracked using physical tokens. Such games often also incorporate dice and cards.

Card games

Card games use as a central tool a deck of cards. The cards may be standard playing cards or a deck specific to the individual game. Many card games such as Uno and Rook were originally played using a standard deck and have since been published with customized decks. Most standard decks will have fifty-two cards in them. Thirteen of each suit. The four suits are clubs, spades, hearts, and diamonds. Many games such as go fish, crazy 8's, and others are played with a traditional deck of cards. Standard decks also include two to four jokers with them. Jokers are usually removed, but included in some particular games.

Role playing games

Role playing games, often abbreviated as RPGs, is a type of game in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories and world setting.

Game types

  • Alternate reality games
  • Ball games
  • Card games
    • Collectible card games
  • Casino games
  • Children's games
  • Clapping games
  • Computer and video games
    • Computer puzzle games
    • Online games
      • Online skill-based games
      • MUDs
      • MMORPGs
  • Conversation games
  • Counting-out games
  • Creative games
  • Dice games
  • Drinking games
  • Educational games
  • Economics games
  • Game shows
  • Games of chance
  • Games of dare
  • Games of logic
  • Games of mental skill
  • Games of physical skill
  • Games of strategy
  • Games of status
  • Global Positioning System-based games
  • Group-dynamic games
  • Guessing games
  • Letter games
  • Locative games
  • Mathematical games
  • Open gaming
  • Party games
  • Parlor games
  • Pencil and paper games
  • Play-by-mail games
  • Playground games
  • Political games
  • PowerPoint games
  • Pub games
  • Puzzles
  • Quizzes
  • Role-playing games
  • Singing games
  • Spoken games
  • Street games
  • String games
  • Table-top games
  • Tile-based games
  • Theatre games
  • Traditional games
  • Travel games
  • Wargames
  • Win-win games
  • Word games

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