Videogames Are Broken Toys


“Whoops, I have the antidote for the Kragle, how did that happen?”

– Lord Business

At best, my design theory work tends to get mixed reviews. It’s my belief that if any creative work fails to connect with people, it’s the fault of the communicator. As a writer, you’re setting out to connect with people, so if you fail to do that – regardless of your reasons/explanations – it’s your fault. For the past few years, one of the most significant factors in this disconnect I’ve experienced has – to some extent, at least consciously – eluded me.

I’ve always known that many videogames are primarily toys (obvious examples being Minecraft or Grand Theft Auto), but what I failed to realize is that nearly every videogame ever made is essentially functioning at the “toy level” (which I’ll explain in a moment). I failed to realize that even supposed “strategy games” like Starcraft, Civilization, X-Com or Street Fighter are all primarily toys, despite the fact that they have many markedly game-like features and even market themselves as strategy games.

This caused me to raise concerns that failed to connect with people, because I was looking at them as games, whereas everyone else was looking at them as something much more like toys.

In addition, my criticism was actually backwards. I was complaining about the elements that damaged the game, when I should have been complaining about the elements that damaged the toy.

(In case you’re confused, here’s a quick primer on my four prescriptive interactive forms (read more here): the base interactive system with no goals is a “toy“. Add an objective/solution and you get a puzzle. Add measurement and you get a contest. Obfuscate game information (allowing for decisions to exist), and you get a game (a contest of decision-making).)


The Arguments

A huge point of contention has been my position on traditional videogame-style asymmetry. In 2013 I wrote an article called Debunking Asymmetry, which explained the problems I have with asymmetrical forces in games (i.e. selectable races, characters, classes, etc).

The article got a lot of attention from some well-known designers like Jon Schafer, Greg Costikyan, Raph Koster, and David Sirlin (who wrote a dismissive and mean-spirited comment which got upvoted like crazy, despite the fact that it didn’t really address my article’s points).

Overall, though, the consensus seemed to be more or less something along the lines of “you can’t say anything is good or bad”, something that I hear all the time and always found really irritating, and attributed to people being perhaps “anti-progress”. This comment from Shay Peirce somewhat embodies the sentiment as well. Here are a couple of excerpts from his comment:

“There’s no such thing as “correct” or “ideal” game design; there’s just rules of thumb, which may or may not apply to solving the problems of the specific game you’re designing, i.e. the specific experience you’re trying to give people.”

“Finally I’d like to say that your dismissal of the value of self-expression through gameplay style is, to me, breathtaking in its audacity and obtuseness.”

When I read these comments, I was really kind of confused. One of my concerns I raised in the article was what I called “playing designer”. Since the objective in, say, Street Fighter, is to win the fight, then I should choose the best character (or at least, the character I am best with) every single time. In either case, the actual “choice” of who to pick is therefore non-existent/solved.

Only if you decide to sort of step back and ask, “well, would it maybe be more fun for me to choose a character other than the best / that I am best with?” do any of the other choices become viable. In that situation, you are making a design choice – what are optimal rules for this coming match in terms of my experience, which is markedly different from strategic choice in a game, which is always about finding more optimal moves.

I brought this up, but it didn’t connect. Why not? Well, because everyone else was already assuming that of course we all make design choices. We make design choices all of the time in videogames – we’ve grown up making design choices. Early popular videogames like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy all trained us to constantly make design choices – to make sub-optimal strategic choices for the sake of keeping ourselves entertained. We’re used to making sub-par moves for the sake of “fun”. Sometimes we refer to this as “going for style points”.

Using four fighters in FF1 is incredibly strong, and incredibly boring.

Using four fighters in FF1 is both incredibly strong, and incredibly boring.


Further, we even have a derisive term for people who actually try to play optimally: “min-maxing“. Min-maxing refers to the act of picking the best stuff, especially in a role-playing game such as Dungeons & Dragons. D&D is inherently a role-playing toy, so if you’re “playing to win”, you’re playing wrong.


The “Toy Level”

Most game players and game designers are not thinking about “games” – even “strategy games” – the way I do. They are thinking about them fundamentally as toys, and since toys are so loose and formless, it’s much harder to make clear statements about what works or doesn’t work. I only know of one sure-fire way to fundamentally break toys, which I will get into in a moment.

Another example is randomness, and my positions on that. If you are thinking of something as a strategy game, hard output randomness isn’t desirable. But in a toy? Sure, why not! Well-known designer and theorist DanC once told me that I was (paraphrasing here) “obsessed with attributing value to tools”. His point was that randomness is a tool, asymmetry is a tool; everything is a tool and, echoing Shay Pierce’s sentiment, you might want any of these things in your system.

If you are operating on “the toy level” – which basically every designer on earth with the possible exception of some Eurogame / abstract designers – this is true.


The Problem

eheheI really enjoyed The Lego Movie. The theme, or controlling idea of the movie was pretty powerful: that the spirit of Legos was creativity, exploration, doing things your own way. The primary force of antagonism in the film was essentially instructions, or the super-glue that holds Lego bricks in place once set. In the first act, the main character lives his life by a strict set of rules, and throughout the story he learns to embrace his creativity. Wild, loose creativity is, after all, at the core of the spirit of legos, and of toys in general.

As I said earlier, I only know one sure-fire way to break a toy. Toys are very low on the ladder of forms, very simple, and thus, very durable. Just about anything you can imagine can work in a toy, except for one thing.

Toys break when you give them a goal.

When you give a toy a goal, it technically becomes some other form – a puzzle, a contest, or a game. The problem is that the loose, scattered bits of rules everywhere that could have made for a good toy is not strong enough to support any of those other higher forms, all of which require way more systemic support to operate properly.

Things end up hobbling along and working, but only because of the efforts of the player to ignore your goal entirely (and simply play with it like a toy), or worse, partially ignore the goal, which requires a lot of mental effort.

This might be OK for the opening introduction to your toy – i.e. the instructions that come with legos – but you should quickly abandon any sense of a real goal as soon as possible.

Some systems are very obviously toys with some goals slapped onto them. Probably the most obvious examples of this would be things like Grand Theft Auto and The Legend of Zelda. In these systems, we have a great big open world with all kinds of stuff to explore and things to do, which is then flattened out into a linear, rote chore by the missions and fetch quests. In GTA, I can go off huge ramps and drive around on rooftops and explode and jump out and parachute into the water – all kinds of fun “play” activities. Nothing takes the fun out of those like a big yellow arrow telling you exactly what to do.

RPGs, too, also have this quality. I always remember being frustrated, even as a kid, that so many weird, interesting, almost tactical spells that technically existed in Final Fantasy took a direct back-seat to something like FIR2, which just nukes them with damage. I mean, the point of Final Fantasy is to get to the end, right? To “beat the game”? We certainly don’t want to die and be “set back” further from the goal, so we should just use the damn fire spell, not muck around with other stuff that might be more interesting.

At the other end of the spectrum, though, you have supposed “strategy games” like Civilization. But now I have to do a weird mental gymnastics routine where I am trying to win, but I’m not trying to win too hard. In Civilization, I should probably look up which of the six victory conditions is the most consistently easy to win and with which nationality, and then just pick that nationality every single time and do nothing else, ever.

It’s funny – that sounds like such an alien concept, doesn’t it? I’ve played thousands of hours of various Civilization games and I did nothing of the sort. I always wanted to “try out” all the different factions and “go for” all the different victory conditions to see. What I was doing was not “trying to win”. I was “exploring the edges”, as one does with a ball or with Legos.

Even with highly competitive games like League of Legends, the reason they have so many characters and so many items is so that you can constantly “explore edges”. It only hurts a strategy game to have that much content, in that actual balance goes way out the window. Someday, when Riot stops issuing weekly balance patches (which makes solution a moving target), the community will quickly settle on the top few team builds, and soon after that, the game will die off, with some other “less-explored toy” taking its place.



When I say that videogames are broken toys, of course they aren’t so broken that they can’t be enjoyed (at least, not the popular/successful ones). Players inherently do a lot of the lifting themselves with toys, so going the extra mile or two to ignore / partially ignore goals isn’t that hard to do, and basically everyone is doing it right now and will continue doing it for some time. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t improve the situation, though.

I think it behooves us all – myself in particular – to understand that everyone else is thinking about things on the toy level, even for highly competitive games. So much of my criticism has kind of been invalid. When I complained about CCGs, or too many characters in Street Fighter, I was wrong. What I should have said was, “these things shouldn’t have goals.”

We also need to get over our anti-toy bias. Players, particularly adults, are a bit ashamed of playing with toys, and I think that needs to change. There’s nothing wrong with playing with toys.

Some might be wondering “how would you do something like Magic: The Gathering without a goal?” There’s a lot of answers to that. I believe there’s a variant of Magic: The Gathering that automates the actual “match” aspect. This might be a start; basically it’s a “deck-building toy” – you build a deck, and instantly get a number or some other feedback that allows you to explore the edges of “all Magic cards”.

The immediate response to that idea is likely, “well, that wouldn’t be fun for very long”. I agree – the problem is that Magic isn’t really that great a toy. The designers themselves weren’t entirely thinking of it as one; if they had, it’d probably have way more edges to explore. Forget completely about balance or depth or dominant strategies or any of the things that one worries about when building a strategy game.

Because toys are a primitive and simple form, it’s not hard to create a functional toy. However, creating a great toy – such as Legos – is pretty hard. Like anything else, you need some “core idea” that ties the entire thing together. Toys can – and should – be elegant, just like any other human creation.

The modern player has been raised in a world of toys. Pure strategy games, like some designer boardgames and my own Auro, can come off to today’s player as unforgiving, difficult, strange or even “feeling like work”. In time, when we have more examples of pure games, I expect this problem to diminish, but for now, I think it’s an issue.

The next thing I make with my development team, Dinofarm Games may end up being a pure, unconflicted toy. Toys are the most common language people speak these days, and part of being a good communicator is speaking to people in a language that they understand.

If we want to make toys, we need to really focus on that. Or alternatively, focus on the other forms. Portal and Professor Layton do a great job of focusing on being puzzles. Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution are great, focused contests. My favorite form by far are games, so I would love it if we could start producing some unconflicted, pure strategy games as well. Outwitters is probably the closest thing to a pure, unconflicted digital game, but even it has asymmetrical forces.

I hope that in the future, developers take the point of The Lego Movie to heart. Stop spraying glue all over your toys.



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  • Nasarius

    Minecraft is perhaps the most obvious example of an extremely successful videogame toy; it sets out to be a huge interactive world that the player can explore and build stuff in, and that’s exactly what it achieves. It has no real pretense of being a game with a goal; the “endgame” stuff that got tacked on is basically just an easter egg.

    Dwarf Fortress is another interesting example. In fact, I believe this is fundamentally the future of videogames: interactive worlds. Puzzles and strategy games and such will continue to exist, but players will be most interested in participating in various kinds of truly interactive worlds. That was the promise of early MMOs, before they got diluted into identically bland WoW derivatives.

  • cosarara

    > a dismissive and mean-spirited comment which got upvoted like crazy, despite the fact that it didn’t really address my article’s points

    I think that might be because the main points of your articles are not clear enough. This, at least, is how I feel after reading your article: I’m not sure what are you trying to say here.
    Do you think videogames are not games, but broken toys, and would be better if they had no goal, which would make them well-made toys?

  • cosarara

    Another related thought. I think that when we, as players, follow the goal of a game in a knowingly suboptimal way, we do so because we are adding rules to the game: you must use that character. We pretend (subconsciously) the game isn’t allowing us to choose 4 fighters in Final Fantasy, because that would be boring.

    But even then, we are following a goal. We are trying to beat the other player in Street Fighter, or beating the game campaign.
    This might be just me, but if a system doesn’t provide a goal (so it’s a toy), I’ll give myself one to make it a game. When I’m playing GTA and I’m not on a mission, my goal is probably to make that one jump, to get that plane, or to drive from the top of that mountain in a motorbike without dying. I might kill that man just “for fun”, but that will be the 1% of my game time. The point is, in every one of those situations, I’m making a game out of the toy, for that one moment.

  • NSNick

    I have some nits to pick:

    >>When I read these comments, I was really kind of confused. One of my concerns I raised in the article was what I called “playing designer”. Since the objective in, say, Street Fighter, is to win the fight, then I should choose the best character (or at least, the character I am best with) every single time. In either case, the actual “choice” of who to pick is therefore non-existent/solved.

    This is true in a vacuum, but when characters who are weak/strong against other certain characters come into play, this muddies the waters.

    >>Even with highly competitive games like League of Legends, the reason they have so many characters and so many items is so that you can constantly “explore edges”. It only hurts a strategy game to have that much content, in that actual balance goes way out the window.

    It also leads to a metagame, where players are making choices not only about what is best, but also about what the enemy is likely to choose, and whether or not the ‘optimal’ solution is in fact optimal against the enemies’ choices.

    >>the problem is that Magic isn’t really that great a toy. The designers themselves weren’t entirely thinking of it as one; if they had, it’d probably have way more edges to explore.

    Way more edges to explore?! Magic has 10,000+ cards, dozens of ‘evergreen’ (strictly defined) mechanics, and multiple formats in which to play. What is the author’s conception of many “edges to explore”?

  • “Toys break when you give them a goal.” I think break is the wrong word here, they transform or become a component of a game, but the toy is still there ready to be explored in a free form way as soon as your remove or ignore the goal. Isn’t there value in hybrid forms that are both toy and game? Or other hybrids such as contest and game? I think a lot of disagreements with your design philosophy might stem from the strong emphasis on purity of form.

  • Yuval Kalugny

    I think you’re missing a central assumption that you implicitly make – you suppose that humans act (or should act) in a specific way. Like the Homo Economicus in economics, which these days is being supplanted by more accurate behaviour economics models, you suppose that people want/should try to achieve the goal the game sets, try to “win”.
    What if that’s not true? What if it’s just a carrot on a stick, to make us get out of the bed in the morning, but other than the simple act of initiating the action it has little importance?
    Maybe people actually enjoy playing with toys, but especially so when they think it’s not what they’re doing? Like going to your job because you like to get out of the house and doing things but you’d never do it without a paycheck.

    But Keith – I think the most interesting things that come out of your writing are not “what games are” or “what do people like about games” and even not “how to discuss about games”, but – “What can games be?”

    Exploring depth and emergence and all the things you attributed as the pinnacle of the “game” (by your definition) has brought out many good insight and ideas and processes and allowed you to craft very interesting experiences.

    I think the next step shouldn’t be to go completly to the other side of the spectrum.
    I think it should be to make good games, games that are deep and challenging and emergant, but to make them for people and not Homo Economii.

    IMO, in order to be an impactful social construct a game has to “say something”. To take the player to a place that he has not been before. That can happen on a purely intelectual level, like appreciating a uniquely constructed, elegant contraption, like a Rubic’s cube, but as people we respond that much more to an appeal to our emotions.

    Imagine how great it would be if you would construct a game with great depth and elegant design that also talked about the experience of being human – now that would be the pinnacle of the art 🙂
    One example I have (which I don’t know what you think of) is Paper’s Please.

    Keep on the good work!

  • Hi Yuval!

    A strategy game can only function under the assumption that players *will* attempt to win. In fact, if you and I play Chess and you’re not trying to win, I wouldn’t even say we’re playing Chess. It’s an implicit rule that we both agree to pursue the goal. Without that agreement, it doesn’t work.

    In a toy, I think players act in all kinds of ways. However, if you have a toy that does have a way to “win” / “beat the game” (see: most videogames), I do think a lot of players (not all) will pursue that. And for all players, it creates a weird kind of dissonance, where they have to make design decisions about what the nature of this system should be? Should I be playing with this like a toy? Or should I be pursuing this goal?

    I don’t understand your point about “make them for people and not Homo Econnomii”. You’re saying, make some tight, elegant system that is JUST complex enough so that humans can’t solve it, but JUST simple enough so that humans can climb that mountain of understand, but then also “add some message that has nothing to do with the mechanics to it?” If so, I think you underestimate how fragile such systems are.

    I believe that Auro makes a strong statement, but I’ll leave it to others to decide whether that’s true and spell it out. Either way, I think ALL works have a responsibility to make a statement but I just think that games should be making mechanical statements, not “narrative” ones.

    (I’m pretty sure Papers Please is either a toy or a puzzle, by the way – much easier to cram some narrative bits into those lower forms without ruining everything.)

  • What’s the problem with a player be trying to win and mapping the toy at the same time? What you call dissonance many find completely natural and enjoyable. I think this is what Yuval meant by Homo Economicus. Your concept of what players want or should want and what they actually want might not line up with reality for a significant portion of players. A lot of economics was built up on the assumption that the model of Homo Economicus, of a rational market agent, was how people behaved or at least should behave. This has lead to a lot of problems when applying economic theories to reality since the assumption does not always hold. A similar problem might be behind the push back you are seeing. Your player model might line up well with your own personal preferences, but be a poor fit for a lot of people.

  • If you ignore the goal, then the system effectively doesn’t have a goal. Rules only have effects when players abide by them 😀

  • Thanks for the reply Keith. I think it lies in a spectrum, I often find myself toying around when I have a large margin, I’m not completely ignoring the goal, and even if I was I would still suffer the consequences of ignoring it so the rule is still in effect. When playing Smash Bros I often will toy/map even when not in the lead, maybe it’s because Homo Ludus is not so rational, but it is what I enjoy 🙂 Even when I play Auro I often treat it as a toy and explore & map the rules. Sure I could read the instructions and avoid this exploration but I find it more rewarding to play in this way. While I may be giving the goal less emphasis in the short term, I’m not completely ignoring it, in fact I find that the goal makes my play that more meaningful because I feel that all this toying around will make my more serious play that more effective in the long term.

  • LordKiwi

    If playing with your toy involves building a system (like a deck in M:tG)… taking the role of a designer… is it not then a good idea to have an arena within to explore that new possibility space? I guess that arena can’t be a game since you aren’t explicitly trying to win, it’s more like play testing. Both parts seem important, but I imagine it’s hard to create a play area that doesn’t have an implied goal, which will then pollute your thought process when building/playing.

    This is why I no longer play D&D, I had a goal so I played to win, which turned me into an arsehole. My pen and paper preference is now indie RPGs that are consistently toy like (there is no space to play to win within the rules).

  • Yeah, obviously the toy should give you feedback while you’re playing with it. I think the best variant of MTG I ever heard of was one that kind of “plays optimally” with an AI super quickly. So you just feed in two decks and it pops out a result. That’s probably the best way to deal with that situation.

  • LordKiwi

    I don’t know, there is joy to be found in experiencing a system at work, to really get inside of it in a way that I don’t think dueling AI could do for you.

    I think Factorio may be a good example of a toy where you build a system and experience it seamlessly, rather than ‘sending it off for testing’.

  • LordKiwi

    … maybe if the MtG variant show’d it playing in real time and you could modify your deck as it played. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that playing and testing shouldn’t be two separate phases.

  • Aureon

    What you’re (still) missing is that the question of “Who is the best character in SF4” has as many answers as there are people on earth (Well, actually, as many as there are characters in sf4, but you get the gist.)
    In absolute sense, the theory that all games are toys is correct: For certain types of players, and when talking about single-player.

    Multiplayer games are absolutely not toys – especially in the highest circles. And yet, many competitive game genres (Cards, MOBAs, Fightning, etc) survive on both variance and asymmetrical starts.

  • The best character can definitely be quantified. To demonstrate how your point is incorrect, imagine if we went into the code and increased Ken’s attack damage by like 10% across the board. Are you still going to say that he’s equal with the other characters because of personal preference?

    Assuming you aren’t going to jump off that cliff: now assume that the game was not PERFECTLY balanced. All in all, all told, some character is going to be slightly stronger – even by 0.001% or something. And at a super high competitive level, that 0.001% matters.

    But yes, if they’re toys, then nothing really matters. You could make Ken’s damage twice what it is now and yeah sure whatever.

  • Aureon

    A competitive game, though, wouldn’t work with such obvious imbalances.
    Imbalance in competitive game is either within the margin of error (first dev) of the match, or within the margin of adjustment to player strengths, and that’s without getting into the whole argument known as “Metagame”.
    Ken has a 10% win-rate advantage over Ryu, Ryu has it over Chun-Li, Chun-Li has it over Ken.
    Who’s the best character? “It depends on the metagame”.
    It’s a shoddy way of balancing, and only one mere tool in the army knife – and yet it’s done. In properly balanced games, the best character cannot be quantified – if it can, the game is essentially solved, and won’t be played much competitively.

  • Very interesting. You have many good points, which i will think about as I design, but I think you are reaching when you equate measurement with contest; these are not equal.To make measurement into a contest you have to add a comparison and a winner.

    This is why adding leader-boards, PvP, and certain reward systems change how we feel about a game. Tetris is a fun and challenging game, but when you make it head to head or add a leader-board it is a competition. Likewise, Tabletop RPGs are not competitions either, but have a great deal of goals and measurement.

    Likewise opposition does not equate competition, either; competition requires the goal of winning. I would say that you should add change your prescriptive interactive form to require contests have winners remove the contest aspect from games.

    The difference between Opposition and Competition is the difference between a video game and an E-Sport. Yes, many blur the lines, especially now-a-days.

  • Eric Spain

    I understand what you point you are trying to make, that adding goals and challenges to the toy of a video game damages the fun of playing with that toy, but I get lost in your explaination.

    The perfect way to show this is with chess, because it’s a game entirely by your definition. So with chess, considering the entire game can be broken down mathematically if you have a large enough state space, there are good strategies and bad strategies, and you can rank those strategies. In theory, there is one best play that will win the most. If that’s so, then there would be one most winning opening move and follow up moves that will lead the player to the highest percentage of wins, right? But we find out that it doesn’t work like that at all. If a winning strategy is developed, then a counter strategy gets developed in order to win against it. On top of that, half the fun of chess is getting better at examining the board state and making better strategic decisions, as well as trying to guess what your opponent is going to do and counter it. There is no one best way to win at chess, it’s an evolving strategy.

    This applies to computer games too. Sometimes we are metaplaying to learn more about the game and it’s state space in order to better understand the strategy in the game. Use a character you aren’t good at in order to become familiar with it so you can play against it. Try new characters that might suit your play style better. Why do we not have the 5 same characters in the same team all the time? Because people have different aptitudes and play styles. And there’s always the counter-characters, and counter-counter-characters. There’s many layers of strategy, and sometimes you only learn them by playing sub-optimally.

    Another point I wanted to touch on was how your definition fails to derail what a game is. If you take League of Legends, what happens if you deobfuscate everything, turning it from a game into a contest? Well, you can see where everyone is at all times. A huge portion of the game of League of Legends becomes worthless. The espionage-style ganking, warding and defending becomes meaningless when you can see everyone all the time. What if you removed the numbers, the measurements and statistics? Well then there’s no strategy to the game. No levelling up, no advancement, no planning. You would also have to remove towers and minions, as they are a type of measurement. Probably HP and mana too. Lastly: If you were to remove the goal of destroying the enemy base, then why would people play? It would just be heroes running around fighting each other with no purpose. You would have the toy of League of Legends, but the Game of League of Legends would be long gone.

    So my view is that Video Games ARE games, as you define them, but it’s important to make sure the essential ingredients that turn a toy into a game are properly designed to support the mechanics/toy part of the game, instead of hinder it.

  • Eric Spain

    Take Ken beong 10% better than the other fighters. If I was 20% worse at Ken than Chun-Li, then I would still be 10% better at Chun-Li than I would be at Ken. I could train harder to be better at Ken, but if my natural aptitude was towards Chun-Li, then I would improve better by training harder with Chun-Li, and still better off using her.

  • Eric Spain

    I don’t get the toy/game problem here. You say there’s a weird dissonance where they have to make a choice, but there’s not. If they are playing to win, then they should be making the most optimal choice inside of all the information they have available, including their own person aptitudes and preferences. If they are playing with the game like a toy, then they aren’t playing to win. If they are playing the game to win, then they aren’t playing it like a toy.

    Also, I don’t know what distinguishes a design decision from a strategic decision. If a player is playing chess, and playing to win. They are trying to make the most optimal strategic decisions from their interpretation of the game state, and their ability to predict the future path to victory, limited by their aptitude. When they move a piece, are they making a design decision? No, it’s a strategic decision. Same thing in computer games.

    Is the problem the idea that Toys are only for fun, and Games are for winning, because winning and having fun aren’t at odds with each other. Does this dissonance only occur when you assume they are opposites?

  • The weird dissonance is having to decide whether they’re playing to win or not.

    A design decision is deciding what the system even will be, what the rules even are. A strategic decision is, within the rules as they are, what’s my best move? I agree that both are trying to make optimal choices for what they’re doing, but you could kind of say that about anyone doing anything.

    I don’t describe toys as being “for fun” and games as “for winning”. Here is a better explanation:

  • Intelligensaur

    While I’ve long agreed that video games don’t generally fit the mold of a ‘game,’ and are more toy-like, I think it’s rather premature to simply label them as toys instead, which I’m surprised you didn’t consider when you saw how poorly they fit that definition as well.

    Video games do have all or most of the hallmarks of a game (interaction, goals, measurement, obfuscation) in some form or another, but they’re not limited in the same way.

    Heck, Dungeons and Dragons has all of that, but it’s clearly a different beast from a board game or other, more ‘pure’ game.

    It’s more like a box of interconnected games. Every combat is its own game, as is each puzzle solved, quest completed, etc. And the way all of these games intertwine and carry on from session to session is what makes a tabletop game more special than people just role-playing while they play Carcassonne.

    So it is with video games. It’s the individual fight in Street Fighter that’s the game, and selecting a mode and character is the choice of which game to pull out. An RPG videogame has individual combats that each behave as a game, the resource management as you progress through a dungeon that acts like its own game, and each quest/puzzle/minigame all acting together in one big system that rather than being less of a game, winds up as something more, or at least markedly distinct.