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A game is a structured or semi-structured contrived activity, primarily undertaken for enjoyment or, sometimes, practice. A game has a goal that the player or players try to achieve, and a set of rules concerning what the players can or cannot do, which together create the challenge, structure and interactivity inherent in a game. The mathematical discipline of game theory derives from these principles.

Games are generally distinct from work, which is usually carried out for the financial or physical benefits it brings, and from art, which is more concerned with the expression of ideas.

Games generally involve mental and/or physical stimulation. Many games help develop or train practical skills, simulate serious situations, serve as a form of exercise, or perform an educational, simulational or psychological role.

What is a game?

It is important to note that activities such as playing yoyo or playing tennis against a wall are not generally thought of as playing a game. However, this is not the case in a single-player computer game where the computer is also the adversary. Difficulty arises in the case of solitaire or some puzzles which are often recognised as games. Tetris, for example, is a classic puzzle game. Some argue that a puzzle becomes a game when, like other computer games, it simulates adversity and/or challenge by utilising a random element (like card shuffling). Therefore, math questions or crosswords are puzzles, but not games because there is no variability in the solution. Similarly, if someone discovers a fixed way to beat a computer game, the game is no longer interesting. Another possible criterion is that single-player games are played against one's previous record of success, or that of others.

Social structure

Stanley Fish cited the balls and strikes of baseball as a clear example of social construction. 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.


The game can be characterised by its element of interactivity. Gameplay includes all player experiences during the playing of game. Proper use is coupled with reference to "what the player does". The term, gameplay, arose along the development of computer game designers in the 1980s, and were 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. Major elements identified in this context are tools and rules which define overall context of a game, which in turn produce skill, strategy, and chance elements of gameplay.

Origin and history of games

Games are known to have been played as far back as prehistoric times. ...

Games are intimately connected to culture. For example, tag is associated with hunting. The historical popularity of ballgames in Europe is associated with their familiarity with leather. Many martial cultures practiced wrestling. Golf originated from a shepherd in the Scottish highland. Moreover, the game always has some kind of social aspect. For example, the game can be analysed in terms of intended occasion of play (party game such as drinking game or may be associated with gambling such as black jack or mahjohng, or polo which is traditionally played by the European upper class.

Domestic animals have been observed playing simpler games such as tag, tug-of-war, and fetch. It is debated whether this is due to instinct or conscious choice.


Computer game designer Chris Crawford attempted to defines the term game[1] using a series of dichotomies:

  1. Creative expression is art if made for its own beauty, and entertainment if made for money.
  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 also notes (ibid.) these other definitions:

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

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.

Ludwig Wittgenstein was probably the first to give serious thought to the definition of the word game.  In his Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein demonstrated that elements of games, such as play, rule and competition all fail to adequately define what game is. 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.

Types of games

Games may be classified according to many different criteria. Each scheme has its own advantages and disadvantages.

  • What sort of challenge / skill is involved (e.g. abstract calculation, anagramming, luck, bluffing, verbalizing, coordination, speed, etc.)?
At its simplest, this leads to the "Folk Model" theory of 4 categories: games of skill, games of chance, games of strategy and simulation games, propagated by Anderson/Moore and Brian Sutton-Smith. This scheme is probably most natural, and quite neatly separates billiards from chess from Tomb Raider. The main disadvantage is that too many games fall under more than one head. For example Scrabble relies a great deal on word knowledge and anagramming, but also has significant strategic aspects.
Games of skill can be further subdivided into physical-skill games and mental-skill games.
  • What equipment is used to play the game (e.g. a computer, a board, cards, tiles, dice, etc.)?
This categorization is also very natural and common, but sometimes problematic, since it forces similar games to be listed under completely different headings.. For example, Balderdash is a commercial board game, whereas Fictionary is almost identical but uses no board.

Other distinctions are less important, and apply more or less well to different major headings.

For example, the difference between team and individual sports is fundamental, whereas team board games are so rare as to hardly merit a category. The remaining distinctions apply mostly to non-physical games.

Game mechanics are the rules by which the game play and winning conditions are regulated. A game that uses dice to regulate movement on a board provides a different experience to one that involves players drawing tiles at random and laying them out on a playing surface, for example.
  • How many players does the game accommodate?
The most important division is between two-player and multiplayer games, because nearly all multiplayer games involve negotiation or coalition-building to some degree. Among multiplayer games it is also important (particularly to whoever is organizing the party) what range in the number of players can be accommodated. One disadvantage of this distinction is that a few games such as Titan are equally good two-player or multiplayer.
  • The extent to which chance is a factor?
Games run the gamut from having no chance whatsoever (purely deterministic games like chess, checkers, go, arimaa, pente) to being entirely determined by chance (purely stochast games like roulette, Chutes and Ladders). Games like Backgammon and Bridge are somewhere in the middle of this spectrum: these are stochastic in nature (i.e. involve an element of chance) but allow a skilled player to significantly optimise his/her chances.
  • How deep is the strategy?
Some games (bridge, Go) can be studied for years without exhausting what there is to learn, whereas others (Three Men's Morris) can be mastered relatively easily.
  • How easy is it to learn the rules of the game?
Chess and Go are often compared for their depth and abstraction, but chess has considerably more difficult rules. This consideration is particularly important for family games, where ideally children should be able to play along easily, without making the game so simple it holds no interest for adults.
  • Is the game relatively abstract or does it attempt to simulate some aspect of reality (e.g. stock market, war scenarios)?
For some simulation games, the realism is more important than all other factors, whereas some games (Set) are so abstract that the names and shapes of all the pieces could change without affecting playability. However, most games lie somewhere in between, with a balance between abstraction and simulation.
  • Are players eliminated as the game progresses, or can everyone play along until the end?
This is most important socially, as a host may wonder how to entertain guests who have been knocked out of the main event.
  • What is the objective of the game?
This is most useful as a sub-subheading, because different types of games tend to have different types of objectives. For example, card games have natural categories of trick-taking and shedding games, which don't apply to board games, whereas board games have categories of capture, racing, and immobilization which don't apply to card games.

Games are often classified by the components players interact with when playing them (e.g. a ball, cards, or a board and pieces), and also by the type of actions involved in the game (e.g. Guessing game or Drinking game).

Games can also be classified by the relative effects that players' skill, strategy, and luck have on their outcomes:

  • Game 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 marathon, 100m track or gymnastic are often not recognised as games (though it is a part of Olympic Game) because idea of testing pure physical attribute does not contain interactivity.
  • Game of chance include various form of gambling games (blackjack, mah jong, 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. In most cases, games contain various degrees of all above elements. For example, football and baseball involve both skill and strategy while poker involves strategy and chance.

Games such as hide and seek or tag do not utilise any obvious tool. Rather it interactivity is defined by the environment.

Game with the same set of tools and rules can have different gameplay if the environment is altered. For example, hide and seek in a school building and an outside field, tennis and table tennis, soccer and indoor soccer, racing with different tracks, a game of Go played on a different size of board.

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 at the appropriate time, a one-player game is a battle solely against an artificially-created and controlled opponent, against oneself's own skills, or against chance.

Most puzzles, and some card games, are designed for one player. As well, most computer and video games have single-player modes or are designed for only one player to play per game.

Single-player games are sometimes called solitaire games, but this term may be misinterpreted as referring specifically to Peg solitaire, Spider solitaire or Klondike.

In the west, where use of leather was well established, the ball is a popular game tool, resulting in the current global popularity of ball game (rugby, basketball, football, cricket, tennis, volleyball).


A game can have many goals, stated either within the game's rules or determined by the player(s). Some examples include:


Sports are arguably the most popular form of game, which is highly structured activities of group entertainment. The defining characteristic of sport is that it is a competition against an opponent or opponents which involve various physical or mental skill. It is important to note that sport does not have to be athletic sport. Chess, for example, is a sport.

Sports often require special equipment and playing fields or prepared grounds dedicated to their practice, a fact that often makes necessary the involvement of a community beyond the players themselves. Popularity sports are often to the such extent that it could have spectators who are entertained by just watching it. Communities often align themselves with players of sports, 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. Games amuse the players, and sports amuse a broader public. When games like chess and go or even video games are played professionally, they take on many of the characteristics of a sport.

Notes and references

  1. Crawford, Chris (2003). Chris Crawford on Game Design. New Riders. ISBN 0-88134-117-7.