Boardgame Bulletin 23-11 – Geoff’s Goofy Game Definition

Geoff Engelstein, a game designer of some repute who I respect, has his GameTek substack site where he discusses issues that were before often found on the Ludology podcast which he co-hosted for many years. This week’s article was “What is a Game? The joys and perils of definitions.” In the article, Geoff makes this observation:

Each time I talked about this my thinking evolved, and became more expansive. Originally I held that games needed to end, for example. This ruled out many RPGs – a stance which I was willing to take at the time, with their ongoing campaigns. I’ve since softened on that, and other elements. I’m willing to accept lots of things as ‘games’. My new definition, for the few of you who care, is simply “an activity where you have to adhere to arbitrary rules.”

Engelstein, “What is a Game?”

“[A]n activity where you have to adhere to arbitrary rules.” Wha?

I personally have never considered rules in a game as “arbitrary.” That really doesn’t make sense to me. Think about it; can one ever describe the rules in Advanced Squad Leader (Multi-Man Publishing) as “arbitrary?” (OK, maybe that’s not the best example given the, uh, capricious nature of so many of the rules…).

Geoff’s article goes on discuss not a defintion of a “game” but issues around “definitions.” Read if your interested but be forewarned: like many discussions of “what is a wargame” you’re not going to find a simple answer.

Feature image courtesy © 2007-2023 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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