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  •    A Puzzler  
     
    Wednesday, April 28 2004 @ 04:43 AM UTC
    Contributed by: David

    Hereís a simple question:

    Are puzzles games?

    They often get grouped together. And both seem to characterize some sense of play. But does a definition of "game" accommodate "puzzles"?

    If I look at some of the usual definitional criteria for a game (not my definition, however!) we end up with a game including some or all of the following components:

    • Rules
    • Victory condition
    • Element of chance of uncertainly of outcome
    • Challenge
    • Opposition

    So, letís test these against a simple puzzleósay, solving an anagram.

    Does an anagram have rules? Not necessarily. You could define a game whereby sorting out the letters in an anagram gives you points, or you time yourself to see how quickly you can do it. But you can just as easily solve anagrams for the pure amusement of doing so. There are no rules in any direct sense. Either you find a new word by rearranging the letters or you donít. If there can be said be rules at all, the rules would be the rules of spelling and word construction, which donít usually fit the notion of game rules very well besides.

    What about a victory condition? Maybe. Assuming the victory condition is the solution of the puzzle. But this seems to trivialize the notion of a victory condition, if all that ever means in a puzzle is solving the puzzle. That would be equivalent to creating a game where the victory condition was simply playing the game.

    Uncertainty of outcome? Much like victory condition, the state of a puzzle is relatively binary. Either it is solved or not. So, in a weak sense, every puzzle creates uncertainty because you donít know whether or not you can solve it. Until you do.

    Challenge is a hard one since it is a pretty broad term in the first place. Looking at ďoppositionĒ, you can create a better context for understanding challenge. But what opposition is there in a puzzle? It is there to be solved. Or not. The puzzle makes a poor opponent. Puzzle donít so much oppose us as perplex us.

    So, it seems, on first pass, that a puzzle is not really game, or is a game in a very weak sense.

    That doesnít bother me so much as the question of why puzzles and games are so often linked? The television game show has perfected this union, marrying puzzle solving with games. Video game designers have long relied on the puzzle as a means to add entertainment to their games.

    I think a better structural understanding of puzzles might lead us to some new insights to why we play, and enjoy games. I suspect that that puzzles, rather than games, are closer to the source of ludic pleasure.

    Or put another way, is there a definition of "puzzle" that would accommodate "game"?






     
             


    A Puzzler | 12 comments | Create New Account
    The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
    A Puzzler
    Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, April 28 2004 @ 10:45 PM UTC
    'If I look at some of the usual definitional criteria for a game (not my definition, however!) we end up with a game including some or all of the following components' Have you seen a definition for a game that you're absolutely happy with yet? Nope? Thought not. I think the same is true with puzzles. There are a few believable attemps, like "puzzles can only be solved in a singular way". But a crossword puzzle can be solved in many different orders (even if the result is the same), and games like Tetris, which we CALL puzzle games, can't be solved at all! Are puzzles just abstract games for one player? Ehn, I'm sure examples could bust that definition open, too! It's another case of a commonly used word not really matching up to a realated watertight definition. Like 'game'. Are they both words that are simply used to describe feelings we hold toward different types of interactive systems, because we interpret quite subjective distinctions between the two? That's not to say that analysing a possible definition can't do wonders for your exploration of the medium, so let's carry on! 'If there can be said be rules at all, the rules would be the rules of spelling and word construction, which donít usually fit the notion of game rules very well besides. ' Uht ohs! I think that's a bit off, sir! Saying that the rules of spelling etc. don't apply to a game/puzzle of anagram play is like saying the rules of physics don't apply to football. While we need not explicitly note them in the rule book, we accept that without them, the game could not exist. They are rules that govern us in such a strong way that they seem implicit, but yes, they are still, most certainly, rules. I reckon. A strict, formal definition of a game (in the singular sense) must note all the rules it invokes for the game to be possible. Unfortunately. Without the rule that the anagram must make a pronouncable word, you're just playing with letters, and it ceases to be an instance of the anagram game/puzzle/whatever. 'I suspect that that puzzles, rather than games, are closer to the source of ludic pleasure. ' I don't know about that, sir! There isn't just one singular reason* why games are enjoyed! 'Or put another way, is there a definition of "puzzle" that would accommodate "game"? ' I don't know if you'll like it, because to many, it's over-simplification, but I'd say both do atleast come under "interactive systems". I've found a happy understanding of both beasts looking at them that way, even if it is a bit reductionist or dry for most people. I've certainly found it more useful and unambiguous than poking around the ludic language legacy we must put up with. Aubrey. *There are 216. I counted.
    [ Reply to This ]
  • A Puzzler - Authored by: David on Monday, August 28 2006 @ 07:48 PM UTC
  • A Puzzler
    Authored by: David on Thursday, April 29 2004 @ 05:06 AM UTC
    Some good points. I'll try to spell out some of the stickier points later
    (when I can feasibly make them more clear!). But for now, I would be
    interested in your thoughts about puzzles and rules.

    I really don't see puzzles as having rules in the same sense that games
    do. Games require rules to exist. Puzzles do not. You might implement a
    rule ontop of an anagram that says, "Word must be the one I have in
    mind or matches the clue." But you don't need this to create or solve
    anagrams.

    I'd argue that the enjoyment of the rules, in a raw sense, is what makes
    games fun. We like playing within the limits of the rules. But a puzzle
    exists to be solved by any means, outside of any rules, don't you think?

    At the very least I should say, I am suspicious that puzzles and games are
    not the same thing at all. But "m not quite sure why. I'm actually looking
    for ideas!

    I do like the idea that things we consider puzzle games--like Tetris--may
    not in fact be puzzles.

    -- David
    [ Reply to This ]
    A Puzzler
    Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, April 29 2004 @ 08:42 PM UTC
    Working off of Aubrey's definition of games, mine would have to be "abstracted/decontextualized interactive systems." That requires a lot of elaboration, which I'm not sure I'll ever get around to doing, but at least it points us in the right direction: it gives us a basis off which to differentiate things like religion from games.

    Aubrey, while I think you're right to emphasize the rules, I think that emphasis is going to start grating on people until you start saying more about what kinds of rules there are, instead of simply saying they're all rules and leaving it at that. I agree with Tadhg's distinction between implicit and explicit rules insofar as there's a huge cognitive difference in how we approach/process/deal with various kinds of rules. For instance, physics can be said to fit into a kind of a posteriori set of rules, whereas "1 goal = 1 point" is a priori. If we don't say more about what kinds of rules there are and so forth, we're just going to be stretching a term to the point of unhelpfulness (just like that bit going on about narrative at GTxA).
    [ Reply to This ]
  • A Puzzler - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, April 29 2004 @ 11:15 PM UTC
  • A Puzzler - Authored by: David on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 09:33 PM UTC
  • A Puzzler
    Authored by: C. Foust on Friday, May 07 2004 @ 01:56 AM UTC
    I think the distinction hinges more on the way the player plays with the object in question.

    Take a Rubik's cube. At first look it would appear to be a toy. You can play catch with it, turn the blocks around and make a pattern, hit your brother in the head with it, or whatever. There are no goals, and the only rules are the workings of the cube. Furthermore, playing involves the process of learning these rules.

    Say you are playing with the cube and you decide you want to match up and isolate each color on one side. So you start turning the sides in an attempt to reach that goal; this is a game you are playing with the toy.

    After hours of practice with the cube you start to learn strategies for how to make the colors do what you want. Eventually the cube holds no more mysteries and solving one is only a matter of time. It has become a puzzle.

    The distinction here, IMHO, is in how the player understands the system and how he approaches it. A puzzle is like game in which the player has perfect information and has a complete understanding of the rules. A game is a puzzle in which the player is not given perfect information, or the rule system is not fully understood by the player.

    Also note that puzzles usually have much more discreet rules and states than games. Missing a mouse click by a few pixels in many games leads to disaster, while puzzles are much more forgiving. This is a reflection of the complexity of rules.

    As in every attempt at definition, there are the exceptions and special cases. I'll try to address some of these in a reply to this post.
    [ Reply to This ]
  • A Puzzler - Authored by: C. Foust on Friday, May 07 2004 @ 02:46 AM UTC
  • A Puzzler - Authored by: David on Monday, August 28 2006 @ 07:50 PM UTC
  • A Puzzler - Authored by: David on Monday, August 28 2006 @ 07:52 PM UTC
  • A Puzzler - Authored by: David on Monday, August 28 2006 @ 07:53 PM UTC
  • yyy111
    Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 01 2006 @ 03:36 AM UTC
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