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:
- Victory condition
- Element of chance of uncertainly of outcome
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"?