Games are objects which offer entertainment, or if otherwise ought to be entertaining to the player. As for the purpose of this article, I am defining games as any object used to stimulate people’s brains and offer them a variety of pleasures. There can be various kinds of games, ranging from simple games to games involving real challenges for the players. However, most games are played on a regular basis, across many cultures. Games can be traditionally defined by their participant’s participation, rather than by ability or skill, and primarily by mechanisms of transfer of control between individuals.
Over the past few years, we have seen a growing tendency of cultural explanation of game definitions, particularly in the field of science and technology studies. Cultural phenomenon are perceived to occur when individuals interpret a cultural phenomenon in the context of the society into which they belong. For instance, if an indigenous American culture values honesty and integrity above all else, then a person who values such a value, in the same society, will find it difficult to navigate the game mechanics. Similarly, a game which is deeply rooted in the heritage of a specific community within a country, such as the Irish folk gaming of “pools”, can be considered to fall under the scope of the above-mentioned definition.
However, when making definitions of games, it is important to recognise the difference between meaning and application. Games do not necessarily engage the critical apparatus in the way that, say, poetry or literature might. For example, a game which has the sole function of completing a collection of letters, whilst conveying some subtle messages regarding love and loyalty, might not be considered a game, even though it is engaging the critical apparatus. Rather, its meaning is more indirect and is dependent upon the expectations of those who play it.
It is also important to understand that games, like other things, change and evolve as societies and cultures mature. In this regard, game scholars should look out for the emergence of new definitions as society changes. One such new definition is that of the “board game.” This new definition takes on new meanings as the hobby of adults continues to change. Board games can now be defined, according to this new logic, as tools for sharing and representation of experiences and ideas, during a period in which multiple identities are becoming increasingly represented through digital means.
As mentioned above, another evolution in the definition of games could be called “evolution of games.” Here, the definition is influenced by the fact that several previous definitions have already been rendered obsolete. For instance, board games were almost entirely designated as games for children. However, this definition was challenged by the rise of electronic games, in which children were not only entertained but were often engaged in actively interacting with their players. The new definition, then, took the form of an interactive board game where the rules and objectives were making more complex as the interaction among players increased. This new definition is currently undergoing a rapid expansion as more board games are being designed for social interaction, with a variety of different goals and rewards being offered.
One might argue that defining games is problematic, because the boundaries between game types, genres, and games are becoming more fluid. (On a related note, many scholars argue that defining games is a problem because the very nature of academic discussions of these objects defies a prior definition.) However, at this point in time, the essentialist definitions that dominate much of the scholarly community are not particularly helpful. In most academic circles, the idea that games are largely essentialist, self-referential, or representational has become overwhelmingly dominant. Therefore, the increasing tendency towards Cinema Studies, Postmodern Theorizing, and Adaptation/Reflexivity suggests that games may become ever more influential as they seek to solve sociological, technological, and ethical questions that are of pressing importance to our society. Given this trend, it seems likely that games will remain a central component of societal debates into the future.