I do a lot of research (and by that I mean going through the Internet a lot and being constantly at the Gaming Club) on ludology and what the idea of a game means within the larger aspect of human nature. There are a lot of definitions and debates but to put it simply a game is any activity with a set of rules that all players abide by until a set goal and/or time limit has been met. Players can stop playing at any time if they believe the game not worthy of time or interest, ie you can’t force anyone to play, regardless of what your older sibling said when you were six. As long as everyone accepts what rules there are you can do anything (see Calvinball for the craziest possible example). The unwritten rules for games are that it be fair and playable. This has just as much to do with the game mechanics as it does with the other players. I consider myself a barely ok basketball player but the second you put me with someone who has above average height,coordination the game becomes almost unplayable for me. Whoever is on the team with me will also want me out fairly quickly by then.
Games are somewhat like serials in that they are always changing and having things added to them and I’m not just talking about different seasons,championship runs/overall narratives of particular players. The game itself changes over the years via newer rules and even how current athletes redefine the game. To follow the basketball example, there are a lot of things that have been added over the years for a game as simple as put a ball in a stationary hoop. Dribbling wasn’t even a thing starting out until someone decided to push the boundaries of “passing the ball to myself”. Wilt Chamberlain’s legendary 100 point night and average of 50 points a game would be impossible under current 3 second rule in the paint and other decent centers defending him. There is a reason why just about every new record for suckyness is measured with the caveat of “once the shot clock era started in the 70s (you really don’t want to see those kind of games). The game has changed for a new audience and for better trained athletes. FYI, the key difference between a game and a sport is monetary importance, ie salaries and sponsors, and the presence of outside policing of rules (officials, referees, etc).
If you had to make broad sweeping categorizations of games then you would most likely encounter the PVP versus PVE debate. Player versus player is the most common type of game in real life that requires more than one person. Player versus environment became incredibly common with video games but you could technically argue that something like Solitaire sort of counts. PVE is often considered to be the “campaign” mode of any particular game with the PVP the multiplayer factor. You can have PVE alongside other players through the use of Co-op games or MMOs so don’t immediately think that PVE is designed for the solitary. Contemporary games really strive towards having both elements present to appeal to gamers on both side of the spectrum and to maybe help some bridge on over to the other side.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about games is that you do not necessarily complete a game to win, or at least by the considerations that the game developers originally designed. The simple way to describe is that playing the game to achieve the end point of the story is narratological; playing the game to do whatever you want or something completely unintended (by developers) is ludological. Ludology is the study of games but has a lot to do with the process of gaming itself. Back in the old days, you could play a game and finish it but there was very little extra content afterwards. Gamers had to invent their own ways to extend the playability of video games. Most things were personal challenges, like speed runs, perfect play throughs or even to see how badly you could do things and survive until the end. I remember when I was a kid that we had Dragon Warrior for the NES, a pretty standard save the princess/kill the monster RPG, but that it’s save function was wonky. Some times, I would play like crazy in one sitting just to see if I could get to the end but never did no matter how long the marathon sessions were. Other times, I decided to play for a few minutes and just see how far I could get, running from everything and going into the clearly not level appropriate parts just to see which crazy monster would show up this time. A few months ago I started playing Kingdom Hearts again and someone tried to convince me to reach level 99 without ever leaving the first island of the game. It’s stupid and barely possible due to the vast amount of XP needed, the lak of mooks, and just how sanity draining it is. They mentioned a dude who tried and got to level 15 or so before losing his mind and quitting. Newer games have achievements and trophies that bring ludological elements to the foreground and encourage people to try them out for some vague sense of recognition among the gamer community. It’s not like finishing Halo in a no damage run in Legendary difficulty gives you free months of XBox live. Some are designed to be difficult but others are just freaking impossible (perfect play of “Through the Fire and the Flames” in Guitar Hero anyone?). At least they help extend gamer investment and encourage multiple playthroughs with a hint of gaming accomplishment for some but frustration for many others.
The most ludological thing I have witnessed and participated in has to be attempts to break the game. In the literal way, this involves looking for glitches or weird things that may make the game stop working. Old games (I’m talking original Pac Man and Donkey Kong here) had limited memory to the point that the end was sometimes half a level before everything just stopped working. Developers often hire game testers to specifically hunt down these glitches to avoid their passing unto the finished product but a few still make their way though and may have to be fixed for further runs of making that particular game or through online patches for recent stuff. You can also break a game via exploiting a few things in certain combinations that make the game way too easy or unplayable from a PVP perspective. Dungeons & Dragons players have made way too many characters that go from regular and competant, to min-maxed and efficient, to munchkin and broken. Many of these creations never make it unto the game but are merely theoretical exercises to try to figure out the consequences of poorly worded spells or magic items. No Dungeon Master in their right mind would allow someone to make a Pun Pun build or Iron Heart Surging through the limitation of not being a deity. Pushing the limits of the game and finding crazy combinations of things are almost an implicit duty of every gamer with the knowledge that this super advantage is temporary at best.
Perhaps the coolest thing about being a gamer is that during the right circumstances, anything can become needlessly complicated enough to become a game. A few years ago me and some friends were snowed in at a train station after the car engine something or other and it wouldn’t start. While waiting for AAA we went through our belongings, found some dice and decided to not be bored. In the process we created little something called “Lucky’s Hit” which I have shared with many people and now I make public for everyone. Here are the rules.
Roll 6d6, attempt to make combinations to get points, first one to 100 hundred points wins. After rolling the first time, you can choose which ones to keep and which ones to reroll once more. Players take turns and add up their tallies. Whoever has the highest score and the end of a round of 100 or more wins. If there is a tie, then those players get a sudden death turn of whoever gets the highest points until one is the winner. Possible combinations are as follows.
Pair of dice equals die value, from hereon referred to as DV.
Three of a kind is DV x 3.
Four of a kind is DV x 6.
Five of a kind is DV x 10.
Six of a kind is DV x 20. (Note: no one in the history of the game has ever achieve this feat)
A straight (1,2,3,4,5,6) is considered a Lucky’s Hit and nets you 100 points.
Fun, easy, and all you need are standard dice and some pencil and paper. Have fun.