In search of a minimalist game

By David Myers

This is “Twixt” – I’m all for nailing down definitions (since it’s hopelessly confusing) and like Ian Bogosts I have no idea if this is getting to the same thing. Funny thing too; I didn’t realise this was Twixt immediately, and after, I was pretty much the same, although I didn’t think he answered the questions very well.


Attempting to answer one of the keynotes yesterday by Ian Bogost – where games are mass.

Want to exclude perspectives rather then include perspectives. They’ve become interesting at DiGRA but perhaps not useful.

So “what is minimalism?”. Some examples; minimalist art – reduction involved. Related to an existing object, arrangement of the object is important to factor in to see if the minimalist approach succeeds.

Minimalism is a basic set of characteristics. Minimalism describes a game’s essence and is definitive of the game class.

Game definitions based on Jasper Juul’s analysis from definitions: rules, variable and quantitive outcomes, valorization of outcome, player effort, player attachment to outcome, negotiable consequences.

Several of these have players attached to them, a tradition – cultural relativism – player determined in this particular tradition. With foundational and essentialist, you have to strip out all the player stuff. A minimalist game therefore is: rules, goals.

From the definitions Jesper’s defitions, we’ve got Bernard Suit’s definition which emphasises the same points. There have to be limits on the rules and goals for this definition.

Rules and goals are interdependent – game rules are rules of denial, they deny something.

Are rules and goals are not everything in a minimalist game. Some might describe the trip from Heathrow to Brunel as a game, or ballroom dancing as a game – not here, limiting the definition.

Adding in another term – opposition – not totally satisfied with this. Possibly some kind of antagonistic principle to the rule form for a game.

So, is this enough? There are things that are game-like, like The Deer Hunter with russian roulette – so perhaps too real is not a game. “representable” and “artificial” used in other papers. The fourth part therefore is representation. Can’t be too real.

  • Rules
  • Goals
  • Opposition
  • Representation

All of thse are used in the definitions of games from referring to previous definitions of games. Representation is important to add to the definition since it helps you classify (as if by genre) games. Representation of something could be from representations of “imagery” (Bejeweled), representations of distinction (tic-tac-toe) and iconic representations (Tetris).

Basically Tetris has specific iconic pieces – while Bejewled just have common icons – and it is arbitary. Evokes a mood, atmosphere or narrative, compared to tic-tac-toe’s o’s and x’s. The ones that are not Tetris you have more way to interpret the games parts, while Tetris is more constrained.

Games are between the simulation level (imposing of rules) and play (which has no rules – imagination even). Games experience rules.

A real example – within the real world are the games – with lines around them. Now with virtual worlds even with lots of real world interaction you have a line around them. Games in virtual worlds break that world – so need to make these things, and other things like facebook, not games.


Q – Aren’t virtual worlds are spaces where many actions can have different play activities?

They need to be kept separate since games in virtual worlds break down. In a virtual world they do some nasty stuff, they mess up the games. They come in and don’t want to voluntary want to keep to the rules of the game and don’t think it’s valuable.

Q asker again – Isn’t it a design problem?

Yes it could be. Designers saying “I want the play to emerge and players to control it” – designers need to assert that control. Not to say players can’t design the game – designers are players – but the social context observed is not conducive to gameplay.

Q – You can get to the same stance as to look at a game as an activity, where you have a virtual world containing that activity.

If the activity is a game, with game activity that doesn’t conform to game play it is politics.

Q – If the players are subverting the game and changing it, and with limit cases for instance playing in suburbia kicking a football against a wall – am I playing a game?

You’re playing.

Q asker – Now I’m counting, now I’m playing a game?

Position me or categorise me, I’m saying games have an essence and how they are extruded. Based assumption on how the cognition works. Think a different way to how we think interacting with virtual worlds.

Q – No distinction of singleplayer and multiplayer. How does it effect it?

Sort of wrapped up in the concept of competition. The core of game is cooperating to compete. Harder to implement with more players. With large amounts of players doing their own things, you have trouble since the designer has lacked control – so it should be called a virtual world.

Q – Playing call of Duty online, trying to win, get the most kills. A player joins to get achievement jumping off the roof every time…so is it a different game?

It is a different game if a different rule.

If there are multiple win conditions in the game in conflict with one another you can still have a game when trying to achieve the goals in conflict.

Q asker – Not the same game as I’m playing though.

Would say the rules are the arbiter. The rules judge, not the players if they are playing a game.

Q – Playing CoD with my own winning conditions – could be like a computer playing a computer – a game without players. Why defend the magic circle?

You enter into a limintal state and enter into it with a different state of mind. Comes out of human cognition not bot play.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Website and journal of Andrew Armstrong