"A game is a system in which players engage in an abstract
challenge, defined by rules, interactivity and feedback that
results in a quantifiable outcome often eliciting an emotional
Let's look at each element of the definition:
A set of interconnected elements occur within the "space" of the
game. A score is related to behaviors and activities which, in
turn, are related strategy or movement of pieces. The system aspect
is the idea that each part of a game impacts and is integrated with
other parts of the game. Scores are linked to actions and actions
are limited by rules.
Games involve a person interacting with game content. This happens
in first person shooters, board games and games like Tetris,
someone is playing the game and they are the player. Later we'll
refer to the players of games as "learners." The act of playing a
game often results in learning and learners are our target audience
for gamification of instruction. But, for now, in this context -
defining a game - we'll stick with the concept of player.
Games typically involve an abstraction of reality and typically
take place in a narrowly defined "game space." This means that a
game contains elements of a realistic situation or the essence of
the situation but is not an exact replica. This of the game
Monopoly which mimics some of the essence of real estate
transactions and business dealings but is not an accurate portrayal
of those transactions.
Games challenge players to achieve goals and outcomes that are not
simple or straight forward. For example, even a simple game like
tic-tac-toe is a challenge when you play against another person who
is of equal knowledge of the game. A game becomes boring when the
challenge no longer exists. But even the challenge involved with
the card game of solitaire provides enough challenge that the
player continues to try to achieve the winning state within the
The rules of the game define the game. They are the structure that
allows the artificial construct to occur. They define the sequence
of play, the winning state and what is "fair" and what is not
"fair" within the confines of the game environment.
Game involve interactions. Players interact with one another, with
the game system and with the content presented during the game.
Interactivity is a large part of games.
A hallmark of games is the feedback they provide to players.
Feedback within a game is typically instant, direct and clear.
Players are able to take in the feedback and attempt corrections or
changes based on both the positive feedback they receive as well as
Games are designed so that the winning state is concrete. The
result of a well designed game is that the player clearly knows
when they have won or lost. There is no ambiguity. There is a
score, level or winning state (checkmate) that defines a clear
outcome. This is one element that distinguishes games from a state
of "play" which has no defined end state or quantifiable outcome.
This is also one of the traits that make games ideal for
Games typically involve emotion. From the "thrill of victory to the
agony of defeat," a wide range of emotions enter into games. The
feeling of completing a game in many cases is exhilarating as is
the actual playing of the game. But at times frustration, anger and
sadness can be part of a game as well. Games, more than most human
interactions, evoke strong emotions on many levels.
Together these disparate elements combine to make an event that is
larger than the individual elements. A player gets caught up in
playing a game because the instant feedback and constant
interaction is related to the challenge of the game which is
defined by the rules which all work within the system to provoke an
emotional reaction and finally result in a quantifiable outcome
which is an abstract version of a larger system.
Karl M. Kapp is a professor of instructional
technology in Bloomsburg University's instructional technology
department and is the assistant director of the Institute for
Interactive Technologies. He is a frequent speaker, consultant,
scholar, and expert on the convergence of learning, technology, and
business operations. He has published hundreds of articles,
whitepapers, and industry reports on the topics of organizational
learning, instructional technologies, and virtual worlds. He has
written several books, including Winning e-Learning
Proposals and Gadgets, Games, and Gizmos for Learning
and is regularly interviewed by magazine, television, and radio
outlets. Visit him at http://karlkapp.com.