Subtopic: Why every game is either Zelda, Mario, Doom, Warcraft, Street Fighter, Final Fantasy, or a puzzle game.

Everyone enjoys the concept of play. Often, the definition of play can be rather difficult to put into words. The reason why play is important is because video games, and games in general, are not very different from play. I believe that a game is a form of play that involves rules. Thus a game is always played, but not all play is a game. So what is play? Wild animals play to develop skills that are necessary for survival without major consequences, such as fighting, sneaking and hiding, and gathering. You’ll find that these elements prevail in our video games as well. So if play is a form of training, then games are a more structured form of training.

So if games are a form of training, what makes them more fun than other types of training like learning a new language? I theorize that the fun comes from our primal instincts, that our minds are rewarding us for practicing our survival tools. This would explain why people enjoy games that allow them to join hunting parties, or even perform menial gathering tasks in an MMO. The part that might seem like it doesn’t match up is puzzle games. A puzzle game typically has an objective and rules that limit the possible solutions down to 1 or at most a handful. The kind of approach a person must take to solving a puzzle is to adapt to the situation, and adaptation is one of mankind’s strongest assets throughout history. This means that a fun game is a consequence-free practice environment for fighting, hunting, gathering, adaptation, or even mating.

This also holds the implication that a training tool that would otherwise not be fun, could be made fun by creating an analogy to one of these primal instincts. Like say a game that teaches you about economics through a gathering game, or accounting through a puzzle game.

you may also notice that this might explain why it’s harder to find “fresh” games. Everything feels like a rip-off of one of the core game genres (FPS, MMO’s, strategy, 2D platform, etc.). I could explain what skills each genre develops, but I think you can piece it together on your own if you’re creative enough. Once an individual has “mastered” that skill, they associate their first game that trained that skill with the training of that particular skill. Afterwards, subsequent games that also train that skill will not feel as fulfilling, or will feel like a different version of that game. Unfortunately, the only genre that can really be immune to these judgments is the puzzle game genre, assuming a new mechanic is explored (rather than yet another match 3 game).

Another implication of this theory is that games would not all be art under this definition. However, games absolutely have the power to be art. I believe for something to be defined as art, it needs to have emotional impact on the player. For this reason, there absolutely are games that exist and can be classified as art.

Obviously this opens up some questions for you when analyzing a game you’re working on. Which primal instinct does this exercise? Could the analogy be made more clear? It may seem indirect, but I believe this will lead to more rewarding enjoyable gameplay.

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