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  1. I’ll give you the definition I’ve been using for “game”.

    A game is a system of rules, creating a contest of making ambiguous decisions with permanent consequences, in the context of a specific goal.

    That sets a game apart from e.g. a toy (free interaction, exploration of the inherent rules, e.g. Lego), a puzzle (one goal, binary solution state, e.g. jigsaw puzzles) and a pure contest (raw measurement of an ability, e.g. javelin throwing, your “disc through the hole” example).

    Cooperative games absolutely have competition. You’re just not competing with the other players, but with the game. You can win or lose, you can sometimes even reach a score. So, there definitely is competition in these systems, and they qualify as games by my definition (just in the same way as solitaire games).

    Indeed the most modern story-heavy video games basically qualify as puzzles. Usually there are some game-like elements where you actually decide something (mostly during combat), but it’s basically a fixed route you have to follow to explicitly solve the system. You “play it through” and then it’s not interesting anymore, just like a jigsaw puzzle. If an actual game on the other hand is solved, then it’s (by my definition) pretty much broken as such. A good example is Tic Tac Toe. Or even Chess, which (when it’ll be solved) breaks down into a contest of memorization of the correct moves. Bingo by the way is a luck contest. You’re measuring who has the most luck in any given match of Bingo.

    I know that does not really go hand in hand with the “colloquial definition”, but I think it’s an incredibly useful way for specialists (designers or analytical players) to look at interactive systems, to better understand their purpose, which value they’re creating for the human mind (which is fundamentally different for all the four forms I’ve mentioned). As a designer it helps you focus on the core value of your system (in the case of games creating a high density and quality of interesting decisions). As a player it helps you understand what it is about a system you love and then look out for similar systems.

    Thinking about interactive systems in this way for a pretty long time now reminds me of how my way of listening to music changed when I learned to play an instrument and compose songs. It’s surely a different way of looking at the thing you love. Some would call it “cold” or “overly analytical”, and I certainly am more critical now. But on the other hand I think I’m now able to appreciate a really great system even more, because I understand what it is about this thing that I like so much.

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