Recently I went to a local symposium on game-play, and while I enjoyed it, I was hoping for a bit more. It is always great to hear the different perspectives on game design, but game-play has been used for quite a while. It’s a term that game designers should probably be able articulate clearly, and thus be able to say what it means to them and how they use it. The first mention of game-play according to my research is from Chris Crawford (1982), in which he states the term was already losing its meaning back then to ambiguity. So, after the panel fumbled about with the term for a while, several reoccurring themes did come to light: game mechanics, core game-play, core mechanics, interaction and player experience. Hearing these terms mentioned, I thought that at least someone would mention the MDA model (Hunicke et al. 2006), which I believe to be one of the few concrete steps toward defining not game-play but the aims of game design. The Art of Game Design (Schell 2008) also maps out the aims of game design and serves as a good reference. Unfortunately the way the panel at the symposium attempted to explain what game-play was, one could not help to draw the conclusion that it had become industry jargon for fun.
So, how do I deal with it? From my point of view game-play is something I associate with a player’s perspective on a game. It is a highly subject perspective, and good game-play is in the eye of the beholder. Understanding perspectives is one of the most important skills of a game designer, and understanding the perspective of your intended player audience is the key to creating good game-play. When we discuss games, game-play and game design we must consider that some perspectives (players, researchers, critics, etc.) are outside-looking-in, while the other perspective (game designers) is inside-looking-out. Therefore as a professional game designer I avoid the term game-play like the plague. My approach consists of understanding that non-game designers will use this term to try to describe what they do not comprehend, but as a game designer I use terms like the ones I describe in ‘A Quick Perspective on the Aims of Game Design’. These help me clearly articulate the different aspects of game design, and eventually help me to provide what my intended player will consider good game-play.