If nobody plays it… is it a game then?

Defining the word ‘game’ is tricky. There’s many kind of different ways to define a game. We all know that Diablo is a game, and a painting of Mona Lisa isn’t.

Or is it so?

But what if nobody plays Diablo? Is it a game anymore? How could it be a game, if there was absolutely nobody playing it? A game requires a player.

And what if somebody makes a game out of painting (he watches the top edge, closes his eyes, turns his head a bit and tries to make so that his eyes will see bottom edge when he opens his eyes again).

Wouldn’t this suggest that Diablo as-is, actually isn’t a game. It becomes game only when somebody plays it.

And wouldn’t this suggest that anyone can play a painting if they want. It becomes a game if somebody plays it.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Zotmeister already wrote what I came to say. It’s like finding an old ball. It doesn’t matter what kind (basketball, kickball, golf ball, etc.) what matters is the rules around it. Not knowing the rules and having the ball means that you can’t play that game. But then you can always make up a new game with that same ball. It’s the rules that decide a game first.

    • Yeh, I pretty much agree with that.

      And… rules can be written in any language. Stare-the-painting-manual can be written in English, rules of Diablo are much written in bits and bytes in the game code. The game code isn’t part of the “equipment” (character representations and whatnots).

      Slightly going towards a different direction now:

      Of course “ruleset” could be clarified further to see what kind of ruleset is accepted to be a game, and what is required (winning conditioning or losing condition or possibility to make choices for example…)

      If there was a signpost next to a painting stating steps “1. stare top section, close your eyes, 2. while eyes closed try target, 3. open eyes and see how near you reached”, it could be considered as a game.

      Same could be said about streetlights that have instructions: “when there’s red light, don’t go accross the street. only go when it’s green”. Combination of streetlights plus instructions then could be said to be a game, if “rules” (or instructions) are the requirement of a game. (losing condition isn’t stated, game assumes you will figure it out… :)

  2. Some kind of “a tree falls in a forest” thought experiment is going on here.

    Basically I’m with Zotmeister. Everything fulfilling the definition of “what is a game” can be used as game, regardless of subjective opinions.

    Diablo is a game even without interactors. The rules say so.

    If painting is a game is hard to tell. First we would need a proper definition of painting, a proper definition of game and then check out if the latter is a subset of the former. There are dozens of defs. for both so it’s rather likely that painting is a game.

  3. Good points. I do agree mostly… for example: a chess board and pieces isn’t a game, those are just stuff. Only when you add a ruleset it becomes one.

    Another question: Why game requires a player? What you mean by “player” (can it be something else than a human player)?

  4. Games take many forms, but there’s a single definition that ties them all together: a game is a set of rules that supports one or more players. It doesn’t need to actually have those players at any given moment to still be a game. The whole manual-aiming-at-the-painting thing is indeed a solitaire game, but the painting itself is not the gameā€”it’s simply a piece of equipment the game requires (and indeed, any painting, among many other things, could be used to fill the requirement for that piece of equipment). As someone who played both of these games (long ago), I can assure you that Diablo is a game whether it’s actively being played or not, and the Mona Lisa is not a game even if there is a game that can be played with it. – ZM

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