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So, What's Gameplay?

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Okay, here's a tickler for you. I was randomly sitting on my ass thinking about the best way to make my projects enjoyable, and I kind of got thinking about the term "Gameplay". The more I thought about it, the less it made sense to me. To wit, the following is a list of what I personally know about Gameplay. 1. It's some kind of quality. 2. It's good. 3. It's what makes good games great games. 4. I really really want to be able to put it in my games. 5. Good games have it. 6. Good designers make games with lots of it. 7. Everybody knows about it. 8. Everybody seems to believe, without dispute, that it's good. 9. You can't really have too much of it. The obvious pattern here is that I'm not exactly sure what it is. And it seems nobody else is 100% sure of what it is, either. We know what graphics are. We know what music is. We know what controls are. We know what replay value is. But for the development world's addiction to the term "Gameplay", we don't seem to have a very solid definition. I believe it was Sid Meier who defined it as "a series of interesting choices", but this leaves a little too much to the imagination. I want to hear opinions and discussions about what exactly Gameplay is. I don't expect to get a solid answer. I believe the very term itself is fundamentally flawed. But that doesn't mean that there isn't anything to be learned from it. So let's have a little brainstorming session. So. What's Gameplay?

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9. You can't really have too much of it.

I can't agree with this one entirely (and some of the others kinda overlap). You -CAN- make a bad game if you don't mix gameplay-"elements" with care. There are a lot of games, often indie games (those are more experimental anyways), that copy the main gameplay from other games and find a way to blend those. Nothing wrong with that, but when something like Snake is mixed with GTA, you'll clearly see where the flaws are of each gameplay-"element".
So you need to put every gameplay-element in its place, knowing what its flaws are (like controlability or just chaos) and NOT mix all sorts of gameplay-elements to form a final gameplay.
In a way, I agree, but you just need to carefully add more.

My definition of gameplay itself would be: a set of designed (randomness included) goals and a number of designed ways (or just one) to reach them.
Great games create a need to fulfill as many goals as possible and make each of those ways to complete them, fun and interesting.

Ah, weirdness. My definition would make graphics, sound and input part of the gameplay.

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For me gameplay means the: interaction between the player and the system (and other players, byt the can be considdered part of the system - as an external input). The system here is the program/computer.

This doesn't cover the physical controls, but does cover the logical controls, or the types of actions the players can make. These interactions are the core of gameplay.

This definition does not just stop at computer games, it also applies to board games and other types.

The system does not even need to be a physical object(s). It could even be just a mental construction (as in a set or rules that the players need to follow - like in a sport).

This definition stems from a definition of game theory that I heard a long time ago: A game is where 2 or more competitors compeat for set goals within the confines of a set or rules.

The goals are what the players need to achieve victory (the way they can achieve them must also be in the rules), but it is the "Set of Rules" that contain the gameplay.

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Umm, Gameplay is what makes the game playable, otherwise, your umm, not playing a game, your doing something else :P.

I'd say the 'meaning' of 'gameplay' really depends on the context.

Like, save points. They're part of the game, but if implemented wrongly it can damage gameplay. Gameplay meaning the enjoyability of progressing through the game, and not having to spend another 2 hours redoing a level cos you died right in front of the save point.

Or Story Line. A very dynamic story can inhance gameplay. Gameplay being the replay-ablity of playing the game over again.

Gameplay could include:
Controls, Health system, the genre itself, User interface, Graphics, time to complete, difficulty etc, etc.

All in all, my opinion of 'gameplay' atleast, is nothing exactly specific, nothing you can simply add on 3 days before the last dead line :P. Gameplay is everything that defines a 'game' from everything else. And the usage of the word Gameplay depends on the context of it's use.

---

Well, that's just the jist of what my brain farted out while reading your post. I can honestly say I never really thought too hard about the exact definition of gameplay :P.

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Gameplay is a type of interactivity. Interactivity is when the player makes decisions (either the stratigic kind or the twitch-reflex kind) and the game reacts in a non-obvious way which gives the player new material to make new decisions about. Thus the decision to take a step forward which results only in taking a step forward is not gameplay, but the decision to pull a lever when you don't know what it will do IS gameplay.

It's questionable whether gameplay actually has anything to do with gameness (goals, win/loseability) since software toys arguably have gameplay.

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Original post by sunandshadow
Gameplay is a type of interactivity. Interactivity is when the player makes decisions (either the stratigic kind or the twitch-reflex kind) and the game reacts in a non-obvious way which gives the player new material to make new decisions about. Thus the decision to take a step forward which results only in taking a step forward is not gameplay, but the decision to pull a lever when you don't know what it will do IS gameplay.


So Shoots and Ladders is not a game? I'd wager most people would say it is.

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I see gameplay as the way a game plays. It can be good, or bad. For me it mostly comes down to getting a feeling for it. After all, one person may love a certain game, and another one is neutral towards it, and so on. I think it's both used as an acronym for fun (good gameplay, bad gameplay), and a term to describe how a game rewards actions or provides innovative idea's or mechanics (interesting gameplay element). I guess that's still pretty intangible...

I do believe certain 'rules', like giving players meaningfull decisions, providing feedback on actions, and so on certainly can help making a game more fun to play, giving it a more solid 'gameplay', but just as there's no exact formula to success, there's no exact rule-set to fun.

In the end I believe one shouldn't think too much about the definition of gameplay, if that blocks creativity. It's good to get an understanding of things, but personally, I value actually working out a game more than debating theories. Well, I guess that depends on the person, too. :)

Oh, I also think, just because the term is so mysterious, that it's so often used. Mysterious things seem to be attractive, somehow... :)

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Original post by Dargor
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Original post by sunandshadow
Gameplay is a type of interactivity. Interactivity is when the player makes decisions (either the stratigic kind or the twitch-reflex kind) and the game reacts in a non-obvious way which gives the player new material to make new decisions about. Thus the decision to take a step forward which results only in taking a step forward is not gameplay, but the decision to pull a lever when you don't know what it will do IS gameplay.


So Shoots and Ladders is not a game? I'd wager most people would say it is.


I would argue that it isn't since you can't make a single decision, all you can do is role the dice.

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I would argue that it isn't since you can't make a single decision, all you can do is role the dice.


I knew it! I'm going to call Milton Bradley right now and demand the $10 my mother spent on me as a child!

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Original post by VPellen
I believe it was Sid Meier who defined it as "a series of interesting choices", but this leaves a little too much to the imagination.


That nails it, and seems to be part of your frustration with the term. You want that definition of gameplay to be something more concrete and certain...

But it can't be. Because gameplay is SUBJECTIVE!

Its intangable and unmeasureable...its a concept, an idea...nothing more.

To some players Tetris has more gameplay than Starcraft, to others Doom has more gameplay than Pac-Man....Its all SUBJECTIVE

The key word in Sid Meiers insightful definition is "interesting"

What game choices you find interesting; I may find bland. What I find interesting; you may find dull, boreing, repeditive, and uninspired....its all subjective.




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Original post by Johnny123
Umm, Gameplay is what makes the game playable, otherwise, your umm, not playing a game, your doing something else :P.

I'd say the 'meaning' of 'gameplay' really depends on the context.

Like, save points. They're part of the game, but if implemented wrongly it can damage gameplay. Gameplay meaning the enjoyability of progressing through the game, and not having to spend another 2 hours redoing a level cos you died right in front of the save point.

Or Story Line. A very dynamic story can inhance gameplay. Gameplay being the replay-ablity of playing the game over again.

Gameplay could include:
Controls, Health system, the genre itself, User interface, Graphics, time to complete, difficulty etc, etc.

All in all, my opinion of 'gameplay' atleast, is nothing exactly specific, nothing you can simply add on 3 days before the last dead line :P. Gameplay is everything that defines a 'game' from everything else. And the usage of the word Gameplay depends on the context of it's use.

---

Well, that's just the jist of what my brain farted out while reading your post. I can honestly say I never really thought too hard about the exact definition of gameplay :P.


I agree with that, Gameplay is anything and everything that in someway or another affects the playability of the game. That in turn really depends on how the word is used.

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Gameplay = game - representation.

Take a look at old-school games like Doom 1, then look at the newest versions of these games like Doom 3. Now subtract everything except for what they have in common.

Remove everything that represents your game to the player. Models, sprites, sounds, music. Whatever is left is gameplay. You should be able to completely change the representation (sprites intead of models, generic sounds, different music), and the gameplay remains constant.

I still believe that the representation can have a huge impact on gameplay, though. Really nice models can make your game feel more enjoyable. If my character is really ugly, I might not care if he dies often. If an armor is really cool looking, I'll likely pay more for it and keep it longer. If the music is pounding away at me, I may end up charging forward for all out glory instead of strategically finding my way through.

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Yeah but, models, sounds, UIs, etc still have a big impact on gameplay.

Say you take Doom, and get rid of the HUD. That will effect gameplay dramatically, the player no longer has an idea of how much ammo they have, or, if they are near death and need to find more health.

Or you make the models have cammo (or same texture as the walls), this will effect the gameplay by making it harder for the player to spot enemies.

Changing little things like these don't directly effect the game, but still have an impact on how the player plays the game - gameplay.

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I have always seperated Play and Gameplay. They are not equal. Gameplay is play in a structured environemnt (rules), whereas Play is more open.

Take for example playing in a swimming pool. If you start splashing each other, then this is play. It is fun, but there is no real structure (there might be a few like don't punch each other, etc). But if you add in a few rules, the play sudenly becomes a game. Thus gameplay.

The rules are what turns Play into GamePlay. Gameplay emerges from the rules and the aim/goal/winning condition of the game (you can have a game withint a winning condition, but it must then have an aim or a goal - something with which to measure success or failure).

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Original post by Johnny123
Say you take Doom, and get rid of the HUD. That will effect gameplay dramatically, the player no longer has an idea of how much ammo they have, or, if they are near death and need to find more health.

The HUD information is part of the gameplay. The HUD graphics, the fonts, the transitional effects, are not. A future version may allow you to look at your side and actually see your ammo. IE, no use of a HUD display.

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Or you make the models have cammo (or same texture as the walls), this will effect the gameplay by making it harder for the player to spot enemies.

It doesn't stop there. You can find a way to describe every single graphical pixel on the screen and every sound wave variation as a part of gameplay (I sniped the pointy poly edge of that tank commanders arm where it was sticking out from the tank armor). I was just speaking generally that the major portion of gameplay is under the hood of the game.

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Changing little things like these don't directly effect the game, but still have an impact on how the player plays the game - gameplay.

Science perspective vs art perspective. Well, if you want to go the science route, then there is no game element that is not gameplay. The whole game is gameplay. Happy? :) Let's do it. And let's go ahead and call all games RPGs while we're at it. If you want to take it to the extreme science level, you'll eventually realize there is no such thing as gameplay. Fun itself doesn't even exist. It's a freak'n chemically induced illusion.

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Graphics and music DO influence the gameplay. How can FEAR be fearsome with all the lights turned on? How can Mario give people happy feelings if it didn't play those tunes while you were running?
Those elements contribute to the experience of the gamer, and that experience is gameplay.

Gameplay is the whole experience of the game, including the menu, ingame HUD, models, background music, sound effects, goals, controls and graphics. A game like Killer7 [GCN] would not be so amazing to some if the graphics were plain old non-cellshaded.

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It's amusing to see so many different opinions on the meaning of such a widely accepted term. I'll throw out one which I came up with myself, just for the hell of it. Pick it apart as you will.

Gameplay: The ability of a game to influence the emotional, mental, or physical states of the player through means of interaction between the player and the game.

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Original post by Pipo DeClown
Gameplay is the whole experience of the game, including the menu, ingame HUD, models, background music, sound effects, goals, controls and graphics. A game like Killer7 [GCN] would not be so amazing to some if the graphics were plain old non-cellshaded.

Then that pretty much makes the term pointless.

Take a look on Wiki. I personally like this description:

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On the other hand, some game critics feel that gameplay is in fact to games as story is to book, the very essence of the game to which elements such as story are added to.


And this one:

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Generally, the term "gameplay" in video game terminology is used to describe the overall experience of playing the game excluding the factors of graphics, sound, and the storyline.

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Gameplay is the player's experience of a game, much like a child's fantasy concerning his/her toys or board games.

Games like Tetris and Pac Man are good games despite their lack of graphics because they are symbolic games. They let the player fill in the details in a way that works best for him/her. Games with more concrete graphics (first-person-shooters) are more liable to break a player's immersion, because they must get all the details right.

And no, Shutes and Ladders is not a game, although it does have a subjective experience like gameplay. The same goes for the card game "War".

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The card game war is not a game?

What is the world coming to?

Once again, I find myself breaking out a dictionary for you poor unfortunate souls who don't believe in magic.
Game.

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I've always gone with the 'series of interesting choices'. The problem comes that gameplay doesn't exist in a vacuum. Games by definition are a series of rules along with a state. The combination of rules with other rules and the game state gives rise to the various choices (interesting and un-interesting alike).

Generally, more player interesting/meaningful choices are better.
Generally, less rules are better.

Game design then should be evaluated based on the ratio of choices to rules (and uninteresting choices).


A game like Go is very elegant, providing complexity enough to prevent effective computer players, with only about a half-dozen rules (playfield, white goes first, capturing, the rule of Ko/snapback, how the game ends, scoring).

Graphics, music, plot, atmosphere, realism, immersion, and the such are not gameplay. They can help present information, making more choices interesting/meaningful (since un-informed decisions are often not interesting). They can certainly help the user experience, but that still does not make them gameplay. Gameplay is that which sets games apart from just movies, music and other art.

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Graphics, music, plot, atmosphere, realism, immersion, and the such are not gameplay. They can help present information, making more choices interesting/meaningful (since un-informed decisions are often not interesting). They can certainly help the user experience, but that still does not make them gameplay. Gameplay is that which sets games apart from just movies, music and other art.

I agree with this. Gameplay is about the play (that is why it is called gameplay). Graphics, sound, etc give a context, but are not gameplay. They can increase the experience of the gameplay.

I think this is where the confusion about gameplay stems form. Through a process of elimination we can define gameplay.

What is ti that games have that other media or play dosen't. Don't include computergames, but also include boardgames, sports, and other forms of play.

Movies have images and sound, play (not playing games) have fun and emotional content (fun), books have plots and stories, but games have rules. Thus gameplay must emerge (or be a part of) the rules.

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I'm not sure I agree with the "graphics and audio are separate from Gameplay" debate.

Gameplay suggests "how the game plays", which suggests that the game itself must be presented in its whole, including representation. Bad representation heavily contributes to a bad game. What if Gameplay is not a value to be rated alongside of graphics and audio and input and replayability, but is a factor above this? Perhaps Gameplay is above everything else; Something more closer akin to a final score, rather than an aspect of the game. But alas, I get philosophical.

Curious; Has anybody ever played a game with unpleasant graphics, that still had really good Gameplay? (Note that I said unpleasant, not simple.)

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Gameplay contributes to the final score.
Relate it to a living thing:

Knowledge: AI
Physical body: Graphics
Voice: Sound
History & Background: Story
Personality & Soul: Gameplay.

Many people's personalities are influenced by their knowledge, or even their physical body. But that doesn't make those attributes part of their personality. Just a contribution to it. And definitely part of the overall picture of that person as a whole.

Game = gameplay + graphics + sound
Not..
Gameplay = game + graphics + sound.

If gameplay == game, then why are we even bothering to care to use the word?

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Curious; Has anybody ever played a game with unpleasant graphics, that still had really good Gameplay? (Note that I said unpleasant, not simple.)

I thought the characters in Morrowind were hideous.

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Imperialism 2 had largely horrible UI design. Things were hard to find and awkward to use once you found them. Still, good gameplay and fun despite it.

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