Not a Game

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September 19, 2012 by Xiaoxin

Just like Fight Club, rules come first in Jasper Juul’s definition of games. “A game is a rule –based formal system….(in which) the player exerts an effort in order to influence the outcome…” Juul proposes his definition of games in “The Game, the Player, the World: Looking for a Heart in Gameness.” Five years later, in his paper “The Significance of Jeep Tag: On Player-Imposed Rules in Video Games,” Felan Parker goes one step further to distinguish video games from non-digital games using rules structure. Parker does a wonderful job clarifying his concepts used and giving examples of various real game situations, probably because he uses two-thirds of his paper in doing so rather than making valid points about expansive gameplay. However, Parker fails to relate expansive gameplay, which is developed in context of Juul’s emergent gameplay model, back to Juul’s definition of games. When expansive gameplay occurs, that is, in another word, when a player creates a game-within-game, the original game risks of losing its status of being a game because two of the six defining features, player effort and player attachment, are not applicable to the original game any more.

Yet, we can begin with where Parker makes sense, where he talks about the rule structure of games. Parker suggests that game rules have three major components: fixed rules, implicit rules and player-imposed rules. Fixed rules are rules that can never be altered or changed by players. For instance, game engine, graphics and the correlation between taking down one monster and winning five stars are all quantitatively defined by computer programs, and are thus fixed rules. Once fixed rules are modified, then what is known as “modding” occurs; a new game is born. In contrast with fixed rules, implicit rules are not set in stone by code. Even though implicit gameplay may have a much contextual and crucial meaning to players, they commonly recognize implicit rules either before or during gameplay. With that being said, Parker argues that video games have both fixed rules and implicit rules, whereas traditional games have only the latter, distinguishing fundamentally video games from traditional games. On the other hand, thanks to the rule structure of video games, what Parker calls “expansive gameplay” is made possible.

Expansive gameplay applies when players are free to “dictate [dictating] additional or alternative rules from completely within the confines of the existing game rules” (Parker.) In another word, players can change or ignore implicit rules of the game in order to gain a new series of exciting experiences as long as they obey the fixed rules, leaving the programming unchanged. Jeep Tap, the game mentioned in the title of Parker’s paper, is exactly an example in case. It is a game-within-game developed on the basis of “Halo: Combat Evolved.”

It is time to shift our attention back to Juul’s classic game model. Incarnated in the rules of most of the games is the authorization for players to alter the state and outcome of gameplay, which Juul concludes as player effort. It is another way to say that games are challenging to players (Juul.) Also, Juul suggests that players are emotionally attached to the outcome of the game. Players care about the result of the gameplay and will response differently. Player effort and player attachment, along with rules, variable and quantifiable outcome, valorization of outcomes, and negotiable consequences, constitute Juul’s classic game model.

However, when players impose self-invented rules within the established rule frame of the original game, player effort is not devoted to the challenges generated by implicit rules of the original game. It is possible that the player takes no action with the intention to change the outcome of the game, making the player effort feature no longer applicable. Furthermore, in the case of Jeep Jump, an expansive gameplay within Halo, players not only stop accomplishing game missions, but they forgo the goal of accomplishing tasks and are voluntary to be shot so that their avatar and warthog jeep would be thrown up high in the air. That I have to admit is strangely entertaining to watch. Yet because at the very moment players are playing Jeep Jump, players do not care that happens in Halo and thus carry no attachment to the outcome of being shot or being dead. Overall, players fail to engage with Halo once they start expansive gameplay. Thus, according to Juul’s definition of games, Halo is no longer a game but Jeep Jump is.

Parker wraps up his paper embracing expansive gameplay and player interaction, “…expansive gameplay is a product of the exploratory spirit of all gameplay, which is engendered in unique ways by video games.” Yet I am too occupied with the confusion of expansive gameplay that I cannot fully appreciate these last words on his paper. I should probably remind myself that this is not a game.


> “The Significance of Jeep Tag: On Player-Imposed Rules in Video Games”

> For those who also find Jeep Jump strangely entertaining: Jeep Jump

Work Cited

Jesper Juul. “The Game, the Player, the World: Looking for a Heart of Gameness.” Level Up: Digital Games Research Conference Proceedings. Utrecht: Utrecht University, 2003.

Parker, Felan. “The Significance of Jeep Tag: On Player-Imposed Rules in Video Games” Loading… [Online], 2 11 Nov 20


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