Ian Schrieber lists many definitions of the word game, and out of all of them, I agree with this:
A game is a “voluntary effort to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” This is a favorite among my classroom students. It sounds a bit different, but includes a lot of concepts of former definitions: it is voluntary, it has goals and rules. The bit about “unnecessary obstacles” implies an inefficiency caused by the rules on purpose — for example, if the object of Tic Tac Toe is to get three symbols across, down or diagonally, the easiest way to do that is to simply write three symbols in a row on your first turn while keeping the paper away from your opponent. But you don’t do that, because the rules get in the way… and it is from those rules that the play emerges. (Bernard Suits)
I think that the very first sentence describes a game perfectly. As Ian points out, there is no true definition for the word game because it can be taken too broadly (which this definition might fall under) or too narrowly.
One definition I’m not too fond of is this one:
Games are a “form of art in which the participants, termed Players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal.” This definition includes a number of concepts not seen in earlier definitions: games are art, they involve decisions and resource management, and they have “tokens” (objects within the game). There is also the familiar concept of goals. (Greg Costikyan)
Not every single game is going to use resource management. Ever play the “Quiet game” or the “Staring game”? They are both very simple. First one who makes a noise loses. First one to blink loses. (You can’t cheat and blow in their eye or make them laugh by tickling them or something.) In both of these games there are no resources to be used as a token to win the game, besides maybe strength of will. (but that is a whole other ballpark that Ian doesn’t really touch base on here).
In all of the possible definitions, they state that a game is: voluntary, it has rules or a structure, it has an uncertain outcome, it has a goal, it involves decision making, it is an activity, and involve conflict.
Universally, I think we can all agree that a game involves rules - that is what differentiates it from the word “play”. I don’t think that everyone can call game a form of art. But then that depends on your definition of the word art!!
Out of all the fuzzy categories: puzzles, rpg, chose your own adventure and stories, I think that stories would be the biggest “no-no” of the list.
A story is a story. It should not be considered a game. You can read a story from a game, you can act out a story, and you can hire someone to create a story for your game, but it has nothing to do with the definition of the word “game”. There are no decision making factors when reading a story. If you are creating a story, I think that maybe you could call that a game. You have to use decision making to create the world and character of the story, you have to voluntarily create the story, there are certain guidelines to how a story should be made (beginning, middle, end), and there is an outcome. HOWEVER!! When creating a story, you know what that outcome will be, and therefore, it cannot ‘technically’ be called a game.
So I can conclude that a game is a mixture of all of these definitions, and ultimately should be defined by each person on their own, just like how the word “art” can be interpreted.