Game Taxonomies Are a Mess, and Other Classification Exercises

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of our assigned readings in my Theories of Games and Interaction for Design course this week has got me thinking again about game taxonomies.

  • Lieberman, D. (2012). Designing digital games, social media, and mobile technologies to motivate and support health behavior change. In R. E. Rice & C. K. Atkin (Eds.), Public Communication Campaigns (pp. 273-287). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

I love organizing things, and I love making lists. For me, it is a way of sorting ideas. As a result, I really like things like the notion of patterns as well as taxonomies like Bloom’s, while at the same time recognizing the limitations.

Every time I come across another organizational list, I view it with renewed optimism, and coming across one in this week’s readings is no different.

Sadly, like almost all the other lists I’ve come across, closer inspection leads me to disappointment. In this case, the first thing that strikes me is that the classification criteria are not consistent, which means that the list is not coherent.

Here’s a brief summary:

Digital Game Formats:

  • Puzzle games: Games that invite players to solve puzzles using visual, mathematical, word, memory, or logical skills, etc.
  • Eye-hand coordination games: involve, for example, hitting targets, catching objects, rolling or maneuvering an object while staying within bounds, or racing while picking up certain items for more points or to gain increased speed and then avoiding other items that reduce points or decrease speed.
  • Action and adventure games: enable the player to take the role of a character and move through a complex and varied game world.
  • Scenario-based games: put the player into a realistic situation within a digital game world and involve decision making that results in positive or negative health consequences.
  • Simulations: is a model of a system or environment—with interrelated, interdependent elements—that responds system-wide to any change the user makes within it.(Note: I don’t entirely agree with this definition – the ‘system-wide’ part gives me pause – but I’ll let it go for now)
  • Virtual world: is an online environment in which participants can create characters, places, and events.
  • Mobile games: are playable on mobile phones and tablet computers.
  • Active games: are designed to get the player moving.
  • Context-aware games: take place in the physical world, and they use data and information from the environment as inputs into the game.
  • Alternate reality games: take place in the physical world with technology delivering information and facilitating communication.
  • Community collaboration games: bring people together online to address important issues, participate in new scientific discoveries, and solve problems.

For the most part, I am willing to go along with the definitions of each of these categories. The problem is that they are listed as a linear list, when in fact they describe categories of games that not only overlap, but aren’t even in the same ballpark. This makes it very confusing.

“Puzzle games” describe a style of game design and gameplay, while “mobile” describes hardware. I realize that the classification of games is quite messy, but at least admit that.

Perhaps classification based on specific attributes, such as the hardware, game genre, subject matter, and so on would help clear up some of the mess. None of these are going to generate nice, clean cut categories, but I suspect that it will lend it some form that would turn out to be useful. We already know for example, that designing for mobile devices requires a different approach than designing for consoles. There is a certain convergence happening such as games designed for consoles going mobile, but I still think there are things we can learn from classification exercises.

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Game Taxonomies Are a Mess, and Other Classification Exercises — 1 Comment

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