Definitions, Batch 3

While writing this video game development diary, I realized that definitions are an essential building block to help keep my thinking on track. Below is my third batch of definitions (which are also available here). I was inspired by the examples at and Frictional Games. These five definitions are known collectively as Play Motifs began life as Playstates. They represent the ‘high’, conceptual layer of video game play.

The Play Motifs listed below briefly explains how different types of play are distinct but do coexist, combine together, and are recursive. Each different Play Motif is defined by a singular core trait that acts as both a distinguishing and complementing characteristic.

1) Show & Tell
The play of expression & recognition is one of two open Motifs. There are almost infinite ways to communicate. Here are some examples:
> Serve & Return – Basic communication through verbal, para-verbal, and non-verbal means
> Signals  – signs that require constant encoding and interpretation
> Symbols – signs that are more static and require subtle interpretation
> Role-Plays – using behavior to communicate and experience meaning

2) Toys & Playgrounds
The play of exploration is the second of two open Motifs. There are almost infinite ways to physically interact with objects with impromptu rules. Here are the two main examples:
> Toys – objects that are played with freely and with transient rules
> Playgrounds – spaces that are played with freely and with transient rules

3) Games
The play of measurement is one of the two asymmetrical Motifs. Whatever that can be counted can be used as a Game. This can include in-game currency, character traits, game physics, etc. Here are some examples:
> Time – race against the clock
> Space – movement between locations
> Counting– measuring tokens, traits, and points
> Achievements – an accumulation of measurables

4) Puzzle
The play of matching is the second of the two asymmetrical Motifs. Any element that possesses a trait can be used to distinguish or complement another element to match the solution to a Puzzle. Here are some examples:
> Symbols – letters or numbers as basis for matches
> Shapes – objects that represent non-language as basis for matches
> Colors – spectrum of light as basis for matches
> Sounds – range of pitch and duration as basis for matches
> Patterns – repeating using memory
> Math(s) – using deduction to solve incomplete logic
> Mazes – following a path through barriers

5) Sports
The play of competition is the sole symmetrical Motif. Using measurables found in Games we can now compare and compete between opponents via player vs player, player vs computer, player vs environment, etc. Here are some examples:
> Pick-up – a single, non-cumulative match
> Series – win the majority of matches in a set
> Tournament – a changeable collection of competitors
> League – an exclusive collection of competitors
> Pan-Sport – competing via non-match outcomes (such as achievements)

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