What it means to “play”

The definition of play is to take on the role of a character or object in a situation. The player becomes the character or object and is responsible for making decisions to advance within the game. In order to be considered playing, the player must have an active role in the game. They must be making all of the decisions and choosing how they want the character to move or react to situations.  Further, the player must be immersed in the game to be considered playing it. They must be fully engaged and be aware of what is occurring within the game.

The game Burnt Matches is a twine game. The player reads words or phrases and clicks on links within the game to get further within the narrative. Every time the player clicks on a link, they are directed to another page, or another word with a link will appear. Not all words, however, have links, as the game maker wants to lead the player in a certain direction. In this game, the words are formatted in a way to look like the representation of the word. For example, the word stairs appears and if the player clicks it, more of the word stairs appears, but they will begin to form a staircase. The interesting part about this game is that there is not one route to get to the end. There are loops and different paths that will lead to both the same and different places.

Throughout the entire game, the player is playing the game in the same way. They are always reading words and clicking on words. These actions contradict my definition of play. The player does not have an active role in the game, but rather a passive role. There is no character in the game that they can actively control. Although Burnt Matches allows the player to make choices, there are ultimately choices that will get the player to the end. Thus the player does not have complete liberty while making decisions. Also, the player is not completely immersed in the game because there is no character for them to represent. There is no way for the player to be aware what is occurring in this game. Even though these aspects of Burnt Matches contradict my definition of play, the player is still playing Burnt Matches.

One thought on “What it means to “play”

  1. Hi Kate W,

    I certainly agree with your point that a game like Burnt Matches contradicts your definition of play. However, the question I have been wondering about is whether Burnt Matches is even a game? In my opinion, Burnt Matches is not far off from a multi-page article online. You read text, then you click to proceed to more text. Obviously Burnt Matches uses the words to convey meaning such as the stairs sequence, but overall it is not far off from an online article. Personally, I believe the only distinction that makes Burnt Matches a game is this aspect of concrete poetry. But even then, is Burnt Matches just an electronic concrete poem? The player is certainly playing Burnt Matches but are they just playing through a poem? “Games” like burnt matches raise more questions than they answer and are very subjective.


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