Theory: Definitional Questions, Out in the World

It’s tempting not to want to talk about “what is a game” anymore. The discussion in popular culture has become toxic; debates in academia take place in ivory towers that can seem divorced from the practical requirements of designers. We shouldn’t completely abandon definitional questions, though, as they do become important from time to time–as in England right now, where a judge is weighing whether Bridge is a “sport.”

The facts, as I understand them, are as follows: Sport England is an English government body that provides funding to groups that put on sporting events. It’s made the decision that bridge isn’t a sport; ergo, bridge organizations aren’t eligible for money. The issue before the court now is whether Sport England made a “reasonable” decision.

(As a side note: this is a very common approach to judicial review of decisions made by government entities. The court doesn’t ask whether the decision was right. Instead, it considers whether the decision was made using the correct process. So long as the process was OK–all the necessary steps were followed, and the decision was made in light of the appropriate rules–the court won’t get involved in whether the decision was good or bad. The court will only overturn if there was a mistake in the process, and even then the court won’t change the decision; it will just tell the government entity to go back and revisit the question, using the right process.)

Whether Sport England was “reasonable” will depend, in part, on whether it followed the rules about what kind of organization it can give money to. Doubtless those rules involve–perhaps even revolve around–a definition of “sport.” Lots of money could ride on a word or two’s difference in a formal definition of what’s normally a very informal idea.

It’s not always easy to work through definitional issues regarding games. Recently, even the exercise hasn’t been pleasant. However, we need to keep hammering away at the problems. Definitions are one of the interfaces between games and the real world. Poor definitions mean poor interfaces, with all the unpredictable and undesirable results that implies.


Game Design in the Real World: Prosecutorial Incentives

I wanted to draw attention to this story in the ABA Journal, in which a former prosecutor explains his missteps in a case that saw an innocent man sentenced to death. Reflecting on his actions and taking responsibility, especially in such a public way, was an act of great courage.

I also think it’s worth noting the comments to that article, several of which talk about the incentives confronting prosecutors. The American Bar Association’s ethics rules for prosecutors include a note that “[a] prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate,” but the article’s comments describe a variety of factors that might encourage prosecutors to feel that they will be rewarded more for winning than for achieving fairness in a broad sense. We as a society need to make sure that we evaluate prosecutors on their contributions to justice rather than solely on the number of their victories, so that they are supported when they seek good outcomes that don’t involve a jury verdict in their favor.

Hmm. We’re looking for a nuanced scoring system that weighs a number of inputs, most of which have no number or other measurable quantity inherently associated with them, some of them entirely intangible.

Sounds like a job for a game designer, doesn’t it?

Something Completely Different: Barmageddon

I’m taking a quick break today to offer my sympathies to those caught up in Barmageddon. Computer issues raised their head when I took the bar, so I understand how stressful that is. My understanding is that everyone was able to upload their exams in the end, so I hope that those affected were able to approach the second day without worry and are now resting easy. Good luck!