Structural Elements of Games

(The following content has been extracted by the author, E.M. Avedon, from his published papers, books, and lecture notes for use on this Website.)

At sometime during the 1960s, a librarian brought the following paragraph to my attention:

St Augustine

...but we enjoyed playing games and were punished for them by men who played games themselves. However, grown-up games are known as 'business' and even though boys' games are much the same, they are punished for them by their elders. No one pities either the boys or the men, though surely we deserved pity, for I cannot believe that a good judge would approve of the beatings I received as a boy on the gounds that my games delayed my progress in studying subjects which would enable me to play a less creditable game later in life...

Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430) Confessions, Book 1:10.

In a sociologic context, all behaviors have a "function" and a "structure". These Augustinian words led me to wonder if there were certain elements that are common to all games, regardless of the specfic culture in which they are used or the purposes (or functions) for which they are used? If so, are there elements in the structure of games that are invariant under certain transformations?

I wondered if others had similar questions about games and what they had theorized. It was time to return to the library! Click here to see a summary page of what I found by doing a "search of the literture", and then return to this page for more about the structure of games.

From a search of literature and a syntactical point of view then, games are composed of ten structural elements; possibly, additional elements will be identified at some future date. Presently, the ten elements to consider are as follows:

  1. Purpose or intent of the game.
  2. Results or pay-off.
  3. Number of required players.
  4. Roles of participants.
  5. Rules governing action.
  6. Abilities and Skills required for action.
  7. Physical setting and environmental requirements.
  8. Required equipment.
  9. Procedures for action.
  10. Interaction patterns.

To view a tabular explanation of the first 9 elements and examples of games which illustate these elements - Click Here.

There are 8 interactive patterns. To view a table explaining these 8 patterns with a graphic interpretation of each of these patterns, and examples of games which illustate these patterns - Click Here.

Last update December 21, 2009