DEV Community

Cover image for What is Game Design?
Alejandro Salas
Alejandro Salas

Posted on

What is Game Design?

The objective of this essay is to define what Game Design is.


Game Design

"Game design is the act of deciding what a game should be." - Jesse Schell

"The process by which a game designer creates a game, to be encountered by a player,from which meaningful play emerges" - Salen & Zimmerman

Game Designer

"A game designer uses the interaction of players and rules to create an experience for the audience". - Gary Austin

But for all of this, we need to understand what a Game, there are many definitions, seriously. But to me, these include very well pretty much all games, from board games, video games to sports.


“A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” - Salen & Zimmerman

"A game is a rule-based formal system with a variable and quantifiable outcome, where different coutcomes are assigned different values, the player exerts effort in order to influence the outcome, the player feels attached to the outcome, and the consequences of the activity are optional and negotiable" - Jesper Juul

"An activity among two or more independent decision-makers seeking to achieve their objectives in some limiting context A more conventional definition would say that a game is a context with rules among adversaries trying to win objectives." - Clark C. Abt

But from my experience, there's a missing component in those definitions. That is, Fun, these definitions don't mention anything about having Fun.

The Game is Fun. If it's not fun, why bother? ~ Reggie Fils Aime, President of Nintendo of America

The President of Nintendo of America mentions Fun immediately. He even mentions a battle which, with the previous definitions we can consider as the Conflict and Objectives, since we have to win the battle_._


Here are some dictionary definitions

"An incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests."

"Clash of interest".

"A Battle derived from an opposition"

And this is what Chris Crawford says about conflict.

The player is actively pursuing some goal. Obstacles prevent him from easily achieving this goal. Conflict is an intrinsic element of all games.It can be direct or indirect, violent or nonviolent, but it is always present in every game. - Chris Crawford, The Art of Computer Game Design.


Here are some dictionary definitions

Enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure.

In Spanish the definition is different.

"Enjoyable activity that makes time pass on" - "Diversión"

I agree with the Spanish definition, how can we forget that famous ...

"Time flies when you're having fun"

Because that sensation of time passing by quickly is what we like, we get entertained. Considered as well a Hobby or a Pastime, because Time passes.

But there's also Work, apparently Work and Fun are mutually exclusive, or that's what adults teach us when we are kids. We know it's not true, because we can enjoy our time working. But we are not talking about Work, so let's not dive deep into that topic (Don't get me wrong, we can dive more into that and it can help us discern even more!)


We can say it's what delimits what the internal game systems are allowed to do. Not just what a player can do.

Making a new definition of game.

Alright, with all of this we can try to add more substance to the definition of Game. Here's a definition

A collection of fun activities defined by rules, where players must interact and overcome a conflict with their decision making.

Notice how I didn't use the word System. Since those elements together, fulfill the system's definition.


" A set of elements that interact with each other to solve a problem" .

We can change problem for Conflict.

Where these elements are:

  • Fun
  • Rules
  • Players
  • Decision Making

Finally I propose this...

Game Design is where a Game Designer creates a collection of fun activities defined by rules, where players must interact and overcome a conflict with their decision making. This is, a meta decision making, where a game designer makes decisions on how the game and the players can interact with each other, crafting an experience for the players.


  • Gary, Justin. Think like a Game Designer: the Step-by-Step Guide to Unlocking Your Creative Potential. Aviva Publishing, 2018.
  • Schell, Jesse. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2008.
  • Salen, Katie, and Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. The MIT Press, 2010.
  • Cover Photo by: Georgia Institute of Technology

Top comments (0)