Unifying Game Ontology: A Faceted Classification of Game Elements

Michael S. Debus

Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisPh.D. thesis


Definitions and classifications of games range back at least a century, but especially in the past two decades research regarding games and what they consist of has gained more interest. With the goal of developing a clearer terminology for games and their elements, I set out to explore the ontology of
games in two main ways.
Adopting a Wittgenstanian position towards games, I discuss concepts behind the term ‘game’. I identify a non-exhaustive list of five underlying ideas that serve as areas in which family resemblances of games occur: Games as objects, processes, systems, attitudes, and through their development and distribution. I continue with the explication of my understanding of games in the present project by applying ontological concepts. Games are ‘specifics’ – groups of anonymous particulars – which can either be materialized (as objects) or instantiated (as processes). I will then take a ludological position and examine the underlying formal system of games.
Using library studies’ concepts as a framework, I analyze the employed differences for distinction of seventeen game classifications. Following library studies, differences are inherent properties of the subject they classify. Thus, the employed differences are considered elements of games. The final list of six elements is further classified in a faceted classification scheme, which’s
advantages, as opposed to the more common hierarchical ones, are easier future adjustments, as well as the assignment multivocal terms to various facets for delineation of meanings. The result of this classification is the observation that the application of classification schemes holistically to games is impossible, as especially contemporary digital games combine many different parts. Instead, one should only consider individual elements for classification. Existing game classifications are discussed and criticized, identifying three main shortcomings: (1) the conflation of several differences into one level of division, (2) inclusion of informal aspects into the classification of elements, and (3) the inaccessibility of employed differences.
The developed classification is not only useful for humanistic game studies and game analysis. In psychology the effects of ‘violent videogames’ and drinking games have been researched, mostly without careful distinction between particular game elements. Furthermore, quality assurance can benefit as well from a more detailed terminology for the development of questionnaires and analysis tools.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherIT-Universitetet i København
Number of pages356
ISBN (Print)978-87-7949-029-1
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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