Interpreting Abstract Games: The Metaphorical Potential of Formal Game Elements

As cultural artifacts, abstract games offer unique challenges to critical interpretation. This is largely due to the fact that such games lack a fictional element: there are no characters, no settings, and no narratives to speak of. In this thesis I propose that understanding the various formal elements of games as metaphors can both serve as an effective critical method and offer insights into designing more expressive games.

I begin by addressing the ambiguity surrounding the phrase “abstract game” and offer a definition rooted in Peircean semiotics and Juul’s model of games as consisting of both rules and fiction.

I next offer a model of games as consisting of three levels: the system, audio-visual, and affective. This is followed by an overview of Lakoff and Johnson’s concept of “metaphor” as “understanding one thing in terms of another.” I then argue that different types of metaphors have a natural affinity for the system and affective levels of games.

From this I develop methods for a critical method wherein games are considered to be metaphors. I conclude with a discussion of this method’s implications for game design and future game research.


Jason Begy

Jason Begy

Ph.D. student at Concordia University