Software Toys

A game is something you play; a toy is something you play with. The divide is not a bright line, but I do find myself playing some games and thinking that I am playing with them. It usually relates to the degree of interactivity. When I click and then sit back and watch it go, the less it feels like I am playing something. Pandemic is an example: you set up a bit, get to push a few dials every now and again, but mostly you watch it go. Overlord is clearly a game, Evil Genius feels narrowly on the game side of the line, and Master of Orion 3 was probably on the toy side. Penny Arcade described it as a space empire management simulator rather than a game as such, and that is probably fair. Most simulators are toys rather than games. Details matter there: various editions of Sim City might fall on either side.

“Social games” are mostly software toys. Raising a virtual pet is not so much a game, nor is managing your virtual restaurant, farm, or fish tank. If the intended gameplay is for you to click some stuff and walk away for an hour, that is probably a toy. Which is really weird, because that in no way describes how we play with physical toys, but I almost always think of Facebook games as something I play with. Except Bejeweled Blitz, which is not a “social” game. And social games aren’t really social, since you just send each other presents or steal each others’ crops, instead of perhaps talking to one another. Wow, this is some severe abuse of terms.

This has also become an indicator of when I am about done with an MMO. If I think of myself as logging on to “mess with” the game, rather than play it, I am probably tidying up things before unsubscribing. Gotta get quests and vault space in order, in case I come back someday.

: Zubon

I just found D&D Tiny Adventures on Facebook, so if you’re my friend, you should totally play (with), just because I need more people to buff me. :p I like that they are advertising their product without any RMT add-ons to the game.

3 thoughts on “Software Toys”

  1. I’ve always been fond of the Maxis take on toys and games ever since reading it as a young and impressionable kid in a Sim-something manual ages ago.

    Paraphrased, it goes something like: A ball can be used in a game or as a toy. Basketball or soccer both involve balls, but there’s a ruleset that defines what can be done within the game. The ball as toy can be used to throw against the wall, roll around, sit on, etc.

    So linearity and a rules structure is what I’d use to define a game, even though interactivity as you mentioned in your post can play a part. Toy meanwhile suggests more flexibility and sandbox play, including puttering about and tinkering around.

    MMOs can probably be played as both game or toy, though my guess is people burn out faster treating it as a game to ‘win.’

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