In his 2003 book Chris Crawford on Game Design, Chris Crawford set out his proposed taxonomy of computer games:
Chris starts with creative expression. If it’s done for the sake of beauty, then it’s art; if it’s done for money, it’s entertainment. If entertainment is non-interactive, it’s a book, movie, or the like; if it’s interactive, Chris calls it a plaything. Playthings can have no goals, in which case they’re toys; or they can have goals, making them challenges. A challenge without a competitor is a puzzle; a challenge with a competitor is a conflict. If a conflict doesn’t allow attacks, it’s a competition; if it does, it’s a game.
In other words, in Chris’ taxonomy, a game is a creative expression that is made for money, is interactive, has goals, has competitors, and allows attacks.
I don’t think the world is quite so clear-cut, and I suspect neither does Chris, but nevertheless, this is a useful way of looking at things.
Consider four different games and where they would appear in Chris’ taxonomy. SimCity, at least in its fundamental configuration, is goal-less, so it’s a toy. Angry Birds doesn’t have human competitors, so it’s a puzzle. Wii Bowling doesn’t have attacks, so it’s a competition. And Call of Duty is quite clearly a game. Four games (SimCity, Angry Birds, Wii Bowling, and Call of Duty) and four different classifications (toy, puzzle, competition, game).
With all this in mind, where do simulations fit in this taxonomy? A game like Microsoft Flight Simulator is a plaything without goals, making it a toy. But in fact, every game discussed in this entry has a simulation at its core. SimCity uses a simulation of city dynamics: population, economics, and the like. Angry Birds uses a simulation of simple physics. Wii Bowling uses a simulation of how bowling balls and pins behave. And Call of Duty uses a simulation of human and machine movement, weapons effects, and more. So how do we classify these games?
The answer is that we classify these games exactly as we already do, while acknowledging that simulation is at the heart of most interesting games today. In other words, simulation isn’t a category or a type of game or entertainment; it’s a tool that we use to create games (as well as educational programs, analytical tools, and other types of software) that respond in realistic and compelling ways to user input.
Simulation is at the heart of most interesting games today.