What is open gaming?

Open source resources


"Open gaming" describes a set of beliefs about the way people should make and play games.

Game designers and players who embrace open gaming believe that sharing, transparency, and rapid prototyping can lead to superior entertainment experiences.

How do open source principles apply to games?

Games and software are similar because they are both collections of rules. Just as software is really a set of rules that determines what is and is not possible for users to do with a computer program, a game is a set of rules that defines what players can and can't do in pursuit of a goal.

Open source software is software anyone can modify and enhance because its source code is publicly available (and because its creators have given everyone permission to alter it). Open source games are likewise games that players can adapt to fit their preferences. The open nature of these games allows players to build on designers' ideas.

Taking an open source approach to games means recognizing that the rules governing what people can and can't do are arbitrary—they are not permanent, and people should feel free to tweak and tinker with them. Like writing laws, creating games is the practice of crafting the rules by which people can act. The same is true of writing software.

How do open source principles apply to digital games?

Digital games consist of multiple components, and open source principles can apply to each.

At the heart of modern digital games (like video games) is what programmers call a "game engine," a collection of software tools that game designers use to make video games by manipulating the sounds, the on-screen graphics, the "physics" of the world represented in the game, and everything else players see when they play those games. Using a game engine, programmers can create games for the specific devices players own (like the game consoles in those players' living rooms, or the mobile phones in their pockets). The source code for some of these engines (like the Blender Game Engine and jMonkeyEngine) is open; programmers are free to study it, modify it, enhance it, and improve it for the game designers that want to use it.

Digital games also consist of hardware, the physical devices people use to play games. Some gaming hardware is closed or proprietary; only its creators have the right to determine how that hardware can be built and how people can use it. Some manufactures prohibit players from modifying their gaming hardware. Other hardware is open. Manufacturers of open gaming hardware encourage players to examine and tinker with their devices if they are curious about how they might enhance them. For example, makers of the OUYA, a video game console that features the Linux-based Android operating system, specifically designed the console so that players could take it apart and study how it was assembled. Other gaming device makers have open-sourced the designs for their devices so that others can learn from and even manufacture them. Creators of Pandora, an open source handheld video gaming console, have posted designs for the unit's circuit boards online so people can use those plans to build their own open gaming hardware.

Digital games involve artwork in the form of graphical icons, scenery, and depictions of characters and creatures that players see when they are interacting with these games. These graphical elements of digital games are a form of intellectual property; they belong exclusively to the person (or group of people) that created them. In recent years, some artists have begun licensing their graphics so game designers can incorporate those graphics into their games without fear of violating copyright law. In 2012, Creative Commons, OpenGameArt, and the Free Software Foundation hosted the Liberated Pixel Cup, a contest that rewarded graphic artists who created gaming resources open for anyone to use.

Do open source principles only apply to digital games?

No. People who design non-digital games like board games and card games can also do so according to open source principles. For example, some game designers will release their materials under Creative Commons licenses so players can download, replicate, and, in some cases, even modify them.

Designers may do this because they feel it makes discovering their games easier. Potential players are more likely to try unfamiliar games if they can access and acquire the materials they need to play those games with little difficulty—or if they are able to receive copies of games from friends who recommend them.

Designers might also release their games under Creative Commons licenses because they feel that doing so helps promote their games' longevity. They feel that players who can freely share game materials are more likely to continue playing those games in the future (and to introduce those games to others).

Occasionally game designers use rapid prototyping and crowdsourcing techniques to help them improve their games. They make their game design processes transparent so that would-be players can help shape their games' final forms. Designing a game involves playtesting it by asking players to play the game and offer their feedback on it. People who make games tend to playtest their games as much as possible before they finalize their designs. By opening the design process, creators can more easily gather large groups of playtesters and hone their products more quickly than they could if the design process was closed or conducted in secret.

Can I learn more about open source by playing games?

Yes. Playing both digital and non-digital games can increase your familiarity with open source tools or principles.

Some games make changing the rules a fundamental part of playing those games. Looney Labs' Fluxx, for instance, is a card game in which the game's rules change every time someone takes a turn. Games like Fluxx encourage people to think of rules as fluid in the same way open source code, the rules that govern how people can use their computers, is flexible.

Other games make learning programming easier and more fun for people who don't have experience writing software. Robot Turtles is a non-digital example of one such game. CodeCombat and Hack 'n' Slash are digital games with the same goal.

Some games specifically model the process of creating and manipulating open source software. In 2010, Designer Rustan Håkansson created a card game based on the open source content management application named Drupal. The game mimics the process of programming and maintaining websites using open source tools, and it introduces players to the Drupal vernacular.

Where can I learn more about open gaming?

We recommend visiting the Linux Game Consortium, the FreeGameDev community, and Opensource.com.

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