The Games Kids Play website is a pretty nifty resource of categories and comparisons of classic schoolyard activities.
Since a meeting of the GAMBIT graduate students last week, I've been thinking about things that I find fun and engaging in digital games and trying to draw analogies to classic games for children. I'm not concentrating on the gross rule systems or the setting of the activity... it's trivial to connect Quake-CTF to Capture the Flag, The Sims to House, and Call of Duty to soldier games. I'm thinking about those little micro-moments of gameplay, sometimes incidental or accidental to the design, that cumulatively add up to a pleasurable game experience.
Take save points. They're there for a very pragmatic purpose... you've got to stop playing sometime, and when you do, it's programmatically less memory-intensive to designate specific locations in the game world where the game can be saved. But the act of reaching one of these points is often a thrill in itself. In Final Fantasy games, they're spread across environments like hidden treasure chests... in Halo, reaching a "checkpoint" is often accompanied by a sigh of relief. Compare that to a kids' game like Prisoner's Base, or as they call it in Singapore, Police and Thief. You need to leave a safe zone, travel through danger, achieve an objective, then make it back to a safe zone. Repeat that micro-sequence of fun until everyone's exhausted.
Similarly, while shmups are ostensibly about firing bullets and hitting weak points in bosses, I suspect I'm not alone in truly relishing the dodgeball-like thrill of avoiding incoming projectiles. The difference is that boss-destroying pleasure only resolves once a minute or so, while dodgeball skill is exercised every half-second. Even problematic moments in games can be entertaining --- compare Marco Polo, which is really all about mocking the a handicapped player, and the hilarious fun to be had by exploiting the bad pathfinding of an enemy NPC for a couple of cheap shots.
How many entertaining games are built on a strong foundation of fulfilling moments of micro-gameplay? Bungie has been pretty clear at describing the original Halo as 30 seconds of fun. Many childhood games operate solely on such repetition. How might familiarity with the activities listed on Games Kids Play inform a game designer in their craft? I haven't finished thinking through these ideas yet but I'd love to read your thoughts.
P.S. I suspect the majority of digital games can be thought of as computational versions of Let's Pretend, but that doesn't really get me very far.