Quote Originally Posted by Skalpadda View Post
For me, forming an interpretation of the story is a goal (though my interpretation is by no means definite or conclusive). It exists within the confines of gameplay: navigate the environment to unlock voice-overs which form pieces of that puzzle, find the little vignettes scattered around the island, gain access to the rest of the story.
From a gameplay perspective though it isn't a goal. It doesn't compare with the goals in Minecraft for example (since sandboxes usually are more difficult to classify as games due to their open nature) because goals in Minecraft are still based around what is possible with gameplay. The exception is Creative Mode which is not game-like.

Quote Originally Posted by Skalpadda View Post
I don't see how navigating the environment in Dear Esther to progress to the next area and the next bit of story is (conceptually) any different from navigating through a dungeon in Dragon Age to reach the next part of a quest, for example. Or is an RPG only a game when you're engaged in combat or conversation? Does a shooter stop being a game when I let go of the trigger?
Those examples you mention have specific gameplay. Navigation through the map in Duke Nukem 3D for example requires that you overcome obstacles in the way of enemies, or traps, or conveniently colour-coded access card doors. Navigating a dungeon in Dragon Age requires a similar sort of thing. If you had an in-depth conversation tree where you had the possibility of success or failure that also counts as gameplay. It has to relate to gameplay. Dear Esther's navigation is akin to walking through a museum and looking at exhibits. The examples you cite are conceptually different because they're rooted in gameplay.

Quote Originally Posted by Skalpadda View Post
I never failed anything while playing Mass Effect 2 for example (no deaths, no lost squad members), nor did I ever die during the HL2 episodes, so would those meet your criteria for providing a challenge?
Passing a challenge with ease does not stop something from being a challenge in this sense. I didn't say that something being easy is not a challenge. What I said was that the "failure conditions" aren't about gameplay, they're about imposing barriers to prevent you wandering off into parts of the game world without geometry. It's like a clip block that prevents you wandering off into the skybox, or "Get back to the battlefield before you die from some unspecified cause!" They aren't challenges. They're more like rules.

Quote Originally Posted by Skalpadda View Post
You say the story has no gameplay aspect, but when it's up to the player to unlock and explore the story (through exploring the environment) I would argue very much the opposite.
So if I said to you "Here's a PowerPoint presentation, there are three buttons: one of them leads to the next story, the others do absolutely nothing" you'd consider that to be a game? If so, would you like to play my game? It's got a cool story about a game that didn't think it was a game.


Regarding your definition of a game: I can play with lots of things that aren't games. If I play with a pen out of boredom (e.g. fiddling with it), is that a game? If someone plays with their hair (e.g. they twirl it around their fingers), does that count as a game? If I dig a hole in a sandpit without really having any intention in mind, but just for the sheer fun of digging, does that count as a game? Also, what do you mean by "tools to be used within a game"? Does that mean that a controller, because it is used to play a video game, counts as a game itself?