Are All Games just Card Games?

While thinking about the simplification of video game programming, I had an odd realization: video games are glorified card games.

Let’s consider a card game that a programmer converted into a video game. The computer is the dealer; it deals all players a hand of cards, each with different representations and values. You, as a player, play the cards with controller input. Other players (if available) do the same on their turn. Rules are processed to produce various outcomes. And we repeat until we reach a completion state, generally that of determining the winner.

stateDiagram-v2 DealerAction DealerAction --> RuleProcessing RuleProcessing --> PlayerTurns PlayerTurns --> RuleProcessing RuleProcessing --> Win RuleProcessing --> Lose Lose --> GameOver Win --> GameOver GameOver --> DealerAction

What I describe above is not unlike any other video game. Because it happens on a computer, what is physically impossible in a real-life card game can be done. Imagine a “Move” card in your hand that allows you to move the player’s avatar on screen. The moment you play it on the table, this card immediately warps back into your hand allowing you to play it again. This is typical player movement but “abstracted” into card form. It’s just that the cards are dealt or played and the rules are processed near instantly on the computer.

Because every situation in a video game can be thought of as the result of various actions, it is possible to reinterpret these situations as playable cards. In some action games, it’s advantageous to get behind an enemy and dole out attacks. The process of getting behind an enemy is a choice given to the player who is free to move anywhere on the battlefield. The action of placing one’s avatar behind an opponent can thus be thought of as a single playable card and the ability to play it can be determined by chance or other rules (some of which could be defined by other cards).

Holding a bunch of cards representing player actions

Most video games, when converted into a card game format, offer players more cards than they could physically hold. But thanks to input devices and user interfaces, it is possible to afford the ability to make hundreds of player decisions as if one had a handful of a hundred or more cards.

But aren’t all card games driven by rules that are mathematically defined? Blackjack is about reaching a total value of 21. Poker is about getting numerical sets of varying worth. Collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh! involve tons of numeric comparisons and custom formulae for various cards. So if all video games are card games…are all video games just math??? 👀

 Date: April 11, 2023
 Tags:  musings

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