Puzzles Meaning: Is it a Game?

There is no better feeling than placing the right puzzle piece into place, making the image come into view just a little more. Puzzles are fun, that’s clear, but have you ever considered why we tend to reach for Monopoly over a puzzle on game night? Are puzzles considered board games too, or something else completely?

Puzzles can be considered a game for many reasons. For one, they are a strategic mental challenge for gaining an end and are used for diversion or amusement. Much like other board and card games, they can be played individually or with others, and can involve competition.

Though many may argue that board games are a different ball game altogether, once we take a closer look you’ll see that puzzles can be viewed in the same way as games and have many common similarities. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

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Puzzles as a Game

If we are going to discuss how to categorize puzzles, we first must understand what it is at its base to be able to do so. So how exactly do we define what a puzzle is to someone who has never seen one before? Oxford Languages define a puzzle as:

“A game, toy, or problem designed to test ingenuity or knowledge.”- Oxford dictionary, edition 3, volume 3

More specifically Oxford Languages precise that a jigsaw puzzle:

“Consists of a picture printed on cardboard or wood and cut into various pieces of different shapes that have to be fitted together.” - Oxford dictionary, edition 3, volume 3

Puzzles may be completed individually or with a friend. There is no strict method on how to complete one either, it’s completely up to the individual.

Puzzles are numerous and come in all shapes and sizes. They can range from anywhere between 300 to 40,000 pieces in one single puzzle set, and can take anywhere from 3 hours to an unlimited amount of time to complete!

Puzzles all have one simple goal, which also functions as its rule: complete the puzzle most efficiently and successfully as possible. While some may choose to follow an even more complicated etiquette when completing a puzzle, the most basic rule to the game is an inherent part of the activity.

So how exactly do we categorize such activity, and could we consider it to be a game? We next have to take a closer look at exactly what constitutes a game before we make any decision.

What is a Game?

Games are hard to define, as there are so many different applications and contextual situations. For our purposes, we are going to focus on a more general definition. Merriam-Webster defines a game as having the following components:

“Any activity undertaken or regarded as a contest involving rivalry, strategy, or struggle, activity engaged in for diversion or amusement, the manner of playing in a contest” - Merriam-Webster, edition 11 

A game is also described by Oxford Languages as:

“A form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.”- Oxford dictionary, edition 3, volume 3

Games do not require multiple players. There are thousands of online and offline, card and board games that can be played both individually and in groups.

While some games require some level of expertise to be victorious, like for example sports games, other types of games allow complete novices a chance to have some fun. They can also be used in educational settings, and to impart some sort ofknowledge or skill to the player or participant.

When we take a closer look at the more precise definition of a game in general, we see that there are many parallels with the act of completing a jigsaw puzzle.

Is a Jigsaw Puzzle a Game?

Jigsaw puzzles hold many similarities to what is considered to be a game. First off, a puzzle is a leisure activity and does not involve obligations or responsibilities. Often puzzles are completed to help with stress and are a great method of relaxation for many.

Puzzles involve both strategy and struggle as you are required to piece together portions in a trial and error fashion. This can often be the source of great frustration if you cannot find the location of a pesky piece. The struggle can also stem from the sheer time commitment of completing a puzzle, especially a larger one of 1,000 + pieces.

Moreover, the notion of a contest is mentioned. While contests in a normative viewpoint imply that more than one person is involved, it is still perfectly logical to enter into a contest or competition with yourself. This may look like this:

●     Completing the puzzle in a set amount of time, like in one sitting.

●     Finishing the puzzle without help.

●     Another constraint to somehow complete the task more effectively and efficiently than a previous attempt.

It’s also perfectly possible to enter into a contest with a friend helping you complete the puzzle, allotting points, or wagering in some other way. Competition does not require a group, but just the simple desire to gain superiority over others who have attempted the same task. You can surely be your competition.

Due to their nature, puzzles can provide an array of benefits to players. These benefits stem from the game-like nature of the activity and can transfer over to many other aspects of life.  

Benefits of Puzzles

Working to complete a puzzle can reap many benefits, for both children and adults. Thanks to the game-like characteristics of a jigsaw puzzle, those working to achieve their goal of completing the image will be forced to use skills, analysis, and even luck to be successful, much like a player of a game would.

Puzzles are an amazing way to build key skills that are transferable to many other aspects of everyday life. These skills include:

●     Critical thinking

●     Problem-solving

●     Visual perception

●     Concentration

●     Productivity

Using logical reasoning is the main component of being successful at completing your puzzle, or when playing any game at all. The nature of completing a puzzle forces you to hone skills, create tactics, try and fail, then try again. These aspects of games in general are fantastic educational tools for any player.

Moreover, puzzles and games not only help with skills but can even help reinforce important social and life lessons, like: 

●     Teamwork

●     Honesty

●     Dedication

●     Patience

●     Goal-setting

Due to the manner of a puzzle, and other games, there is only one single way to complete the task and there is no cheat code or shortcut to get you there. While useful to all ages, these skills and ideas are especially important for children, who are tasked with building their fundamental moral views and standpoints from a young age.

As you can see, much like other games, puzzles have numerous benefits and are a fun way to build skills and social intelligence. Regardless of the type or difficulty level, completing a puzzle will be beneficial in more ways than one.

Final Thoughts

On the surface, one may shy away from the idea of a puzzle being a game. After all, we don’t even use the verb ‘play’ to describe the activity of piecing together a puzzle. On closer examination of the definition of both ‘puzzle and 'game', however, parallels begin to appear. Puzzles can not only be considered games but educational ones at that!

A game is a competition and amusement, requiring strategy and mental challenge to overcome a task. A game has rules and can consist of one or many players. Now, when we look at a puzzle through this perspective, the notion of a game becomes much less farfetched.

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