Linley's Dungeon Crawl (known more simply as Crawl) is a roguelike game first released to the public in 1997. While this is a relatively late release date, the game is derived from a long series of similar games (of which the most popular is probably Nethack) that span almost two decades back to the genre's namesake of Rogue, released in 1980. These games are loosely based on Dungeons and Dragons and typically share a number of common features, such as randomly generated dungeons, turn-based combat, and permanent death (there are no checkpoints or reloading - when you die, the game's over). Crawl, because of its late release date and its long line of predecessors to build upon, is a more sophisticated roguelike with a larger variety of monsters, magic and items. Crawl also features a much more complicated dungeon structure than its predecessors and is considered one of the hardest roguelikes to win. Crawl easily fits into the definitions of game and play described by Huizinga, Caillois, and Suits, and some of its elements make it a particularly good example for certain definitions.
Huizinga describes play as, "'not serious,' but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly." (Huzinga, 107) This is definitely the case with Crawl and because of the design choice of permanent death, this aspect is amplified. Because a character's death is permanent, a player becomes especially attached to their character's progress and survival, especially after they progress a few levels. By that point, the player has invested a few hours of time in the character and does not like to see all their progress erased by some careless actions. The player becomes intensely absorbed in every action they take in the game, and their attention only becomes more focused as the player progresses higher in level, more time is invested, and the stakes are raised. Through the design decision of permanent death, one can easily demonstrate that despite the abstract seperation of the game from real-life, which is amplified by the use of ASCII symbols as the only "graphics", players can still become completely absorbed and take seriously their actions within the game world.
Callois attempts to separate games into four fundamental categories, and Crawl has strong elements of one of these categories: alea. Alea, drawn from the latin for dice, refers to games of chance where the player must “surrender to destiny.” (Callois, 134) When a player starts up a new game of Crawl they are surrendering to the destiny that the random generators within the game create. Alea, this element of chance, is reflected in almost every aspect of play within the game, from the random layout of the dungeons and placement of items and monsters, to the random amount of damage applied when the hero gets smashed in the head by an Ogre's club. While skill is an important element to survival in Crawl, the element of chance is particularly strong, with young characters often meeting untimely deaths from an overpowered monster that the generator spit out a little earlier than expected (my graveyard is littered with level 1 characters). New players in particular have to learn to accept this randomness if they don't want to get too frustrated. Though not a pure game of chance, randomness plays such a strong role in Crawl that its connection to Alea cannot be denied.
Suits describes games as having a prelusory goal (“a specific state of affairs”) that can only by achieved by using the permitted rules (“lusory means”). (Suits, 190) Crawl has a clearly defined prelusory goal (escape from the dungeon with the Orb of Zot) and permitted rules defined by the code. There is no need to spell out the rules, since they are guided by the operations of the code itself. However, Suits also makes the point that these means often require giving up more efficient means for less efficient means (“constitutive rules”). Oftentimes we think of computer games as insulated from this point, since the rules are so rigidly handled by the code. But computer games and Crawl in particular, due to the open-source nature of its code, could easily be hacked. The player could hack the code so his or her character started with the Orb of Zot and then could just move their character out of the dungeon and win! However, this win would be pointless. It certainly wouldn't be a win of Crawl but of some other game (Take The Orb Up The Stairs, perhaps...). The player must accept to not hack the game (must have a “lusory attitude”) in order to actually play the game. This demonstrates that Crawl also falls into Suits' definition of a game and even contains the concept of constitutive rules, despite the perceived problem that the hard and fast structure of a games' code may initially present.
Huizinga, Johan. "Nature and significance of play as a cultural phenomenon." The Game Design Reader. Ed. Salen and Zimmerman. Boston: MIT, 2006. 96-119.
Caillois, Roger. "The definition of play and the classification of games." The Game Design Reader. Ed. Salen and Zimmerman. 122-155.
Suits, Bernard. "Construction of a Definition." The Game Design Reader. Ed. Salen and Zimmerman. 173-191.