Posted by: Tj'ièn | April 27, 2010

What is the difference between toys, games and puzzles?

This is an interesting question and something I thought about for quite a while. We all feel that there is a difference between these things, although when we take a closer look they are all quite similar. Puzzles have rules and goals just like games. Games are played, just like toys. Some people have described playing with Lego is similar to playing a game; there are unwritten rules on ‘proper ways’ to use the bricks for example.

So where do toys end and games start? Where do games end and puzzles start? Where should we draw the line? My answer is we don’t draw the line.

The way I see it, they are all part of the same thing. The only difference is the player’s role while operating with them.


With puzzles, there is usually only one answer, one solution. The player’s role is confined to finding the answer to the puzzle. Like a riddle, the puzzle challenges the player to find the answer. The player is limited.

With toys on the other hand the player is completely free in the way it handles them. There are no hard rules that tell the player what to do or how to do it. The player creates its own experience.

Games fit snugly in the middle between toys and puzzles. They allow for more freedom then puzzles and are more confined then toys. In a way, games are puzzle-toys.

So the difference between toys, games and puzzles is the amount of authorship the player has over the experience. The more authorship the player has over a puzzle, the more it becomes like a toy. The more the player is the actor following the strict guides of the toy, the more the toy becomes like a puzzle.


In my opinion there is no strict line in between these 3 experiences. When you add a goal to toys it will become a game. For instance, when you say create the highest tower using these Lego bricks, it becomes a game. When you say, build an exact duplicate of this tower using these Lego bricks it becomes a puzzle. This will work the other way around as well, try it, maybe you will create a new game or toy!



  1. I like the way you define the sliding scale of puzzles, games, and toys…very insightful!

  2. What a wonderful treatment. I have developed a similar model that is an expansion on what you started.

    I call this theory: Playstates. It speaks to the different kinds of play including puzzles, games, sports, and more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: