First disclosure, I am not trying to imply that one definition is better than the other, I just want to clarify what is UCB "game." Of course improv is an art form, and one could argue how could anyone define a term that is open to interpretation. I completely agree, and hence the first sentence of this paragraph. OKAY, on to the good stuff.
The Boston "Game": Well, I am not even sure if there is a formal Boston definition of game. That might be the first problem. From what I've gathered, it seems to be a very high level definition. One definition I've heard in Boston is it's akin to finding the pattern in the scene. ANY pattern can become a game. In principal, I loosely agree with that definition, but I think it's too broad of a definition and can lead to poor scene work and understanding. For example:
Person 1: "Hey, I'm a dummy"
Person 2: "Uh, sir, you're at McDonalds, what would you like?"
Person 1: "Hey, I'm a dummy"
Bam, the pattern is saying "I'm a dummy"! The game is found! Scene is over! This was a humorous, over simplified example meant to express a point. Yes, there was a pattern there, and if you go by above's definition, then that is the game. And if you like to live in that world, then everything makes sense. Is this a good scene? Does simply repeating something make something funny? Do students gain any understanding at making good scenes? I'd say no to those questions. I am not a fan of this definition as in my opinion can lead to weird, unfocused, and lazy scenes if it is taught poorly. Obviously the pros in Chicago have mastered how to teach this method and know way more about it than I do.
The UCB "Game": To be fair the UCB definition of game has also changed a bit, but the best definition I've head is "The funny thing about the scene". Notice there is no mention of pattern or repetition. It's simply trying to pinpoint the single funny idea of the scene, and we call this idea "the game." Now the question is, what is funny? The UCB formula is to first find the unusual thing about the scene to at least get you started. Finding the unusual thing and justifying it can usually lead to a funny concept.
Let's go back to the simple scene above. Is there anything funny in those 3 lines of dialogue? I would argue no. All we know is that we have a person saying "i'm a dummy" a lot, but what if this persona has a learning disability, or is a stutterer, then there's definitely nothing humorous here. It's just a real life scenario. NOTHING unusual has happened, mostly because we don't know what "normal" is yet for these characters. Let's look at another scene in the same location:
Person 1: "Hello, I would like a big mac, large fries, vanilla mcflurry, 12-piece chicken mcnuggets and a diet coke please - I'm trying to watch my weight"
Person 2: "Of course. I should say your order's calorie count is triple the normal recommended for a single adult meal"
Person 3: "Hah. Obviously. That's why I ordered the diet coke you silly goose"
What's the unusual thing here? Answer: someone thinks ordering a diet coke can nutritionally justify the rest of the high calorie count meal. What's the overall, boiled down funny idea here? That a single "good" thing can justify for a whole bunch of "bad" things. That is the game of the scene. That is the funny idea that we want to visit 2 more times. Those are your next beats of the Harold. It has nothing to do with finding a pattern.
The UCB game definition refers to more of a concept, specifically the funny concept of the scene. The pattern definition refers to mechanically doing the same thing more than once. These are two very different things. The UCB perspective on a basic 2 person scene, is the entire purpose of the scene is to find that one funny game. It is very much so a hunting based mentality. Other schools in Chicago and Boston tend to teach improv as more of a free-form exploration, in which patterns may emerge and disappear seamlessly. In this context, the pattern definition makes more sense.
The goal of this blog post was just to highlight the subtle differences that exist in the improv world, and that they can all be potentially great. I just find it dangerous when we sloppily mix up the definitions and try to apply one to the other and then everyone gets confused.