We propose a conceptual framework first used in phonology — the distinctive features (DFs) system — for the study of games. DFs represent key characteristics of a phenomenon. This enables a formal representation of characteristics of games, and can be used as one of the elements in a comprehensive, formal description of games. The DF system does not need a definition of “game”, even if such a definition can exist. It can be used to represent any artifact identified as a game. The system is flexible and extensible; a particular set of DFs can be tailored according to the needs of the researcher.