January 2012

Both Callois and Huizinga (Salen & Zimmerman 2006) argue that play has rules. I am skeptical regarding the evidence provided for this characteristic as most of it is based in esoteric thought instead of scientific fact. I would contend that play may not (necessarily) have rules and that this is what distinguishes it from games. A game has the characteristics of having rules but play can be free form enough to not need them. Play is the chaos and anarchy to the order and meaning of games. There are no distinct rules that animals pass out prior to romping. They just play. Play can be spontaneous and freeing. It can involve rules (however loosely or strictly defined) but then it becomes a game as well as play. A game always has elements of play but play does not necessarily always have elements of a game.

Callois recognized that “man merely adds refinement and precision by devising rules” (Salen and Zimmerman 2006, pg. 132).

Logically, man must be adding these rules to something which does not have rules and I am proposing that the something which man adds rules to is play and those rules, in turn, create a game.

I start to see a possible break in the sky when reading Vygotsky’s 1933 (Gray 2008) view of the paradox of play being spontaneous and yet ruled. In this case, the most salient point is that the unspoken rule of play is to continue to along the path that gives you the most pleasure. But one tree does not a forest make.

“The … paradox is that in play [the child] adopts the line of least resistance—she does what she most feels like doing because play is connected with pleasure—and at the same time she learns to follow the line of greatest resistance by subordinating herself to rules and thereby renouncing what she wants, since subjection to rules and renunciation of impulsive action constitute the path to maximum pleasure in play.”

In reference to the four characteristics of video games provided by Callois (i.e. -agon, alea, mimicry and ilinx), I am curious as to where hand games (e.g. Mary Mack & Pat-a-cake) and other cooperative games would fall? These games can involve technique and practice.There are rules to hand games like Mary Mack (slap hands in rhythm with the song) so that would make it a game rather than play (as per my belief above). However, a game like Mary Mack only encourages opposition in the physical sense where children are facing each other and that may be a stretch to justify classifying it under agon. Also, Mary Mack is not a game of chance and there are no bets placed so that should rule out alea. That leaves ilinx and mimicry. Mimicry seems obvious since the children playing Mary Mack are literally mimicking each others movements but ilinx could also be argued since (based on some playground rules) the song may increase in speed and “attempt to momentarily destory the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic” (Caillois in Salen and Zimmerman 2006, pg. 138) where the speed of the song outruns the players ability to keep with the hand movements and words. Can Mary Mack have figurative feet in both pots?

The sentiment of this comic came to mind as I read through Huizinga’s chapter. In Huizinga’s world, play can have unwritten and loose rules but it has rules nonetheless. This chapter was very esoteric and “deep man” but almost to the point of being extravagant and not parsimonious enough for my taste. Callois was more succinct and easier to read but I could not reach all of the same characteristics for play as he proposed.  I was also unable to create a concrete representation of “whirlwind” games and felt that this was more of an example of our link with other animals than it was a real example of a common game characteristic.

Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2006). The game design reader: A rules of play anthology. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Gray, P. (2008). The Value of Play I: The Definition of Play Provides Clues to Its Purposes. In Freedom to Learn blog on the Psychology Today website. Last retrieved January 25, 2012 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200811/the-value-play-i-the-definition-play-provides-clues-its-purposes.

I came across this graphic as I was investigating some home energy efficiency ideas. It’s from 2008 and the NRDC was looking at ways the game industry (and console owners) could help the “nation’s electricity bill” by using better power management features.

Source: NRDC Study “Lowering the Cost of Play: Improving the Energy Efficiency of Video Game Consoles.”


As requested in the first week of class and as an extension of my “About Me” page, here are my responses to the three class content questions.

  • What would you like to see on the syllabus?
    The syllabus and reading list seem robust. I would prefer only one week on Ludology vs. Narratology and more time spent on social gaming but I am admittedly biased toward social anything phenomenon.
  • What do you generally want to cover?
    I would be most academically interested in social identity acquired through games and by extension social networks linked with game play. Since online multi-player games are so popular and playing games with “friends” is usually more fun than playing with strangers, are gamers more likely to publicly post information hoping to attract new players to their game of choice. It’s a bit of a stretch to tie this class with my thesis (publicly available information on Facebook and the social identities formed) but I recognize that I am in this class more for personal and (later) professional interest. I am interested in an education doctorate as well so the Games and Learning weeks will be especially helpful.
  • What do you specifically want to cover?
    I would like to walk away with a general extension of my knowledge of theory. I am hoping to cover some theories which explain the psycho-social needs video games fulfill beyond uses and gratifications theory. The escape from grounded reality to an alternate reality that both games and the Internet can provide is also interesting. I guess in the end I would like to be able to deconstruct, analyze and reviewing a game’s merit (social, educational, etc…) based on some known theory.


I am a fan of playing games vicariously – a behavior which Aarseth does not seem to hold in high regard. Aarseth claims that “merely observing the game will not put us in the role of the audience.” However, if you value an audience as part of the economics of the game industry then I would contest that a vicarious gamer does have the potential to impact the bottom line by influencing the purchase of a game which they may not even play. It is understood that Aarseth was really addressing the fact that many scholars who use video games as their medium for scholarly research are not actually playing the game. This is usually self-evident to those who have either played the game or watched someone play the game in the question.

Although it is not directly stated anywhere in his text, Aarseth appears to be a fan of the graphics revolution as well. If we use Aarseth’s criteria for studying video games then we would not be able to accurately judge a game made for a visually impaired person using the same categories. Someone with a visual impairment would not be able to experience the graphical world of the game. This ostracizes a potential audience( an unfortunately frequent occurrence) due to the disability. It could be argued that placing that same visually impaired individual next to a sighted person playing a game like BioShock (which doesn’t skimp on the sound elements) would at least provide the visually impaired person with a media rich video game experience. How would Aarseth’s criteria allow for this type of game to judged? Would it start out with a handicap…no pun intended but ironic nonetheless.

The first week’s readings gave a good foundation for the expectations of a scholar interested in studying video games. I would wholeheartedly agree that previous research out of psychology and media studies has suffered from researchers making judgments on a game that they surely did not play. I agree that we should be investigating standard methods of practice for investigating games but I would hope that this method and standard could be inclusive of a wide variety of games and gamers. legal to social to 

Quick Google search came up with the following info/sites for visually impaired gamers:

…barely had enough content to warrant calling it a new game. The nostalgia wore off after 10 minutes.