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