Friday, 9 March 2007

Being a good sport

What are the differences between games and play? In many languages the similarity between the words is striking and so perhaps it is just in English that we try to make such differentiation. Though we may try to argue that games are a subset of play or vice versa, there is a blur in the boundaries.

In his 1939 book, Homo Ludens, Dutch anthropologist Huizinga suggested that play has a far greater role in the human psyche than being just an aside from reality. He posed the question 'what is the point in play?' He found it to be a consistent phenomenon across both cultures and species. He suggested many possible uses;
The development of the senses and spacial awareness, as an outlet for aggression, a tool for developing social instincts and forming alliances, a form of relaxation, development of physical and mental focus, teaching the young pyhysical and social restraint, a form of energy restoration, a desire to fulfill an imitative instinct but above all an ability to exercise dominance through competition.

Huizinga suggested that the magic circle is an important aspect of playtime. By magic circle he meant that by entering we knew that we are in play mode, a moment separated from real life. This place can be divided from 'real life' either physically (for example a rugby pitch) or psychologically (the constraints of 'yes, no, maybe). In digital games when we enter this magic circle we can carve up the road at high speeds (Gran Turismo) or shoot our friends (multiplayer Goldeneye).

In entering the magic circle players agree to adopt what Haizinga called the 'lusory attitude', what we would call the 'players attitude'. We agree to abide by the often inefficient rules of the game. Its football so we use our feet, whether its easier to pick it up and run with it or not... perhaps William Webb Ellis was not so well know for his good sportsmanship at first, a sure sign of a poor lusory attitude. It could be argued that cheating is a symptom of this poor lusory attitude, players are often banned from MMORPGs for using macros to automate an otherwise mundane actions.


Homo Ludens: Versuch einer Bestimmung des Spielements der Kultur.
Jan Huizinga
Review author[s]: Eric Voegelin
The Journal of Politics, Vol. 10, No. 1. (Feb., 1948), pp. 179-187.
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Homo Ludens Revisited
Jacques Ehrmann; Cathy Lewis; Phil Lewis
Yale French Studies, No. 41, Game, Play, Literature. (1968), pp. 31-57.
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