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M an, Play and Games

Roger Caillois 1961 book “Man, Play and Games” creates a extensive depiction of games and play. His approach sees play created outside of the real space time, a void that we form and fill through our imagination and interaction. He starts by extending Johan Huizinga’s definition, questioning the need for competitivity and finding great difficulty in defining a body for such an open topic. Caillouis results in listing six characteristics which loosely and fluidly guide his conception of play. 

  • It is free, or not obligatory. 
  • It is separate (from the routine of life), occupying its own time and space. 
  • It is uncertain, so that the results of play cannot be pre-determined and so that the player’s initiative is involved. 
  • It is unproductive in that it creates no wealth and ends as it begins. 
  • It is governed by rules that suspend ordinary laws and behaviours and that must be followed by players. 
  • It involves make-believe that confirms for players the existence of imagined realities that may be set against ‘real life’. 

I find these rules useful but still slightly limiting, they define a body that is totally free and transcendental in its form, with few connections to the surrounding world, calling any transition into the world a corruption. His writing also leans heavily towards a love for communal play and chance; both important and notable components of play, but games have developed a lot since the writing of this book and so has their existence in and out of the ‘real world’. Caillois commandments still stay true to many competitive sports, especially drawing a line between commercial/capitalist extensions of play into a monetary gainful entertainment and the purist form of personal free play. 

 He also further creates a guide, characteristics that form a compass, directions which describe certain inputs or outputs a game or experience may attain for. These divide play between Agon, Alea, Linix and Mimicry, displayed in the diagram bellow. I found these more helpful and still loose enough to figure play in some form.  

The area I am most interested in and the one for me that has had major evolution since his writing is Mimicry through the development of rpg games. The existence, capability and overall formation of these playful worlds must have been hard to imagine in the 60’s, with few existences to reference other than theater and games simulating adulthood or war. All of which I feel he demeans as being tied into the real world and not play but a function of society or institutionalized.  

I think you must reapproach his formula and perceptions in the modern day. Play and games for me are now a expansive space for simulation, mimicry and exploration, they allow us to reflect on our existence and the ways we interact and intra-act within them and the greater world. Enacting real world change through alternate structures and hierarchies, this space time void is now filled to the brim and formed to infinity. 


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