Monday, March 10, 2008

Playing the Definition Game

In an attempt to improve my knowledge of game theory, I've been reading about the concept of "play" (Huizinga's "Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon"and Caillois' "The Definition of Play and the Classification of Games" in Salen/Zimmerman's The Game Design Reader) and it actually turned out to be rather interesting to see to what extent I can apply them on myself. Roger Caillois defines different types of play: agôn (rulebased competition against someone, i.e. football or chess), alea (games based on chance, such as dice), mimicry (role-play, pretending to be someone or something), and ilinx (a physical dance- or rotation game, where the body feels dizzy or dislocated). In all the four categories above there are two opposites competing: paidia and ludus. Paidia is described as the childich, chaotic, pure expression of joy whereas ludus indicates the institutional, rule-based type of play. The latter, and its possibility to hone the skills of the "players" through levels and progression seems to be preferred by the authors.

I notice that I personally like the idea of paidia more than anything else. I like the idea of the non-regulated, curious, uncomplicatedly free and joyous. Somehow I can't see the joy in doing something that somebody else has already done, thought through and decided the rules for. Then it obviously has already been achieved, and why should I copy someone else's actions? Before I even begin, I realise how it's supposed to end and what's the point of doing it in that case? Why should I compete against someone else when it ultimately doesn't make a difference who wins? I don't find games of chance particularly interesting either, since there isn't much I can do to change the outcome. Role-play? Well, perhaps they are useful in order to learn something about a certain topic, but when I read through the idea behind it and realise its implications, why should I then carry it out? Ilinx, perhaps? There is something about free movement and using my body that I do enjoy, but I can hardly say that I plan to join the dancing dervishes.

Ludus is portrayed as a way of controlling paidia, of developing and honing skills through systematic training, and this is something I find extremely boring. I do find it interesting, however, that the author points to a different way of dealing with paidia as a part of the discussion around the Chinese sister concept wan:
    The vast semantic area of the term wan makes it even more deserving of interest. To begin with, it includes child's play and all kinds of carefree and frivolous diversion such as are suggested by the verbs to frolic, to romp, to trifle, etc. It is used to describe casual, abnormal, or strange sex practices. At the same time, it is used for games demanding reflection and forbidding haste, such as chess, checkers, puzzles (tai Kiao), and the game of nine rings. It also comprises the pleasure of appreciating the savor of good food or the bouquet of a wine, the taste for collecting works of art or even appreciating them, voluptuously handling and even fashioning delicate curios, comparable to the Occidental category of the hobby, collecting or puttering. Lastly, the transitory and relaxing sweetness of moonlight is suggested, the pleasure of a boat ride on a limpid lake or the prolonged contemplation of a waterfall. (Caillois 146)

Tranquility, reflection and contemplation as a way of harnessing paidia... I guess I finally feel that at least a part of the concept of play could work for me as well... :)

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