Unit 1: Core Concepts
Chapter 3: Meaningful Play
Chapter 4: Design
Chapter 5: Systems
Chapter 6: Interactivity
Chapter 7: Defining Games
Chapter 8: Defining Digital Games
Chapter 9: The Magic Circle
Chapter 10: The Primary Schemas: RULES, PLAY, CULTURE
Commissioned Game: Richard Garfield
He who hopes to learn the fine art of the game from books will soon learn that only the opening and closing moves of the game admit of exhaustive systematic description; and that the endless variety of moves which develop from the opening defies description; the gap left in the instructions can only be filled in by the zealous study of games fought out by master hands.-E. M. Avedon, The Study of Games
How does play happen?
How is it that a game board and a pair of dice, or a game program on a hard drive, or a baseball, a bat, and an empty lot somehow ramify into the experience of play-an experience of endless pleasure and variety that defies ordinary description? What are games? What is game design? And how do we design for meaningful play? In this unit, we begin to answer these questions by clarifying several key concepts that inform our study. After first looking closely at the concept of meaningful play, we introduce three interrelated ideas-design, systems, and interactivity-that lead us directly to a definition of games and game design. These core concepts provide the crucial foundation for any understanding of game design and meaningful play.
Chapter 3: Meaningful Play
We have only to watch young dogs to see that all the essentials of human play are present in their merry gambols. They invite one another to play by a certain ceremoniousness of attitude and gesture. They keep to the rule that you shall not bite, or not bite hard, your brother’s ear. They pretend to get terribly angry. And-what is most important-in all these doings they plainly
experience tremendous fun and enjoyment. Such rompings of young dogs are only one of the simpler forms of animal play. There are other, much more highly developed forms: regular contests and beautiful performances before an admiring public.
Here we have at once a very important point: even in its simplest forms on the animal level, play is more than a mere physiological phenomenon or a psychological reflex. It goes beyond the confines of purely physical or purely biological activity. It is a significant function-that is to say, there is some sense to it. In play there is something “at play” which transcends the immediate needs of life and imparts meaning to the action. All play means something.-Johann Huizinga, Homo Ludens
Introducing Meaningful Play
Johann Huizinga is one of the greatest scholars of play in the twentieth century. His groundbreaking book, Homo Ludens, is a unique investigation of the role of play in human civilization. The title is a play on Homo Sapiens, and translates as Man the Player. According to Huizinga, play and games, which have been maligned in recent history as trivial and frivolous, are in fact at the very center of what makes us human.”Play is older than culture,” as Huizinga puts it, and Homo Ludens is a celebration of play that links the visceral, combative nature of contest directly to war, poetry, art, religion, and other essential elements of culture. Homo Ludens is, in many ways, an attempt to redefine and elevate the significance of play.
Huizinga’s vision of play offers a perfect point of departure for the development of the concept of meaningful play.