Back to Play: A Reply to Malaby

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My DiGRA 2013 talk presenting a critical reading of Thomas Malaby's 2007 paper "Beyond Play".

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Back to Play: A Reply to Malaby

  1. 1. back to playa reply to malaby Sebastian Deterding MAGIC Lab, Rochester Institute of Technology DiGRA 2013, Atlanta, August 28, 2013 c b
  2. 2. Highly influential definition of games Sage 2013 Practice-theoretical, process- oriented challenge to formalism, essentialism, exceptionalism in current game studies a gift to game studies 2
  3. 3. 3 games play separable: opposite to work safe: free from consequence pleasurable: fun, normatively positive
  4. 4. 4 games play separable: opposite to work safe: free from consequence pleasurable: fun, normatively positive
  5. 5. games »a semibounded and socially legitimate domain of contrived contingency that generates interpretable outcomes« 5 play »a label for a mode of experience, a way of engaging the world«
  6. 6. two issues
  7. 7. »Games have a long-running, deep, and habitual association with “play,” itself a shallowly examined term, historically and culturally specific to Western modernity. […] None of [. its] features holds as an intrinsic, universal feature of games when they are examined empirically« thomas malaby beyond play (2007: 96) 7 issue #1
  8. 8. essentializing western »play« • Play definitions (of Huizinga & Caillois) claim universal features of play not really universal: • Separable, opposite of work: Not all cultures know Western work/leisure distinction • Safe, inconsequential: Gambling, goldfarming, soccer championships show material and symbolic consequence • Pleasurable: Gaming comes with unpleasant experiences – »engaging« is more apt than »fun« 8 issue #1/2
  9. 9. universality of animal & child play • Play found across species; all mammals play; higher primates, humans most playful species Burghardt 2005 • Object, social, pretend & rule play found across all studied cultures Pellegrini 2009, Konner 2010 • Rule play (= gaming) evolutionarily and developmentally latest emerging form ibid. • Ethology, developmental psychology, anthropology agree on characteristics of play Burghardt 2005, Pellegrini 2009 9 counter #1/2
  10. 10. actual characteristics of play • Limited immediate function • Incomplete, exaggerated, recombined, repeated, metacommunication, e.g. play smile • Autotelic, means over ends, voluntary • Happening in »relaxed field«, with no immediate threat present Burghardt 2005, Pellegrini 2009, Konner 2010 10 counter #2/2
  11. 11. actual characteristics of play • Limited immediate function • Incomplete, exaggerated, recombined, repeated, metacommunication, e.g. play smile • Autotelic, means over ends, voluntary • Happening in »relaxed field«, with no immediate threat present Burghardt 2005, Pellegrini 2009, Konner 2010 11 != separable or inconsequential: activity is not chiefly organized and avowedly done for the sake of an external consequence counter #2/2
  12. 12. actual characteristics of play • Limited immediate function • Incomplete, exaggerated, recombined, repeated, metacommunication, e.g. play smile • Autotelic, means over ends, voluntary • Happening in »relaxed field«, with no immediate threat present Burghardt 2005, Pellegrini 2009, Konner 2010 12 != separable or inconsequential: activity is not chiefly organized and avowedly done for the sake of an external consequence != fun, pleasurable: but “autotelic” is primary quality of “flow” activities counter #2/2
  13. 13. actual characteristics of play • Limited immediate function • Incomplete, exaggerated, recombined, repeated, metacommunication, e.g. play smile • Autotelic, means over ends, voluntary • Happening in »relaxed field«, with no immediate threat present Burghardt 2005, Pellegrini 2009, Konner 2010 13 != defined as “safe”: lack of threats facilitates getting into “a playful state of mind” counter #2/2
  14. 14. essentializing western »play«? • Yes: The features (named by Huizinga & Caillois) are part of the modern rhetorics of play as frivolity and the self Sutton-Smith 1997 • But: Good evidence in ethology, anthropology, developmental psychology that play is universal • Ethology, anthropology, psychology identify different features than Malaby critiques • The features critiqued by Malaby describe norms of Western cultivation of play & games, not essential characteristics – which allows for norm deviation 14
  15. 15. »If by “play,” we are trying to signal a state or mode of human experience (something like Csikszentmihalyi’s […] “flow”)—a way of engaging the world whatever one is doing—then we cannot simultaneously use it reliably as a label for a kind or form of distinct human activity (something that allows us to differentiate between activities that “are play” and those that “are not”). This is consistent with Csikszentmihalyi’s […] investigations, where he was surprised to find situations of “work” just as likely (in fact, more likely) to produce the state of “flow” than so-called “play” activities.« thomas malaby beyond play (2007: 100) 15 issue #2/2
  16. 16. »Exploration, play, crime […] are not categories of behavior, they are categories of contextual organization of behavior. [... They] do not define the actions which are their content. […] In ordinary parlance, ‘play’ is not the name of an act or action; it is the name of a frame for action.« gregory bateson mind and nature (1979: 134–8) 16
  17. 17. play(fulness): activity or attitude • Play cannot logically be an attitude toward any activity and one specific activity Malaby 2007 • Work activities give rise to play attitude/flow: play is attitude not activity Malaby 2007, Csikszentmihalyi 1990 • Play, crime, exploration are not definable behaviours, but contexts, frames of behaviours Bateson 1979, Stevens & Bateson 1979 17 issue #2/2
  18. 18. • Formal features of activity and setting don’t determine, but afford playful attitude, flow Csikszentmihalyi 1975, 1990 • Autotelic engagement is core feature of play and flow Csikszentmihalyi 1975, 1990 • There can be playing and gaming as defined types of activity, and playfulness as a mode of engaging Sicart in press, Stenros in press • Even playfully engaged-in activity needs to be made observably intelligible to others and self as playful: the activity needs to have a signature form Garfinkel 1967 • Playfulness is a not a type of activity, but a type of transformation of activity and attitude: a keying Goffman 1986 18 play(fulness): activity or attitude? counter #1/1
  19. 19. Keyings are »conventions by which a given activity, […] meaningful in terms of some primary framework, is transformed into something patterned on this activity but seen by the participants to be something quite else.« Erving Goffman frame analysis (1986: 43–4) 19
  20. 20. e.g.A rehearsal 20
  21. 21. or playing with chess 21 Photo: yeanvm
  22. 22. summary: reinstating play I • Play is a trans-species phenomenon • Childhood play is an anthropological universal, rule play its latest developmental stage & the mould for adult gaming • We never encounter childhood play & adult gaming but in locally cultivated form • Huizinga and Caillois exemplify the rhetorics of frivolity and self that are part of Western norms of playing and gaming 22
  23. 23. summary: reinstating play II • Playing and gaming are frames = culturally shared contexts organising activity and attitude • Involving, in today’s Western cultures, conventions of autotelic engagement, limited immediate function, play smile, etc., most of which »show through« features of animal play • Playfulness is a secondary transformation, keying of already framed activity 23
  24. 24. sebastian@codingconduct.cc @dingstweets codingconduct.cc Thank you.

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