The game and the play
What we’re talking about ?
In French, we don’t have too much words about games. To play a game in French is “jouer un jeu”. Play with a toy ? “Jouer avec un jouet”. The word’s root is obvious. But “jeu” should also describe the field where everything is possible. For example, if a French man want to say to tell “go all out”, he will say “sortir le grand jeu”. Literally we can translate “get out the big game” hinting that everything could be happened. Semantically, it is interesting and in this case, it is ! But sometimes it could be terrible.
Generally, I like to say a game is not a system but a government of experiences. This expression draws precisely (but without too much details) a space and a time where you can do everything…in a field of rules ! And the world “experiences” describe very well all those interactions between the game and players and also players between them. By this way, a game could be fun, sad, melancholic, etc. It can create tensions or links, develop the individualism or cooperation between players. But the problem of this definition is that it doesn’t give the condition to the game.
A lead of definition
Maybe we could ask what is the difference between the object and the system, the game and the play. The French thinker Roger Caillois gave us a solid definition of game as a subject of study. We can contest some points, of course, but his definition and his classification have the advantage not to exclude any games. So, here are the conditions of game for Roger Caillois
- First : a game is free. If you are forced to play in any way, it is not a game anymore for you.
- Second : a game is limited. It is defined in time and space beforehand. You and your friends set a rendez-vous to play a game in a place. Board game’s box indicate the time of game. You don’t play anywhere, etc.
- Third : a game is uncertain. We couldn’t predict who will win or what will happen. So the player needs to have a leeway.
- Fourth : a game is unproductive. It shouldn’t create anything. At the end of the game, the situation must be the same that before the game. The only exception is the move of property. For example, gambling doesn’t create any money or wealth. It’s just a transfer from player to another player.
- Fifth : a game is ruled by rules. Temporarily, you will follow some rules agreed before. And only those rules matter on the game. You could invent anything, answer any questions, but you should play in the limit of the game.
- Sixth : the game is fictitious. When you place, you are in a specific time and space but also a second reality. It is not an ordinary life. So do what you want, it doesn’t matter in real life !
You can discuss many points on those conditions of game. A gambling game is still a game ? A professional player is still a real player ? And now, should we talk player or gamer ? This is fascinating question. I prefer to say that you’re playing when you know that you’re playing. Ok, game could be alienating. Sure, we can discuss about the excessive practice of game. But I am not a judge and only you know when the thing that you play is still a game.
Unravel the mystery
To end this paper, I think the most important thing in any game is the fun that a game gives to you. And languages are tricky about that. Johan Huizinga, probably the first researcher about game, describe a fascinating lack of language in first pages of Homo Ludens. As a Dutchman, he used the word “aardigheid” to describe the word “fun”. Those words have a similar meaning for Huizinga.
But it is a word that French speakers don’t have. We use “amusant”, “plaisant”, “drôle”. (amusing, pleasing and funny), but it doesn’t mean “fun”. Generally, French people make an Anglicism and use directly the word fun. For Huizinga, and me to, fun is probably the essence of game.