The academic homestead of Annika Waern

Framing Games

Jessica Enevold took this picture of me during my presentation. I was not particularly aware of being photographed at the moment…

My Nordic DIGRA article ‘Framing Games’ has just been made accessible from the DIGRA library. It is yet another attempt at defining games, this time with the explicit goal to treat digital and non-digital games equally. To me, it is primarily a stepping stone towards another article I want to write about the role of fiction and narrative in games (which anybody who follows this blog may already have guessed).

One may wonder why we need to define games at all, and especially why we would define games using anything but nominal definitions (essentially, how we use the word ‘game’). ‘Game’ is such a vague concept. But I see game definitions as a way to frame not so much what we study in game studies, but why. In the article I argue that game studies should – and do – focus on the interplay between structures of game, and the play activity that people engage in when playing games. I argue that games are systems of rules and goals, but not just any such systems of which there are many in society. What makes games different from other systems is that we use them for play. Since play also is a vague concept I also discuss ‘play’ quite extensively – not that I completely define play, but I argue for some minimal requirements on an activity to consider it to be play.

It is this two-axis perspective (games as structures with an intended use) that I wanted to be the major contribution of the article. It is also what makes my definition different than most other game definitions, both those that define games as systems, and those that see games as family concepts or rely on property collections. One important point is that I use play rather than game-play as the use context, which widens  the scope outside that of of most other definitions.

The article has some weak parts, which makes me want to rewrite and resubmit it elsewhere. One weak point is that my framing of ‘play’ is socioculturally dependent (which I want), but that I have not clearly formulated “who decides”, that is, what sociocultural context it could be that determines if a structure is a game or not. Clearly, I don’t want a formulation which makes games change their status every time they are being used, but neither do I want a formulation that makes the status unchangeable (as it would no longer be socioculturally dependent). I have an idea of how to sort this using some sort of sterotypical classification approach. A more serious weak spot is the two-faceted view of ‘resignification’ that I derive from Bateson (see below), as at the same time resignifying the external meaning of an action, and preventing the internal meaning to hold outside the play context. The first aspect works well, but the second creates a lot of weird boundary cases (it was problematic even when Bateson used it) and it also seems awkward from a semiotic perspective. In particular, it makes it very difficult to classify sports. This I might actually want to change, and I suspect that re-reading Luhman (see below) might help me work this out.

I am happy for feedback!

My article:

Waern, A. Framing games. Proc. Nordic DIGRA, Tampere, Finland, June 2012.

Bateson and Luhman:

Bateson, G. A theory of play and fantasy. Psychiatric research reports, 2, 1955, p.39-51. Reprinted in Bateson 1972.

Luhmann, N. Deconstruction as second-order observing. New Literary History. 24.4 (1993): 763-782.

Single Post Navigation

3 thoughts on “Framing Games

  1. Thank you for a nice article, and your reflections on it provided in this blog post. 🙂

    I have a few clarifying questions I would be happy if you would like to answer:

    1. How would you define “opposition”, as employed in your definition of a game?

    Myers seems to use “opposition” in a strictly antagonistic sense (competition/contest). But even though you use his definition as a starting point, you seem to be using the term “opposition” more broadly:

    “some kind of opposition that prevents the player from reaching the goal without effort”

    2. I’m particularly curious if you mean opposition in an active or passive sense?

    3. And what this would mean for a puzzle being classified as a game or not?

    “In the context of digital games, there are a range of sandbox games that offer opposition but no goal”

    4. In what sense does sandbox games offer opposition?

    • I think this is a language error, to be honest. I should have used ‘obstacle’ instead of ‘opposition’, just as I think Suits does. The word ‘opposition’ has the connotation of active resistance, which was not an intended reading — both active resistance and various sorts of blocks and hinders should be included in the concept here.

  2. As for Sandbox games, some offer very little even in terms of explicit blocks and hinders but can still be read as having them. We can take Minecraft as an example. In survival mode there definitely is opposition (in the form of enemies) but in construction mode those are left out. Construction mode Minecraft instead becomes a puzzle, where the limitations of the building materials create a kind of ‘opposition’ towards whatever goal the player sets for themselves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: