Friday, 9 March 2007


WEEK 1 – Why Games?

Games are a subset of play and play is a component of games. The relation between play and a game is thus difficult to determine, yet it can be said that “most forms of play are looser and less organised than games” (Salen, Zimmerman, 2004, p72) and a game can consequently be thought of as a more defined area of play; “a competitive activity with rules” (Treffy, 1999, p328).

The gaming industry is one 40 years old and due to the diversity of games, one of huge profit. Wittgenstein (1968) identifies different types of these games holding the view that they comprise of no specific boundaries. He argues that not all games involve skill, luck and competition. For example the game of chess involves different elements to that of a game of tennis.

Wittgenstein (1968) holds the view that all games are different and comprise of overlapping similarities whilst also differing from each other at the same time. This proposal is furthered as he takes on a metaphorical view of games resembling the structure of a rope, that it comprises of twisted fibres but no single thread. This idea can also be seen similar to that of families; there is resemblance in certain features, but no member is identical.

Applying this theory to games such as Pinball and Doom II, it is clear that although together they share similarities such as levels of luck and the fact that they are for entertainment purposes, aspects such as skill and competition are not common between them. Playing Doom II as a duel player program presents the player with aspects of competition as you are constantly contending against each other and using skill to kill fiends. On the other hand, Pinball is a solo player game, involving pure luck as to where the ball finishes.

WEEK 3 – Ban These Evil Games

Like Dr Spock (1998), many people disagree with the violence which games impose. Spock’s (1998) main interest lies in child psychology, and his belief that negative games enforce the reversal of disciplines in children is shared by many.

Various games are frowned upon for their aggression and brutality such as Grand Theft Auto; however, Stanley Cohen (1980) states there are a range of games which are so hostile that they create uproars in society.

Panics such as these are commonly created by campaigns against the game, bad press and even statements in parliament, these “do not simply respond to moral panics, they form part of the circle out of which “moral panics” develop” (Critcher, 2003, p15).

Rhetorical language plays a large part in these as its methods of persuasion represent the individual game in a bad light, exaggerating the negative aspects of the game resulting in huge moral panic.

The game Man Hunt is a prime example of one which caused this type of moral panic. It involved a horrific narrative of a murderer in death row who is freed by a film director. However, in repayment of this act, the murderer must commit various terrible crimes in which the director will film. From any point of view, this action is certainly twisted and it is easy to see why certain people feel these evil games should be banned. However, it can be argued that when the player beings to play a game, they accept its rules; the rhetoric shows that aggression is good as the player is awarded for violence and in this case it is good to fight and kill, however when the player takes on the lusory attitude, they detach themselves from the real world and into the magic circle of the game, thus what is within the game has no effect on their actions within the real world.

This view can be disputed against, as evidence of such behaviour took place in 2004 when a fourteen year old boy killed a friend with the same method in which is asked to be committed in the game. In response to this tragedy an obvious moral panic took place and chains withdrew the game from sales.

The debate lies as to whether these types of games should be banned or not. Games are often associated with violence and aggression; however, it is questioned as if this is persuading players to be violent in real life, or whether the games are a positive method to which players are able to release this aggression in a safe manner.

WEEK 4 – Homo Ludens

Johann Huizinga's (1955) “Magic Circle” describes our physical and psychological state of mind and being as we are playing a game. In essence, the magic circle of a game is where the game takes place. Huizinga (1955) states that we leave all “real world” rules behind as we cross a boundary into an enchanted zone and another “magic” rule system. A game is then another “world” where there are different rules of space, existence and play. The player agrees to these rules when entering the “magic circle”.

When playing the video game Professional Evolution I experienced this transition. The “real world” seems distant as I am drawled in and become much involved within the game. The authenticity of it makes the game feel real, thus I experience feelings of seriousness as I become competitive and believe that the outcome matters.

Scoring goals become fulfilling, important and of priority, and making mistakes such as missing penalties a major concern; things which in the “real world” would mean little to me.

This shift involves me taking on the Lusory attitude, one in which the player themselves essentially decides to play the game and enter the magic circle.

Initially, I made the decision to play Professional Evolution for entertainment, building social bonds whilst playing anyway due to interaction between other players during the game. The transition into the “magic circle” and the Lusory attitude isn’t instant, however after a short time it creates the player to behave in a different manner and as explained earlier, this occurred to me also.

WEEK 5 – Pleasure, Pain and Play

Gaming involves various different types of emotions, the two main opposed being pleasure and pain.

Aesthetics consists of three main theories, Reward, Flow and Iteration.

As Johnson (2005) explains, “ours is an age besotted with graphic entertainments” and the theory of reward formed by Steven Johnson (2005) views entertainment such as gaming as repetitive, and often painful to participate in. From my own experience I can agree to with this view as games such as Final Fantasy and Resident Evil I find difficult to play. These are very frustrating and painful, especially when certain aspects such as winning battles and successfully killing zombies without dying myself seem impossible to do.

Johnson (2005) argues that the only reason people choose to keep partaking in this activity is due to the rewards integrated within the games such as receiving new lives, levels, weapons etc and regularly these are not even relevant to the game itself. I consider this true also, as I found the game Tomb Raider very trying due to the constant progression requirement. As tedious and repetitive discovering entrances to new or different places or levels is, I still carried on playing to prove to myself I could achieve it and obtain a new level.

The second theory is of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1991). His theory of Flow is one which describes the playing of a game as a state of oneness, that you enter a new zone. I experienced this when playing the fighting game the Tekken Tag Tournament. Constant fighting and the desire to beat my component required my full concentration and initially a couple of rounds turned into an hours worth of gaming.

Four prerequisites of Flow include games being challenging, having clear goals and the person receiving good feedback and a sense of control. Effects such as one’s complete concentration of the game resulting in their loss of self-consciousness and transformation of time. Csikszentmihalyi’s (1991) Flow Channel demonstrates how the game must accommodate the player’s skill level at all times. If not, the game becomes too easy and boredom can occur, conversely, if too difficult anxiety can arise. Games usually include different difficulty levels to achieve this co-ordination such as Doom II. By including these different difficulty levels it decreased my stress and anxiety levels which helped me to enjoy the game more. It also assisted me to progress through the game at my own pace, whilst also giving me the chance to challenge myself and move onto the next level if I chose to.

Iteration is the third theory of aesthetics and was created by Barry Atkins (2003). He concentrated on the aesthetic of play, considering repetition with difference gives one’s actions meaning. Gaming demonstrates this, as learning from mistakes and the act of improvement through new techniques and awareness makes the games iterative instead of repetitive. I experienced this when playing Need for Speed Underground: Most Wanted. The first time I drove around the race track my inexperience was highlighted as I was getting to grips with the steering aspects of the car and controls and when I couldn’t handle corners properly. However, the second time I drove round, I found I had got used to the controls and the driving performance of the car, I remembered where I went wrong the last time and took the corners better also.

Atkins (2003) also states that the relations of film and TV are passive and that of gaming is active, iteration being pleasurable and repetition painful. This was proven in my gaming, as the repetition of not being able to complete the course before the other player was frustrating and painful; however through iteration and practice of the game I was able to achieve this thus gaining pleasure of achievement.


Critcher, C (2003). Moral Panics and the Media. Great Britain: Biddles Limited, Guilford and King’s Lynn

Johnson, S (2005). Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Popular Culture Makes Us Smarter. Great Britain: Penguin Group

Salen, K, Zimmerman, E (2004). Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. United States of America: MIT Press

Treffy, D (1999). Paperback Dictionary. Great Britain: HarperCollins