When most adults talk about the concept of play, they are referring to playing games; such games may be of the sports, video, or even board variety. Play and games inherently connect with concepts of freedom and choice, with Huizinga going so far as to state that play is always a “volunteer activity…done in leisure” (pg. 102). Games enable us to free ourselves from our day to day lives and hold up, even if it is just for a moment, a space that enables play.
The leisurely nature of play, however, does not necessitate that play, and the games associated with it, are free of order and constraints. Huizinga asserts that play “creates order, is order” (pg. 105). Such order increases the value of this play, for it is the limitations of games that hold the space and time necessary for play to occur. It is Caillois’ very principles of separate-ness and governance by rules that help to hold the space needed for gameplay, without such order games quickly collapse.
Ticket to Ride Europe, the board game my group was allocated, exemplifies Huizinga’s assertation that play “is order” (pg. 105). The game set up, explanation of its operation, and rules took more than 30 minutes and spread over eight pages in the instruction booklet. We were finally able to start because of help from Suzanne, who acted as part of the game system by providing us with a concise gameplay explanation and answering our specific questions. Ticket to Ride Europe was slow to start and could cause disinterest in potential players simply because of the intense order and structure of it. I did find however that if you can overcome the urge to return a Ticket to Ride Europe and try a more straightforward board game, the gameplay itself was leisurely, had elements of both strategy and chance, and did allow me a sense of freedom from the world around me. With more experience, I could see players of a Ticket to Ride Europe quickly aligning themselves with the affordances of this game, and finding real joy in its play.
Ticket to Ride Europe is Agon in nature, as per Caillois classification, as it “leaves the champion to his own devices, to evoke the best possible game, within the fixed limits, and according to the rules applied equally to all, so that in return the victors superiority will be beyond dispute” (pg. 132). As a method to evoke my “best possible game” I found myself exploring strategies for winning, sometimes completing route cards, other times ensuring that I had the longest route, and finally collecting as many random route segments as possible. In the end, my varied approach and quick application of game rules, by choosing overlapping rout cards from the beginning, enabled me to express my game “superiority”, although I would feel more comfortable merely stating that I won.
Additionally, Huizinga concept that “all play is a volunteer activity”, was exemplified today when one of our players quickly became overwhelmed by the game, the order fell apart for her and collapsed the space that the game had created for her play, as a result, she chose to remove herself from the game, and thus discontinue her voluntary play (pg. 102).
Without question, Ticket to Ride Europe employed many aspects of the definitions of play and game from Callois and Huizinga. While Ticket to Ride Europe is not at the top of my must-buy list, I am grateful for the insight that its application has allowed me to provide context for the philosophical approaches touched on above. With this in mind, How can we, as educators, create spaces within our learning environments that invite students to explore philosophical approaches in gaming? And is creating such spaces within our learning environments a useful learning tool for our audiences?
Caillois, R. The Definition of Play and the Classification of Games. In K. Salen and E. Zimmerman (Eds.) The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology (pp. 122-155). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Huizinga, J. Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon.In K. Salen and E. Zimmerman (Eds.) The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology (pp. 96-120). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.