Thursday, 8 March 2007


Juul, J (2005) Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

Dovey, J and Kennedy, H (2006). Game Cultures: Computer Games as a New Media. Open University Press.

Facer, K. Computer Games and learning. [Online] Retrieved on 8 March 2007 from:

Jenkins, H. Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked. [Online] Retrieved on 8 March 2007 from:


Csikszentmihalyi put forward the idea of flow when playing games. Flow is the state of optimal psychological experience. In flow the challenges the gamer faces is perfectly matched to their ability to solve them, not too difficult (causing aniexty) or too easy (resulting in boredom). A person in flow accomplishes things that they would have believed that they otherwise wouldn’t, and can occur in anything from chess to football (Facer, K). But what is flow? Flow is a zen-like state in which the person is completely absorbed in the activity they are part-taking in. This person loses track of time and feels in totally control of their actions and fate. I recently experience flow while playing ‘Speedy bubbles’, a ‘Bust-a-move 2’ like game. I completely lost track of time for the hour I played.
The first prerequisite to flow is it has to be a challenging activity, so not passive, like sitting watching TV or sleeping. The next two points are that the activity has to have a clear goal(s) and feedback, so in ‘Speedy bubbles’ it was to combined same coloured bubbles to burst them (the feedback) before they reached the bottom of the screen. The last point is that there has to be a chance of failure. In ‘Speedy bubbles’ more bubbles where added throughout the game till they reached the bottom.
The first two effects of flow is becoming so absorbed that the activity is spontaneous and it must have your complete concentration, while playing ‘Speedy bubbles’ I was completely focused on the screen and it often felt as if I wasn’t thinking about the next move, I just did it. Next is the loss of self-consciousness, as if you become part of the activity, which I believe links strongly with acting spontaneously. Finally is the transformation of time. It can either stretches out or speeds up. So while I played ‘Speedy bubbles’, an hour passed by when I only thought 10 minutes had gone by.

Magic circle.

Huizinga believed that play is crucial to mankind, so much so that he proposed that we should be called Homoludens (man the player). He proposed that it’s through play that we interpret life and our world (Dovey, J and H. W. Kennedy 2006). Many people have tried to explain what play is for. Different reasons have been put forward e.g. some suggest it is a discharge of excess energy, or an outlet for harmful impulses. However Huizinga says that ‘What is play for?’ is the wrong question to be asking, instead we should ask, ‘what is play in itself?’
Huizinga claims that there are four characteristics of play. The firstly ‘Play’ must be voluntary; someone can’t be forced into playing; they must have the option not to play. This seems reasonable, though I’ve never been forced to sit down and play ‘Final Fantasy XII’ so I can’t really say how true this point is.
The second characteristic is that play is outside ordinary life. Play is external to all material interests and biological needs i.e. you don’t profit from playing. However, sportsmen gain wealth and fame by playing their sport. Huizinga would probably say that these rewards were outside the playing the game itself. The rewards are a consequence (outside influences) of the ‘playing’ rather then part of the playing itself. So, a sprinter doesn’t earn his/her fame and money in the race itself, or the action of running.
However, while this view clears this point, it causes problems for his next characteristic; playing promotes social groups. By playing together social bonds are formed between people, however, this doesn’t always apply to many digital games, because many are single player games. When I play ‘Kingdom Hearts 2’, I’m not playing with anyone else. However, I do make social bonds when I go online or meet friends and we talk about the game, but then according to Huizinga, this would be external to playing the game itself. At this point we have a problem; either having social bonds as a consequence of playing and not the playing itself is acceptable, in which case so must the rewards that a sportsman receives as a consequence of playing, which proves the second characteristic wrong, or both are unacceptable because they are external to the playing, in which case the later characteristic has been proven wrong.
The last characteristic is that there has to be fixed boundaries of time (when I start playing ‘Kingdom Hearts 2’ and then when I decide to stop would be the boundaries of time in that case) and space (when playing ‘Kingdom Hearts 2’ the boundaries would be the TV screen). There also must be precise rules and order in the playing e.g. which equipment I can give each character in ‘Kingdom hearts 2’, and what abilities I can equip them with. Huizinga went on to say that when we play games we cross over a special frame, within which the game takes place. He called this boundary the ‘Magic Circle’, where games take up their own time and space, but, of course, they still exist in social time and space (otherwise we’d disappear whenever we played a game) (Dovey, J and H. W. Kennedy 2006). Inside this ‘magic circle’, special rules apply, and one action, like fighting or sweeping the floor, and take on a different meaning to outside the ‘magic circle’. It becomes a safe zone where harmful impulses can released which have to be held in check in the real world (Jenkins, J). So in Soulcalibur 2, the action of beating someone up takes on a different meaning to in the real world and I don’t have to restrain myself.


Digital Games are seen by many as promoting immoral behaviour, aggression, and violent reactions to conflict. Some believe that digital games encourage and, reinforce violent reactions, and that the interaction with the game means they are more likely to replicate these actions in the real life (Emes, C. E 1997). This opinion linked with the rhetoric within the games.
Rhetoric is basically persuasive language. It is used by a writer/speaker (consciously/unconsciously) to try and convince their reader/audience of their beliefs and values. Rhetoric can vary greatly from being very subtle to being very crude e.g. Dr Spock says “most computer games are a colossal waste of time” (Spock. B. 1998), this comment leaves no doubt as to what the writer wants us to think. However, Rhetoric doesn’t have to be spoken/written, it can be visual and behavioural as well e.g. Protesting against cruelty to animals shows the beliefs of the protestor. Giving another example of non-verbal rhetoric, is in the trailer for ‘Moral Kombat’, where ominous music and violent footage indicates the rhetoric nature of the documentary (that digital games are bad and turn people into violent people). As with many other areas, rhetoric can be found within computer games themselves. Some kind of value can be found in all games. For example, in ‘Tetris’, as a puzzle solving game, put a value on thinking through problems, while the opposite can be said about ‘Soulcalibur 2’, as a fighting game it places a value on fighting rather then and beating people up, reinforced by rewarding you with better weapons. So the rhetoric of ‘Tetris’ is to use your brain to think through problems while the opposite applies to ‘Soulcalibur 2’, which encourages violent reactions.

Family resemblances

How do we define what a game is? A German Philosopher by the name of Ludwig Wittgenstein argued that games can’t be defined or narrowed down to a handful of characteristics. This is because not all games share the same features as another game (Juul, J 2005). For example, ‘Final Fantasy XII’ shares little in common with ‘The Sims 2’. ‘Final Fantasy XII’ involves a plot line, with a clear goal; to reach the end of the game/story with smaller goals throughout. However games like The ‘Sims 2’ don’t have clear goals or plot throughout the game (or a clear ending), in fact at a brief look it would be easy to assume that there are no goals or plot in the game. This is because it has no set Goals, but rather the gamer sets his or her own goals and plot as the game processes e.g. when I play I tend to create characters to mirror characters in books/TV/other games and try to play them as if they are those characters.
Wittgenstein said in 2001, “What is common to them all?-Don’t say: “There must be something common, or else they would not be all called ‘games’-but look and see whether there is anything common to all’ (Juul, J 2005). By this, Wittgenstein meant that, although there are no set characteristics that all games share, there are characteristics that games, in general, share. He used the analogy of family resemblances. Member of a family all share some features, but not every member of the family share one feature that occurs in each member. This is like games. For example, in The Sims, you can’t lose and it can’t really be competitive, unlike ‘Bust-a-move 2’, but you can lose in “Soulcalibur 2’, a very different type of game to both.
However there is one point that I disagree with Wittgenstein on, I think there is one common feature that occurs in all games. I think all games have to be interactive. This doesn’t have to be a physical interaction, just some form of interaction; if there is no interaction I don’t think it can be a game. From a games with high interaction levels (‘The Sims 2’ where you decide all the actions and the life of your people) almost none, like counting how many blue cars drive past in five minutes. However I know that this alone is not enough to define what a game is. After all, working is also interacting with your surrounding, and that is general not considered a game.