Gaming hasn’t changed

This is about an essay I wrote a couple years back about gaming, under the theme of work and play, and it’s about how video games are just a subset of gaming, and how they conceptually fit within philosophical frameworks established in the mid-20th century. Among other things, it goes into why World of Warcraft directly maps onto the four categories of games set forth by Roger Caillois in 1958: Agôn, alea, mimicry, and ilinx, which could be described as competition, chance, role-playing, and thrill.

It’s not a perfect paper and gamers might roll their eyes at reading a description of what an MMO is. There are surely some things that I would revise if I had the chance, but the version presented here is untouched from my original, save for formatting. It’s not a journal paper nor is it a book review, but I hope that some find it interesting. There is a lot that has been written on this subject, and there is much more that could be written. This is just a piece towards the theory that the core components of a fun game are readily identifiable and, with that knowledge, anybody can assemble a fun game.

Some quotes from the paper
Profit Versus Play: Business and Gaming in MMOs (application/pdf, 87 KB):

On whether MMOs qualify as games in a traditional sense:

David Golumbia, who is incidentally among such de-
tractors, could not examine this issue without first defin-
ing the French word jeu in the context of Jacques Der-
rida’s deconstruction of “play.” Fundamentally, Golumbia
establishes jeu as both “play” and “games” (and not con-
trivances like “freeplay”) and this paper will assume the
same: that “games” and “play” are merely different parts
of speech referring to the same concept without carry-
ing any intrinsic differences. And, as we’ll see, MMOs
like Ultima Online and EverQuest are certainly games in
the traditional sense as they fit like clockwork into Roger
Caillois’ categorization of games.

On the never-perfect divide between game and real:

This “contagion of reality” that plagues MMOs has
been and will continue to be money. “The minute you
hardwire constraints into a virtual world, an economy
emerges,” explained Castronova to Wired. “One-trillionth
of a second later, that economy starts interacting with
ours.”

And on harnessing Nietzschean behaviors:

It’s this type of accumulating points system that
Golumbia described as an exploitation of Machtelgust, or
the “lust for power” from Nietzsche’s writings. Golumbia
colored computer games in general as being deceptively
simplistic and degenerate. A single-player first-person
shooter (FPS) like the classic sci-fi game Half-life, while
appearing to offer freedom and a story to the player, is re-
ally a very rigid, pre-scripted experience of just shooting
anything that moves with a superficial and shallow plot
tacked on. Likewise, he wrote, MMORPGs are mostly
single-player experiences, despite the name, filled with
repetitive quests in a “surprisingly rigid, uncompromis-
ing, and even authoritarian” world.

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