Useful, Joyful, Willful

Thinking About Types of Play

Essay - UsefulJoyfulWillful

In this paper I outline three perspectives that emphasize different characters of play: useful; joyful; and willful play. I further argue that designing for willfulness (e.g. rule-bending) will allow players to become game-changers rather than being played.

Generally speaking, computer games have created new arenas for play in several senses. Massive multiplayer online games have spurred, amongst other things, particular forms of social interaction and behavior; mobile and casual gaming has generated new breeds of gamers; the fundamentally code-based underpinnings of computer games make hacks and modifications possible; and grand ambitions of gamification, supported by digitization, even aims to turn ‘anything and everything’ into a race for points and badges. Instead of clearly situating itself within one particular practice, this paper will take an overarching perspective on play. It will go on to propose three perspectives that, in the light of processes such as the increasing specialization, quantification and rationalization of play(Pargman & Svensson), emphasize different characters of play. Continue Reading

The Other Difficulty Mode

What Halo Can Tell Us About Identity & Oppression

Essay - The Other Difficulty Mode

If being a “straight white male” is, as John Scalzi argues, like playing a game on the easiest difficulty, then those of us who are less privileged are playing on a harder difficulty. While I think that this metaphor is a sound tool for initial conversations about privilege, its underlying theory of power is too simplistic. This metaphor splits the world into straight white men and everyone else, leaving the reader with no way to account for the many different kinds of oppression that affect us (racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, etc.) and the specific ways in which these oppressions interact. Difficulty settings in games also tend to be arranged on a bipolar line with predictable, quantifiable changes being made to the gameplay as the difficulty increases. Our social identities, by contrast, are multidimensional and we cannot simply arrange them on a line from “most oppressed” to “least oppressed.” Continue Reading