Games have significance. But when you ask the question, why do games matter, the answer will be: “Dunno”. Seriously. Even though Huizinga wrote that play is the origin of social constructs, I still fail to see any explanation of why, today, games have any significance.

That is, other than being at the center of a multi-billion dollars industry. Reading Huizinga, Caillois, Zimmerman and other thinkers in the discipline of games, you will not get to fully understand why games matter.

It could be that it’s like a dog chasing its tail: it is there, but you can’t grasp it. Well, some dogs can and maybe this is why we keep swiveling about. There is a meaning and a significance to Games and to Play. We just need to figure out what it is.

This is a valid question for the entire realm of culture critique, but I am sure games are more than just an intellectual curiosity. There is real importance to them, and not just in the sense that games can be used for this and that. Every one of the game/play thinkers arguably believe that games are in the core of human culture and behaviour and not just insomuch as tools adapted by human evolution.

So again, why do games matter?

Game developers, like Zimmerman and myself (not at all of the same rank, but still am also one who mainly deals in the praxis of games), regard the game as a system of sorts: closed or open, layered and overlapping. Games are distinct domain of activity according to definite rules, explicit or unspoken. This is a very practical view of games in the sense of games being manufactured products.

Definition of what a Game is can be simplified to be a system of activity where all objects have common encounter points. This can mean things not regarded as games at all. The human society is a game according to this definition. Huizinga argues against such claim. He, as well as many other thinkers dealing in philosophy of game, wants to see game as separate from the mundane, more serious, side of life and society.

If this definition holds, then all human activity is part of Game. Everything which is human is a part of Game. To ask, then, why games matter, is to ask what is being human. For this I also don’t think I can provide a way to look for an answer.

Huizinga is saying that serious is the attribute that game lacks. His assertion is that professional sports are not games, as players of these games are making their livelihood from sports. Professional sport is serious and therefore does not qualify as game. If my definition doesn’t hold and Huizinga is right, than it is even harder to try to explain why games matter.

Posted by Samuel Miller