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3. Game vs. Play


What is a Game?

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Australian-British philosopher
    • In the Philosophical Investigations Aphorism 68, “For how is the concept of a game bounded? What still counts as a game and what no longer does? Can you give the boundary? No“. This was quoted in Eric Margolis and Stephen Aurence’s book, Concepts: Core Readings
  • Bernard Suits, a philosopher of games and gaming
    • In the book, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia, “To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude].
    • Pre-lusory goal – an objective
    • Constitutive rules – a set of rules or limitations that make the activity into a game
    • Lusory attitude – voluntarily overcoming unnecessary obstacles
  • The Magic Circle (Virtual Worlds)
    • In the book, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, “In a very basic sense, the magic circle of a game is where the game takes place. To play a game means entering into a magic circle, or perhaps creating one as a game begins
    • The challenge and opportunity for gamification is to put the player as much as possible in the magic circle


  • Play is the aimless expenditure of exuberant energy” Friedrich Schiller
  • Play is whatever is done spontaneously and for its own sake” George Santayana
  • …play creates a zone of proximal development of the child. In play a child always behaves beyond his average age.” Lev Vygotsky
  • Play is free movement within a more rigid structure” Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman


  • A game is a closed, formal system that engages players in a structured conflict, and resolves in an unequal outcome” Tracy Fullerton, Chris Swain & Steven Hoffman
  • A game is a series of meaningful choices” Sid Meier
  • A game is a .. domain of contrived contingency that generates interpretable outcomes” Thomas Mallaby
  • A game is a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude” Jesse Schell

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