I just finished reading Thomas Malaby’s essay, “Beyond Play: a New Approach to Games” from Games and CultureÂ (vol. 2, no. 2, April 2007).Â It’s a very insightful essay about the relationship between game, play and everyday life. He makes the following claim:
“A game is a semibounded and socially legitimate domain of contrived contingency that generates interpretable outcomes.”
This proposition is intentionally broad, rescuing games from the widely held position that they are a separate social activity. Indeed, games are any part of life that fits the above definition. Semibounded – meaning there is some structuration, but not in such a way that they everyday life becomes irrelevant. Socially legitimate – they are not outside of “serious” culture. And the notion of contrived contingency is of the utmost importance. Contingency means that games offer an experience of what might not have been. This, he argues, is fundamental to the game experience. As games are structured by rules, that contingency, that unique experience, is always contrived. Finally, he makes the point that games have interpretable outcomes. Even if there is no winning or losing, the experience of the game can be understood through some form of reflective process.
In general, this article supplies a fantastic overview of gaming literature and makes a convincing argument that games are an increasingly important category of social experience.