Discussions continue over at Only a Game. Several good points are raised, most of which I’ll save for a comment over there, but there’s a bit on Roger Caillois’ terminology and how it applies that it feels like it deserves a broader sort of discussion.
Similarly, what exactly does one learn playing a game of pure alea, or from the aleatory elements of most tabletop RPGs? Not to mention games of ilinx, especially those closer to paidia than ludus…
If you haven’t read the book, it’s probably not clear that when I say “learning” I mean it in a broad cognitive sense of “building patterns, chunks, and schemata.” This cuts across the categories defined by Caillois, in my opinion.
To crudely summarize his model:
- agon means games about competition
- alea means games about chance
- ilinx means games about vertigo
- mimicry means games about, well, mimicry
In addition, there’s a spectrum from ludus to paidia, which basically means from structures game to freeform play.
Now, there’s a lot of immediate comments that spring to mind there, many of which can only really be addressed if I go back and reread his work. Suffice it to say that in my opinion,
- chance is a mechanic
- vertigo is an effect
- competition in my atomic model is less than a mechanic; it’s a subatomic element that all game atoms make use of
- mimicry is an objective
and all of them can and do involve the core issue of mastering a problem space.
It’s interesting, of course, to see how this overlaps with Lazzaro’s types of fun, since vertigo maps to altered states in her model, and arguably competition is all of the rest of them. As you know if you read the book, I tend to regard only “hard fun” as the core of games, since the other types are to my mind best understood as mapping to different cognitive processes and are generally found in combination with forms of schemata-building that could be classified as hard fun.
I also differ with Caillois in that I tend to believe that paidia activities generally have MORE rules, not less; the spectrum there is essentially about how descriptive the game is of its own ruleset (to use the Zimmerman/Salen approach to describing it). Paidia generally “imports” rulesets derived from a vast array of cultural assumptions, whereas ludus games are ones that have been tightly defined down (and which nonetheless have an assortment of rules that are implied but not stated that are part of the cultural practice of game playing).
A game of freeform roleplay (a paidia-mimicry game) is, to my mind, an incredibly difficult challenge involving the learning of and successful navigation of an enormous variety of rules that are no less strict for being unspoken. Often, it’s a process of defining the rules in accordance with cultural assumptions as you go.
Which leads me to say that not only do most paidia games trend towards ludus games as we build mental models of them, but that the true meaning of that spectrum is how many rules have been codified, and not whether or not they exist. Our lives are constantly circumscribed by rules; paidia games are about learning what they are and modeling them.