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Why and How We Play — An Exploratory Journal

Editor:  Stephen Sniderman
Editor/Publisher:   Kate Jones

No. 1 (October 1999)

In this Issue:
Mission Statement
Unwritten Rules, by Stephen Sniderman
Readers' comments: David Wilson
Word Contest:  Double Duty
Puzzle Challenge:  Switching Knights
Game ProfileThe Power of Two

Premier edition
Mission Statement
by Stephen Sniderman

You have before you the first "issue" of a new e-journal devoted to the in-depth study of games as systems of human devising—not to the strategies and tactics of particular games, but to the philosophy, sociology, aesthetics, semiology, and grammar of play in its various forms, especially abstract, two-person, zero-sum games like tic-tac-toe, chess, and go. This publication, the first of its kind, is based on the belief that play is the highest form of human activity, that invention is the highest form of play, and that the products of human invention, including those ostensibly designed for recreation, deserve to be given our full attention, to be treated seriously, and to be scrutinized with scholarly intensity.

What's in a name?

The title of this journal—The Life of Games (TLOG)—has several meanings. First, it refers to the life of anyone who enjoys playing, inventing, and/or exploring games. Second, it calls to mind the role that games play in the life of our culture and other cultures throughout the ages. Third, it suggests that games themselves have "lives" that can be studied as biologists study the lives of organisms or as psychologists, sociologists, historians, and biographers examine the lives of humans. And, finally, it hints at the zest that games can add to our routine existence.

A search for knowledge

One objective of TLOG is to raise, investigate, and attempt to answer crucial but rarely asked questions about ourselves and the systems by which we strive to order the chaos. By focusing on games—a non-threatening, "objective" sphere of knowledge—we hope to illuminate language, education, sports, business, law, politics, morality, religion, and other value-laden human endeavors. For example, we desperately need a viable definition of "fairness" to help us draft more humane social policies, to settle disputes in various arenas, to raise healthier children, and to judge the behavior of individuals in public life. What better place to start than with games?

However, this journal will not treat games merely as models or analogies for understanding larger systems. Like Johann Huizinga in Homo Ludens, we see play as central, not peripheral, and will start from the assumption that extracting the essence of games is a way of holding in our hands the very soul of life. To find this essence, we will pay most attention to aspects of play that are generally ignored or taken for granted. In particular, we will ask about the nature of games and our reasons for playing them.

A gamut of questions

For example, how do we distinguish games from other activities? What makes a game "playable"? How do we know when play has started? How do we know when play is suspended? How do we know what "counts" and what is irrelevant to the competition? What are the other meta-rules governing our play? Can we know all these rules?

Is a rule in a game like a "rule" in language? What constitutes cheating? If we break a rule, are we still playing the game? If we change one or more rules (or the object), are we still playing the game? What defines a game—the object, the rules, the equipment? On what basis should we classify games? Is there a universal element in all games? Is there a "grammar" of games?

Can we agree on criteria for evaluating games? What makes a game fun? fair? challenging? interesting? What do we win when we win? Why is winning better than losing? Why is losing better than cheating? How important is winning? How can we enjoy a game without winning? Why do some people get no enjoyment from games?

Are games a strictly human activity? Do computers play games or do they merely make moves that we interpret? Can animals play and enjoy zero-sum games? Can computers or animals understand concepts like object, rules, winning, losing, fairness, cheating, and time-out? At what age do children typically understand these concepts?

Do games serve any social functions besides recreation and camaraderie? Can games teach us anything about life? about ourselves? Are games analogous to other systems —law, business, politics, religion? Does playing games help us cope with real-world experiences? Do some games provide better survival tools than others?

Contributors invited

Of course, this list of questions, far from exhaustive, is merely intended to stimulate your thinking and suggest some topics that contributors to TLOG may wish to pursue.

And we certainly invite your participation in the search for answers. Naturally, this issue will feature the work of the editor and the publisher and their acquaintances, but in future issues, we hope to include your thoughts. Please send your comments, questions, or essays to:

The Life of Games

The Life of Games
No. 1 (October 1999)
©1999 Kadon Enterprises, Inc