From Matters of Play
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  • "As for the professionals-the boxers, cyclists, jockeys, or actors who earn their living in the ring, track, or hippodrome or on the stage, and who must think in terms of prize, salary, or title-it is clear that they are not players but workers."

Is there really a qualitative difference in the play done by a "non-playing" worker and someone who's job it is to play? Why does the fact that they get paid to play make it different? Regardless of that technicality, the playing of a "professional" doesn't seem too different than that of anyone else (perhaps the stakes are higher). If someone became a professional sports player, or an actor, or any of those "playing professions", I'd say they need to rethink their life choices. But also, in that specific case, I can see Caillois' argument that it isn't play, but how many people in those professions don't take any sort of enjoyment out of it?


  • "[Children] are observed competing to see which can stare at the sun, endure tickling, stop breathing, not wink his eye, etc., the longest. Sometimes the stakes are more serious, where it is a question of enduring hunger or else pain in the form of whipping, pinching, stinging, or burning. Then these ascetic games, as they have been called, involve severe ordeals. They anticipate the cruelty and hazing which adolescents must undergo during their initiation."

If such "games" are a form of hazing and pain is not only expected but a necessary part of the process, can such activities still be qualified as play? While it does match up with the descriptives of agon, the key difference between the two is there are agreed upon conditions that regulate the safety of the parties involved. While staring at the sun or sticking your hand into a hive might be considered challenges, do they still constitute as a game? As play?


  • "In fact, corresponding to the free, versatile, arbitrary, imperfect, and extremely diversified behavior of man, there is in animals, especially in insects, the organic, fixed, and absolute adaptation which characterizes the species and is infinitely and exactly reproduced from generation to generation in billions of individuals: e.g. the caste system of ants and termites as against class conflict, and the designs on butterflies' wings as compared to the history of painting. Reluctant as one may be to accept this hypothesis, the temerity of which I recognize, the inexplicable mimetism of insects immediately affords an extraordinary parallel to man's penchant for disguising himself, wearing a mask, or playing a part--except that in the insect's case the mask or guise becomes part of the body instead of a contrived accessory. But it serves the same purposes in both cases, viz. to change the wearer's appearance and to inspire fear in others (p 20)."

I'm not certain I understand this paragraph. Before, the author was discussing how mimicry, described as the conscious decision to play or act as "He forgets, disguises, or temporarily sheds his personality in order to feign another (p 19)," and now it seems that they are comparing conscious action with the "caste system of ants and termites (p 20)," and the evolution of butterfly wings, as if each of the creatures had a choice in those behaviors or appearances. In this reading and in the last one, it was stressed that "There is also no doubt that play must be defined as a free and voluntary activity, a source of joy and amusement (p 6)." If an activity or appearance is predetermined by evolution/genetics, how can it be compared to a voluntary activity like play? Or, if it is voluntary but necessary for survival, such as the spider that mimics the scent of ants to catch prey, how can that behavior be compared to play? The author seems to be undermining their own point by bringing this up.


"As for the professionals--the boxers, cyclists, jockeys, or actors who earn their living in the ring, track, or hippodrome or on stage, and who must think in terms of prize, salary, or title--it is clear that they are not players but workers. When they play, it is at some other game." "Great sports events are nevertheless special occasions for mimicry, but it must be recalled that the simulation is now transferred from the participants to the audience. It is not the athletes who mimic, but the spectators." "With one exception, mimicry exhibits all the characteristics of play: liberty, convention, suspension of reality, and delimitation of space and time. However, the continuous submission to imperative and precise rules cannot be observed-- rules for the dissimulation of reality and the substitution of a second reality. Mimicry is incessant invention. The rule of the game is unique: it consists in the actor's fascinating the spectator, while avoiding an error that might lead the spectator to break the spell."

I'm interested in the dynamic that is created within the social dynamic of the "players" and the spectators. This being said, maybe we can then define witnessing play (or perceived play, if professional athletes are not actually 'playing') is an entirely separate category of human entertainment: play without any personal investment on the part of the spectator.


  • "Mimicry is incessant invention. The rule of the game is unique:

it consists in the actor's fascinating the spectator, while avoiding an error that might lead the spectator to break the spell. The spectator must lend himself to the illusion without first challenging the decor, mask, or artifice which for a given time he is asked to believe in as more real than reality itself." (Page 23)

This idea that acting is a game in which both the actor and the audience is involved is a fascinating metaphor which makes me wonder about the inner workings of "the acting game". What are the rules? How does a script function in the sense of a game? What about a stage? Does this apply to other forms of performance art? What about art that is non-performative? So many questions open up from this.


  • "The actor does not try to make believe that he is "really" King Lear or Charles V. It is only the spy and the fugitive who disguise themselves to really deceive because they are not playing." (p21)

Then what of tradecraft and espionage? Those roles are of play in the same way play can be attributed to professional athletes and actors that are still considered in play, so why exclude a prime example of professional play like the calculated and patient work of espionage as "not playing?" A feeble argument to a small misgiving I have with the authors examples, but with a clutter of subjects that weave descriptions of what is and isn't play among each other without much warning in the narrative shift, it's about all I could argue besides the writing structure.