Bernie DeKoven on Play Communities and Game Communities

‘Funsmith’ Bernie DeKoven wrote a post on his site Deepfun about the differences between game communities and play communities.

The post consists of the usual little snippets of well-worn wisdom about play and game (play is informal and open-ended, games are formal and rule-based; game are competitive, play is more about spontaneity and shared fun). As also noted on another blog, this largely coincides with James P. Carse’s distinction between finite and infinite games (1986). Or even the paidia vs ludus distinction which we find with Roger Caillois (1958), and which has been extended and adapted by many contemporary game researchers. But what makes this useful, I guess, is that DeKoven connects the game/play distinction with ‘community’. Thus, games and play become prime organizing principles of technologically mediated communities:

It is no coincidence that the Internet, though it serves both kinds of community (play and game), is so easily characterized as a play community, dependent on openness and trust shared by its players, succeeding to the degree in which it can respond to their constantly evolving, individual and collective interests.

People are increasingly active on various online/mobile/hybrid social networks. See my earlier post on online social networking as a game, in particular this quote: “Social networks offer a revolutionary way for people to play with friends and communities that have meaningful value to them in their real life”. Such a communal view on identity-formation is a nice addition to the more individualistic view, in which identity as a project of choosing and building a self involves ‘playful’ experiments and (re)configurations on a personal level (‘playing oneself’).

The question remains: does sharing the same play experiences with other people logically lead to self-understanding in terms of ‘play’? Metaphors (play/game) become ‘real’ when they account for people’s sense of similarity and belonging. The metaphor then becomes a medium. It seems such a powerful line of reasoning in favor of the ‘playful identities’ thesis: when former fixed essences and circumscribed narratives of identity are debunked, unmasked, or simply no longer believable, playing together is a very powerful way of reconnecting (‘re-ligare’) to a larger body of people.

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