In his 1958 book Les Jeux et Les Hommes (usually translated as Man, Play and Games), the noted sociologist and intellectual Roger Caillois introduced a terminology for considering patterns in games. He used the term 'game' in a very wide manner, applying it to all play activities. This is a partial consequence of his native language, French, where the term 'jeux' and 'jouer' express the concepts of both play and game in English.
Caillois' interest in games was sociological: the second half of Les Jeux et Les Hommes is a fascinating account of how societies relate to the patterns of play he identified, and is fascinating reading. However, the principle value of Caillois' work for modern game design is that his framework for considering games provides us a unique perspective for examining play.
The term 'patterns of play' was not used by Caillois, but I have coined it to provide a means to refer to the system. Caillois was keen to observe that it is not intended as a taxonomy.
The elements of the system are as follows. Firstly, there are four patterns of play:
- Agon, or games of competition. I discuss this in The Challenge of Agon.
- Alea, or games of chance. I discuss this in The Rituals of Alea.
- Mimicry, of games of simulation, is discussed in The Imagination of Mimicry.
- Ilinx, or games of vertigo, is discussed in The Joy of Ilinx.
Additionally, Caillois suggests that games can be considered to lie at various points on an axis between free creativity and rule-bound complexity:
- Paidia refers to improvisation, and is discussed in The Anarchy of Paidia.
- Ludus refers to rules, and is discussed in The Complexity of Ludus.
Caillois' built upon prior work by Johan Huizinga, considered one of the founders of modern cultural history.