Roger Caillois' Patterns of Play
May 26, 2006
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.
Some explanation for my regular readers, who may wonder what the purpose of this short piece is.
Since I have taken to providing links to prior posts under the title 'Roots' in my larger articles, I felt it necessary to have a single link to point to all my Caillois articles. That's the sole purpose of this.
I still haven't written about Caillois' sociological applications for this system, but I'm tempted to at some point.
Posted by: Chris | May 26, 2006 at 09:22 AM
These comments have been invaluable to me as is this whole site. I thank you for your comment.
Posted by: Rosie | May 09, 2007 at 04:46 PM
Happy to be of assistance Rosie! Best wishes!
Posted by: Chris | May 11, 2007 at 04:18 PM