The Anarchy of Paidia
Ultimate Game Player Survey

Roger Caillois' Patterns of Play

First published on Chris Bateman’s blog, Only A Game on 26th May 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:

Additionally, Caillois suggests that games can be considered to lie at various points on an axis between free creativity and rule-bound complexity:

Caillois' built upon prior work by Johan Huizinga, considered one of the founders of modern cultural history.


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Oops! Most links are broken here ^ Looks like due to an URL change structure.

this is great. I would add however, games of cooperation to the taxonomy. ther are folks out there doing interesting work in game design for team building and instruction on conflict resolution

Remy: thanks - fixed! :)

Tim: just to be clear, this isn't a taxonomy; Roger Caillois was very clear that he didn't think that this was a complete and exhaustive categorisation system (and indeed expressly said that it wasn't a taxonomy).

If you wanted to turn it into a taxonomy, you'd have to add quite a lot of other things into the picture. Still, for when it was written, Caillois' book does a really good job of exploring the territory of play.

Thanks for your comment!

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