Praise for Chris Bateman

  • Jane McGonigal
    "the most thoughtful respondent in games, barring none"
  • Kendall Walton
    "wonderfully refreshing and inventive"

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Philosophy Books

What's your Gamer Class?

Game Design

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I do with TypePad would ever figure out that I already authorised it, but... hey ho.

Anyway just wanted to say that I enjoyed this article and look forward to seeing where this series goes.


Chris, I am very interested in your philosophical analysis of other intellectuals' concepts of "game", and look forward to further postings.

(Normally I never post such a content-free comment, but given my enthusiasm for Chris Bateman's writing, the topic, and most importantly Chris Bateman writing about this topic, I had to make an exception) ;)

I'm somewhat confused by your assertion that definitions of games are value judgements. It's not that I disagree (we could also call them biases, perspectives, etc.), but aren't you in a sense ignoring the reasons and purposes people have for crafting definitions in the first place? For example, I might want to study a certain thing or make a certain point and craft a definition in order to circumscribe the point I want to make. In other words, there's often a point in creating definitions that's different/beyond "simple" value judgements.

Matt, Nathan: thanks for the words of support! Always appreciated, since most people just lurk. ;)

Jose: a definition posed as a tool for a purpose also includes a value judgement - in that case, the values involved relate to the purpose, and are instrumental values. However, when people attempt to define 'game' - as in the cases I present here - this is not often instrumental in focus, but generally epistemological or ontological depending on the nature of the boundaries being drawn. (Caillois might be an exception here - his definition was largely instrumental in nature).

My view is that whether instrumental, epistemological or ontological, values are in effect when 'game' is defined and thus these can be uncovered. As this serial will, I hope, demonstrate, what is uncovered by this process matches what I have researched under the psychology of play (i.e. play styles), so I believe this effectively collides player satisfaction modelling and game aesthetics in a new and potentially valuable way.

Best wishes!

Chris: presenting this series at a time when "gamification" slowly but steadily drifts into the focus of the larger design/communication debate is insanely good timing ;-) Today, a foundational theory of "games in the digital age" is more needed than ever! Especially, I am looking forward to your comments on Thomas Malaby's work.

The purpose of a definition is to structure a discursive field. Discursive fields are themselves play spaces, so the definitions we choose determine the shape of any play that takes place within the discursive field. Quite often our definitions are deliberately picked so they privilege particular moves within the field, coaxing our player/interlocutor to arrive at a predetermined location within the field. If you pick your definitions particularly well, you can create the illusion of freedom of movement while maintaining tight control over the play of discourse. This, of course, is identical to what we do as game designers when we lay out any system of constraints for a player to navigate.

translucy: Ironically, I see the theory I'm advancing as non-foundational (in the philosophical sense) - the irony being that despite this, it still serves the role as a foundational theory. I face the same situation in ethics, though - I think it might be the state of affairs in any situation where human values are in play. :) Won't get to Malaby until part 6, so hang on in there!

Brian: I thoroughly agree with your comments here. However, whereas game designers do not defend their system constraints normatively, they will sometimes defend their definitions in this way! ;) My goal in this serial is precisely to unfold the play space from the definitions so we can see what it looks like rolled across the desk like a map.

Best wishes!

"My goal in this serial is precisely to unfold the play space from the definitions so we can see what it looks like rolled across the desk like a map."

I'm eagerly looking forward to it ... .

I'm in particular interested in what you have to say about Thomas Malaby. I really like the way he terms games "contrived contingencies", but I believe as long as this notion is not related to the notion of connotation in semiotics, I believe it remains a too empirical approach, assigning substance to form. The contrivance he talks about seems to be an invasion of one "language" by another, so as to turn the former to function in terms of the latter. It's really sad that semiotics is perceived as having no explanatory power in regard to games.

Altugi: Malaby's an anthropologist, so you should expect him to be taking an empirical approach, although what I like about his work is that it takes a lot of philosophical angles into its stride.

"It's really sad that semiotics is perceived as having no explanatory power in regard to games."

I'm not sure that's the case, but it is the case that the number of people working on the semiotics of games is quite small and the subject doesn't perhaps get the attention it deserves. But I wouldn't say there was nothing going on in this space.

Best wishes!


Yes I like his work too, and I think his term "contrived contingency" is probably one of the most operational ones out there in regard to describing the very act of things turning into elements of a game. I think he's very close to the heart of the issue and he's giving us a fantastic concept.

But I believe the term could be further improved if it is unified with a semiotic aspect. I'm thinking here of Barthes notion of mythical speech that he used in his early works. He describes mythical speech as a secondary language (or discourse) contriving a primary language/discourse (for example real-life objects) for its own purposes. I think it adds up wonderfully with Malaby's approach, and expands this notion so that it can cover the dimension of games as signification processes.

The kind of empiricism we talk about here would probably object to the thought to speak of real-life objects and humans as semiotic entities or "discourses", however Jean Ricoeur has a very interesting theory on reading meaningful action as a discourse, and I think it is one of the theories out there that could help to maintain an aspect of semiotic value as we speak of "empirical" things such as real humans.


Btw, I could comment endlessly on why I think semiotics is perceived as having no explanatory power in regard to games, but maybe I'll do that another time :) Actually, it would be great if you include some examples of game semiotics into the series. That would give us a chance for more interesting conversations.

Thanks for this series. Wish you well, too! :)

Altugi: sadly, I'm just not as well versed in semiotics as you! And right now I'm having to get up to speed on narratology (one of my papers is going into a prestigious narratology book series) so it's just not an option for me to pursue at this time. But I'm interested in the topic, and welcome your interjections on it! :)

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