Critiquing and expanding Huizinga’s theory of play in Homo Ludens, the author argues for play as a means to access what is real and introduces a new model of play he calls the containment play expression (CPE) to challenge traditional notions about the opposition between play and work. This model, he contends, bridges this gap between phenomenological and Marxian perspectives that view both play and work as accomplishments within a capitalist economic and political context. He then applies his new unitary model of play to computer games and discusses how players negotiate their relationships online in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Keywords: alienation; containment play expression; digital games; human expression; play and work; virtual environment
Volume 11, Number 1
Welcome to the American Journal of Play special issue on redefining work and play, another in our series of themed issues we publish from time to time. Each issue focuses on important topics in the fast-developing study of play. Each is guest edited by distinguished experts and includes work by the leading researchers and thinkers on the topic. Our guest editors sociologists J. Talmadge Wright and David G. Embrick have assembled a series of articles that challenge definitions and seek alternative interpretations and categorizations of work and play. Wright begins the issue with an article that introduces a new model of play based on accomplishments and human expression that could resolve perceived binaries of work and play. Christine Payne argues for expanding the sphere of play to include considerations of desire, consumption, work sharing, talents, and interests. Michael J. Roberts makes a case for an interpretation of work and play that emphasizes a separation of work from play. Ken S. McAllister and Judd Ethan Ruggill explore the concept and consequences of electronic game death. In an excerpt from T. L. Taylor’s book Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming, the author discusses some of the work game live streamers undertake to convert their private play into public entertainment. And Wright and Embrick close the issue with an examination of the emotional work of players of the massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft and their families and how these players negotiate both conflict and cooperation between family members in their off-line and online lives. Together these articles explore the interrelationships between work and play and the ways in which work and play have changed, particularly in the age of neoliberal capitalism.
The author takes up Karl Marx’s and Herbert Marcuse’s investigations into the possibilities for expanding freedom and play. She begins with an analysis of the essential questions about labor that need attention before considering theoretical and practical attempts to render necessary work superfluous in the interests of free play. She considers the limits of Marx’s original formulation of such a possibility as well as the problems with Marcuse’s attempts to fuse the spheres of work and play together. Inverting Marcuse’s reading of Sigmund Freud through Marx, she speculates on the irrational character of desire and its relationship to work and play. Key words: capitalism; Critical Theory; desire; play; work
The Politics of Playtime: Reading Marx through Huizinga on the Desire to Escape from Ordinary Lifeopens PDF file
The author offers what he calls an intervention in the Marxist analysis of the relationship between work and play. As an alternative to some Hegelian and sociological readings of Marx that seek to merge work with play as a means to overcome alienation, he provides an interpretation that emphasizes the importance of maintaining the difference between work and play in terms of distinct modes of experience. Reading Marx through Huizinga, the author argues that the goal for Marx is the emancipation from labor not the emancipation of labor. Marx develops this position, the author says, through a close examination of the labor movement’s epic struggle for shorter hours of work. Against a particular Hegelian-Marxist view that play in a capitalist context is trivial because it cannot transform the world, the author claims the pursuit of more time for play through the fight for shorter hours of work does indeed change the world. And he maintains that the fight for shorter hours of work is particularly relevant today as more and more jobs become automated and those who still have jobs find themselves working longer hours for less pay. Key words: alienation; labor; play; work
In this excerpt from the author’s new book, Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming, (Princeton University Press, 2018), she discusses some of the work game live streamers undertake to convert their private play into public entertainment. She details the layers involved in a typical broadcast and argues that this emerging form highlights the transformative nature of play. Key words: gaming; live streaming; transformative work; Twitch
The authors discuss the relationship of death and play as illuminated by computer games. Although these games, they argue, do illustrate the value of being—and staying—alive, they are not so much about life per se as they are about providing gamers with a playground at the edge of mortality. Using a range of visual, auditory, and rule-based distractions, computer games both push thoughts of death away from consciousness and cultivate a perception that death—real death—is predictable, controllable, reasonable, and ultimately benign. Thus, computer games provide opportunities for death play that is both mundane and remarkable, humbling and empowering. The authors label this fundamental characteristic of game play thanatoludism. Key words: computer games; death and play; thanatoludism
Mors aurem vellens: Vivite ait venio.
—Appendix Vergiliana, “Copa”
The Emotional Work of Family Negotiations in Digital Play Space: Searching for Identity, Cooperation, and Enduring Conflictopens PDF file
Computer game play has been criticized for disrupting family life by some who claim digital fantasy play alienates individuals from everyday interactions, even as others hold that such play increases sociability among players and their families. The authors argue that the truth about game play is more complex. They draw on research using participant observations and interviews with players about a well-known massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft and examine the struggle within families about time spent playing, family responsibilities, enhanced family dynamics, and the distances created by game playing. Key words: family play; game play and work; massive multiplayer online games; massive multiplayer online role-playing games; virtual environments
Anthony T. DeBenedet, Playful Intelligence: The Power of Living Lightly in a Serious Worldopens PDF file
Terry Kottman and Kristin K. Meany-Walen, Doing Play Therapy: From Building the Relationship to Facilitating Changeopens PDF file
Jodi Ann Mullen
Peter N Stearns
Katherine H. Adams and Michael L. Keene, Paper Dolls: Fragile Figures, Enduring Symbolsopens PDF file
Sinem Siyahhan and Elisabeth Gee, Families at Play: Connecting and Learning through Video Gamesopens PDF file
Ken S. McAllister is the Associate Dean for Research and Program Innovation for the College of Humanities at the University of Arizona, where he is also Professor of Public and Applied Humanities. He holds affiliate appointments in the Departments of English and Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies, as well as in the School of Information. He cofounded and codirects (with Judd Ruggill) the Learning Games Initiative and its attendant research archive. His research focuses on technologically enhanced modes of persuasion, particularly in transdisciplinary contexts. Judd Ethan Ruggill is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Public and Applied Humanities at the University of Arizona. He holds affiliate appointments with the Africana Studies Program; the Department of English; the School of Information; the School of Theatre, Film, and Television; and the Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory. His research focuses on play and the technologies, industries, and sociocultural phenomena that enable it.
Christine A. Payne is an instructor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University. She is also affiliated with San Diego State University’s Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences Program. She specializes in social and political theory, feminist science, and technology studies, cultural studies, and the sociology of knowledge. Her article, “The Question of Ideology in the Light of Will-to-Power – The Truths of Marx and Nietzsche,” will appear in a forthcoming issue of Critical Sociology. She is also coeditor of the forthcoming Nietzsche and Critical Social Theory: Affirmation, Animosity, and Ambiguity.
Michael J. Roberts is Associate Professor of Sociology at San Diego State University. His publications include Tell Tchaikovsky the News: Rock ’n’ Roll, the Labor Question, and the Musicians’ Union, 1942-1968 and Class: The Anthology. He has also coedited a special issue on Nietzsche and critical social theory for the journal Critical Sociology.
T. L. Taylor is Professor of Comparative Media Studies at MIT and cofounder and Director of Research for AnyKey, an organization dedicated to supporting diversity and inclusion in esports. She is the author of Play between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture; Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming, and Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming. She is also coauthor of Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method.
J. Talmadge Wright is Professor Emeritus of Sociology from Loyola University Chicago. His early work centered on homelessness, social spaces, and urban gentrification, as explained in his Out of Place: Homeless Mobilizations, Subcities, and Contested Landscapes. He has coedited two books focusing on virtual game space research, Utopic Dreams and Apocalyptic Fantasies: Critical Approaches to Researching Video Game Play, and Social Exclusion, Power, and Video Game Play: New Research in Digital Media and Technology. David G. Embrick is Associate Professor with a joint position in Africana Studies Institute and the Department of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. He is a past-president of the Southwestern Sociological Association, and a past-president of the Association for Humanist Sociology. His research has centered largely on the impact of contemporary forms of racism on people of color. His publications include articles in Sociological Forum, Symbolic Interaction, Race and Society, Sex Roles, Critical Sociology, and the Journal of Intergroup Relations.