Man, Play and Games is the influential 1961 book by the French sociologist Roger Caillois, on the sociology of Play and Games or, in Caillois’ terms, sociology derived from Play. Caillois interprets many social structures as elaborate forms of games and much behavior as a form of play.

Caillois suggest that play is best described by six core characteristics:

  • It is free, or not obligatory.
  • It is separate (from the routine of life), occupying its own time and space.
  • It is uncertain, so that the results of play cannot be pre-determined and so that the player’s initiative is involved.
  • It is unproductive in that it creates no wealth and ends as it begins.
  • It is governed by rules that suspend ordinary laws and behaviors and that must be followed by players.
  • It involves make-believe that confirms for players the existence of imagined realities that may be set against ‘real life

Caillois argues that we can understand the complexity of games by referring to four play forms.

1) Agon, or competition. E.g. Sky Running is an almost purely agonistic game.
2) Alea, or chance. E.g. Bikepacking in challenging topography and demanding climates is taking a chance.
3) Mimicry, or mimesis, or role playing. Endurance is role playing. In the absence of causation, need and utility, while doing shit that sucks for fun, we’re simulating survival. 
4) Ilinx (Greek for “whirlpool”), or vertigo, in the sense of altered perceptions and states E.g. taking hallucinogens, sleep deprivation, extreme exhaustion, hunger, suffering, pain, portals, vortices, etc.

Art by Phillip Kim

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