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Nietzsche contra Caillois: Beyond play and games

Dixon, Dan


Dan Dixon


Roger Caillois' Man, Play and Games is a seminal book in Game Studies and his taxonomy of play and games has framed much of the debate while the field has been active. However this book was published half a century ago and does not provide much help in understand- ing computer games. A number of academics have raised the point that computer games are significantly different from traditional gaming or real world play activity and should be treated differently.

According to Caillois play and games fall on a continuum between what he terms ludus, rule bound games and paidia, anarchic playing. Computer games can be seen as heavily rule bound in that the limits of a participant's actions are controlled by a codified simulation. But am I playing a game when I sight-see in GTA4, dance with friends in World of Warcraft, or chase someone through SecondLife?

In this paper I argue that Caillois' approach is mistakenly essentialist and that the aesthetic experience must be given pre-eminence. Based on this I propose two related points. Firstly that there is no continuum between the experiences of gaming and playing; these are two separate aesthetic qualities. Secondly, I explore these aesthetic experiences along Apollo- nian and Dionysian lines, using Nietzsche's work in The Birth of Tragedy. In the process particular care is paid to applying the terms playing and gaming and this leads to a basis for a philosophical reinterpretation of gameplay as an experience.


Dixon, D. Nietzsche contra Caillois: Beyond play and games. Paper presented at Philosophy of Computer Games 2009

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name Philosophy of Computer Games 2009
Publication Date Aug 1, 2009
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords game studies, philosophy, Nietzsche, Caillois, games, play
Publisher URL


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