Asmolab

BOARD GAMES | ETHNOGRAPHY

This research report was co-authored with the Web School Factory’s P2020 design major.

Ethnology of games
Why the need to play ?

Play is born from the gap between pleasure (presence of the mother) and displeasure (absence of the mother) in a space called “potential or transitional”. This experience, which creates lack (and displeasure), forces the child to make up for it with a mental activity that develops by creating his first images: «hallucinations of the absent object».
Since hallucinations are no longer satisfactory, the infant will look outside for replacement objects to compensate for the mother’s deficiencies by transforming a relative lack into a successful adaptation.

It is an area of «compromise» that constitutes the largest part of the child’s experience and that persists throughout his or her life, making it possible to «maintain» both separate and linked to each other the inner reality and the external reality.

Through play, I create my identity,
learn social relationships, and develop my creativity.

What kind of playing ?

1.The“play” : where the game is pure creativity, without rules. The “play” is creative : it is articulated with dream and life, and threatened. Gambling is an expression of desire and anxiety that is protected by denial: “it’s gambling, it’s not for real”.

→ The game, initially frivolous and free, is opposed to seriousness, to real life: in the same way as leisure time and working time, imagination and reality, freedom and constraint, etc. Still from this perspective, we can consider that gambling is based on seriousness (recreation, reward, compensation), just as leisure time is based on working time.

The pleasure in the play is
a purely imaginary pleasure.

2. The “game” : gradually adapted to reality and its requirements, to be gradually normalized by rules. An attempt to keep away, with what he has organized, the frightening aspect of the “play”. It is characterized by the concentration and concern of the child who is involved in it.This aspect of the game is more important than its content.

→ The game later becomes a serious, educational, pedagogical activity. It contributes to the emotional, moral, intellectual and social development of the person. It integrates a social and interactive dimension into the person’s life. It is the development of the person’s capacities and skills. It integrates socialization, integration into social and cultural life, and the acquisition of skills, knowledge and know-how.

The existence of the rule that we see as a constraint, this social relationship that it imposes is finally a source of pleasure. It is then necessary to reconsider the way in which we show the rules to prove its value in creating pleasure.

According to Winnicott, the child or person is like in a waking dream, a fantasy creation that becomes a symbolic expression and has a restorative and liberating function.

The link between childhood, playing & the social construction of reality.

These reflections implicitly inspire a large number of research studies on gambling and social issues. It is necessary to distinguish the universe of cultural norms and values on the one hand, and identity and behavioral norms on the other.

Gianini Belotti (1974), an Italian feminist educator and author, has conducted a cultural study on the specific contribution of games and the differentiation of gender roles: toys are often designed for boys or girls, closely linked to the different roles expected of them, the “vocation” or “destiny” they are assigned, so that the male/female dichotomy would be institutionalized there.

Society is sexually divided and this division (or also called domination)
is particularly evident in games and especially in toys offered to children.

By distinguishing between “good” and “bad” games: boys would be oriented towards a type of aggressive and competitive play, which would allow them to externalize and exercise their aggressiveness and domination (and socialize them, while naturalizing them) while female development is defined as “a permanent frustration”, with girls having to repress and internalize their own aggressiveness, which can lead to an “obsessive ritualization” (complicated games such as skipping rope, bungee, hopscotch or wall ball, defined by others as “virtuosity exercises”.

Games clearly still play an essential role in promoting integration into children’s society and society itself. The real world is a world of social pressures and norms.

The expression of desires, impulses, libido is counterbalanced by social norms. I can’t do everything I dream of doing. However, the game world has no social construction, so I can experience what I can’t do in the real world.

The game is a universe in which I have the right to go and build other identities. It’s like the good guys in life who are jerks in the game.

Like in Vegas: “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, people adopt behaviors that they don’t have elsewhere. In the physical world it is very complicated to escape this pressure, in other words: in these fictionals worlds, libido is queen, and allows the exploration of other personalities and universes.

In conclusion, we can, like Caillois, explore a sociological definition of the game, of playing, whose interest lies mainly in the empirical research that it is likely to encourage:

The playful activity, or playful disposition, with reference to the aesthetic disposition, can be conceived as a second reality or a second degree activity. → Any good fiction must be plausible, not true. The appearance of truth is of paramount importance.

• A fictious situation in the sense of this is a game, which neutralizes momentarily the ordinary space- time, opening an intermediate area.
• A space of experiences allowing a free and regulated, frivolous (the consequences are not “for real”) and serious (we play “for good”) exploration and experimentation of the dimensions of social play.

We may ask ourselves whether, as their name suggests, board games (played with family and friends) do not make it possible to break down conceptually, to familiarize ourselves, to play with a certain number of val- ues, principles and rules at the core of social life;

Rules of collective life such as regulations of feelings and atti- tudes, but also skills and know- how, the sense of play, coopera- tion, competition, strategy and negotiation; to mobilize and invest in the subsequent social games.

Similarly, we may ask ourselves whether toys, which are more intimate, more individual, more emotional perhaps, do not make it possible to explore and build oneself as a subject for others and as an object for oneself, as a boy or girl, a child or pre-teenager, a future mother or father, a future footballer-astronaut, etc., that is, as an individual located in social games.

Game categorization

Roger Caillois is a french writer and sociologist, who published in 1958 a fundamental book on the sociology of game and play that remains undisputed to this day. Caillois classified games based on the player’s attitude during the game rather than the tools or the required skills for the game. Caillois envisions game as freedom, conventions, a pause from reality and a defined space and temporality. The four categories that he named and defined will help us understand the ins and outs of game.

Agôn, competition : make every effort to win

• Definition : a game in which equality of chances between players is artificially created by rules in order for the players to rely solely on their skills to win. As a result, players will have to make every effort to win, they must be dedicated, trained, and focused.

• The stakes for players : a desire for others to recognize their skills. Agôn is about personal merit and its public display.

• A few examples : Agôn can be physical or intellectual. Sports competitions are a typical example of physical agôn while chess game is textbook example of intellectual agôn.

Alea, chance/fate : wait for fate’s outcome

• Definition : The word “alea” comes from latin and means dices. Although alea does feature equality of chances like agôn (same number of cards distributed, same probability to get a good “hand” for example), it is the exact opposite of agôn, for players don’t rely on their skills to win the game but solely on fate, chance.

• The stakes for players : alea is a self- abandonment to fate, a way to offload oneself of personal responsibilities and a abolition of physical and intellectual superiorities because only fate determines the winner, giving everyone the exact same opportunity to win. While players can’t influence the outcomes, they will try to minimize risks.
Examples : Roulette, loteries


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