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Breaking the Rules

pbernal's picture

Jessica Bernal


ESEM-Play in The City



Breaking the Rules


If I followed every rule to the dot growing up, then I wouldn’t have learned a thing in life. As mentioned before, instead of working on math in third grade, I watched movies and I didn’t turn out so bad, so they say.

If I base my experience of Spring Gardens in Philadelphia to what play should be according to Costikyan, “games are by their definition competitive in that they always have an end point- a winning or losing state” (Flanagan, 7) then no I didn’t “play critically” into the city. But playing critically is not about having a winning or losing state or following the rules, in my perspective, playing is about breaking the rules and as Flanagan states, “Critical play means to create or occupy play environments and activities that represent one or more questions about aspects of human life.” (pg.6)

The Spring Gardens gave off an intimidating vibe to those who wandered through. As we walked into the neighborhood, I felt a different sensation of the city. Unlike the others, it wasn’t screaming, “Look at me” but rather whispering, “Come and find me.” The neighborhood was quiet and not as occupied as the other parts of the city I’d visited. It was more residential with the washaterias and convenient stores back to back to its residents as they nonchalantly walked in and out of them. As we searched for The Random Tea House, we came to find it as if it were the home of someone living amongst everyone else just inviting everyone for tea and a chance to detach from society. It invited you to come inside and play in its own playhouse.  

Flanagan mentions the artists Marcel Duchamp and Claude Cahun as artists who are “ only a few examples from myriad artistic practices that survive in significance because they broke the rules.” (pg.10) The Random Tea House is the subversion of the Spring Gardens and an addition to the myriad artistic practices list. The teahouse created a place for people walk in and be set free and cut the chords of whatever pulled them apart. The Random Tea House is a creation of beauty out of a runned down small house squeezed by a set of families on both sides. The owner/artist of the random tea house took a home so ordinary and unnoticeable and turned into a world full of play for the mind to roam and play on, just like Duchamp did with the toilet piece.

Flanagan states, “In play, the aim is play itself, not success or interaction in ordinary life.” (pg.4) The Random Teahouse took the space provided and enhanced with playfulness decorations by turning destruction into beauty. The teahouse owner’s main priority is not necessarily about growing into the most successful business but rather being the most welcoming home to encourage play not hinder it by the same mundane structures found in another Starbucks around the corner.

The Random Teahouse goes against Salen and Zimmerman’s six key game concept rules and yet, in my perspective, proves to be more critical play than playing a board game like Monopoly, where there must be rules followed and in every case a winner and loser declared at the end of the game. The teahouse challenged me in a way monopoly wouldn’t be able to because it allowed me to relax and think beyond an “ultimate goal” that had to be reached at the end of the game. The Random Teahouse is an artistic creation for inspiration and challenging the individual and not for the purpose of determining if it’s the winner business in the city of Philadelphia. 


Phoenix's picture


1. What is happening? Jessica is comparing the existence of the Random Tea House in Philadelphia to critical play.

2. What is happening to you when you read it? I want to visit the Random Tea House. Also, I am confused by the equation of play with games.

3. What work is she doing? (what work are you doing in response?) She is trying to convince me of her premise. I am being convinced.

4. How is she playing? (how are you playing in reponse?) She gives me a hook at the beginning of the paper to draw me in with visions of daring rule-breaking, and proceeds to introduce the Random Tea House as a friend.