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The City as a Game

Taylor Milne's picture

            Although there are many aspects of “playing,” one of the most common representations of being in a “state of play” resides around games and how one “plays a game.” When thinking of playing games, one may think of a board game or a sport, but through the discussions in class and my trips into the city I began to wonder if things such as experiencing a city, or creating art, could also be characterized as playing a game. In Critical Play, Flanagan describes games through the interpretation of Greg Costikyan as an act that is ever changing and is not dependent on a universal set of rules, “Games are inherently non-linear. They depend on decision-making. Decisions have to pose real, plausible alternatives, or they aren't real decisions. It must be entirely reasonable for a player to make a decision one way in one game, and a different way in the next. To the degree that you make a game more like a story--more linear, fewer real options--you make it less like a game.” (7) Based on this definition of play, it appears that anything that involves choice can be distinguished as a game, and that a game that follows the same pattern every time loses its ability to be played. Out of all of the different definitions of play that are presented in Critical Play, I agree most with this view that was shown by Costikyan because it is the one that is most open to each person’s own interpretation of what a game is.

            Through my experiences into the city I feel that any of them could have been characterized as a “game” in a non-traditional sense. Before reading Flanagan and analyzing my trips into Philadelphia, I had thought that games always have to involve a winner and a loser, but now it appears to me that many games do not necessarily have to follow this commonly accepted definition of play, and instead I now feel that a game is played anytime a person has a defined “goal” and they allow themselves to be led by serendipitous choices, rather than a linear plan that would lead them immediately to that goal. I say this because I believe that by creating this step by step plan of reaching a goal, it takes away much of the fun and playfulness that is involved in games.

            I have experienced this state of “play” through all of my trips into Philadelphia, because I have been going into the city with an idea of what I wanted to experience from that trip, but I have never had a set plan of how I was going to reach this end goal. Each trip into the city has been the same game of “playing in the city,” they have each produced different outcomes based on the choices I made in each respective trip into Philadelphia. I also began to wonder if experiences of playing this game of exploring the city would change based on location, and if the general foundation of the game would change based on what environment you are playing the game in.

            Due to an injury, I was unable to make this third trip into Philadelphia, so instead I chose to see how different this paradigm of a game was in a more suburban setting and I found myself exploring the town of Bryn Mawr in terms of this game. I found that as compared to the overwhelming experiences that I had on South Street, the time I spent in Bryn Mawr was much more relaxed and offered less “outcomes” of the game, based on the minimal possibilities of activity in a smaller setting that is more centered towards “family living” rather than the artistic and serendipitous feeling that Philadelphia, and South Street in particular, offered.

            When I went to the Magic Gardens I went in with the “goal” of seeing as much of Zagar’s work as possible, but with no real set plans beyond going to the gardens and exploring South Street, which allowed for the “choices” and “decision-making” that is discussed in the definition of a game as defined through Critical Play. When I was on South Street and in the Magic Gardens I felt so overwhelmed by all of the things that I could see, and the choices that I could make regarding my day and how my game would turn out, that I felt the capacity for the game was much larger in this setting rather than in a smaller town, because there is so much more to see and experience.


Works Cited

        Flanagan, Mary. "Introduction to Critical Play." Introduction. Critical Play: Radical Game Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2009. N. pag. Print.



Student 24's picture

'Work' and 'play' in the intro

Taylor’s introduction serves present an idea within the definitions created by two authors, discusses them briefly, and then ends with a statement which expresses her view. As a reader, there is not much ‘play’ involved in reading this paragraph; instead, the writing style invites the reader to participate in a more ‘work’-like fashion to analyse or evaluate these multiple definitions and conceptions of what is play and what are games.

pialikesowls's picture

Taylor is working by trying

Taylor is working by trying to create a basis on which to assert her idea, with the help of Mary Flanagan. She is playing by finding Flangan's quotes and ideas to support what she is saying, in addition to adding her personal thoughts to what she thinks play is. The first paragraph is simply to tell the reader the argument and opinion. As a reader, I use the first paragraph as a taste test of what the author is going to write about, and in this case, I used Taylor's first paragraph to do just that. There are many ideas in the first paragraph in addition to Taylor's own opinion which makes it easy to play as I can agree or disagree with her opinion, which could also be considered as work.