One of the most common academic books you’re ever going to hear me mention, if you hang around me for any meaningful length of time, is going to be The Grasshopper: Life, Games and Utopia, and I’m not double checking the order of the terms in the title. It’s a book published first in 1978, by a guy called Bernard Suits, a lecturer from the University of Waterloo. The book is considered, now, fundamental to the philosophical consideration of games, and is the source of one of the most common definitions of games you’ll hear — indeed, the one I use to be maximally inclusive: A game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.
If you’ve listened to me explaining games in any expansive way, you’ve absolutely heard me quote this. Maybe sometimes I’ll say consensual instead of voluntary and maybe you’ll see noncompulsory instead of unnecessary, or restructuring the sentence back to front in some other way. If you only learned one thing from the book, odds are good, it’s this definition, which is useful for a bunch of reasons. It gives you freedom, it’s very inclusive, and it also asserts that you can’t be forced to play, which I found very important to instill in those I teach, that if you’re not choosing to do it, you’re not playing.
It isn’t the only idea in the book, though.Continue Reading →