I recently read Iain M. Banks’ The Player of Games, and besides being a good book it’s got special kicks for anyone into game research. I’m not giving away the plot, but in the book Banks describes a culture so completely engulfed by a game that they are practically defined by it. Their whole life revolves around playing the game, and has done so for countless generations. Those that do well in the game are also given key positions in society, and the title of emperor is given to the very best of the players. Not very surprisingly (given the title) the protagonist gets entangled with the game, and is thoroughly changed by playing it. He starts seeing things like the natives do because playing the game gives him the same perspective to things. Its a pity such a game does not exist – can’t help but love a game that requires the players to use their philosophical outlooks of life as parts of the game. (Imagine: “He totally plays like an existentialist. Look at how he’s burdened by the freedom of choice!”)
The whole concept reminds me of Caillois, and his ambitious project of creating a sociology of games. Now, sociology of games is nothing new – the social interactions within and around games have been researched before – but what Caillois had in mind was much more than that. He thought that one could create a whole sociology around studying how and what people play. He did just that, looking at some traditional games of Inuits’ and South-American Indians’. He also studied the gambling habits of Americans’.
The culture Banks describes would be a dream come true Caillois. His program of researching cultures through the games they play would be perfect for this one – you couldn’t understand the culture Banks describes without understanding their game. Too bad such a culture doesn’t really exist.