Friday, March 02, 2007

Play is the Disruption of Presence

Of course, like everyone else this week, I was working on my DIGRA paper. Luckily it gave me an excuse to re-read recent classics in game studies by Alexander Galloway and Jesper Juul. (It is interesting that both cite Roger Caillois on the nature of games and playing, given the appearance of a new translation of his Pontius Pilate, which shows another side of his insights as a cultural critic and can be read as a current story about the perils of colonial exploits in the Middle East.)

Through grappling with these questions of definition, it also gave me the opportunity to think about my own history with playing games. I grew up in a puzzle-mad household. A giant jigsaw puzzle, often of a foreign locale, was always set up on a card table for assembly after dinner. There were also endless card games and board games, particularly Mille Bournes, which was supposed to have the added benefit of teaching us French. As an avid crossword puzzler, my mother liked word games like Scrabble. My father was also a poker-player, whose buddies included our minister and some of my teachers in school. There were always poker strategy books around the house, and as a tyke, I was obsessed with Monopoly and pored over a strategy book that I got from the library.

I hate to admit it, but somehow those games weren't really all that fun. We were a competitive family, and the rules were always to be followed, never subverted. The greatest pleasures of childhood came far away from home. There was a sandwich restaurant on Arroyo Boulevard called "The Bandstand," with an automated orchestra in front and a warren of rooms in the back filled with pinball machines, horoscope readers, naughty nickelodeon peep-shows, and other old-timey wonders. On weekends, I loved to squander hours playing skee-ball at the beach at dens of iniquity in Newport or Santa Monica, despite my terrible hand-eye coordination.

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