*Playing* With Games

One quite popular strategy to criticize a video game is to label it as a glorified tech demo of some sort. I get that sentiment, but still, it comes across a bit funny from the perspective that I actually love tech demos, or  at least the core idea of them.

The thing is, tech demos often condense and encapsulate the essence that ultimately makes the whole medium tick and stand out from the traditional media. It really is the technology, tech, which remains left when everything else is stripped down, and it’s nothing short of exhilarating to watch every time when a developer brings something novel, or in the best case scenario groundbreaking, technology to the table, using a tech demo.

But before we go any further, we have to look into how Roger Caillois divides act of playing into two separate concepts, which he calls ludus and paidea. Ludus refers to the type of play that contains rules and goals, whereas paidea is something that a small child performs spontaneously, without having any specific objectives or rules in her mind.

So tech demos by definition lack the element of ludus (and story) altogether, which supposedly makes them boring and pretty much pointless endeavors. However, the mode in which I have played video games the most throughout my life actually resembles more paidea type of playing than ludus, which in a way makes my relationship to video games as that of tech demos to an extent. I play with them like a child plays with his or her toys.

Yes, I have no problem admitting spending hours playing only with shadows in Crysis, rotating 3D models in Starglider 2, and messing around with the Euphoria engine in Grand Theft Auto IV. Of course, it takes some level of childishness to allow oneself to behave that way, but isn’t that what video games are all about?