The spirit of playful competition is, as a social impulse, older than culture itself and pervades all life like a veritable ferment. Ritual grew up in sacred play; poetry was born in play and nourished on play; music and dancing were pure play. Wisdom and philosophy found expression in words and forms derived from religious contests. The rules of warfare, the conventions of noble living were built up on play-patterns. We have to conclude, therefore, that civilization is, in its earliest phases, played.
Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens (1950)
Ludology is the study of games, including their forms, history, and role in contemporary culture. In his book Homo Ludens, the cultural historian Johan Huizinga argues that game play has a central role in the development of civilization. Games, like civilization itself, contrive rules of order for human action, structuring experience to make life more meaningful. Play underlies religion, philosophy, literature, art, politics, and warfare. What distinguishes a game from other activities, Huizinga suggests, is the demarcation of a “magic circle,” or sacred space in which special rules apply and play occurs. Huizinga describes these spaces as “temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart”: a playground, an arena, a stage, a card table, a virtual world, a backyard, a battlefield or a temple. But the magic circle is not simply a place where we divert ourselves from the more serious business of life; it is a place where we explore the rules and the meaning of life. The seminar begins with Huizinga’s premise that games can serve as a lens for understanding civilization and culture. We will consider their distinct forms and genres, including the board and table games, sports, role playing games, and digital games. We will consider the relation between games and literary forms such as drama, poetry, and fiction. We will also consider games as a rhetorical form, a medium for promoting ethical and political ideals. Our reading will cover a spectrum of disciplines and our assignments will include game play, analysis, and design. As a writing intensive first-year seminar, the course will prepare you for the range of writing assignments you will encounter in subsequent courses.
Brown, Harry, "ENG 197A Introduction to Ludology Brown Fall 2023" (2023). Course Syllabi. 19, Scholarly and Creative Work from DePauw University.