Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2023

Course Description

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.

Student Outcomes

Learning goals and outcomes.
In our seminar, the content becomes a medium for developing your intellectual abilities through writing. Writing in any genre is a creative act of ordering and deriving deeper meaning from the thoughts and impressions that constitute our basic response to experience. The practical goals of the course are to understand play as an essential facet of human experience, and to explore the theoretical and practical dimensions of games and game design in different genres. As the first step in the series of writing courses that will span your four years at DePauw, our seminar provides experience with fundamental academic writing skills that you can use in a range of disciplines. The sequence of assignments helps you to develop these skills through progressively more complex writing tasks.

Altogether, the seminar will help you to:

  1. summarize concepts;
  2. narrate experiences and record observations;
  3. apply theoretical concepts to specific cases;
  4. critique and modify concepts based on new knowledge;
  5. analyze texts, artifacts, and phenomena; and
  6. design original works informed this process of inquiry, application, and critique.

Along the way, these general tasks will be linked to specific course readings and design exercises.