Katherine C.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Music 256A / CS476A, Stanford University

Word count: 464

Reading Response to Artful Design Chapter 6: Game Design

From this week's reading, I would like to respond to Artful Design Principle 6.1, which states:

Principle 6.1: “Play is what we do when we are free; play is what we do to be free” (p. 309).

Unpacking the principle, Ge argues that “play is both a consequence and an authentic expression of freedom; it is, by definition, the absence of external purpose; we engage in play out of choice, and we play for the sheer intrinsic worth of the activity” (p. 309).

This led me to think about the difference between play and games – if we substitute all instances of “play” with “games,” would the statements above still hold true? I think the answer is not exactly, because there would be a subtle difference – play is aimless and has no goal, while games have constraints and are goal-oriented. As the Ge writes in the textbook, gamification leads to “a kind of play with external purpose” (p. 309). But wait, doesn’t this go against the definition of play? If play is the absence of external purpose, how can there be a kind of play with external purpose? More specifically, if we play games to express freedom, and games inherently have constraints (rules, goals, etc.), are we actually free?

In response to this principle, I also thought about the difference between playing to be free and playing for fun. This is because when asked the question “why do you play ___?” my answer would be “for fun” and not “to be free.” How does freedom relate to fun? The two concepts are similar because they are both intrinsic motivations for doing an activity. They are different as freedom is defined by the lack of constraints, while fun is a feeling. I think fun comes from feedback the brain gives us when we’re absorbing patterns for learning, resulting in physical stimuli, aesthetic appreciation, and/or chemical manipulation that happens in the brain, then leading to the release of endorphins and a good feeling that we describe as “fun.” Maybe feeling free also involves the release of endorphins in the brain.

Finally, I found the dual definition of play – the fact that it is both a consequence and an expression – very fascinating. It’s interesting that people seem to play only when they’re free, meaning we tend to separate play from the things we need to do, such as work. This reminds me of the phrase “work hard, play hard.” However, I wonder if the way we view free time is making us less happy. Many believe that the more leisure time we have, the more we can play, and the better life will be. But would this pressure to maximize free time get in the way of our enjoyment of the free time itself?