In striving to establish a theoretical framework for the academic study of games it is crucial that we, as game researchers, employ a critical lens to the core concepts that pervade our work. Certain metaphors provide the very foundations upon which future work is to be built. If we are to move forward, we have to, as is the case with any developing field of study, take certain concepts as given. These are the tools of our trade. They allow us to progress without having to constantly try to re-invent the proverbial wheel. A great deal of work has recently gone into defining our object of study. Efforts at synthesising and refining previous game definitions undertaken by Juul (2005) and Salen and Zimmerman (2003) have been of great use in this respect. But the conceptual awareness I am advocating here delves deeper than definitions. It strikes at the assumptions that these definitions, and a considerable portion of game scholarship seem to take for granted.
Let us take the very basic term “digital game”. Each of its constituent parts is too often characterised in either/or binaries. The first misleading binary conceives of the virtual in opposition to the real. It characterizes virtual environments as lying across a boundary from reality. The first myth affirms: if it’s generated by a computer, it isn’t real. The second problematic binary is represented by the notion of the “magic circle”. Here games are seen as being inherently separate from the everyday reality. The second binary has become a core element in the more popular definitions of games formulated by Juul (2005) and Salen and Zimmerman (2003). This paper follows theorists like Copier (2007), Lammes (2006), Malaby (2007) and Taylor (2006) and argues that these binary relationship are detrimental to furthering our understanding of digital games. It will further consider the implications of these binaries as foundational concepts that pervade any theoretical consideration of digital games.
Gordon Calleja is a Postdoctoral researcher at IT University of Copenhagen’s Center for Computer Games Research. He lectures in Game Theory and other Humanities oriented perspectives on games. His research focuses on game experience with a particular focus on involvement and immersion in computer games.