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Ludics: play as humanistic inquiry
Rapti V., Gordon E., Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore, 2021. 495 pp.  Type: Book (978-9-811574-34-4)
Date Reviewed: Jan 4 2022

This book is a collection of 20 essays on the philosophy and sociology of games and play. Lest this sound a little too arcane, I would point out that this is obviously relevant to the design of video games of all kinds. And it can help us understand the design and development of more effective information systems as well. For example, gamification is currently a popular idea in information systems design. To establish this connection, I would point to one of the earlier essays in the book, which serves as an exemplar of what to expect.

“Towards an Ethics of Homo Ludens” by Miguel Sicart brings together Johan Huizinga’s work on the sociology of play with Luciano Floridi’s work on the philosophy of information to provide insight into the ethics of game design. Sicart says,

If we consider homo ludens [from Huizinga] as a category or variation of homo poieticus [from Floridi], we can then pose new questions and analyze new ethical challenges from a perspective that is both based on solid philosophy, and on classic play theory.

The reason for this is “to argue that homo ludens is a type of homo poieticus ... that is not defined by playing but that uses playing to express, to construct their own relation to others and the world.” Yes, you do have to think about that as it expands person-playing-a-game to person-in-the-world for which game playing in one of many creative endeavors. This matters in the case of video games because:

video games cannot be isolated from the culture that creates them and trying to answer this ethical issue [that is, video game violence] by looking exclusively at what the player does in one of these games will only give us a partial limited narrow-scoped answer.

So, looking at video games (and I would argue information systems in general) from this philosophically grounded perspective provides a framework for analyzing video game design beyond the simplistic argument, that is, ;“video games are too violent” versus “no, they’re not.”

This essay also provides a reference point for describing the other essays in the book, most of which do not address video games nor information technology as directly as this one does. Most of the other essays provide thought-provoking insight into the nature of play and games without limiting that insight to information technology. What can be said of all the other essays is that they are definitely thought provoking and definitely not prescriptive. That is, they give you things to think about, which not only expands your understanding of games and play but allows you to gain insights into how this different understanding can be applied beyond the basic philosophy of games and play. Also, they don’t tell you what to think. Why would this matter to information systems planners, developers, and designers? The answer lies in understanding the evolution of the field.

Many decades ago, I was working in my first job in information systems (for the purposes of nostalgia, I must mention that it was called “data processing” way back then). The people I worked with were either called “users” or “programmers.” It wasn’t until later that we realized we needed a new specialty called “systems analysts,” that is, those literate in both business practices and programming techniques to bring the two together. Since then, the hybrid specialty demands grew with the field. Now we have business analysts, user interface analysts, user experience specialists, and so on. The point here is that the field of information systems in its most generic sense has always required practitioners to understand both the technology as it evolves and the context in which it exists (as it evolves as well) to understand how to create effective information systems while minimizing costly trial and error. Now we are seeing information technology reaching into the very contexts within which we live. And information system designers will need to understand that context.

This collection of essays is not beach reading. It would be of greatest interest to scholars who specialize in the intellectual foundation of play and games. However, it would also be of interest to planners, designers, and developers of video games and information systems, to broaden their understanding of their craft and how it fits into the larger culture.

Reviewer:  J. M. Artz Review #: CR147397
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