An Archaeology of the Playful Me

Ruud Koorevaar 1-5-2011 Are we homo sapiens, man of rationality? Maybe we are homo faber, creators? Perhaps we are homo ludens, the playing man? As Johan Huizinga, Dutch philosopher argues, play can be regarded as a highly important factor for all life throughout the world and all its inhabitants, including me, a 24 year old Dutch male student, playing his way through life. In this short essay I will briefly take a stroll through my own history, glance to the present and peer a little bit into the future regarding my own (possible) playful ventures. In an archaeological way I will, in a Foucaultian manner of things, reflect on certain epistemes, themes, or paradigms which frame me into a nexus of play. This will eventually bring me to an answer to the question Frans Mäyrä asks: "Do you consider yourself a typical sample in terms of your generation and cultural background?" (2008, 12). Pre-digital Firstly there are the obligatory sports and toys. Let's clump this together as the era of pre-digital playfulness and let's keep this short, since we prefer to focus on the digital kind of play here. As was pretty usual I had to construct Star Wars inspired spaceships out of Lego and batting sticks that were impossible to disassemble out of K'nex. I've also gone through a fair share of sports. A few of my early years were spent kicking around a football on grassy fields, after which I dabbled with some badminton, some korfball and a good amount of skateboarding. After the occasional broken bone here and there I decided that that was enough and I turned to the road of no return as a fervent gamer. Before that, however, I was no stranger to the occasional computer game. Digital During the last years of my first decade I was captivated by the pixilated, slightly plump, mustachioed plumber hopping over the occasional depthless crevice, collecting rather large coins, voluntarily jumping into sewers and bringing the species of tortoises on the brink of extinction, with fireballs. Mario was fun. As well as Duck Hunt which brings back fond memories of the blaster gun. The NES was actually the first console that entered my home. From there on I stuck with Nintendo for a while with the Game Boy and some improved versions of it, the Nintendo 64 and the Game Cube. I was particularly fond of adventure games with some touches of role play elements, such as various parts of The Legend of Zelda series or the anime inspired games Skies of Arcadia and Tales of Symphonia. I actually also enjoyed a bit of the Game Gear, released by Sega, and the game Ecco the Dolphin, which for some reason captivated my imagination, but as of today I still haven't figured out the goal of the game. The Dreamcast, also released by Sega, was as well a fond object of my attention with Sonic the Hedgehog in 3D, Phantasy Star Online and Soul Blade and Soul Calibur. After being entertained by Nintendo for a few years, another Japanese company entered the household: Sony. With the Playstation (2) I started to get into the more unfriendly games as Resident Evil, which I couldn't play but only watch as my brother played through it, it freaked me out. Imagine, the Gremlins freaked me out; the short cinematic introductions of the creeping, eyeless slickers that clung to the ceilings, with their brains poking out, were burned into my memory. However, it was all still in good fun. I also did some lighthearted racing with Gran Turismo or beating down friends and foes alike in various releases of the Tekken and Street Fighter series. Naturally, to sate my thirst for adventures and role playing games I couldn't resist playing around in Final Fantasy VII and VIII (after which I actually didn't really touch the series anymore for some unknown reason, but probably not entirely unfortunate). When you mention Nintendo and Sony Playstation you of course have to mention Microsoft as well, since with the Xbox they entered and probably intensified the war between consoles. The lifespan of the Xbox within my home was, however, not that long lived. I enjoyed myself a good amount of melting face in Halo or Unreal Tournament and

busting out the physics on the scantily clad vixens in Dead or Alive, but it didn't go much further than that. That generation of consoles, the Nintendo Game Cube, Sony Playstation 2 and Xbox were the last consoles that had a foothold in my home. I turned to the PC. During the days of the consoles I was involved with gaming on the PC with the first Virtua Fighter, Need for Speed and classic side-scrolling platforms as Jazz Jackrabbit and Rayman. The world of Diablo (II) was also a top favorite to venture into and gather a plethora of loot. I had (and still have) good fun with enslaving minions in Dungeon Keeper, planning a suitable course through an environment of Deus Ex, shooting pigs with the Duke, mastering the creation of world wonders in Age of Empires, positioning the camera in Tomb Raider to get a good angle on the lady, getting the best set of attributes in the character creator of Baldur's Gate, staring in shock at the time played counter in World of Warcraft, growing tired of said game and diving into the massive worlds of Warhammer Online, Rift, DC Universe Online, getting into esports with Starcraft II (as a spectator) as well as casual competitive gaming with Call of Duty and Battlefield Bad Company 2 and, as of the last year or two, greatly enjoying the little wonders of the independent gaming scene with games such as Super Meat Boy, Shank, Magicka, Minecraft and Trine. But as we now have seen where I am now and how I got there, what about tomorrow? However, whether there will be a post-digital era would be dangerously dabbling with clairvoyance, so let's stick with the digital one then. How will I fulfill my playful tendencies as a homo ludens in the near future? As I do have slight hopes that new IPs will appear somehow the games which I look forward to most at the moment are all sequels. For example the dystopic black and gold world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the third piece of the series, has great appeal to me. Or the dark and wondrous medieval adventures of Gerald in the Witcher 2. I also have great hopes for the hack and slash action in Diablo III to hopefully saturate the secret loot whore in me. The recently released gameplay footage of Battlefield 3 looks amazing as well. Taking all the above in regard, I would wonder what kind of gamer I could classify myself as. Considering the types of gamers that Richard Bartle (1996) described (the socializers, the killers,

the achievers and the explorers) I would describe myself as the following:

Image 1. A visual representation of Bartles four types of gamers applied to yours truly.

Overall it is a pretty well rounded distribution. There is a little bit of a killer, which is reflected mostly in my competitive urges these days with online first-person shooters and in the past with fighting games against friends. The slightly larger partition of the socializer in me comes from the enjoyment of playing with friends offline as well as online. The equal amount as an explorer can be traced back into the appeal of adventures into grand, fantastic worlds. Finally then, the largest part, I do wish to have a goal within a game and to have the feeling of achievement when you crossed a treacherous mountain that seemed impossible to master. Conclusion Finally then, to turn back to the question at hand: do I consider myself to be a typical sample in terms of my generation and cultural background. Well, first off, nobody and everybody is particularly typical and as such answering this question is hardly easy. However, after you, the reader, have read this short essay, I can fling this question back at you. Do you regard me as a typical individual in regards to fulfilling my playful nature and urges? Literature Bartle, R. (1996). Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit Muds, from http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm <1 May 2011>. Märyä, F. (2008). An Introduction to Game Studies: Games in Culture. London: Sage Publications.