"Well, what is play, I should like to know, buy the art of producing in a second the changes that Destiny ordinarily effects only in the course of many hours or even many years, the art of collecting into a single instant the emotions dispersed throughout the slow-moving existence of ordinary men, the secret of living a whole lifetime in a few minutes, in a word, the genie’s ball of thread?" (Anatole France, The Garden of Epircurus, p.13)

From Marshall McLuhan's Understanding New Media CHAPTER 24: GAMES: The Extensions of Man”

"Alcohol and gambling have very different meanings in different cultures. In our intensely individualist and fragmented Western world, “booze” is a social bond and a means of festive involvement. By contrast, in closely knit tribal society, “booze” is destructive of all social pattern and is even used as a means to mystical experience.

"In tribal societies, gambling, on the other hand, is a welcome avenue of entrepreneurial effort and individual initiative. Carried into an individualist society, the same gambling games and sweepstakes seem to threaten the whole social order. Gambling pushes individual initiative to the point of mocking the individualist social structure. The tribal virtue is the capitalist vice.

"When the boys came home from the mud and blood baths of the Western Front in 1918 and 1919, the encountered the Volstead Prohibition Act. It was the social and political recognition that the war had fraternalized and the tribalized us to the point where alcohol was a threat to an individualist society. When we too are prepared to legalize gambling, we shall, like the English, announce to the world the end of individualist society and the trek back to tribal ways.” (315)

“. . . Games are popular art, collective, social reactions to the main drive or action of any culture. Games, like institutions, are extensions of social man and of the body politic, as technologies are extensions of the animal organism. Both games and technologies are counter-irritants or ways of adjusting to the stress of the specialized actions that occur in any social group. As extensions of the popular response to the workaday stress, games become faithful models of a culture. They incorporate both the action and the reaction of whole populations in a single dynamic image.” (316)

“. . . Games are dramatic models of our psychological lives providing release of particular tensions. They are collective and popular art forms with strict conventions. Ancient and non-literate societies naturally regarded games as live (317) dramatic models of the universe or of the outer cosmic drama. The Olympic games were direct enactments of the agon, or struggle of the Sun god. The runners moved around a track adorned with the zodiacal signs in imitation of the daily circuit of the sun chariot. With games and plays that were dramatic enactments of a cosmic struggle, the spectator role was plainly religious. The participation in these rituals kept the cosmos on the right track, as well as providing a booster shot for the tribe. The tribe or the city was a dim replica of that cosmos, as much as were the games, the dances, and the icons. How are became a sort of civilized substitute for magical games and rituals is the story of the detribalization which came with literacy. Arthritis, like games, became a mimetic echo of, and relief from, the old magic of total involvement. As the audience of the magic games and plays became more individualistic, the role of art and ritual shifted from the cosmic to the humanly psychological, as in Greek drama. Even the ritual became more verbal and less mimetic or dancelike. Finally, the verbal narrative from Homer and Ovid became a romantic literary substitute for the corporate liturgy and group participation. Much of the scholarly effort of the past century in many fields has been devoted to a minute reconstruction of the conditions of primitive art and ritual, for it has been felt that this course offers the key to understanding the mind of primitive man. They key to this understanding, however, is also available in our new electric technology that is so swiftly and profoundly reveals-creating the conditions and attitudes of primitive tribal man in ourselves.

"The wide appeal of the games of recent times – the popular sports of baseball and football and ice hockey – seen as outer models of inner psychological life, become understandable. As models, they are collective rather than private dramatizations of inner life. Like our vernacular tongues, all games are media of interpersonal communication, and they could have neither existence nor meaning except as (318) extensions of our immediate inner lives. If we take a tennis racket in hand, or thirteen playing cards, we consent to being a part of a dynamic mechanism in an artificially contrived situation. Is this not the reason we enjoy those games most that mimic other situations in our work and social lives? Do not our favorite games provide a release from the monopolistic tyranny of the social machine? In a word, does not Aristotle’s idea of drama as a mimetic reenactment and relief from our besetting pressures apply perfectly to all kinds of games and dance and fun? For fun or games to be welcome, they must convey an echo of workaday life. On the other hand, a man or society without games ins one sunk in the zombie trance of the automaton. Art and games enable us to stand aside from the material pressures of routine and convention, observing and questioning. Games as popular art forms offer to all an immediate means of participation in the full life of a society, such as no single role or job can offer to any man. Hence, the contradiction in ‘professional’ sport. When the games door opening into the free life leads into a merely specialist job, everybody senses and incongruity.

"The games of a people reveal a great deal about them. Games are a sort of artificial paradise like Disneyland,"

[SEE BAUDR.: Games as Simulacrum—interestingly, the publication of Seduction precedes Simulations and Simulacra (check title).]

"or some Utopian vision by which we interpret and complete the meaning of our daily lives. In games we devise means of non-specialized participation in the larger drama of our time. But for civilized man, the idea of participation is strictly limited. Nor for him the depth participation that erases the boundaries of individual awareness as in the Indian cult of darshan, the mystic experience of the physical presence of vast numbers of people.

"A game is a machine that can get into action only if the players consent to become puppets for a time. For individualist Western man, much of his ‘adjustment’ to society has the character of a personal surrender to the collective demands. Our games help both to teach us this kind of adjustment (319) and also to provide a release from it. The uncertainty of the outcomes of our contests makes a rational excuse of the mechanical rigor of the rules and procedures of the game.

"When the social rules change suddenly, then previously accepted social manners and rituals may suddenly assume the stark outlines and arbitrary patterns of a game. . . . Already the Freudian patterns of perception have become an outworn code that begins to provide the cathartic amusement of a game, rather than a guide to living.

"The social practices of one generation tenderness to get codified into the ‘game’ of the next. Finally, the game is passed on as a joke, like a skeleton stripped of its flesh."

[OLD MAN AND THE SEA—importance of baseball—the struggle/passion of winning the fish—“win” the fish—check to see if that is how it is worded]

"This is especially true of periods of suddenly altered attitudes, resulting from some radically new technology. . . . "(320)

[discussed difference between baseball culture and football culture] . . .

"Games, therefore, can provide many varieties of satisfaction. Here we are looking at their role as media of communication in society as a whole. Thus, poker is a game that has often been cited as the expression of all the complex attitudes and unspoken values of a competitive society. It calls for shrewdness, aggression, trickery, and unflattering appraisals of character. It is said women cannot play poker well because it stimulates their curiosity, and curiosity is fatal in poker. Poker is intensely individualist, allowing no place of kindness or consideration, but only for the greatest good of the greatest number—the number one. It is in this perspective that it is easy to see why war has been called the sport of kings. For kingdoms are to monarchs what patrimonies and (321) private income are to the private citizen. Kings can play poker with kingdoms, as the generals of their armies do with the troops. They can bluff and deceive the opponent about their resources and their intentions. What disqualifies war from being a true game is probably what also disqualifies the stock market and business – the rules are not fully known nor accepted by all the players. Furthermore, the audience is too fully participant in war and business, just as in a native society there is no true art because everybody is engaged in making art. Art and games need rules, conventions, and spectators. They must stand forth from the over-all situation as models of it in order for the quality of play to persist. For ‘play,’ whether in life or in a wheel, implies interplay. There must be give and take, or dialogue , as between two or more persons and groups. This quality can, however, be diminished or lost in any kind of situation. Great teams often play practice games without any audience at all. This is not sport in our sense, because much of the quality of interplay, the very medium of interplay, as it were, is the feeling of the audience. . . . Sport as a popular art from, is not just self-expression but is deeply and necessarily a means of interplay within an entire culture.

"Art is not just play but an extension of human awareness in contrived and conventional patterns. Sport as popular art is a deep reaction to the typical action of the society."


". . . Seen as live models of (322) complex social situations, games may lack moral earnestness, it has to be admitted. Perhaps there is, just for this reason, a desperate need for games in a highly specialized industrial culture, since they are the only form of art accessible to many minds. Real interplay is reduced to nothing in a specialist world of delegated tasks and fragmented jobs. Some backward or tribal societies suddenly translated into industrial and specialist forms of mechanization cannot easily devise the antidote of sports and games to create countervailing force. They bog down into grim earnest. Men without art, and men without the popular arts of games, tend toward automatism.

". . . The form of any game is of the first importance. Game theory, like information theory, has ignored this aspect of game and information movement. Both theories have dealt with the information content of systems, and have observed the ‘noise’ and ‘deception’ factors that divert data. This is like approaching a painting or a musical composition form the point of view of its content. In other words, it is guaranteed to miss (323) the central structural core of the experience. For as it is the pattern of a game that gives it relevance to our inner lives, and not who is playing nor the outcome of the game, so it is with information movement. The selection of our human senses employed makes all the difference, say, between photo and telegraph. In the arts the particular mix of our senses in the medium employed is all-important. The ostensible program content is a lulling distraction needed to enable the structural form to get through the barriers of conscious attention.

"Any game, like any medium of information, is an extension of the individual or the group. Its effect on the group of individual is a reconfiguring of the parts of the group or individual that are not so extended. A work of art has no existence or function apart from its effects on human observers. And art, like games or popular arts, and like media of communication, has the power to impose its own assumptions by setting the human community into new relationships and postures.

"Art, like games, is a translator of experience. What we have already felt or seen in one situation we are suddenly given in a new kind of material. Games, likewise, shift familiar experience into new forms, giving the bleak and the blear side of things sudden luminosity. . . (324)

"Games, then, are contrived and controlled situations, extensions of group awareness that permit a respite from customary patters. They are a kind of talking to itself on the part of society as a whole. And talking to oneself is a recognized form of play that is indispensable to any growth of self-confidence. . . Play goes with an awareness of huge disproportion between the ostensible situation and the real stakes. A similar sense hovers over the game situation, as such. Since the game, like any art form, is a mere tangible model of another situation that is less accessible, (325) there is always a tingling sense of oddity and fun in play or games that renders the very earnest and very serious person or society laughable.(326)

. . . “That games are extensions, not of our private but of our social selves, and that they are media of communication, should now be plain. If, finally, we ask, ‘Are games mass media?’ the answer has to be ‘Yes.’ Games are situations contrived to permit simultaneous participation of many people in some significant pattern of their own corporate lives.” (327).

The Arcades Project Project is part of Heather Marcelle Crickenberger's doctoral dissertation entitled "The Structure of Awakening": Walter Benjamin and Progressive Scholarship in New Media which was defended and passed on June 27, 2007 at the University of South Carolina. The committe members are as follows: John Muckelbauer, Ph.D, Judith James, Ph.D., Dan Smith, Ph.D, Brad Collins, Ph. D., and Anthony Jarrells, Ph.D. Copyright 2007 by Heather Marcelle Crickenberger. All rights reserved. lems concerning what you find here, feel free to contact me at You are also invited to leave a message for me and other visitors HERE. The Arcades Project Project or The Rhetoric of Hypertext