Jun 7, 2019 in Technology

Games and Play

Digital technology has brought with it many effects, both positive and negative, depending from which angle one looks at it. The urge to stay connected has resulted in the reduced interest in games and play since people, especially the young ones, have found excitement and satisfaction by connecting and interacting with friends who are not physically available. Families also take part in the growing habits of staying connected with the help of digital technology and network connectivity. Through this connection, they are able to juggle between communicating with members who are in school, at home, and at work just but to mention a few. These tendencies have definitely bridged the gap between generations concerning handling the multiple contexts of a child’s day-to-day life. In recent times, technological advancements and networked connectivity have brought some exciting changes in games and play. These changes have led to some arguing that the real meaning of games has changed. At the same time, others state that digital technology and networked connectivity have no major effect on the fundamental level of games and play but have just added the complexity of the human experiences in games (Yee, 2006). That said, digital technology and network connectivity has greatly affected games and play in the modern world, though did not change their original purpose.

Definition of Game and Play

Before analyzing the effects the digital era has on the gameplay, it is necessary to provide a definition of a play and a game. One can define a play as a free and not serious activity that stands outside the ordinary life but absorbs the player tensely and utterly at the same time (Caillois, 1962/2011). There is no material interest connected to it and no profit is gained from it. Play can only progress within set boundaries of time and space and complies with certain rules fixed in an orderly manner. Play promotes the formation of social groups where secrecy is the key (Goldstein, Buckingham, & Brougère, 2004).

Caillois (1962/2001) in his book defined game playing as a separate, free, and unproductive activity governed by rules. Greg Costikyan (2013) described the game as an interactive structure, which requires players to play towards achieving a certain goal. Jasper Juul (2005) provided a synthesis of game definitions in his study Half-real: Video games between real rules and fictional worlds and came up with the classic definition of a game from a combination of seven different definitions. He defined it as a rule-based system, which has different values assigned and various outcomes, which can be influenced by the player through some effort. The player and the outcome are emotionally connected though the consequences are optional and negotiable (Juul, 2005). Fiction matters much in games; thus, there is a need to remember the dual nature of the formal and the experiential perspectives of fiction. This duality is the main reason contemporary games are described as ‘half-real', meaning that the real rules govern video games. Winning and losing are real events but the actual outcome is just fiction (DeMaria, 2007).


Prehistory of Games

Cultural anthropology reveals that games and playing have a long pre-digital history and are indeed cultural universals because they are found anywhere. Early anthropologists relate the origin of games to the religious elements they were interested in studying. For example, Edward Tylor traced the original roots of dice games to divination and games of chance, which reflected the will of the gods (Mäyrä, 2008).

When the invention and development of digital computing technology had begun to take root, there were already attempts to make games for these new machines. In 1945, Alan Turing explained using chess playing how a computer could be utilized. In the early years, chess playing was related to artificial intelligence since a complex set of skills could be programmed into a computer. The expectations that computers could be able to have real conversations and be indistinguishable from humans were high (Mäyrä, 2008).

The first graphical computer game known to exist was Tic-Tac-Toe, which was programmed in 1952 by A.S. Douglas, a Ph. D. student at the University of Cambridge, England. Another example of early games is Tennis for Two which was a physical demonstration developed by Willy Higginbotham in 1958 (Mäyrä, 2008).

While considering the developmental aspects of gameplay, the cultural perspective of games is crucial. Digital games and other forms of play lie within the complex and large networks of various culturally inherited structures, which include language, behavior, and thought (Consalvo, 2006).

Impact of Digital Technologies on Games

As mentioned earlier, digital technology development has been experienced greatly in recent years in all areas of human life. Particularly, digital technology and networked connectivity have brought about new and innovative gaming experiences, which one can witness in video games that have challenged gameplay experience limits. This technology has revolutionized gameplay area in numerous ways, affecting its advancement, quality, images, and the connection between the player and the game. Moreover, networked technology has created a new formula of engaging games and promoting group play (“Defining game and play”, 2015). This influence has led to many questioning whether these technologies can change definitions of game and play. 

First, digital technology has changed the era of game and play through the evolvement of equipment used to play games such as jokey sticks, play stations, and gamepads. They enable multiple players to participate in the game rather than the traditional way of playing video games with only a single player at a time. Some of the equipment used in games and play also includes wireless technologies. Though not many have come to accept this area as part of the game, some developers have come up with wireless gadgets, moving away from the wired ones. Some people think that they are slow in response, but some games are so fast that it only takes one millisecond to respond. Some of these gadgets are laser guided while others use Bluetooth. 

The above advancements in technology result in the mobility of games. Mobile digital gadgets now have the capabilities to hold and run games. People now can use digital devices such as mobile phones to play games, which has led to the personalization of games owing to the digital technology (Albarran & Goggin, 2013).

Other aspects that have helped in the evolvement of games and play are the world of connectivity and reality. Online games have helped people who have access to the internet to interact with other players from other areas without having to meet physically. Individuals compete online with one another. Furthermore, video games differ from analog games because less imagination is involved while getting into the fantasy world, that is, they are realer (Crawford, Gosling & Light, 2011). Some video games are designed is such way that they capture the real life actions of people in real life. For example, in FIFA games, the player in the game celebrates the victory in a similar manner as the same player does in the real life. These developments come hand in hands with technological advancements. 

In addition, technological development contributed to the design of games. Throughout human history, the play was just but an informal emergent property of the human social behavior. The play became more formal but still emergent when it was incorporated in rituals and protocol. Scientific designs of objects intended to facilitate play were introduced in a bid to make the performance expectations even more formal (González, 2014). With the advancement and introduction of computers and the internet, millions of people can keep the game on a persistent basis for a long time. Earlier on, the play was just emergent but with time, it became designed. The internet has opened up new channels for improvement of games as new software programs are emerging (González, 2014).

Many challenges and theories arise because of video games. Due to their high graphical enhancements and capability to represent simulated violence more realistically, many have argued that games have the disadvantage of inflicting mental harm to the players (Kowert & Oldmeadow, 2013). Hillary Rodham Clinton once said that the disturbing material in games like Grand Theft Auto and others of its kind were stealing the innocence of the children and making parenting even harder (DeMaria, 2009). She was not the only one person who has come out clearly opposing video games. In 1982, U.S Surgeon General, C. Everret Koop stated that video games were the cause of “aberrations in childhood behavior” and that these games had made the children addicted. Koop argued that there was nothing constructive in the games other than elimination, killing, and destruction. However, he later took back this statement, saying it was off-the-cuff (DeMaria, 2009). In the early 1990s, there were strong campaigns against video games led by Senators Joseph Lieberman and Herb Kohl (DeMaria, 2007).

High-profile video games have continued to spark controversies due to their violence and anti-social themes though these perceptions are shifting. When talking to DeMaria, Dr. Elizabeth Carll (American Psychological Association’s Media Division) said that although many video games were positive and taught children important skills, others taught them that the only way to resolve the conflict was through violence (DeMaria, 2009).


It is clear that digital technology and networked connectivity do not change the real meaning of games and play but make them even more effective and complex. Different people have various views on games and play, and each one of them tries to defend their stance. Game designers have the power to change the cultural world. The small changes they bring about in the society are likely to have an effect that could be felt for decades. For sure, digital technology is a revolution but the real meaning of the game and play remains. Games are still played outside of the ordinary life of family, education, and work though some use them as a source of income.

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