Callois’ Man, Play and Games is a direct critique and systemization of Huizinga’s earlier landmark text, Homo ludens (1938). Callois quotes Huizinga’s original definition of play in full and takes it as the foundation:
Summing up the formal characteristics of play we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside “ordinary” life as being “not serious,” but not at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its proper boundaries of time and space according to the fixed rules and in an ordinary manner.
French writer and philosopher [1913-1978]
Mimicry by contrast is the domain of imaginative role play and “make-believe” in character.
Finally, Callois (1958: 128-139) reminds us that ilinx is “the Greek term for whirlpool.” Ilinx is by no means “unique to man.” Callois describes a “joyous quality” where enthusiastic players:
momentarily destroy the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind.
Callois (1958: 130) proposes a “Classification of Games” consisting of “four main rubrics” which depend on the relative dominance of “competition, chance, simulation, or vertigo.” Callois calls these “agôn, alea, mimicry, and ilinx.” For Callois:
One plays football, billiards, or chess (agôn); roulette or a lottery (alea); pirate, Nero or Hamlet (mimicry); or one produces in oneself, by rapid whirling or falling movement, a state of dizziness and disorder (ilinx).
As far as agôn is concerned, Callois points to (1958: 131) the importance of maintaining a somewhat even playing field. Agôn is:
like a combat in which equality of chances is artificially created in order that the adversaries should confront each other under ideal conditions…
Callois informs us (1958: 128, 133) that “Alea is the Latin name for the game of dice.” It “reveals the flavor of destiny,” and like the spirit of Agôn just described, provides latitude for innovations being left to the player’s initiative.”
Callois (1958: 124,126) notes that Huizinga’s broad schema “excludes bets and games of chance” and the fact that “[i]n certain manifestations, play is designed to be extremely lucrative or ruinous.” For Callois:
An outcome known in advance, with no possibility of error or surprise, clearly leading to an inescapable result, is incompatible with the nature of play.
Callois, Roger (1958) The Definition of Play and the Classification of Games in Salen, Katie and Zimmerman, Eric (2006) The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. Originally published in Callois (1958) Man, Play and Games. Published by Librairie Gallimard.
Huizinga, Johan (1950) Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. (Originally published in 1938) The Beacon Press, Boston.
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1786-87) The Greasy Pole. Oil on canvas, Private collection.
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes: ALBUM H, 58 Old Man on a Swing. Black chalk and lithographic crayon. The Hispanic Society of America Library and Museum, New York.
Bruegel, Pieter (1560) Children's Games. Oil on oak panel. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna.
Almovarid chess players in 12th century Ghana