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Roger Caillois and E-Sports: On the Problems of Treating Play as Work:

04 Jan 2017-Games and Culture (SAGE PublicationsSage CA: Los Angeles, CA)-Vol. 12, Iss: 4, pp 321-339

AbstractIn Man, Play and Games, Roger Caillois warns against the “rationalization” of play by working life and argues that the professionalization of competitive games (agon) will have a negative impact on people and society. In this article, I elaborate on Caillois’ argument by suggesting that the professional context of electronic sports (e-Sports) rationalizes play by turning player psychology toward the pursuit of extrinsic rewards. This is evidenced in the instrumental decision-making that accompanies competitive gameplay as well as the “survival” strategies that e-Sports players deploy to endure its precarious working environment(s). In both cases, play is treated as work and has problematic psychological and sociological implications as a result.

Summary (2 min read)

Introduction

  • This is evidenced in the instrumental decision-making that accompanies competitive gameplay as well as the ‘survival’ strategies that e-Sports players deploy to endure its precarious working environment(s).
  • This context may be represented through the large sums of money that now circulate through eSports competitions.
  • The games played at this level cover a range of genres, including real-time strategies, such as, Starcraft: Brood War and Starcraft II, first-person shooters, such as Counter-Strike and Halo, and multiplayer online battle arena games, such as League of Legends and DOTA 2.

Play, Games and Human Practices

  • To appreciate Caillois’ concern that working life ‘rationalises’ play, one must reflect on the manner in which he critiques the social construction of ruled-games.
  • And yet, Caillois argues that these instincts are circumscribed through the construction of rules into a typology of games based on four categories: agôn , alea , mimicry , and ilinx .
  • For the Romans, Caillois argued that the gladiatorial games were evidence of the Empire’s agôn-alea character, captured in the Roman adage: ‘Ubi societas ibi ius’ – ‘Where there is society, there is law’ (2001a, p. 126).
  • A student of the structural anthropologist Marcel Mauss and functionalist philosopher Georges Dumézil, Caillois studied at the École pratique des Hautes Etudes in the early 1930s, where he founded the Collège de Sociologie alongside the surrealist writers Georges Page 7 of 30 http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/sage/games.

Contaminating Play

  • Yet, Caillois (2001a, p.44, 48) argues that these very qualities may be ‘contaminated’ (and social stability threatened) as the line between play and reality blurs, particularly as the formal qualities of play become institutionalised in working life.
  • Here, the ludic conventions of games are seen to have a negative impact on people and society as subjects take on the character of the games that they come to master.
  • ‘Transposed to reality’, he suggests, ‘the only goal of agôn is success’ as ‘[i]mplacable competition becomes the rule’, and culture(s) comes to value rivalry, violence and cheating.
  • It is worth noting, as Henricks (2011, p.175-176) does, that Caillois’ main political contention with these games emerges in juxtaposition to his anxieties with fascist ideology.
  • The same was also said of sports heroes and celebrities.

Intrinsic/Extrinsic Rewards

  • Research in social psychology distinguishes between the ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ rewards associated with play (see Ryan and Deci, 2000; Ryan, et. al. 2006).
  • It is commonly associated with a strong sense of personal autonomy based on an internal locus of control; that is to say, people feel that they have control over their life (Gray, 2011).
  • Caillois (2001a, p.65) presents an image of play as containing elements of both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
  • The issue is that under the rationalising conditions of modernity (that is, the drive to turn play into an obligation) societies tends to value games of agôn and the extrinsic rewards that they bring.
  • First, it ‘elides’ (Archer, 1995) structure and agency together.

Human reflexivity

  • Margaret Archer (1995, 2007, 2012) has spent much of her academic career devoted to tackling the problem of structure and agency in social theory, and one of her most well developed concepts, ‘human reflexivity’, is often cited as a means of bridging the relationship between the two.
  • It is defined as ‘…the regular exercise of the mental ability to consider their selves in relation to their circumstances and vice versa’ (Archer, 2007, p.5).
  • Archer argues that human reflexivity underwrites the kinds of choices that people make as they negotiate the contextual circumstances within which they are situated (including the rules of games).
  • Archer does not seek to reduce social action to these internal deliberations; on the contrary, she underwrites their significance precisely to preclude attempts (by other social theorists) to render agency in the third-person by way of structural or cultural properties.
  • The overarching point is that reflexivity is considered key to explaining the kinds of choices that a person makes and how their inner thoughts inform their actions.

Competitive Gameplay and Autonomous Reflexivity

  • Mauricio, et al., (2015) suggest that the appeal of playing Multiplayer Online Battle Areas, such as DOTA 2,3 may be explained in terms of the challenges that ‘hypothetico-deductive reasoning’ brings.
  • In other words, when play becomes intractably tied to winning, whether for money, prizes or peer-gratification, self-control and poise are lost –players can no longer detach themselves from the game when their livelihoods are dependent on the extrinsic rewards it grants.
  • Woodcock and Johnson (2016) argue that the professionalised context of competitive gaming needs to be understood as a form of precarious work.
  • This is said to leave professional gamers in a state of career anxiety similar to that of physical sports but without the stable career opportunities (in TV, radio, and so on) available to them.
  • Like many young men in South Korea today, Min-Ki was introduced to the world of competitive video gaming out of necessity.

Alienation

  • Viewed in this way, Caillois’ warning about the rationalization of play in modern life appears prophetic: professional players are seen to be participating in a neoliberal system or ‘game’ where the odds are often stacked against them.
  • The contamination or corruption of play of which Caillois (2001a, 2001b) writes is seen in examples where the demands of work operate to breakdown the equanimity with which players treat gameplay.
  • The Morphogenetic Approach, also known as Realist Social Theory.
  • Source: http://kotaku.com/league-of-legends-pro-attempted-suicide-aftertournamen-1542880793 - accessed 1st September 2016.
  • Henderson, A.M., Parsons, T. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

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For Peer Review
Roger Caillois and e
-
Sports: On the Problems of Treating
Play as Work
Journal:
Games and Culture
Manuscript ID
GAMES-15-0168.R3
Manuscript Type:
Caillois Special Issue
Keywords:
Reflexivity, Roger Caillois, Margaret Archer, Professional Gaming, Play,
Work, Match Fixing, e-Sports
Abstract:
In Man, Play and Games, Roger Caillois warns against the ‘rationalisation’
of play by working life and argues that the professionalisation of
competitive games (agôn) will have a negative impact on people and
society. In this article, I elaborate on Caillois’ argument by suggesting that
the professional context of electronic sports (e-Sports) rationalises play by
turning player psychology towards the pursuit of extrinsic rewards. This is
evidenced in the instrumental decision-making that accompanies
competitive gameplay as well as the ‘survival’ strategies that e-Sports
players deploy to endure its precarious working environment(s). In both
cases, play is treated as work and has problematic psychological and
sociological implications as a result.
http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/sage/games
Games and Culture

For Peer Review
1
Roger Caillois and e-Sports: On the Problems of Treating Play as Work
Abstract
In Man, Play and Games, Roger Caillois warns against the ‘rationalisation’ of play by
working life and argues that the professionalisation of competitive games (agôn) will
have a negative impact on people and society. In this article, I elaborate on Caillois’
argument by suggesting that the professional context of electronic sports (e-Sports)
rationalises play by turning player psychology towards the pursuit of extrinsic
rewards. This is evidenced in the instrumental decision-making that accompanies
competitive gameplay as well as the ‘survival’ strategies that e-Sports players deploy
to endure its precarious working environment(s). In both cases, play is treated as work
and has problematic psychological and sociological implications as a result.
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Introduction
‘The rule of instinct again becoming absolute, the tendency to interfere with
the isolated, sheltered, and neutralized kind of play spreads to daily life and
tends to subordinate it to its own needs, as much as possible. What used to be
a pleasure becomes an obsession. What was an escape becomes an obligation,
and what was a pastime is now a passion, compulsion, and source of anxiety’.
(Caillois, 2001a, p.45)
In Man, Play and Games, Roger Caillois’ warns against the ‘rationalisation’ of play
by daily life and argues that when play becomes an obligation, like work, it can have
a detrimental impact on people’s autonomy and society’s moral character. Caillois
(2001a, p.43) identifies six qualities of play that he suggests working life may corrupt
as play in his view should be: (1) free, (2), separate, (3) uncertain, (4), unproductive,
(5) regulated, and (6), fictive. Caillois argues that these ‘formal’ qualities of play are
brought into disrepute as the ‘sharp line dividing their ideal rules from the diffuse and
insidious laws of daily life is blurred’. In other words, the social, political and
economic organisation of modern life has a tendency to rationalise these formal
qualities of play through the games that we interact with.
Readers will be familiar with Caillois’ typology of ruled games – agôn
(competition), alea (chance), mimicry (simulation), and ilinx (vertigo) – and how he
describes the transformation of play from a ‘free activity’ into ‘work’ and the
characteristics that are said to take ‘hold’ in human cultures as a result. For the
purposes of this article, I am particularly interested in what Caillois (2001a, p.83) has
to say about agôn, and the manner in which games of competition shape human
agency. Caillois is clearly concerned about what happens to human psychology when
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the rules of games become inscribed into the ‘habits’ or ‘reflexives’ of players. This is
how he articulates it in the case of agôn:
‘Outside of the arena, after the gong strikes, begins the true perversion of
agôn, the most pervasive of all the categories. It appears in every conflict
untempered by the rigor or spirit of play. Now competition is nothing but a
law of nature. In society it resumes its original brutality, as soon as it finds a
loophole in the system of moral, social and legal constraints, which have
limits and conventions comparable to those of play. That is why mad,
obsessive ambition, applied to any domain in which the rules of the game and
free play are not respected, must be denounced as a clear deviation… A good
player must be able to contemplate with objectivity, detachment, and at least
an appearance of calm, the unlucky results of even the most sustained effort or
the loss of large sums…’ (Caillois, 2001a, p.46)
This article intends to show that this perversion of agôn is a consequence of blurring
work with play, particularly through e-Sports competitions.
E-Sports, writes T.I. Taylor (2012), is exemplified by computer game players
who compete for money and prizes within a ‘professionalized context’. This context
may be represented through the large sums of money that now circulate through e-
Sports competitions. For example, in 2016, competitive gaming competitions had an
audience of around 300 million people, generating $493 million in revenue, and over
$75 million in prize money (Newzoo, 2016). These competitions have taken place in
dozen of countries across Europe, North America, and South-East Asia with
sponsorships from Microsoft, Intel, Sony and Google. The games played at this level
cover a range of genres, including real-time strategies, such as, Starcraft: Brood War
and Starcraft II, first-person shooters, such as Counter-Strike and Halo, and
multiplayer online battle arena games, such as League of Legends and DOTA 2.
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What makes playing a video game a ‘profession’ may also be represented
through the gameplay practices that accompany it. To focus on one competitive scene
– that of Starcraft II – we see that players from all over the world compete with one
another to destroy the base of their opponents as quickly and/or efficiently as
possible. This is known as ‘real-time strategy’ and refers to the cognitive and
embodied processes of managing a series of complex tasks in real-time, including
resource management, base construction and individual unit control (also see
Witkowski, 2012).
Importantly, such gameplay activities are also regulated by the rules and
normative expectations that govern the professionalized context. For example,
Starcraft II is a propriety technology developed, owned and operated by Blizzard
Entertainment (now Blizzard-Activision). As such, gameplay activities are governed
by changes outside of the players’ control. For example, patches and/or expansions
will transform how the game is played through the introduction of new units or maps.
Second, tournament regulations concerning ‘fair play’ govern how the player should
play, i.e., without the use of software or hardware ‘hacks’ that give unfair advantage
(also see Consalvo, 2007). Third, professional players must also align themselves
with the corporate financial investment that often provides them and/or their teams
with the very financial resources needed to play competitively. As such, what makes
the professionalized context of any e-Sport possible is a complex relational
configuration of social-psychological, cultural and economic factors.
Though critics such as T.L Taylor (2012) and Seo and Jung (2014) have cast
doubts over Caillois’ distinction between ‘play’ and ‘work’, I will defend Caillois by
arguing that e-Sports leads to the development of a highly rational mode of human
‘reflexivity’ (Archer, 2007), one which is oriented towards the pursuit of extrinsic
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Citations
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Journal Article
Abstract: Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer GamingT. L. TaylorCambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. Appendix, notes, bibliography, index. 304 pp. $29.95 cloth. ISBN: 9780262017374In Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming, author T. L. Taylor examines the ups and downs of a slowly emerging industry, e-sports (electronic sports). The e-sports industry aims to turn real-time video game competition into the next major professional sport-complete with franchises, broadcast tournaments, superstar players, and mogul team and league managers. Those who would make e-sports a success point to South Korea, the only country so far in which the industry has taken hold. Taylor tells us that tournaments like the World Cyber Games draw sponsors like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Samsung and that Korean Telecom companies, and even the Korean Navy have-or sponsor-teams. Outside of the promised land of South Korea, however, e-sports have struggled and exist as a generally small, niche industry.Taylor's book does an excellent job of examining e-sports through numerous lenses. Providing historical context, she takes us back to the roots of e-sports, delving into the early days of informal, head-to-head video game competitions around the first computer game, Space War! (1962) and the inclusion of highscore record keeping on arcade machines to arcade-based tournaments (still happening today on the old machines like Pac Man and Donkey Kong and chronicled in the 2007 documentary King of Kong) and the video game-themed Starcade (1982- 1984) television show. She then moves to the emergence of the on-line networked play of Id Software's Doom (1993) and Quake (1996) through today's current live and networked tournaments of firstperson shooters and other video game competitions. Yet Raising the Stakes is not just a historical effort. With her first book, Play between Worlds: Exploring On-Line Game Culture, Taylor established herself as a solid analyst of games as media and community.And Taylor brings those skills to bare on gaming as a sport. For example, in her second chapter, titled "Computer Games a Professional Sport," Taylor guides us through an in-depth, well-reasoned, and documented analysis. She cites the literature on the debates around computer games as play. She examines the modification of rules, and occasionally of systems, of the games themselves for tournament play, judging, and broadcast. She compares the requirements and practices of professional sports and professional athletes (mental and physical training, hours and routines of practice, preferences for specific brands and makes of equipment or insistence on the use of personal equipment) in other sports to those of professional gamers. …

228 citations


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TL;DR: It is suggested that future research should focus on esport players’ psychological vulnerability because some studies have begun to investigate the difference between problematic and professional gambling and this might provide insights into whether the playing of esports could also be potentially problematic for some players.
Abstract: Recently, the skill involved in playing and mastering video games has led to the professionalization of the activity in the form of 'esports' (electronic sports). The aim of the present paper was to review the main topics of psychological interest about esports and then to examine the similarities of esports to professional and problem gambling. As a result of a systematic literature search, eight studies were identified that had investigated three topics: (1) the process of becoming an esport player, (2) the characteristics of esport players such as mental skills and motivations, and (3) the motivations of esport spectators. These findings draw attention to the new research field of professional video game playing and provides some preliminary insight into the psychology of esports players. The paper also examines the similarities between esport players and professional gamblers (and more specifically poker players). It is suggested that future research should focus on esport players' psychological vulnerability because some studies have begun to investigate the difference between problematic and professional gambling and this might provide insights into whether the playing of esports could also be potentially problematic for some players.

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  • ...Building on the work of Caillois (2001), Brock (2017) argued that esport could lead to the pursuit of extrinsic rewards over intrinsic ones by playing video games (Ryan and Deci 2000; Ryan et al. 2006)....

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  • ...Similarly, systems of prize and payment within a “professionalized context” (T. L. Taylor, 2012; via Brock, 2017) perpetuate the parallels between traditional sports and esports....

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Cites background from "Roger Caillois and E-Sports: On the..."

  • ...Within the existing literature of eSports, qualitative studies have been prevalent (Brock, 2017; Conway, 2010; Taylor, 2016). Hamilton, Garretson, and Kerne (2014) conducted an ethnographic investigation on why Twitch viewers watch the gameplay of the others. According to the study, Twitch viewers regard the streaming platform as the “virtual third place” where they socialize and exchange information with other fans of the game who share a similar social identity (Hamilton, Garretson, & Kerne, 2014). On the other hand, Cheung and Huang (2011) analyzed the comments from viewers of a StarCraft (a real-time strategic eSports game) live event....

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  • ...Within the existing literature of eSports, qualitative studies have been prevalent (Brock, 2017; Conway, 2010; Taylor, 2016)....

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References
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Abstract: Translator's Foreword: Pleasures of Philosophy Notes on the Translation and Acknowledgements Author's Note 1. Introduction: Rhizome 2. 1914: One or Several Wolves? 3. 10,000 BC: The Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?) 4. November 20th, 1923: Postulates of Linguistics 5. 587BC-AD70: On Several Regimes of Signs 6. November 28th, 1947: How Do You Make Yourself a Body Without Organs? 7. Year Zero: Faciality 8. 1874: Three Novellas, or "What Happened?" 9. 1933: Micropolitics and Segmentarity 10. 1730: Becoming Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming Imperceptible... 11. 1837: Of the Refrain 12. 1227: Treatise on Nomadology - The War Machine 13. 7000BC: Apparatus of Capture 14. 1440: The Smooth and the Striated 15. Conclusion: Concrete Rules and Abstract Machines Notes Bibliography List of Illustrations Index

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"Roger Caillois and E-Sports: On the..." refers background in this paper

  • ...Rather they are treated as configurations of sociomaterial relations set within an indefinite, indeterminate, and increasingly heterogeneous world (also see Deleuze & Guatarri, 1980)....

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TL;DR: This review revisits the classic definitions of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in light of contemporary research and theory and discusses the relations of both classes of motives to basic human needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness.
Abstract: Intrinsic and extrinsic types of motivation have been widely studied, and the distinction between them has shed important light on both developmental and educational practices. In this review we revisit the classic definitions of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in light of contemporary research and theory. Intrinsic motivation remains an important construct, reflecting the natural human propensity to learn and assimilate. However, extrinsic motivation is argued to vary considerably in its relative autonomy and thus can either reflect external control or true self-regulation. The relations of both classes of motives to basic human needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are discussed. ≈ 2000 Academic Press To be motivated means to be moved to do something. A person who feels no impetus or inspiration to act is thus characterized as unmotivated, whereas someone who is energized or activated toward an end is considered motivated. Most everyone who works or plays with others is, accordingly, concerned with motivation, facing the question of how much motivation those others, or oneself, has for a task, and practitioners of all types face the perennial task of fostering more versus less motivation in those around them. Most theories of motivation reflect these concerns by viewing motivation as a unitary phenomenon, one that varies from very little motivation to act to a great deal of it. Yet, even brief reflection suggests that motivation is hardly a unitary phenomenon. People have not only different amounts, but also different kinds of motivation. That is, they vary not only in level of motivation (i.e., how much motivation), but also in the orientation of that motivation (i.e., what type of motivation). Orientation of motivation concerns the underlying attitudes and goals that give rise to action—that is, it concerns the why of actions. As an example, a student can be highly motivated to do homework out of curiosity and interest or, alternatively, because he or she wants to procure the approval of a teacher or parent. A student could be motivated

12,248 citations


"Roger Caillois and E-Sports: On the..." refers background in this paper

  • ...Research in social psychology distinguishes between the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards associated with play (see Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryan et al., 2006)....

    [...]

  • ...In my view, the issue does not require a rejection of play and work as discrete entities but rather an appreciation of the manner in which human agents reflexively negotiate the ‘‘intrinsic’’ and extrinsic rewards of both (see Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryan et al., 2006)....

    [...]

  • ...…between ‘‘play’’ and work, I will defend Caillois by arguing that e-Sports leads to the development of a highly rational mode of human ‘‘reflexivity’’ (Archer, 2007), one which is oriented toward the pursuit of extrinsic over intrinsic rewards (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryan, Rigby, & Przybylski, 2006)....

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Abstract: A synthetic polyisoprene rubber latex produced by emulsifying a solution of polyisoprene rubber in an organic solvent with water and removing the solvent from the resulting oil-in-water emulsion is significantly improved with respect to mechanical stability, wet gel strength and dry film strength by utilizing, as a polyisoprene rubber, a modified polyisoprene rubber prepared by introducing from about 0.03 to 20 carboxyl groups per 100 recurring units of isoprene monomer present in the synthetic cis-1,4-polyisoprene rubber.

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"Roger Caillois and E-Sports: On the..." refers background in this paper

  • ...They instead offer a relational account of what constitutes work and/or play as a subjective interpretation established as an ‘‘assemblage’’ within an actor-network (see Latour, 2005)....

    [...]


Book
01 Jan 1938
Abstract: The sociology of culture seeks to locate the world of the arts within the broader context of the institutions and ideology of society. This wide-ranging set covers the sociology of dance, literary taste and cinema. Taking into account also the cultural context of play and child-rearing, this is important reading for students and researchers in Cultural Studies.

4,986 citations


"Roger Caillois and E-Sports: On the..." refers background in this paper

  • ...Like Johan Huizinga (1938), Caillois was concerned that we were submitting ourselves to the games of our societies, and that we should remain vigilant not to let them determine the character of our cultures and people....

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Frequently Asked Questions (1)
Q1. What are the contributions in this paper?

In this article, I elaborate on Caillois ’ argument by suggesting that the professional context of electronic sports ( e-Sports ) rationalises play by turning player psychology towards the pursuit of extrinsic rewards. This is evidenced in the instrumental decision-making that accompanies competitive gameplay as well as the ‘ survival ’ strategies that e-Sports players deploy to endure its precarious working environment ( s ).