In Search of Homo Ludens?

Animals play, so they must be more than merely mechanical things. We play and know that we play, so we must be more than merely rational beings, for play is irrational. –J. Huizinga, Homo Ludens

Homo Ludens in Mirrorshades is part of a life-long obsession with play, gaming, gamers, and game cultures. One of my many quests as a writer has been to understand why we humans play games, among other things. Whether these games be in the virtual or digital spaces we've created using powerful computers and advanced mathematics, or the ones we've developed for tabletops, virtual or real, using nothing more than a few pieces of plastic, wood, cardboard, some writing utensil, and the very powerful human imagination, I have always been fascinated with play, gaming, and games. Gaming, and play, has been, for the better part of my short life, a foundation, from which many of my fictional writings have attempted to deal with. I have struggled to understand why people hold fears concerning the power of games, and play, for that matter, have over the human mind. (Think: the D&D Satanic Scare, or even the very real scares concerning video games and whether they make teenagers violent.) Moreover, I have struggled to understand why the human mind requires, even craves, the challenges set forth by our games, which are highly irrational for a supposedly rational species.

My exploration of games, play, and gaming has ebbed and flowed with the changing times. At one point, I began writing an academic history of tabletop role-playing games, only to find the challenge unappealing in the end. I searched, and eventually found, my place for such contemplations about games, play, gaming, and gamers. It was not, originally, in the realm of nonfiction, as I had hoped. Instead, it came from an unusual suggestion by a writing instructor of mine. He suggested that I consider writing LitRPG, which, as he'd explained, was hot in the Indie publishing scene.

I first thought to myself, what the hell is LitRPG? I searched the Web, looking for some meaning behind the term, LitRPG.I found a smattering of reading suggestions—many of the books I was unfamiliar with. I found how-to guides—some good, some bad. More importantly, I found that I was totally outside of my element, and I dropped the idea of pursuing LitRPG as a writing pathway.

I wrote a half-dozen different stories, half-stories, and sketches, but I never returned to LitRPG. Instead, it took the work of Parlett (and a few others, all mentioned in the bibliography) for me to come back to writing about gaming through a nonfiction lens. Although LitRPG attempted to tackle our obsessions with gaming, they didn't capture the very real need to understand the historical, philosophical, economic, moral, and cultural importance of play, gaming, gamers, and games themselves.

In Homo Ludens in Mirrorshades, I am attempting to explore these topics with narratives rather than boring academic analyses that are filled with meaningless terminology. There will be plenty of analyses, but there will be characters, settings, conflicts, and major plot points.

What you have before you is something that is a work of love, obsession, and critical inquiry. I want to share with you all what I find, but I also want to entertain and engage you in unique and critical ways. As we all know, facts are pretty pointless if we can't contextualize and humanize them. That is my ultimate goal here: contextualize, humanize the gamers, the games, play, and gaming cultures.

I don't know where this blog is headed, but I envision it taking a similar direction as the Digital Antiquarian. In other words, I will see where it goes, see where it leads me, and I will share with all of you in regular installments.

Homo Ludens in Mirroshades is copyright © 2020–2021 by Gregory M. Rapp. All rights reserved. Please note: I don't mind if people share printouts or electronic versions of postings found here, just be responsible in doing so. That means, give credit where credit is due, and don't sell those copies for the purpose of making a profit. Fellow educators: Feel free to use anything you see here in your courses, projects, etc., so long as you adhere to Fair Use and ethical academic practices.