Everyday Play:

an introduction to a cluster of work via a precedent

Contributed by samuel tobin Assistant professor of Communications Media and Game Design, at Fitchburg State University
August 05, 2013
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Part of the Cluster:

Everyday Play

I am thrilled to have been asked to organize this cluster, Everyday Play for The New Everyday.  In this post I wish to make two contributions.  The first is to show how a classic theorist can be seen to address the overlaps of play and the everyday.  The second is to show how the writers who have graciously contributed to this cluster, or in two cases, been press-ganged into it, have done the same.

I am trying my absolute hardest not to write a literature review as an introduction to this cluster. Like really, really hard. Still I think it kind of has to be done. Let me limit myself to one classic scholar of the everyday and (perhaps less obviously) of play, Walter Benjamin. 

Throughout his work Benjamin addresses the materiality of the everyday and the details of urban life with his focus on the arcades; the threshold; the bourgeois apartment; and the metro and the cheap novels passengers read on the metro.  For Benjamin, this stuff of the everyday is both the content and context of modern urban experience.  This is an orientation that has informed my thoughts on the overlap of the everyday and play as I prepared this cluster and read my comrades' contributions. 

While Benjamin may have been chiefly concerned with the “shock” experienced by a reeling, blown-backward subject, he was also concerned with humbler registers of experience: with the new leisure of the urban reader in the metro or at the café; the thresholds of urban spaces; the rituals of the gambler; the life of the rag picker or prostitute; and the play of children.  Benjamin’s analyses focus (literally as well as figuratively) on pedestrian figures and on small details of their everyday lives, but he connects these figures and details to grand themes of history. He sees in these quotidian urban activities the potential for a waking from the dream of modernity even perhaps an awakening, built out of a series of micro-engagements with the material realities of the new urban experience, of film, architecture, bodily movements, and innervations as played out in the pages of the feuilleton and life on the street. We can find this also in the essays, anecdotes and probes attached to this cluster.

In his article” The Completion of Old Work: Walter Benjamin and the Everyday," (2002) Scott McCracken reads Benjamin as a scholar of the quotidian: “The reader's response might be compared with Benjamin's short Denkbild (thought-image) on crime fiction, "Kriminalromane, auf Reisen," which pays as much attention to the situation in which the detective novel is purchased and read as to the genre itself” (2002:145).  It is in just this way that the study of the everyday shifts the focus of a study of reading, spectatorship, film-going, game playing or any other media usage from texts to contexts, exigencies, and situations of use. We see this implicitly, if not explicitly in nearly all the contributions for this cluster. If we look at how we play, the everyday is invoked even if only in the negative; the reverse is of course also true. 

When we look at play and the everyday, that is when we look at the every day with or through play what we also do is think about a material world.  Thus to examine the everyday and play is to also pay attention to infrastructure, architecture, systems, spaces and technology.  I don't mean to shift the focus squarely on to a constellation of things but rather to say that to meaningfully integrate what play can say to the everyday and vice versa we need to look at real practices of people engaged in everyday play.  This is exactly what this cluster, what these authors do so well.  For some it is a phenomenological account of a concrete play practice, what it is, what it feels like to bid on a 7", to fall in love over a redemption game, to play a game in the dark or with a spouse or child.  But these works also take seriously the form and shape of the everyday and of play, a shape informed if not determined by socially built structures, happenstance and design.  Here we might look to the algorithms and habits bundled into the "buy-it now" button or the alliances and compromises of a successful long-term partnership, be it in game research or game playing.

By approaching the practices of players, (even when those players are us) from the perspective of the everyday I hope we can bring down to earth the scholarship on play and especially on video games, which can sometimes be bloated with utopian, revolutionary, pedagogical and salutatory effects, possibilities and ideals.  We should not just be concerned with serious games but also with games that even their own players don’t take seriously.  We should care not just about what games can teach us, but about understanding how these everyday games fit into everyday lives. We should shift  (if only for a moment) our concern from the utopian ideals of radically free play to the play of actual people, playing in such plain old 'topias as suburban bedrooms, subway platforms, and office break rooms.  

 

My colleagues in this cluster might resist having their work positioned in such a way: if so I apologize for the imposition.  Nevertheless I insist that, at least in this cluster, we see how when play is examined in context with the everyday it is context again and again which we seem to deal with and which deals with us.

 

Have Fun,

Sam Tobin

 

Work cited:

McCracken, Scott. 2002. "The Completion of Old Work, Walter Benjamin and the Everyday." Cultural Critique 52:145-166.

Benjamin, Walter. Most of his work…

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