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Dec 04, 2007



Tim --

I haven't read half of these, but I've read the other half, and this looks excellent. I wish I could sit in! :-)


Your class will either be very hard or very easy. Are those in class movies?


Out of class. If I show in class, it's only to show scenes or excerpts.


Whoa baby. The plate is full.


Yeah, I often load up a bit heavy on the first run of a course, to see what works. But in this case, I have a plan! In most weeks, they'll all be doing one common reading and then everybody will be doing one separate reading that they have to tell the rest of the class about. (It's a small course, like all of our first-year seminars, capped at 12.) So take the industrialization and time week--everyone is reading some of Veblen and a bit of Hareven, but then each student will be reading only one of the additional readings.


"brodysattva Says:

November 26th, 2007 at 8:22 pm
Dear god, this looks fantastic. I wish I were one of your undergraduates. ....... I hope you’ll let us know how it goes."

That pretty much describe my own feelings :)
Geez i wanna be 20 y/o again .


Looks great, ever considered putting the course on video and putting it on YouTube? Or streaming it in Second Life?


I'd suggest "Dungeons and Dreamers" (Borland) for the history of computer games.

Also, you're looking at Huizinga, and he stresses the performative nature of play. If you want to go down this route a bit more, I can recommend "Warlocks and Warpdrive" (Lancaster).

Anyway, looks like a really interesting course. What subject area is this situated in? History? Cultural Studies?


THANK YOU for posting this! Very interesting stuff. I would like to take the class. Where do you teach? In any case, I think I will use your syllabus and keep up with your reading schedule. Maybe you can teach it in-world in Second Life? =)


I wish we got to teach things like that in the UK, but we have obstacles like bone-headed accreditation to overcome. Oh, and the fact that half our students wouldn't get beyond the first couple of lectures, either.

You certainly know how to make someone envious!



Maria Teresa Uriarte, “Unity in Duality: The Practice and Symbols of the Mesoamerican Ballgame”, in E. Michael Whittington, The Sport of Life and Death: The Mesoamerican Ballgame

Wow, did not expect to see that one! Nothing on Sparta Athens or Rome?


there has been some intersting work by:
John Haworth
GUNN and Peterson
Elliot Avedon

you might want to consider some of these


I'm thinking about whether to do regular parallel or follow-up sessions in Second Life. It might be too much work for the first iteration of the course this spring, but I'm planning to do it semi-regularly.

Jan: This in a history department, but also cross-listed in Film & Media Studies.

ErikC: Alison Futrell, A Sourcebook on the Roman Games, pp. 84-119 in the same week.


Tell me more about the first two authors on your list and Nullinger as well.

I thought about Elliot Avedon on game structure. The syllabus is already crowded. Do you think it would make a better early reading in the first two weeks than what I have?

Csikszentmihalyi on flow I think they'll get secondhand from authors in the digital games unit.

Berryman is the "godly play" author? That's an interesting angle. I'm kind of slighting the entire serious games/learning games literature here, somewhat intentionally. I am trying to find something good on contemplation-as-leisure, but focused on medieval monastic life.

By Lefebvre, do you mean Henri Lefebvre? The person who writes on space, modernity, everyday life and so on?


Tim --

I think you've got a ton of stuff already and my problem is always cutting down possibilities, but just as some additional thoughts:

McKenzie Wark, Gamer Theory
Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper
Chris Crawford, The Art of CGD
and, as someone said early, maybe something about the ancient Greek traditions, since they're so foundational to Western thinking about games.

There are plenty of other ideas, but it's your class.
p.s. Just one more: Bart Giamatti's "Take Time for Paradise" is short, opinionated, and would be accessible to students.


here are citation for John Neulinger (sorry about the typo earlier)


He has written extensively on the psychology of leisure and time and the relationship between discretionary time usage and obligatory time as part and parcel of the definitions of leisure.

Gunn has written extensively on play and play behavior again do some google searches one example is her work

Play and the Fully Functioning Person eric #EJ171761


That's very useful on Neulinger, thanks.

Greg: Wark's scheduled for one of the digital games week. The Giamatti essay is a great idea, though.

The Bernard Suits I've never read! I feel like a dork. What an amazing sounding work.


I think part of the problem with your lesson plan here is you are trying to cover way too much material in the course of a semester. There is so much here and it seems to be all over the place. To begin with you have completely left out the importance of plato and aristotles discussions on play and leisure which I think is key to the evolution of these concepts. Additionally the relative perspective to time in pre and post industrial societies has such an important impact on our concepts of discretionary time and non discretionary time especially in regard to obligatory restrictions on our time (work) and those that are non obligatory (play).
Additionally to try to include animal behavior in this course I think will muddle what is already a very difficult topic to cover. Add to that game theory and you will end up with more of a mess than you care to begin. Focus on the evolution of the concepts of play, leisure, recreation and within them include games and kinds of play and I think you will provide for a much more enriching learning experience for your students. Having taught both on the grad and undergrad level I know that these concepts are very difficult disect and if you bring to the mix some of the current pet scan studies on neurotransmitters in conjunction with states of "flow" which accompany many play experiences you will at least tease and please your students to thirst for more rather than less on these topics. After all the purpose of pedagogy is not to cram all the information you can into a students head but to stir their imagination and get the wheels in motion. Too much can frequently be not enough!


Ultimately the key concepts I'm working with are time in pre- and post-industrial contexts contrasted against the question of whether "play" and "games" have structural or formal characters which stand outside of the history of how human societies allocate time.

I'm pretty happy with how the syllabus deals with that contrast, and structurally, it's very similar to other classes I've taught in cultural history that cover "soup to nuts" (the history of reading, the history of 'the future'). I feel good about that structure in relationship to my students here, who are generally very strong students in terms of their skills and abilities.

I think throwing in the question of whether play is determined by something broader than human culture at the beginning is a "taster" that helps. I'm not really dealing with game theory. (If by that we mean game theory as it comes up in economics, etc.) Otherwise, I do think the course focuses on pretty much what you describe.

(I'm a bit curious about who you are, actually--partly just so I know what kind of institutional contexts you've taught your courses in. This is a small seminar at a very selective institution; if I were doing it as an undergraduate lecture course, it would be a much slimmer and tighter focus.)


Great, great stuff, Tim.

/steals syllabus ideas shamelessly


Several comments here Tim. First I am not quite sure what you mean by:

"..structural or formal characters which stand outside of the history of how human societies allocate time."

The other thing I am a bit confused about is the interchange you keep applying to the terms, leisure, recreation, play and games. Are these all the same in your way of thinking or are they different aspects of non work activities.

Certainly there are many ways to go about viewing this. Let me explore a few here for you with some examples. Lets say we define the term leisure as those activites which bring about a kind of internal satisfaction which transcends ones need to "earn" an income, (that is a job in its simple form). Now with that notion in mind where do we classify something such as bedroom sex romps are they play? leisure? recreation or if you want to look at maslow's hierarchy of human needs just biological behavior?

Now let me put a bit of a twist on this. What if play is a human need as well? Is Maslow flawed in his hierarchy or is play a social non biological need and if so can we find examples of cultures that do not contain play behavior or where play is something other than a social need? (excluding rituals or are they too to be considered play)

Certainly we have to conside the way time is viewed by societies as to discretionary vs non discretionary. Do rewards for the play behavior effect it being either play or work? Ultimately all the criteria we choose to apply here will have a great deal of impact on the construct we provide for our definitions.

So as I posed as the beginning here how do you intend to define the terms play, leisure, recreation, games and let me add another free time?

Do you mean by the way when you said:

"..structural or formal characters which stand outside of the history of how human societies allocate time."

to have actually said:

structural or formal characteristics which stand
outside of the history of how human societies allocate time.

Either way does anythhing ever stand outside history? I would have to contend that everything stands within history except the future which is non historic until it is no longer future! As to how human societies allocate time, I dont think anyone allocates time time just is, what people do is fill time which is a bit different in my mind. What humans do is make meaning and in reference to time they make meaning of the ways they define their time.


Characteristics, yes.

Nothing stands outside of history, but I want the students to consider whether play or games are forms which have formal, relatively stable characteristics that are independent of the history of leisure as a social and cultural practice. This is a kind of tension I introduce in my topical courses on cultural history (on reading, the idea of the future, progress and 'development', consumption and commodities, environmental history.)

So, for example, I want to throw out as a possibility that "play" among humans is mostly just an elaborated form of something that many mammal species do, or that "games" can be defined in fairly fixed or formal ways so that they are strongly distinct from other cultural forms. These aren't positions I myself take--as you say, I think it's all about how people make meaning within history. But I do want my students to understand the particular place that historical thought occupies within a larger disciplinary landscape, and to understand at what point they may be predisposed to another or different kind of intellectual toolkit.


strongly distinct from other cultural forms

can things be weakly distinct? Isn't that sort of like saying a round circle, are there other forms of circles which are not round?

I would think that all cultural forms that can be identified have to be distinct or they would not be able to be identified. Play behaviours do seem to exist with many mammals at least but its function in lower level animals seems to be a prelude to mating rather than a way to define time between biological functioning. Then again, work may well be considered necessary for biological functioning that is it has transformed from gathering and hunting to income earning to do gathering and hunting, but none the less it may well be part and parcel of biological functioning for this very reason. Whereas what to me at least in part defines leisure is activity that is indulged in purely for the rewards received from the indulgance. Nothing external, no secondary needs just "fun" for the sake of fun. When it transforms to sports and games which have as their secondary rewards financial such as a pro baseball player, it is work, it is part of survival for that individual and moves out of the realm of play. Likewise a company softball team that is obligatory for all members of that workplace is not really a form of play but rather a part of work. Whereas a pickup game of softball at the local park amongst a bunch of people there who decide to divide up and play softball is play in one of its many diverse forms.

So how does this relate to societies. Well it seems to me that as humanity moved from a work based society for primary survival from cave deweling to fudal estates, the division of labor and the collective survival took less parts than the whole required and so there was more discretionary time available although to the few rather than the many and the evolution of the notion of "leisure" evolved in conjunction with that new found time. Likewise the advent of electricity and night time illumination just as it had extended the "work" day so too did it extend the "play" time available. What would be particularly interesting would be to examine the differences between cultures that closer to primary with those that are further away and examine the kinds of differences in their play behavior. This would support or refute the notion that the more time is spent on survival the less time is spent on leisure. There are studies though especially those from Csikszentmihalyi that indicate that human manage to make play activity no matter what they are doing even within the context of "work" and that this may support the notion that "play" is indeed a socialization process that is necessary for humans in much the same way touching is.

I have always wondered if it were possible to extend to the microcosm the same principles such that do cells play? Is there some very simplistic notion of play that even single cells have that drives the macrocosm of the individual to also seek out play?

Interesting ideas to consider.


On that issue (that play is a disposition toward the world that we find in lots of contexts), I think that Csikszentmihalyi got it right, and it helps us get past this work/play dichotomy which is so readily at hand but yet runs so obviously into trouble when we look at things cross-culturally. To me the most convincing direction to take when trying to account for the disposition of play is to look at the work of Piaget and others who stressed that our coming to act in a world that is always a mixture of pattern and the unexpected is accomplished not by developing a "true" picture of the world, but instead through the development of a reliable disposition -- one that is ready to encounter and act amidst this combination of order and indeterminacy. Then, play becomes something truly important (and its connection to learning all the more obvious), not simply the echo of the modernist obsession with productivity in the material sense.


Oh, and Tim there's a nice piece for teaching Csikszentmihalyi's ideas in this vein, if you're interested in touching on this:
"An Exploratory Model of Play." Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; Stith Bennett. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 73, No. 1. (Feb., 1971), pp. 45-58.


Thomas I think it is ever so important to look at changing time constructs rather than the way we choose to order both the unpredictable and predictable, which is what Piaget has done.


I see the two as inseparable, ?. After all, pattern and unpredictability do not exist without the flow of time.


speaking as a lazy college student, that's a lot of reading. I'd be surprised if 1/2 of it got done.

My suggestion would be to pare down that list so it looks less intimidating. I know the expectation is to compare multiple secondary sources and draw conclusions and argument from the differing takes, but seeing a reading list of 4-5 journal articles makes me leery.


Looks like it is for grad students.

Well, then feel free to flagellate them.

But I still think that the list should be pared down, not expanded.


@Adam: My understanding is that it is for undergraduates (given that it's at Swarthmore). As Tim noted, much of the time the readings are divided up among groups of students, so it may not be that onerous.


i always hated group work i never found it very productive for learning. I think it is better to reduce the reading list have an additional list for those motivated and cover material that you choose to use in depth rather than skirt over a bunch of stuff just to have a large reading list.


who keeps posting with no name? Did you just snag a username with all spaces?

@Thomas. I did not see that part about group work.

Another thing that I thought of was how much of the assigned reading will get covered in that class? If they are covered in the depth that the syllabus suggests, then it may be difficult to give 3-4 articles their proper due in the alloted class time.

But I have more experience passively observing the process of syllabus creation rather than actively generating one.


This looks to be the start of a very nice course. One thing i would like to see introduced to folks aspiring to entertainment professions is the fact (in my mind) play need not be a game, nor a game need be play. Providing insight into play as cultural (and given your syllabus, sub-species) universal as a first year course is spot on i think! Awesome!

To our blank poster, i respectfully submit group activities teach far more than simply the subject material. As just a start, even those of Einstein caliber intellect benefit from learning to work with others.


Yup, they'll be dividing the readings. It's my way to get them to work on summarizing material for others (and thus doing disciplined preparation). I probably will pare down some.

Some of these questions will also potentially be opened up more in the research papers that they'll be working on in the last third of the semester.


I agree, by the way, that some kinds of group work can be frustrating. But sometimes that frustration mirrors the kinds of professional frustrations that await later, so best to start thinking about how to do it "right" earlier in life. I also think that some of the students who are frustrated by certain kinds of group or collective projects are those who have mastered worked on their own, in isolation. Which is fine, but collaborative work is an important practical and intellectual skill to develop to some degree.


I would hope that once one had achieved the level of attending college they would have learned appropriate group skills to work with others and that this lesson no longer needs to be taught. Group projects are all nice and sweet for high school at best. If anything they reduce the work load for the instructor more than anything else.


I couldn't disagree more. Among other things, that's effectively a dismissal of most professional science. If you like, replace "group work" with "collaborative work".


I wish I could participate in your course! It shoul be very interesting. But I have one important comment connecting with its shedule.
At Moscow State University, my scientific adviser has a course about simulation and games. And its main picularity is gaming!
I can`t imaging learning about games without trying it (without gaming).
Why don`t you add any simple or popular games, like Fishbanks Ltd. by D. Meadows or Beer game?


Its actually a pretty good point Andrii. I remember some of the pioneering Cyberculture units we where doing in the 90s with a couple of Awesome, but non gamer academics. Much of the topics where on Gaming, and I often found myself in the position of having to perform a few, shall we say interventions, in the classes when the lessons went WAY out of whack, simply beauause said Academics really didn't 'get it'.

Much of fixing it was having a series of nights with some of the 'old beers' around a nintendo drinking beer and going nuts on Mario. Ended up with a bunch of academics with crazy Mario fixations. Mission accomplished :)

My big cringe now is SLers claiming to be 'gamers' . Yeah I suppose so, but it aint gunna wash with your average l70 night-elf.


Oh, we're definitely doing hands-on work with games. A lot near the end of the course, but I'm hoping to do some throughout.


the best thing is when you begin with a small game or exersice at least the first lesson.
Then you`ll show what you`re actually going to teach=)


I was wondering if you've conducted any research in West Harlem?

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