This is my first really complex, exciting post, so hopefully I won’t screw it up. Also, if you believe that language is the end-all be-all of meaning, you might disagree, but anyway, let us begin…
To sum up a complex theoretical concept, a famous philosopher named Martin Heidegger argued that we are beings, which entails consciousness and self-reflexivity. Beings refer to themselves as “I.” Furthermore, we are beings-in-time, which means that our consciousness, or the way we conceptualize existence, is affected by temporality, facticity, and resoluteness (here is a better explanation of these concepts). Our Being relies primarily on language to conceive the world around us. Consciousness/ being does not stand alone; it is consciousness of the world, and the world cannot exist without language. Language both produces the meanings that allow us to conceptualize the world and is affected and altered by the world it produces. the buzz-word for this is “Always already.” Subjects, the world they inhabit, and language, the producer and vehicle of meaning, are “always already” caught up with each other.
However, Heidegger believes that there is meaning before language, before consciousness, and before being. Understanding is lived before it is conceptualized, and Heidegger uses moods (explanation of moods) as an example of this primordial, pre-linguistic, pre-conscious form of interpretation and understanding. In other words, we exist before we are aware we exist, and this pre-conscious existence affects our conscious existence.
What does this have to do with games?
The first way learning visibly manifests itself in both humans and animals, with the exception crying for food, which is arguably instinctual, is through play. If language was the sole form of meaning, then we would not be able to communicate with toddlers, nor would we be able to train animals. We can play simple games, such as peek-a-boo, before we can speak, and animals first utilize essential skills such as hiding and hunting during play, which shows that playing is a primordial form of meaning making and understanding. Through trial and error feedback loops that occur during game play, we can obtain rudimentary information concerning our surroundings and our relationship with them. Even after we become self-reflexive, contemplative beings, this type of primordial experience still occurs, but it escapes any kind of explanation through language and consciousness because it is pre-linguistic. (Yes, this is a sort of cop-out transcendentalism, but w/e).
Play can also be a form of communication because communication relies not only on signs and symbols, but on behavior as well. Body language is a perfect example of this form of communication, and studies on body language show that much of what is interpreted during communication is based on non-linguistic cues (posture, tone, gesture). In fact, language usually fails to capture much of this silent significance. Although we can’t conceptualize this meaning because of its pre-ness, we can acknowledge its silent significance, which most often emerges during acts of performance. Performance includes meaningful, non-linguistic acts such as playing music, dance, and game play. All of these activities easily and powerfully evoke emotions in those who partake in them, but an attempt to describe this internal experience amounts to little more than nonsensical babble. (kinda like this post lol j/k)
If you’re still not convinced, which is understandable, feel free to give it a shot, and post your attempt as a comment if you please. I would love to see it done, but chances are that you’ll come to the same conclusion because these acts rely on pre-linguistic significance and understanding.
I really want to continue this post by focusing more on games, but I believe this is enough to digest at once. The point I hopefully made is that game play, when reduced to its “core,” is a primordial pre-linguistic experience that creates meaning for the player without the use of language. This is evidenced through the play of pre-reflexive beings such as animals and small children, and through the experience of performance, which defies conceptualization through language.
My next post will use this as a foundation to discuss the “core” of game play, which is comprised of the rules that govern play, and the shell of game play, which refers to representational aspects of games, such as visual and textual cues.