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Ludology: An Introduction to Me

I briefly define Ludology (the study of games), and describe a bit about its possible impact, and its importance to me.

As my first blog post, I thought I'd try to explain my purpose here, and at the same time depict the scope and utility of Ludology. Ludology, for those who are curious, is a term suggested by Gonzalo Frasca to refer to the "discipline that studies game and play activities". It's derived from 'ludus', the Latin word for 'game'. While this term is still obscure, I find it a useful term since, other terms I might use are either vague, coined for differing uses, or exhaustive and acute.

Why should I or any body care to study games? Well, from a historical or anthropological perspective you could say it's important because games are a large and ever growing aspect of our society's social structure. From a psychological or zoological perspective, you could bring-up the fact that all intelligent life forms we have observed 'play', and a lot of information can be gleaned from how and why each species does it. From a computer science perspective, games and game interactions are excellent environments for artificial intelligence research. From an economics perspective, games can make for interesting economic microcosms to study. There are many good reasons for which someone would be interested in the study of games.

From my perspective, the difference between an activity that someone considers play, and an activity that someone considers work, is perception. All my experience and analysis have led me to believe that, how someone perceives an activity determines if they enjoy it or not. For instance, it is quite easy to describe popular games as tedious, grueling, or dangerous work. My two favorite examples of this are football and WoW.

Football has been the most popular sport in the U.S. for over 30 years, with 43% of the population naming it as their favorite sport.(Gallup inc., 2009) People will regularly pay high ticket prices and cram into 80,000+ seat stadiums on a regular basis, simply to watch the game of football being played by other people, first hand. Players get paid large sums of money due to high demand, but most would still keep playing even if football players got paid less than, say, garbage collectors.

Now try to imagine the game of professional football, as your daily job, in the following way. When you go to work, you must wear a ridiculous and uncomfortable uniform to advertise your companies product. You have to work under all weather conditions: heat, rain, wind, snow, hail, mud. This isn't the good kind of outdoors work, like managing a wild life preserve, you have to work in a stadium in the middle of a city. What do you and your co-workers do? Try to get an unimportant inflated bit of leather from one location to another, while a handful of large angry looking men try to physically stop you by doing the exact opposit. If you fail you have to do it again, if you succeed, you still have to simply do it again.

The job has a very high risk of injury as well as a low level of job security. When you fail, millions of people boo and cuss you out. Even when you succeed you get bad mouthed. When your not on display, you spend all your time either repetitively lifting heavy objects, or practicing moving that bit of leather from one place to another. Oh, and did I mention you work on weekends and holidays, and you have to constantly go on intra-national business trips? At least as a garbage collector, you would get a lot of free time...

World of Warcraft is a program specifically designed and produced for the purpose of entertaining the players. Players pay to play this game. World of Warcraft was released in 2004; it's nearly 6 years later, and as I'm writing this, at 2:30pm on a Saturday, there are 3.2 million people playing it.(warcraftrealms.com, 2009) WoW has been one of the most popular PC games of all time holding over half of the total MMO gaming market. It has received at least 9 out of 10s from almost all major video game reviewing organizations. Virtual goods in WoW have been sold for nearly $10,000.

And yet, most people who have played WoW can already imagine how easy it would be for me to paint it as repetitive, redundant, arduous, superfluous, and mind-bogglingly boring. I've known many  who've been literally addicted to WoW, including myself. I can tell you first hand that even, and most often, people who are addicted to WoW wouldn't describe it as a fun game. It certainly starts out that way, but perceptions change, which brings me back to what is more or less the thesis of this article.

Ludology is not only the study of games, but the study of satisfaction engineering. The meaning of life is the pursuit and acquisition of happiness and prosperity in our society. If I could guarantee that you and everyone you knew of, would be happy for as long as you lived, then the only thing you could want for would be to live longer. Through Ludology I believe we can not only make enjoyable activities more enjoyable, but that we can even make un-enjoyed activities enjoyable. 

I hypothesize that a repetitive and disliked computer job, say some form of data entry position, could be analyzed, and turned into a game. Players of this game would be completing the same tasks as workers of the aforementioned job. If that hypothesis is correct, it would have wide ranging and powerful implications. Similar jobs with low levels of productivity, high turn-over rates, and low supplies of workers, could be transmuted into utopian jobs.

To employers it would mean, dedicated workers willing to work longer hours for less money with lower maintenance costs. To workers it would mean, jobs that are actually enjoyable, essentially getting payed to play games. The full extent of such a situation is outside the scope of this article, but you get the idea. Even as a business proposition outside the game development market, the future of Ludology has a lot to offer.

Industry, Education, Entertainment, Socialization, all have a lot to gain from the progression of Ludology. Ludology is a vast field encompassing aspects associated with many other fields of study. While games have been around since the creation of intelligent life, Ludology is still in its relative infancy, and open to exploration. The reasons I am interested in Ludology is because of a curiosity and fascination with the intricacies of the subject, and because of a want to develop a field so capable of progressing human kind.

Referenced Resources:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/26188/football-reaches-historic-popularity-levels-gallup-poll.aspx
http://www.ludology.org/articles/ludology.htm
http://www.warcraftrealms.com/realmstats.php
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_of_Warcraft

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