Bad Sportsman on the Holodeck


==Seriousness and Play==

In Homo Ludens (1938), Huizinga examines the concept of play as contrasted against seriousness: play is voluntary, the rules are unnecessary and but take on special importance during the game. This definition is echoed in more recent work e.g. Bernard Suits: “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”. Huizinga emphasizes a link between games and ritual together. The reader can see this in his treatment of the game-denier. The spoil-sport compared to the heretic and apostate. The spoil-sport is the worst of all, worse than a cheater. The spoil-sport destroys the world of the game; he breaks the magic circle.

==The Play-spirit==

I want to bring out a subtler concept that Huizinga uses – the ‘play-spirit’. The ‘play-spirit’ is the opponent of to utilitarianism, self-interest, and seriousness. The prime example of ‘play-spirit’ is actions against one’s personal interest for ritualistic/cultural reasons. Huizinga pulls the “code of chivalry” under the umbrella of “play-spirit”. Huizinga claims that the Roman Empire was filled with the ‘play-spirit’ because of its self-destructive actions in pursuit of the essence of what was ‘Roman’.

Naturally, Huizinga saw the disappearance of the play-spirit in the rise of the technocrat. He was particularly disparaging of contemporary sports. Huizinga: “In the case of sport we have an activity nominally known as play but raised to such a pitch of technical organization and scientific thoroughness that the real play-spirit is threatened with extinction.”

==Play and the Game==

From Huizinga’s attack on the “scientific sport” we see a notable difference between one who respects the ‘spirit of play’ and one who follows the ‘rules of the game’. This distinction is articulated in Roger Caillois’ Man Play and Games. Caillois defines “Paidia” as play, pretense, unruled games and “Ludus” as ruled games. The two are definitionally mutually exclusive but if we think of the two tendencies as two separate mental prototypes, the combinations of the two span much of the spectrum of games.

==The Spoil-sport, the Cheat, and the Bad Sportsman==

The cheat violates the rules but not the play-spirit (at least in pretense), the spoil-sport violates both the rules and the play-spirit. These two are Huizinga’s terms restarted. I also want to define the bad sportsman as one who violates the play-spirit but not the rules. In particular, I want to draw attention to the similarity between the idea of “Sportsmanship” and the play-spirit.

Bad Sportsmen in Traditional Games


I don’t want to delve into a systematic definition of Sportsmanship now. But let’s take a couple of cases of good and bad sportsmanship in soccer/football as example.
The bad sportsman will kick the ball around needlessly to run down the clock.
The bad sportsman will make a theatrical fall after being hit to maximize the likelihood of a penalty.
The good sportsman will not hog the ball.
The good sportsman won’t hit another player any harder than he has to.

This might not be the most scientific way to arrive at an approximate definition but I think it gives us something. Sportsmanship is the adherence to a ‘spirit’ of the game over the literal interpretation of the rules. The bad sportsman does nothing explicitly illegal, he simply does everything it takes to win. The bad sportsman is a spoil-sport at heart; he might play by the rules but he ignores the ‘play-spirit’. You can force the rules on him, but he’s not a true-believer. The bad sportsman would not be a very good Roman.

==Dealing with the Bad Sportsman==

Rules can be introduced to rein in the bad sportsman. FIFA began scheduling certain worldcup games to occur at the same time to prevent colluding teams from deliberately not scoring against each other. But not all forms of bad sportsmanship can be controlled effectively with explicit rules, by nature the ‘play-spirit’ is a matter of attitude. In a recreational context, the flagrant bad sportsman might be booted from the game. In a professional context, the spectators satisfy themselves with boos and jeers.

Bad Sportsmen on the Holodeck

==The Digital Spoil-sport==

the rules of a digital game are unbreakable (Michael Liebe; Chris De Leon), true. This makes it harder to be a spoil-sport but not impossible. One key rule that is assumed by all forms of ‘ludus’ is unenforcable: the player must try to win. By ignoring this ultimate rule, the digital spoil-sport can still destroy a game. They’re trolls.

==The Digital Bad Sportsman==

Chris De Leon has an essay in a recent DiGRA reflecting on the significance of simulation of rules, how video games make the rules of a game unbreakable. A key salient point is that by moving the task of rule simulation out of the player’s mind and into the CPU, the digital game is far less restricted in the number and nature of its rules. But complexity has inherent disadvantages, the more rules that are introduced the more difficult it becomes to control dominant strategies. De Leon notes, “even though a computer game may fully embody a complex system of relations in its programmed rules, the player may be able to learn through trial and error the minimum necessary to win without knowing or reasoning about of the game’s underlying behaviors.”

I argue that this player is the bad sportsman. The bad sportsman has no respect for the ‘complex system of relations’; he’s here to win. And while the digital constraints of rule-unbreakability makes it harder to be a spoil-sport, it makes it arguably makes it easier to be a bad sportsman. The more rules there are, the more unintended exploits there will be. The more strategies exist, the more tempting it is to fall back to a single strategy that works. We find some bad sportsmen in multiplayer games; they are the FPS spawn campers and the RTS rushers. These bad sportsmen justify themselves by appeal to the unfeeling referee of the video game: the CPU which, unlike a human referee, doesn’t (and can’t) raise an eye-brow at their abuses.

==The Bad Sportsman in Single-Player==

In contrasting digital and traditional games, I want to add one more trait: it is now much easier to create solitaire games. Non-player characters can be simulated with artificial intelligence, allowing traditionally multiplayer genres to be single player e.g. sports, etc. But consider the bad sportsmen of single-player. Without an audience to jeer or a governing body to regulate, the bad sportsman has free rein in single player games. The computer opponents will never cry “unfair” to the devs so there is no great incentive the ‘balance’ the game.


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