The Qualities of Play

Play is such a difficult phenomenon to define because there are so many different ways it is experienced. Some experiences are qualitatively better. Some are worse. Some games better, some toys better. As we discuss the quality of play, we will explore a few such qualities, and hint at the remarkably many more qualities of play to yet define.

Scanning the web for terms relating to the quality of play, we begin with two almost universally agreed-upon attributes by which the experience of game or sport, for example, are measured – or at least expressed: "well-played" and "lousy."

We all know what a lousy game is like, how clearly, painfully obvious it becomes, to at least one of us, that everything about the game is lousy – the way each of us is playing, the way we're playing together. Disappointed in our selves, in each other. The game. The team. I am lousy. We. Are lousy. We are playing poorly, so poorly that the whole game got lousy.

Tim Candon, sports editor of the Cary News of Cary, NC, describes a particularly lousy game as follows:
"The Imps were universally disappointed after their lousy game Saturday against Sanderson, when they compiled 90 yards of total offense, including 17 rushing, and failed to score in the 16-0 loss to the Spartans.

"They lost. 16-0. They barely made any yardage the whole game. They were, as a team, 'universally disappointed.'"
Note that there was no mention of the quality of play as perceived by the winning team.
The idea of a "lousy game" almost always refers the quality of the game as perceived by people when they are losing, or have lost.

In the Official Forum (an online forum for sports officials), Mark Padget writes in response to a question about how to recover from a "lousy game."
"Sometimes, I think during a game that I may be a little "off". We all know the reasons: head not in the game because of thinking of personal stuff, very tired, not feeling well, etc. Whenever I am alert enough to realize it during the game (sometimes with a little prompting from my partner), I try to concentrate on the things I can change immediately, such as hustling more, making sure I am in position, practicing proper mechanics on calls, etc."
The term "Lousy Game" is frequently used to describe the design of a game, rather than the way the game is played. As in the following customer review from Darrell Brock "Dazza"
"…this is just a lousy game. The graphics are not bad, the storyline is a little weak. But the controls suck and that makes for a lousy game. In first person mode, the controls are way too sensitive, and you cannot change the sensitivity or the up down orientation. The characters do things you do not want them to do, turn whatever way they want, stick to the wall when you do not want them to, refuse to when you do. The camera goes off on an angle you do not want. In fact, playing next to walls, I have seen nothing but the wall on the screen while the character is fighting."
The quality of "lousy game" can refer to either or both: the game, and the way the game is being played.

Then there’s a quality of play that is clearly the opposite of lousy - the "well-played" game. This quality also refers to both the game and the way that it is played. But, unlike, or opposite to a "lousy game," the "well-played game" is a shared quality. A game can be described as “lousy” by just one player, or by the spectators, or by the team. A well-played game is one that is appreciated by all the players, regardless of score or distance to the goal. One that in fact must be appreciated by all players. By definition.

The quality of "well-played" doesn’t describe the game itself, but rather how that game was played, enacted, performed. Even a game with a truly lousy design can be well-played.

The Well-Played Game is played well by all, transcending, as Robert Butcher and Angela Schneider note, even competition:
"one’s opponents are an essential part of one’s quest for the well-played game." "Participants, they note, take pleasure in a well-played game, in which they put their best efforts in the desire to win. This requires the cooperation of all involved. The shared end is the game well played.”
Even in its absence, the appeal of "well-played"ness can so dominate the experience of a game that the Utah Daily Herald quotes the coach of the Utes, no less, saying.
"This was not a pretty game...They didn't play well, either. It was not a well-played game. I was disturbed by the lack of intelligence in the game."
Fun, like lousy and well-played, is a measure whose presence or absence has as significant an impact on the quality of the game as does "lousy" and "well-played."

There’s "the Beautiful Play" – which is similar to "well-played," but is more often applied to the quality of particular instance of the game rather than that of the game itself. Even a lousy game can feature a beautiful play or two.

And the expression "good game" – usually said with a towel-slap to an exposed buttock – denotes yet another quality, one usually associated with winning, one usually not expressed by the team that lost.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


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