Beyond Play: A New Approach to Games

Games & Culture, Forthcoming

24 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2006

See all articles by Thomas M. Malaby

Thomas M. Malaby

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee


Games have intruded into popular, academic, and policymaker awareness to an unprecedented level, and this creates new opportunities for advancing our understanding of the relationship of games to society. I therefore offer here a new approach to games that stresses them as characterized by process. Games, I argue, are domains of contrived contingency, capable of generating emergent practices and interpretations, and are intimately connected with everyday life to a degree heretofore poorly understood. This approach is both consistent with a range of existing social theory and avoids many of the limitations that have characterized much games scholarship to date, in particular its tendency toward unsustainable formalism and exceptionalism. Rather than seeing gaming as a subset of play, and therefore as an activity that is inherently separable, safe, and pleasurable, I offer here a rethinking of games as social artifacts in their own right that are always in the process of becoming. This view both better accords with the experience of games by participants cross-culturally and bears the weight of the new questions being asked about games and about society.

Keywords: games, play, process, practice theory, contingency

Suggested Citation

Malaby, Thomas M., Beyond Play: A New Approach to Games. Games & Culture, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Thomas M. Malaby (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee ( email )

Department of Anthropology
P.O. Box 413
Milwaukee, WI 53201
United States
414-229-4175 (Phone)
414-229-5848 (Fax)

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