Thursday, 13 October 2011

The thin line between Ludus & Paidea

Continuing from the last post - defining videogames - I will be talking about: classifying videogames using paidea, & ludus.

How do we classify certain games? As Newman asks, is Tamagotchi a game and where would it fit? Newman sources a list, by Berens and Howard of game types, as many people use this as a basis to put games in to different genres.

(Newman, J. (2004) Videogames. London and New York: Routledge, p. 12)

From my first thoughts, these genres seemed enough. After reading Newman's classification of games, I realise now these genres are not enough to define types of videogames, they are too vague. Videogames can have any theme and have any or all these combinations of genres, people who use the genres to describe games are not fully describing the games, Newman expands this by quoting "their use implies not only an overly text-centred approach to understanding videogame play but one in which the text is considered a hermetic, a closed system (cf Bakhtin 1981)". Game designers must be specific, to target what the game is or what components it has, what fundamentals a game has. We can use Paidea, and Ludus to describe videogames (Newman, 2004, pp18-26).
Videogames (p. 19), Newman writes, "Frasca suggests that play and games can be differentiated according to their outcome", therefore we can use Paidea and Ludus to describe the outcomes of a game.
These meanings are by Frasca from Caillois's distinction between 'paidea' and 'ludus' "referring to games with simple and complex rules respectively" (Newman, 2004, p. 19). Frasca came to the modified distinction after considering the fact there is no winner or loser in play - such as a child playing on the beach building sand castles or other things - whilst other games can have complex rules and give a clear win resolution.
Paidea: "Physical or mental activity which has no immediate useful objective, nor defined objective" (modified meaning by Frasca, Newman, p.19-20). The sole reason of play is to entertain or to give the player a pleasureable experience.

Falling Sand

In my opinion, Falling Sand is not a particularly pleasurable or fun game, it is a good "time-waster" type of game and incredibly casual. It is a Paidea type game but no one in their right mind would play this game for hours of pleasurable experience, compared to other Paidea based games, such as The Sims and SimCity, that are better games with eye-candy (graphic aesthetics) and more complex tools to create or build. Like many Paidea based games, Falling Sand creates tools which the player can put in the game itself and other elements, it has a simple complexity which can also be described with the unmodified distinction of Paidea.

SimCity2000 (image courtesy of

SimCity offers more complex set of rules combined with the goal of creating a city for the player's own entertainment. From my point of view, as a game designer, SimCity is better than Falling Sand due to the fact that SimCity can set immediate goals for the players at the start, (e.g tutorial), then builds them up to create a thriving city, whilst Falling Sand has some guidance but the interest rate or attention span for the game of the players may make them want to seek a game with better graphics, complex rules, build tools, and ability to save the map, like SimCity. Contrary to this, the downfall of the latest SimCity game was that it was too complex for players to gain interest for the game from the start. SimCity was designed for a specific target audience, players interested in building cities and economies. SimCity will never be as popular as its counterpart, the Sims. I digress, this is focusing on other things and I will now move on to Ludus.

Ludus: "Activity organized under a system of rules that defines a victory or a defeat, a gain or a loss" (Frasca 1999, Newman, 2004). A game constrained by rules and a clear win goal.

Is Runescape a Ludus or Paidea type of game?

Runescape Classic, 2001-2004

Looking at the first design of Runescape, Andrew Gower based it on Paidea type because it allowed the players to free roam and had no clear winning endgame. For example one could max out a skill then move on to another or do a quest or just mine or cut resources for money. Every update that Runescape has creates another goal for the player, this of course is optional. Therefore Runescape is a Paidea and Ludus game since there are goals players can complete and the option to choose what they want to do.

Runescape, 2011

Runescape has changed over the years, adapting to new technologies from Javascript to Jagex's own game engine. It is great that the developer persists on adapting their online game to keep it up to date.

One problem that Runescape has now, and similarly to online games such as WoW, is their players are reaching the maximum level for the skills and have grown too rich for the game to amuse to them. This is the downside of a Ludus game type, eventually the game has to end for the player once all the goals are complete. To counter this, Jagex introduced diversions, distractions and minigames - games that don't rely on skill level so that players who are "maxed out" can still find something to do in the game.

All these new minigames or new updates for the game does not hide the Ludus aspect of the game but it has added the option for Paidea game types. A Ludus game suddenly changing to a Paidea type game can make the gameplay confusing for players, it can make them think, "why bother maxing a skill when it will not be useful later?". Runescape uses both game types, Jagex have successfully, in my opinion, balanced the Ludus based skills of the game to the Paidea minigames it has created because some minigames need skill requirements, the rewards after completing a minigame are useful for the player's goals, and are relevant to the game world.


  1. This is an interesting discussion of the terms. You have demonstrated understanding with your use of examples, overall this is good work.

  2. Thoughtful discussion. I wonder if the falling sand game might be on the boundary (if there is such a thing) between "game" and "toy"?

    In Man, Play and Games Caillois sets out a table in with four columns: agon, alea, mimicry and ilinx, and he gives several examples of different types of game/play in each.

    On one side of the table, the examples are of paidea (free play) while on the other they are of ludic play (constrained by rules). The table can be found on p. 148 of the Salen and Zimmerman collection.