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An approach to gaming and game studies by Julian Kücklich at


Julian Kücklich:

"Deludology is not simply a negation of ludology (i.e. the study of games as formal systems), although it could be characterised as anti-ludological, but an affirmation of the de-ludic elements of play. In Latin, ludere means ‘to play’ and deludere means ‘to cheat’, but of course deludere also means ‘to delude’ or to ‘lead astray’. Hence, deludology aims at using ludological concepts and terminology to come to results that point beyond the formalist logic of deludology. In this respect, deludology is similar to deconstruction.

The first question that needs to be addressed in order to discuss play in deludological terms is: How can breaking the rules be regarded as more fundamental than the rules themselves? In order to resolve this apparent paradox, it needs to be discussed outside of the binary logic of ludology, which tends to reduce the relation between these terms to a polar opposition. By submitting the ludological concept of play to a formalist critique of its formalism, employing George Spencer-Brown’s calculus of indication, it becomes possible to transcend this reductive binarism.

As a result, we can regard breaking the rules, or ‘cheating’, as an operation that takes the relation between play and game as its object, without reducing their inherent incommensurability. Cheating could thus be regarded as a ‘switch’ between game and play, which enables players to change from one mode to the other. The term ‘gameplay’ could then be used to describe a rapid oscillation between the two states, which is qualitatively different from either. This draws attention to the fact that the act of breaking or bending the rules is a fundamental characteristic of play.

At the same time, conceptualising cheating as a tertiary relation between different states allows us to see it as a semiotic operation. Therefore, the second step in my deludological investigation of computer games is to formulate a semiotic theory of cheating. Again, this analysis starts out from existing semiotic approaches to computer games, and uses their components to go beyond the prevailing formalist paradigms. In order to achieve this, I borrow theoretical models from diverse sources, including Charles S. Peirce’s semiotics, Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis and Ernesto Laclau’s political theory.

What becomes evident in this semiotic analysis of cheating is that it must be understood in spatial, or rather territorial, terms. If we understand the rules of digital games as the topological constraints of gamespace, as Espen Aarseth suggests, the cheating can be conceptualised as an operation that overcomes these constraints, and creates a shortcut between different places within gamespace. However, gamespace must be regarded as shaped not only by ludic rule sets but also by economic, social and political rule sets."