Calling gaming and play the same type of activity would be simple; we “play a game,” after all, which suggests that the ludic is part of the event of a game. Bhaduri complicates this idea, though, by expanding on how play and gaming are different.
Play, according to Bhaduri, starts from Huizinga’s conception that play is the basis of human culture and in fact predates it (142), is bound up in it, and cannot be removed. Play is a free activity but when in the context of a game or sports activity, it remains rule-bound (143). Gaming and games, on the other hand, “feature the possibility of subversion, strategy, and manipulation” (143). Games move beyond the realm of play and therefore have different and perhaps even more serious social concerns. It’s been suggested that playing is constructivist, it creates, whereas gaming is behaviorist, it can condition through repeated action and strategizing. In any case, the two are not mutually exclusive nor must they always occur together.
This ability to separate and co-mingle might come from Bhaduri’s structuring of the game as composed of two contradictory elements: “On the one hand, a game has to have a structure, fairly set rules, and definable goals and objectives; on the other, a game is supposed to lead to enjoyment” (141). The first sense, the goals and objectives, is the game, although we also see rules in play; the second, the enjoyment, is the area of play but is bound up in games, too. Because they exist together in tension that’s not always resolved, the two structures can be pulled apart and meshed together, swapping terms as needed for the activities they must describe.
Games that are not play, for example, might include bitcoin mining games. While attempting to produce wealth might arguably be fun to some people, for the most part, the strategic action coupled with economic goals would not be part of the ludic, unconstrained nature of the game. If this “game” is undertaken as a solution to a problem, a strategy for gaining desired wealth, it becomes work through the method and interface of the game.
Play that is not a game, on the other hand, could be that of playing an instrument. Anyone who has lost hours strumming on a guitar knows that there is no strategy, there doesn’t have to be an end goal; the action is purely one of enjoyment and harkens back to the origins of culture of which Bhaduri reminds us.
Of course, there is no need to separate the two, as noted, since collectivization, rules and delight, are already held in “playing a game” or “gaming.” Digital gaming, for instance, meshes them together as players cycle between freer and more bound investigations and actions. Some parts of the digital game ask for exploration; others require repeated action and strategy. This sounds simple, but requires careful analysis; as Bhaduri writes, “There are many critical reflections that must be examined in contemporary gaming culture and subcultures—no less than the reifying and fantasizing of the virulently toxic politics of gender, race, and class discrimination that many scholars have analyzed” (146).
Bhaduri, Saugata. “Gaming.” Digital Keywords, edited by Benjamin Peters, Princeton University Press, 2016, pp. 140-148.