Second order games

Years ago I heard a talk by Chris Crawford at the Game Developers Conference, a conference that he had founded. He talked about many things, but one thing in particular jumped out at me.

He said that when we talk about the study of games, we should not include professional sports. People “playing” professionally, he said, is actually a form of work, not of play.

I found myself strongly disagreeing. There is a tremendous amount of interesting gameplay around professional sports, which is why it is so popular. It’s just that those games are not played on the field.

Professional sports is a prime example of what might be called second order gaming. It is not the game you see at first which matters, but rather the set of games that are built around it.

Professional sports provide endless hours of entertainment for people who argue, study, debate and generally fill their conversations with observations, statistics, and various forms of tribal loyalty expressed in both words and fashion.

This is, in fact, one of the most interesting systems of games that we have, and well worth studying. As long as we remember that the actual game, the one that really counts, is played by the fans.

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