There’s two kinds of playing. There’s the competitive kind and there’s the whimsical kind.
Competitive play sets up certain boundaries and a goal to achieve. It can be done against other people or against oneself. The point of competitive play is to attempt to win, i.e. to reach the predefined goal. Sports is an example of competitive play.
Whimsical play is free-form. It involves non-productive activities that we do merely to amuse ourselves. Sometimes whimsical play is done with other people, sometimes alone. But the form of playing can change at any moment. Any rules that might occur are temporary or optional. Sex is an example of whimsical play.
Competitive play in essence is also non-productive. But through rules and goals, it creates a sensation of purpose. Whimsical play is always pointless. It is purely recreational and makes no excuses for itself.
Why is it that we see so much competitive play in video games and so little whimsical play?
Is it because rulesets are so compatible with the way in which a computer works? Is it because we want the illusion of productivity since computers are supposed to be machines for work, not play? Or is it simply because we have lost the ability to enjoy the moment, to play for playing’s sake?
Competitive computer games are often used for whimsical play. When players start hacking or modifying the game, when they start testing the game’s limits, when they do things in the game that are irrelevant to achieving the pre-defined goal. While many contemporary games allow this kind of activity and some even encourage it, very few games are actually built around this form of play. And since they are not, whimsical play in competitive games is almost always disruptive. It destroys the intent of the designer, the narrative of the game and the overall atmosphere.
The only computer game designed for whimsical play that I can think of at the moment is The Endless Forest. Can anyone think of any others?