Play is word most often associated with an action that results in satisfaction. To play, in the traditional sense, is to do something mainly out of the purpose of getting enjoyment from it. For example, you play a game of soccer, you play a game of chess, or you play a video game. Play is also associated with the idea of a game more often than not. So it stands to reason that we can only play a game, and that a game can only be played. That suggests the words “game’ and “play’ are two sides of the same coin, and cannot exist without each other.
Or so it seems, David Golumbia seems to argue with the apparent relationship between games and play. Golumbia looks at the idea of play from a very traditional, literary sense, and looks back on the work of Jacques Derrida and his use of the word “play’, or jeu. Jeu is defined as a type of play that is “1) free, (2) separate, (3) uncertain, (4) unproductive, (5) regulated, and (6) fictive.” (Caillois).
Under that definition, not all games can be categorized as play. An example Golumbia uses is first person shooter (FPS) style video games. In an FPS, the path the player takes is ultimately linear, and is not subject to uncertainty. This is unlike a game of chess where uncertainty comes from the varying decisions of the two players. With that in mind, FPS games that incorporate an online multiplayer mode are actually much closer to the Derridian sense of play when compared to traditional FPS games. In a multiplayer FPS, people play against each other over the internet. Adding that human element to the game brings in an uncertainty, because the actions of human players cannot be predicted. This would put multiplayer FPS games under the definition of Jeu.
Another example of Jeu would be the story explanation game Gone Home. In this game the player must uncover a story by discovering clues hidden amongst a three-dimensional map. While the story may be linear and not subject to uncertainty, the way the player discovers that story is not. There are a small amount of diary pages to be found in Gone Home that give the player the main point of the story, this is the linear part of the game. However, hidden amongst the rest of the map are little snippets of information that expand upon the main story. These snippets are what brings uncertainty into the game. The average player will more than likely discover the main story in Gone Home, but weather or not the player discovers the whole story is uncertain, because the amount of digging the player does is up to them. This very much makes Gone Home fall under that category of Jeu.
Ultimately, it must be asked why classifying something as Jeu is important. Terms such as Jeu are yet another way to classify and better understand the games all people play. By saying Gone Home is Jeu and an FPS game is not allows for differentiation between the two very different forms of play. Also, to say FPS games are not Jeu is not necessarily a negative thing. In fact, hundreds of people still enjoy FPS games just as hundreds of people still enjoy Gone Home. Jeu does not imply enjoyment, it only implies a non-linear form of play. It’s only real purpose is to create a more specific definition for a word (play) that previously had too broad of a definition.