Make Believe

The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

Chris Bateman

Prop Perspective and the Aesthetics of Play

When a child or an adult play, they interact with props that are not, in themselves, usually considered to be art, even the case of artistically-crafted artefacts. However, if we take Walton’s prop theory seriously, we must allow that any object that is sufficiently intrusive on make-believe has an aesthetic element that can be used to defend the claim that games are contiguous with other culturally-valued art forms such as cinema and theatre.

Within conventional games, the play experience focuses on three specific kinds of prop. The toy, held in the real or virtual hands of the player, is epitomized by the first person shooter digital game (e.g. Modern Warfare) in which guns act as toys that prescribe the player imagines they are present in the fictional world of the game. The doll represents human or other figures (including machines, such as cars), and can be found in numerous tabletop games as well as third person perspective digital games, prescribing the player imagines characters within the fictional world of the game. Finally, the table is represented in abstract games as a space of play, including Chess and Go, the maps of tabletop role-playing games or digital games such as the popular match-3 genre (e.g. Bejewelled).

The three kinds of prop relate to three kinds of prop perspective, which can be called toy-view (first person), doll-view (third person) and table-view (two dimensional), allowing for comparison with representational art in non-game forms. Films, for instance, primarily use doll-view, presenting actors and actresses as the central prop. Even when first person is used, it tends to be to show faces of performers, and thus acts as a covert form of doll-view. Table-view corresponds to abstract paintings. Toy-view alone remains unique to conventional games in having no equivalent in other forms of representational art.

About Chris Bateman:

Chris Bateman is a game designer, outsider philosopher and writer, who has worked on more than thirty digital game projects, including the highly acclaimed titles Discworld Noir and Ghost Master. He has written extensively on play and games, with papers including Neurobiology of Play and Prop Theory for Game Aesthetics. His latest book is Imaginary Games with Zero Books, which adapts Professor Kendall Walton’s make-believe theory of representation to digital and other games, providing a robust argument which demonstrates not only that games are art, but that all art is itself a kind of game.