In game studies returning to Huizinga has a slightly religious quality about it. Like going back to the source, or font of wisdom. Quoting from Huizinga is a little like quoting from scripture, his work has that place in the discipline and authors expect it to have the force of gospel. It is also like scripture in that there is a poetry to it and everyone gets their own thing out of it. My turn.
Now in myth and ritual the great instinctive forces of civilized life have their origin: law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom and science. All are rooted in the primaeval soil of play. (Huizinga, 1949, p5)
In Homo Ludens, he charts the parallels between ritual and play. He shows that many of the key formal characteristics are similar and quite definitely says that ritual comes out of play. If play is to be taken as performance and mimicry then that goes against what Turner says in the Anthropology of Experience, in that ritual doesn’t come out of performance, but out of redressive social activity. Which leads on to Chapter 3 of Homo Ludens, where Huizinga discusses play in its function to explore and construct social structures. This works nicely with Turner’s take on ritual being a place to break down social structure and experience relations through the anti-structure of communitas.
Huizinga’s first characteristic of play is that it is free and voluntary. Which makes it unlike a rite of passage according to Turner. Play becomes liminoid rather than liminal in that there is a choice as to whether you do it or not.
His second characteristic of play is that it is outside “ordinary” life in its character, duration and location. This is exactly the liminal aspect that rituals achieve and so there is functional similarity here.
Play creates order and there are rules to play by. Having a three year old makes me very aware that so called paidia, or free play, has very definite and unbreakable rules. Again rituals have very set, symbolic structures that give them power and practicality. Turner’s anti-structure is intended to be the set of rules that function inside liminal processes, not just the negation of structure.
Finally play has no material interest, or the achievement inside a game does not carry over into the real world. This is always a hotly debated aspect of games, and has largely been debunked. Ritual by its very nature causes a real world change in the participant(s). They go from one life stage to another, experience crises or cross the boundaries between seasons. The effects of ritual is very closely tied into the real world. However liminoid experiences are those that are only expected to make a change in the individuals perceptions and not have a wider social-structural effect.
In Homo Ludens, Huizinga hit on some interesting similarities, but was too quick to jump in to equating play and ritual as having similar social functions. Through Turner’s communitas, anti-structure and liminoid distinctions the similarities and differences can be discussed in a more nuanced way. Turner never mentions Huizinga, but I would be surprised if he had not encountered the work, and I would be interested in knowing his opinions.