The Smooth Spaces of Play: Deleuze and the Emancipative Potential of Games

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The purpose of this article is to examine the capacity for play to create political communities and capacities. The act of play has been much maligned by political theorists as a diversion emblematic of false consciousness; however, I shall argue that the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari indicates that play has the potential to be emancipative—to not only produce new capacities in communities but also to undermine overt contribution to the axiomatic of capitalism. I shall present the argument that play can be seen to be conducive to positive political outcomes; as long as the right games are played in the wrong way.
I shall begin by exploring the ambiguity and suspicion which has surrounded critical theory’s historical engagement with play, where play and games were regarded as being a diversion from alienation and an element of false consciousness. I shall then contrast this with more contemporary attempts to recognize play and games as building political capacities. Using Deleuze and Guattari’s model of “smooth and striated” assemblages as the basis of machines of flight or capture respectively, I shall argue that the distinction between playing a game as a form of capture and playing a game as contributing to flight (or emancipation) relies both upon the type of game and the way in which it is played. Referencing a personal play experience with the game The Merchants of Amsterdam, I shall then investigate how the magic circle, the attitude of players, and even the game rules themselves work to construct smooth and striated spaces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-142
Number of pages14
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


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