I don’t think I can overstate the influence that David Sirlin’s Playing to Win has had on the gaming community online. Not only has it been widely read by game-players of all kinds (video, MMORPGers—particularly PvPers, card gamers, even players of traditional sports), but it genuinely deserves that attention because is also one of the most well-structured arguments on any topic that I’ve ever seen on the Internet.

That second point is important, because anyone seeking to undertake a rebuttal to Playing to Win had better bring their A-game. Sirlin’s logic is rock solid.

The fact is, I can’t win on Sirlin’s home field. He’s 100% correct insofar as he goes in Playing to Win. However, his field has a fence around it and there is a lot of play space outside of that fence.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people online who have taken Playing to Win to a level far beyond anything that Sirlin himself actually said. I’ve seen PtW cited on message boards as a rationalization for griefing and to justify poor sportsmanship. Those people need to be taken down a peg or two. I don’t see justification for being an asshole anywhere in PtW and I think that those who do are misinterpreting the message or they are making a few mistakes as to the premises that underlie Sirlin’s argument.
Sirlin’s argument is limited to a very narrow sliver of the wider universe that is “play.”

In this essay, I will explore what play and games are from a developmental and psychological perspective, explore some of the assumptions behind Sirlin’s premises, and mark out the outer boundaries of Sirlin’s Playing to Win.

Table of Contents (preliminary, this is a work in progress. These will become links as I finish them):

  1. What is Play and What is it For?
  2. Games and Rules.
  3. Social Construction and Implicit Communication
  4. On Griefing
  5. Scrubs and Spikes: Bringing it all Together

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