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Ieva Rudzinska's text is a summary of the discussion issues during the project with regard to the conceptual approach to games in the context of sports. She first looks at 'Game Definitions and the Example of Sports', then explores the link between 'Sports and Games' with reference to the work done at LASE. In a further chapter, Ieva provides an analysis and evaluation of 'Blind Travel', the master game she had proposed for the Learning Games project.

Ieva Rudzinska teaches at the Latvian Academy of Sport Education (LASE). Her contribution to the project Learning Games provided a closer view of the role of play in the Latvian education process. Another aspect of her participation focused on concepts of sports as a game, as a profession and as a tool for education.
Ieva takes a critical stance towards the notion of sports as a game, for instance, the failure of sports to establish a creative culture of play. The focus tends to be on global mega-events such as the Olympics, World Championships etc. rather than on participation. In another instance, she highlights that in the education of professional sportspeople the essential qualities of playing are lost, due to the excessive training at an early age. These topics are central to any discursive pedagogical idea of the use of games for learning as they focus on individual motivation at every step of the game conception.

Sports and Games

1) Game Definitions and the Example of Sports

A definition of play by Huizinga from 1949 says: 'Play is an activity occurring within certain limits of space, time and meaning, according to fixed rules. However, for an activity to be called a play, more is needed than limitations and rules.
A game is time-bound, it has no contact with any reality outside itself, and its performance is its own end. Further, it is sustained by the consciousness of being a pleasurable, even mirthful, relaxation from the strains of ordinary life. Contrary to science, the rules of a game cannot be altered without spoiling the game itself.'

In the sphere of sport, with the increasing systematisation and regimentation in the 18th century in England, something of the pure play-quality was inevitably lost. This can be seen very clearly in the official distinction between amateurs and professionals (or 'gentlemen and players'). The spirit of the professional is no longer the true play-spirit; it is lacking in spontaneity and carefreeness. This affects the amateur too, who begins to suffer from an inferiority complex. Between them, they push sport further and further away from the play-sphere.

In modern social life, sport occupies a place alongside and apart from the cultural process. The great competitions in archaic cultures had always formed part of the sacred festivals and were indispensable as health and happiness-bringing activities. This ritual tie has now been wholly severed; the sport has become profane, 'unholy' It is probably significant that we no longer speak of "games" but of 'sport'. The all-important point is that sport has become a business, or, to put it bluntly, a commercial racket.

Homo Ludens has no organic connection whatever with the structure of society, least of all when prescribed by the government. The ability of modern social techniques to stage mass demonstrations with the maximum of an outward show in the field of athletics does not alter the fact that neither the Olympiads nor the organized sports of American Universities nor the loudly trumpeted international contests have, in the smallest degree, raised sport to the level of a culture-creating activity. However important it may be for the players or spectators, it remains sterile. The old play-factor has undergone almost complete atrophy.

Really to play, a man must play like a child. Can we assert that this is so in the case of such an ingenious game as Bridge? If not, the virtue has gone out of the game. The aim of true play is in itself, and its familiar spirit is a happy inspiration.

Chris Crawford defines a game as 'a closed formal system that subjectively represents a subset of reality'. In addition to the definition, the element of conflict is deemed an intrinsic element of games but with a safety barrier. Comparing games to other forms of representations of reality, Crawford stresses interaction. Games provide this interactive element, and it is a crucial factor in their appeal.

Costikyan defines games as '[an] interactive structure of endogenous (derived or originating internally) meaning that requires players to struggle toward a goal'. The use of endogenous meaning contributes to the observation that a game “creates its own meanings”. The objects used in a game receive a meaning (regardless of if they had it before) by the role they play within the context of the game activity.

Games (Staffan Björk, Jussi Holopainen), unlike many other activities, are designed and as such should be able to be treated as an objective material that can be shaped by the designer.

Parlett differentiates between informal (played by children), and formal games, which have explicit ends and means. Games are a contest based around the completion of an end 'and to achieve that objective is to win' and 'a formal game, by definition, has a winner'.

2. Sports and games

Sports have been part of our culture since ancient times with the Ancient Olympic Games and Knights tournaments being two examples where sport combined with arts festivals and events striving for grace, beauty, courage, and peace. Village played against another village in games like football, and it was about wider participation from the whole community.

Does sport, now a professional activity, still hold the same truth? As part of my work at the Latvian Academy of Sports Education, we study Olympic Athletes and ask them about whether professional sport aims for grace, beaut, and courage like in former times. Most say that nothing remains from ancient times and that it is about money and politics. Even though the Olympic Games is the only promising event that truly brings the world together, it is still a political, money orientated event.

The Latvian Academy of Sports Education educates adult (former) sportsmen to become future sports specialists and sports teachers, as well as coaches. The philosophy is that teachers should teach kids to enjoy sports – playing them as a game with their positive features. Not everyone will be a professional athlete, but everyone needs health and has to learn to be a team member. Sports teachers have to play a lot of games with their students so we emphasize this.

We would like to use the same philosophy in our work with coaches as well. In reality though, in order to participate in sport at a professional level, you have to start very early. This now means children are often taken out of their families, brought up in a special boarding school outside of their native home. What kind of childhood does this leave people with? Where is the carefreeness and joy that playing games provide? Not every young athlete will make it to the top, so we need to help our Coaches include play and help promote a healthy lifestyle and the team spirit.

50 years ago people played sports to connect, establish friendships and make lifelong friends. For example, in the novel 'Ghost Legs' by Nicholas Weinstock, we read about a white student (Ghost Legs) at an African University and how he waited for the possibility to play basketball. During the first game he first heard his name mentioned, and it turned out that the other African players could speak English as well. This is how he made friends with the other students. Now many young people prefer just to be fans in sports arenas, watch sports events on TV and the Internet and not to play sports themselves. The interaction has changed. Has the meaning of sport changed as well?

3. The experience of playing the game “Blind travel”

3.1. The need for more preparation, the choice of real objects and presentation themes

As part of the Learning Games project, the game 'Blind Travel' was played by the partner consortium and staff members of LASE. The representatives from Bulgaria, Portgual and Denmark, designed and developed the game content which was aimed at presenting concise, corresponding realia from their countries in order to have others detect and determine which countries the objects came from. Examples of realia included small flags, whistles, coasters, computer mice pads, national ornaments, symbols, characteristic minerals and examples of flora/fauna as well as ingredients of national dishes. Unfortunately one country only brought pictures, which limited the effect of the game, as it was easy to guess the country.
In order to better facilitate the game, a finding is that the choice of realia be limited to 3 themes, to make the game more realistic:
1) national symbols, traditions
2) national geography, flora, fauna
3) national dishes.

3.2. Solving an adult education problem – no one to leave the children with during adult education activities

One of the problems with adult education is that it is not always family friendly, as many parents would like to complete more courses and education, but often have difficulty finding babysitting and child-minding arrangements. In Latvia, children who are left alone can be taken away by police. In these terms, continuing to educate yourself can be viewed as a luxury. Long working hours to make even regular earnings is another problem.
In the 'Blind Travel' game, we faced a situation where one of the teachers brought her 6-year old son but it turned out to be fun and a unique situation. The 6-year knew some English and understood the concept of the game. When he tired of the presentations he was able to retreat to his own activities which also allowed the mother to play the game the entire time. Having the child in the activity reminded us of the idea of game theorists to 'play like a child', as his presence brought joy, a sense of carefreeness and intrigue, which are good characteristics of all true games.

1.3. Blindfolding the players

In playing the game, we did not blindfold adult players. They simply closed their eyes. We trusted the adults and believed they would not cheat. However, we blindfolded the child, so that he could feel the spirit of the game better.

1.4. Interaction during the game

It was interesting to observe the interaction between the players during the game as some teams chose to select an item, then ran back to the team and discussed the correct answer. An option could have been to ask participants to answer themselves without involving the group but all people chose to involve their team.
The role of the facilitator was another challenge in terms of their interaction with the team. Whether the facilitator could provide hints or simply a 'yes/no' response was not clear.


1. Björk Staffan, Holopainen Jussi. Describing Games - DiGRA - An Interaction-Centric Structural Framework, accessed from: http://www.digra.org/wp-content/uploads/digital-library/05150.10348.pdf.
2. Costikyan, G. (2002). I Have No Words & I Must Design. In Mäyrä, F. (2002) Conference Proceedings of Computer Games and Digital Cultures, pp. 9-33, Tampere University Press.
3. Crawford, C. (1982). The Art of Computer Game Design.
4. Huizinga J. , Homo Ludens (1949 Edition); Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.
5. Parlett, D. (1999) The Oxford History of Board Games, Oxford University Press.